Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Norris, Henry (d.1536)

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NORRIS, HENRY (d. 1536), courtier, was second son of Sir Edward Norris or Norreys who took part in the battle of Stoke in 1487, and was then knighted, by his wife Frideswide, daughter of Francis, viscount Lovel. The eldest son, John Norris, was an esquire of the body to Henry VIII, and was afterwards usher of the outer chamber both to Henry VIII and Edward VI. He was afterwards promoted as ‘a rank papist’ to be chief usher of the privy chamber to Queen Mary (Strype, Memorials, iii. i. 100–1, and Annals, i. i. 8). He married Elizabeth, sister of Edmund, lord Braye; but dying, according to Dugdale, on 21 Oct. 1564, left no legitimate issue, and his property descended to his brother's son.

The family was connected with the Norrises of Speke, Lancashire, a member of which, Richard de Norreys, cook to Eleanor, queen of Henry III, had been granted in 1267 the manor of Ockholt in the parish of Bray, Berkshire, at a fee-farm rent of 40s. More than a century later this property at Bray fell to John, the second son by a second marriage of Sir Henry Norris of Speke. This John Norris must be regarded as the founder of the chief Berkshire family of Norris. (His half-brother William was great-great-grandfather of another John Norris who founded in the sixteenth century another family of Norris at Fyfield, also in Berkshire.) The great-grandson of John, founder of the Bray line, also named John, was first usher to the chamber in Henry VI's reign, squire of the body, master of the wardrobe, sheriff of Oxford and Berkshire in 1442 and 1457, and squire of the body to Edward IV. He built at Bray the ancient mansion at Ockholt known as Ockwells, and through his marriage with Alice Merbrooke, his first wife, added to his estates the manor of Yattendon, Berkshire. He died on 1 Sept. 1467, and was buried at Bray in an aisle of the church which he had himself erected. His will is printed in Charles Kerry's ‘History of Bray,’ 1861 (pp. 116 seq.). By his second wife, Millicent, daughter and heiress of Ravenscroft of Cotton-End, Hardingstone, Northamptonshire, he had several children. One son, John of Ockholt, was sheriff of Oxfordshire and Berkshire in 1479. Another son, Sir William, inherited the manor of Yattendon, was knighted in early youth at the battle of Northampton on 9 July 1458 (Metcalfe, Knights, p. 2), and was afterwards knight of the body to Edward IV. He was sheriff of Oxfordshire and Berkshire in 1468–9, 1482–3, and 1486. In October 1483 he joined in the rebellion of the Duke of Buckingham [see Stafford, Henry], and was attainted of high treason (Rot. Parl. vi. 245 b). But he escaped to Brittany, where he joined Henry of Richmond, and returned in 1485, when Henry became king. In 1487 he commanded at the battle of Stoke. Dugdale assumed that he was ‘learned in the laws’ because in 1487 John, duke of Suffolk, granted him ‘pro bono consilio impenso et impendendo’ an annuity of twenty marks out of the manor of Swerford, Oxfordshire, while Henry VII, in 1502, ‘for the like consideration of his counsel,’ made him custodian of the manor of Langley, and steward of the manors of Burford, Shipton, Spellesbury, and the Hundred of Chadlington, all in Oxfordshire, and the property of Edward, the infant heir of George, duke of Clarence. A manor adjoining Yattendon, of which Sir William became possessed about 1500, was thenceforth known as Hampstead Norris. (It had been previously called successively Hampstead Cifrewast and Hampstead Ferrars (cf. Lysons, Berkshire, p. 287).) Sir William married twice. By his first wife, Isabel, daughter and heiress of Sir Edmund Ingoldesthorpe of Borough Green, near Newmarket, and widow of John Neville, marquis of Montagu [q. v.], he was father of William (knighted in 1487), Lionel (knighted in 1529), and Richard (all of whom died young), and of three daughters. By his second wife, Jane, daughter of John Vere, twelfth earl of Oxford, he had a son Edward, who alone of his sons lived to middle age and was father of the subject of this notice (cf. Davenport, Sheriffs of Oxfordshire; Kerry, Hist. of Bray).

