Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Norris, Henry (1525?-1601)

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NORRIS, Sir HENRY, Baron Norris of Rycote (1525?–1601), was son and heir of Henry Norris (d. 1536) [q. v.] who was executed and attainted as the alleged lover of Anne Boleyn. He seems to have been born about 1525. His age was officially declared in 1564 to be only thirty (Dugdale), but this statement is irreconcilable with the records of his early years. Henry VIII restored to him much of his father's confiscated estate, ‘with some strict conditions respecting the estate of his grandmother, who was one of the heirs of Viscount Lovell’ (Camden, p. 636). As a young man he seems to have become an attendant in the private chamber of Edward VI, and to have sat in parliament in 1547 as M.P. for Berkshire (Return of Members, i. 423). He signed, on 21 June 1553, the letters patent drawn up by the Duke of Northumberland in order to limit the succession to the crown to Lady Jane Grey (Queen Mary and Queen Jane, Camd. Soc., p. 100). In early life, before 1545, he married Marjorie, daughter of John Williams, who was created Lord Williams of Thame in 1554. During Mary's reign Norris resided at Wytham, Berkshire, one of the manors of his father-in-law. In 1555–6 the site and lands of the monastery of Little Marlow, Buckinghamshire, were alienated to Norris and Lord Williams jointly. Williams's death in 1559 put Norris and his wife into possession of the estate and manor-house of Rycote, near Thame, Oxfordshire, where he chiefly resided thenceforth.

Williams had shared with Sir Henry Bedingfield the duty of guarding Elizabeth while she was imprisoned at Woodstock during Queen Mary's reign. He had treated the princess leniently, had invited her occasionally to Rycote, and his kindness was gratefully remembered by Elizabeth. She consequently showed, after her accession to the throne, exceptional favour to Norris and his wife. The latter she playfully nicknamed her ‘black crow’ in reference to her dark complexion. Nor was Elizabeth unmindful of the fate of Norris's father, whom she believed to have sacrificed his life in the interests of her mother, Anne Boleyn. She at once restored to him all the property which Henry VIII had withheld (Camden). According to Sir Robert Naunton and Fuller, the attentions Elizabeth bestowed on Norris and his kinsfolk excited the jealousy of Sir Francis Knollys [q. v.] and his sons, whom she also admitted to friendly relations. The bickerings at court between the two families continued through the reign.

In 1561 Norris was sheriff of Oxfordshire and Berkshire. In 1565 he took part in a tournament in the queen's presence on the occasion of the marriage of Ambrose Dudley, earl of Warwick (Strype, Cheke, p. 134). In September 1566 the queen visited him at his house at Rycote on her return from Oxford, and knighted him before her departure. In the autumn of 1566 she appointed him ambassador to France. Norris did what he could to protect the French protestants from the aggressions of the French government, but early in 1570 warned the English ministers that the French government threatened immediate war with England if Elizabeth continued to encourage the Huguenots in attacks upon their princes. Although he fulfilled his duties prudently, he was recalled in August 1570 to make way for Sir Francis Walsingham, who was commissioned to make a firmer stand in behalf of the French protestants. By way of recompense for his services abroad, Norris received a summons to the House of Lords, as Baron Norris of Rycote, on 8 May 1572. In September 1582 he was disappointed of a promised visit from the queen to Rycote, and was not well pleased when Leicester arrived in her stead; but his guest wrote that Norris and his wife were ‘a hearty noble couple as ever I saw towards her highness’ (Nicolas, Life of Hatton, pp. 269–70). In September 1592 the queen revisited Rycote on her journey from Oxford.

In October 1596 Norris was created lord lieutenant of Oxfordshire. He already held the same office for Berkshire. In 1597 the grief of Norris and his wife on the death of their distinguished son, Sir John, was somewhat assuaged by a stately letter of condolence from the queen to ‘my own dear crow,’ as Elizabeth still affectionately called Lady Norris (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1595–1597, p. 502). Norris died in June 1601, and was temporarily buried on the 21st in the church at Englefield, where his son Edward was living. Finally, on 5 Aug., he was interred at Rycote, in a vault beneath the chapel of St. Michael and All Angels, which was founded in 1449 by Richard Quatremains and Sybilla, his wife, in the grounds of Rycote house. The chapel, which is now disused and neglected, remained the chief burying-place of the Norrises and their descendants, the Berties, till about 1886. The house at Rycote was burnt down in 1747, but some remnants of it form part of the fabric of the farmhouse which now occupies its site (cf. Lee, Hist. of Thame, pp. 325 seq.; Basse, Works, ed. R. W. Bond, 1893, p. xvi). Norris's will was dated 24 Sept. 1589. His wife died in December 1599, and both she and himself are commemorated in the monument erected in honour of them and their six sons in St. Andrew's Chapel in Westminster Abbey. Life-size figures of Lord and Lady Norris lie beneath an elaborate canopy supported by marble pillars, and they are surrounded by kneeling effigies of their children.

