a party to the treaty of Vienna, and might be expected to aid Spain by supporting the Jacobites; but ‘a strong resolution rendered unnecessary strong measures,’ and the mere sight of the English fleets induced a more pacific temper (Stanhope, ii. 81, 103).
On 20 Feb. 1733–4 Norris was promoted to be admiral and commander-in-chief, and during the summer commanded the large fleet which was mustered in the Downs, or at Spithead, with the union flag at the main. The next year the fleet visited Lisbon as a support to the Portuguese against the Spaniards. In 1739 and the following years Norris commanded the fleet in the Channel. Public opinion was very indignant that nothing was done; but, as the Spaniards had no western fleet at sea, there was no opportunity of achieving or even attempting anything. Early in 1744 it was known that the French were going to become parties in the war. An army of invasion, with a flotilla of small craft, was assembled at Dunkirk, and this was to be supported by the fleet from Brest, under the command of M. de Roquefeuil, which actually put to sea on 26 Jan. 1743–4. On 2 Feb. Norris was ordered to go at once to Portsmouth, and, in command of the ships at Spithead, to take the most effective measures to oppose the French. Afterwards some ships, reported as French men-of-war, were seen at the back of the Goodwin Sands, and Norris was ordered to come round to the Downs. He insisted that these ships had nothing to do with the Brest fleet, which was certainly to the westward, but the order, repeated on 14 Feb., was positive. On the 18th he had intelligence that the French fleet had been seen off the Isle of Wight; and on the 19th he wrote that the Dunkirk transports ought to be destroyed as soon as the weather moderated, and then he would go to look for the Brest fleet. ‘If we remain without attempting anything we leave the French at liberty to do what they please in the Channel, and perhaps an invasion may be carried on from La Hogue, as was intended before my Lord Orford's battle there’ (Norris to Newcastle, 19 Feb., Home Office, Admiralty, vol. 84). But he was sorely afraid that his force was insufficient. ‘Had I been believed,’ he wrote, ‘in what I represented last spring, we had been now in a condition to have driven the Brest ships out of the Channel, and at the same time been covered from any insult or attempt from Dunkirk; but I was treated then as an old man that dreamed dreams’ (ib. 13 Feb.). Thus the fleet was still in the Downs when, on 24 Feb., Norris had news of the near approach of the French. On that afternoon they had come to off Dungeness, to wait for the tide, and were disagreeably surprised to find themselves met by a very superior English force tiding round the South Foreland against a south-westerly wind. When the tide turned the English anchored about eight miles from the French. The night set in wild and dark. At eight o'clock the wind flew round to the north and north-east, and blew a fierce gale, which increased in strength till, about one o'clock in the morning, the storm broke out with excessive violence. Most of the English ships parted their cables and were driven out to sea; but the French ships, which had shortened in, parted their cables at the first of the gale, about nine o'clock, and, leaving their anchors, went away before the wind unperceived and unfollowed. Three days later Norris wrote to the Duke of Newcastle: ‘If they can escape out of our Channel, I believe they will have so great a sense of their deliverance as not to venture again into it at this season of the year’ (26, 28 Feb. Home Office, Admiralty, vol. 84).
The same storm that drove the French ships out of the Channel destroyed the transports at Dunkirk, and the admiralty, seeing that the danger at home was past, ordered several ships from the Channel to reinforce Thomas Mathews [q. v.] in the Mediterranean. Norris was very angry; on 18 March he requested permission to resign the command, and on the 22nd wrote that his retirement was as necessary for the king's service under the present management of the admiralty as for his own reputation and safety (ib. Norris to Newcastle). His resignation was accepted, and he retired from active service. He had long been known in the navy as ‘Foulweather Jack.’ He died on 19 July 1749. He had married Elizabeth, elder daughter of Matthew, first lord Aylmer, and by her had issue a daughter and two sons, the elder of whom, Richard, a captain in the navy, was cashiered for misconduct in the action of 11 Feb. 1743–4; the younger, Harry, served with some distinction, and died a vice-admiral in 1764.
A portrait by George Knapton is at the admiralty. There is a mezzotint by T. Burford.
[Charnock's Biogr. Nav. iii. 341; Burchett's Transactions at Sea; Lediard's Naval History; Beatson's Nav. and Mil. Memoirs; Official Papers in the Public Record Office. Cf. also Stanhope's and Lecky's Histories of England; Torrens's Hist. of Cabinets; Coxe's Memoirs of Sir R. Walpole; Walpole's Letters, ed. Cunningham; Gent. Mag. 1749, p. 284; Official Returns of Members of Parl.; Norris's MSS. in Brit. Mus., esp. Add. 28126–57, logs, journals, and letter-books, of little biographical value.]