Henry Norris came to court in youth, was appointed gentleman of the king's chamber, and was soon one of the most intimate friends of Henry VIII. The king made him many grants, and his influence at court grew rapidly. On 8 June 1515 he was made keeper of the park of Foley John, an office which had been held by his father. On 17 Feb. 1518 he became weigher at the common beam at Southampton, then the great mart of the Italian merchants; on 28 Jan. 1518–9 he was appointed bailiff of Ewelme. He was also keeper of the king's privy purse. In 1519 he received an annuity of fifty marks, and he was at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520. On 12 Sept. 1523 he received the keepership of Langley New Park, Buckinghamshire, and was made bailiff of Watlington. He early took the side against Wolsey, and was one of the main instruments in bringing about his fall. Wolsey certainly recommended him for promotion in the letter of 5 July 1528; but it may be assumed from the letter itself that this was rather done to secure Norris's favour for the writer himself than with the idea that Norris had any need of the cardinal's influence (State Papers, i. 309; Brewer, Hen. VIII, ii. 326; cf. Bapst, Deux Gentilshommes poétes de la cour de Henry VIII, p. 127).

Norris adhered closely to Anne Boleyn while she was gaining her position at court, and became one of her intimate friends and a leader of the faction that supported her proud pretensions to control the state. He had the sweating sickness in 1528, and on 25 Oct. 1529 gratified his enmity to Wolsey by being present when he resigned the great seal. On 24 Oct. he was the only attendant on Henry, when the king went with Anne and her mother to inspect Wolsey's property. He was the bearer of Henry's kind message to Wolsey at Putney about the same time, and seems to have been affected by Wolsey's fallen condition. In the same year he received a grant of 100l. a year from the revenues of the see of Winchester, and was soon promoted to be groom of the stole. In 1531 he was made chamberlain of North Wales; in November 1532 he was again ill; in 1534 he was appointed constable of Beaumaris Castle; in 1535 he received various manors which Sir Thomas More had held. He was present at the execution of the Charterhouse monks on 4 May 1535, and Henry granted him the important constableship of Wallingford (29 Nov. 1535); and he was generally regarded as the king's agent in the promotion of the new marriage with Lady Jane Seymour. In April 1536 Anne had some talk with Sir Francis Weston, who hinted to her that Norris loved her; she afterwards spoke to Norris about it, and jokingly said that he was waiting for dead men's shoes. He protested, and in the end she asked him to contradict any rumours he might hear about her conduct. But Norris had many enemies, and his alleged intimacy with Anne was carefully reported to Cromwell. On 1 May 1536 Norris took part in the tournament at Greenwich [see Anne, 1507–1536], and at the close Henry spoke to Norris, telling him that he was suspected of an intrigue with Anne, and urging him to confess. He was then arrested and taken to the Tower by Sir William Fitzwilliam. He was tried on 12 May in Westminster Hall. He pleaded not guilty, but was found guilty, and executed on 17 May. He was buried in the churchyard of the Tower. There is little reason to think that he had behaved in any way improperly with the queen. Most of the jury seem to have been officials or open to suspicion of partiality. According to Naunton, Queen Elizabeth always honoured his memory, believing that he died ‘in a noble cause and in the justification of her mother's innocence.’ At the time of his arrest he was contemplating a second marriage with Margaret Shelton [q. v.], and both his interest and his long experience as a courtier would doubtless have deterred him from encountering the danger certain to spring from a liaison with Anne Boleyn. His knowledge of Henry would also have taught him that his ruin and death must be the consequence of such desperate adventures. He married Mary, daughter of Thomas Fiennes, lord Dacre of the South. She died before 1530, and by her he had a son Henry, first baron Norris of Rycote, who is separately noticed. A son Edward, born in 1524, had died 16 July 1529. A daughter Mary married (1) Sir George Carew, and (2) Sir Arthur Champernowne.

[Letters and Papers, Hen. VIII, 1509–36; State Papers, Hen. VIII, vol. i. passim, vii. 143; Friedmann's Anne Boleyn, passim; Nicolas's Privy Purse Expenses of Henry VIII, pp. 30, 175, 224, 275; Chron. of Calais (Camd. Soc.), p. 26; Wriothesley's Chron. (Camd. Soc.), i. 35, 40; Notes and Queries, 6th ser. ix. 374; Strickland's Queens of England, iv. 156, &c.; Lingard's Hist. of Engl. v. 63; Froude's Divorce of Catherine of Aragon; Dugdale's Baronage; Banks's Extinct Baronage of England, iii. 396; Cavendish's Wolsey, ed. Singer; Napier's Hist. of Swyncombe and Ewelme, p. 341; Gregson's Portfolio, p. 199; Lee's Hist. of Thame, p. 442; Hasted's Kent, ed. Drake, xvi. &c.; Brewer's Reign of Henry VIII, vol. ii.]

W. A. J. A.