‘Although himself of a meek and mild disposition,’ Norris was father of ‘a brood of spirited, martial men’ (Camden). His six sons all distinguished themselves as soldiers, fighting in France, Ireland, or the Low Countries. Norris outlived five of them; Edward, who, with John, the second son, and Thomas, the fifth son, is separately noticed, alone survived his parents.

The eldest son, William, was with Walter Devereux, earl of Essex, in Ulster in 1574, and was on one occasion rescued from death by his brother John (Stow, Chron. p. 805). He was, it appears, temporarily appointed in 1576 marshal of Berwick in succession to Sir William Drury [q. v.], but soon returned to Ireland. He died of a violent fever at Newry on 25 Dec. 1579, and is said to have accurately foretold his own death (cf. Cal. State Papers, Ireland, 1574–85, p. 201; Carew MSS. 1575–88, 188, 191, 193). The queen sent his mother a letter of condolence (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1547–80, p. 639). He married Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Richard Morison [q. v.], by whom he left a son Francis [see Norris, Francis, Earl of Berkshire].

Henry (1554–1599), Lord Norris's fourth son, matriculated from Magdalen College, Oxford, in 1571, and was created M.A. in 1588. He was captain of a company of English volunteers at Antwerp in June 1583 (Hist. MSS. Comm. 2nd Rep. p. 73), and while serving with his brothers John and Edward in the Low Countries in 1586 was knighted by the Earl of Leicester after the battle of Zutphen (September). He was sent to Brittany in May 1592 to report on the condition of the English forces, and in December 1593 was captain of a regiment of nine hundred Englishmen there (cf. Hatfield MSS. iv. 202; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1591–4, p. 397). He was M.P. for Berkshire in 1588–9 and 1597–1598, but spent his latest years with his brothers John and Thomas in Ireland. In 1595 he was colonel-general of infantry (Carew MSS. 1589–1600, p. 113). Taking part under Robert Devereux, second earl of Essex, in the campaign in Munster in June 1599, he was wounded in the leg in an engagement with the Irish at Finniterstown. He bore ‘amputation with extraordinary patience,’ but died a few weeks later. The youngest of Lord Norris's sons, Maximilian, was slain while fighting in Brittany under his brother John in 1593.

The family of Lord Norris of Rycote must be carefully distinguished from that of the contemporary John Norris of Fyfield, Berkshire, as well as from that of the contemporary Sir William Norris of Speke, Lancashire. The Fyfield family descended from the first marriage of Sir Henry Norris of Speke (fl. 1390), while the Rycote family descended from Sir Henry's second marriage [see under Norris, Henry, d. 1536)]. John Norris of Fyfield, in the sixteenth century, was succeeded by his son, Sir William Norris (1523–1591). Sir William was a member of Queen Mary's household, was M.P. for Windsor (1554–7), and was sent to France as her herald in 1557 to declare war against Henri II (cf. Discours de ce qu'a faict en France le Heraut d'Angleterre, Paris, 1557). He was continued in office by Queen Elizabeth, and was usher of the parliament-house, gentleman-pensioner, controller of the works of Windsor Castle and Park, and J.P. for Berkshire. He died on 9 Aug. 1591, being buried at Bray (Ashmole, Berkshire [1723], iii. 1). By his wife Mary, daughter of Adrian Fortescue, he left six sons and six daughters. His eldest son, John (d. 1612), was knighted at Reading in 1601, and was sheriff of Berkshire in the same year; by his wife Mary, daughter of George Bashford of Rickmansworth, he was father of Elizabeth, wife of Sir Edward Norris [q. v.]

To the Speke family belonged Sir William Norris, who is credited with having carried away at the capture of Edinburgh in 1543 some volumes from James IV's library at Holyrood, which, after remaining long at Speke, are now in the Liverpool Athenæum. By his first wife he was father of another William who was slain at Musselburgh in 1547, and by his second wife he had a son Edward, the builder, in 1598, of Speke Hall, whose younger son, William, was made K.B. at the coronation of James I, had the reputation of a spendthrift, died in 1626, and was great-grandfather of William Norris (1657–1702) [q. v.] (Baines, Lancashire [1836], iii. 754–5; Norris Papers, Chetham Soc., Pref.; cf. Whatton, Archæologia Scotica [1831], vol. iv. pt. i.)

[Kerry's Hist. of Bray; Lee's Hist. of Thame; Nichols's Progresses of Queen Elizabeth; Dugdale's Baronage; Davenport's Lord Lieutenants and High Sheriffs of Oxfordshire; Fuller's Worthies.]

S. L.