Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Norris, Thomas (1556-1599)
NORRIS, Sir THOMAS (1556–1599), president of Munster, fifth son of Henry, baron Norris of Rycote [q. v.], matriculated from Magdalen College, Oxford, in 1571, aged 15, and graduated B.A. on 6 April 1576 (foster, Alumni Oxon. 1500-1714). Sir John Norris (1547?-1597) [q. v.], and Sir Edward Norris [q. v.] were his brothers. In December 1579 he became, through the death of his eldest brother William and the influence of Sir William Pelham [q. v.], captain of a troop of horse in Ireland. He took an active part in the following year in the campaign against Gerald Fitzgerald, fifteenth earl of Desmond [q. v.]; but during the absence of Sir Nicholas Malby [q. v.], president of Connaught, in the winter of 1580-1, he acted as governor of that province, and gave great satisfaction by the energetic way in which he prosecuted the Burkes and other disturbers of the peace. In 1581-2 he was occupied, apparently between Clonmel and Kilmallock, in watching the movements of the Earl of Desmond, and on the retirement of Captain John Zouche [q. v.] in August 1582, on account of ill-health, he became colonel of the forces in Munster. He compelled the Earl of Desmond to abandon the siege of Dingle, but, owing to insufficient means, he was unable to accomplish anything of importance. In consequence of the appointment of the Earl of Ormonde as governor of Munster, Norris was able, early in 1583, to pay a brief visit to England. On his return he found employment in Ulster in settling a dispute between Hugh Oge O'Neill and Shane MacBrian O'Neill as to the possession of the castle of Edendougher (Shane's Castle), which he handed over to the latter as captain of Lower Clandeboye. He was warmly commended by Lords-justices Loftus and Wallop for his' valour, courtesy, and discretion.' In the autumn of 1584 he took part in Perrot's expedition against the Scots in Antrim, and in scouring the woods of Glenconkein in search of Sorley Boy MacDonnell [q. v.] he was wounded in the knee with an arrow.
He returned to Munster, and in 1585-6 represented Limerick in parliament. In December 1585 he was appointed vice-president of Munster during the absence in the Low Countries of his brother John. It was not an enviable post. His soldiers were ill clad and badly paid, and took every opportunity to desert. The plantation of Munster progressed at best very slowly, and every day brought fresh rumours of invasion. The defences of the province were weak in the extreme, and, though the general appearance of things was tranquil, the embers of the rebellion still smouldered; and in consequence of instructions from England, Norris, in March 1587, arrested John Fitzedmund Fitzgerald [a. v.], seneschal of Imokilly; Patrick Condon, and others, whose loyalty was at least doubtful. The marriage of Ellen, daughter and sole heiress of t he Earl of Clancar, was, from the extent of the property and interests involved, a subject which at this time much occupied the attention of government. Norris himself had been suggested as a suitable husband for the lady, but, 'after some pains taken he in the end misliked of it, being, as it seemed, otherwise disposed to bestow himself.' In June 1588 the matter became serious, when Florence MacCarthy [see Maccarthy Reagh, FloRence], seizing the opportunity to marry the lady, who was also his cousin, succeeded in uniting in himself the two main branches of the clan Carthy, and in accomplishing the very object it had been the intention of government to obviate. Norris at once arrested Florence, but was easily induced to believe that he had acted without evil intention, and was ' very penitent for his fault/ In December he was knighted by Sir William Fitzwilliam(1526-1599)[q.v.]; and Sir John Popham [q. v.] having consented to resign his seignory in the plantation of Munster, Norris obtained a grant of six thousand acres in and about Mallow. The Spanish Armada had failed in its object, but the air was still full of rumours of invasion, and in 1589-90 Norris wasengaged with Edmund Yorke, an engineer who had been sent over from England expressly for the purpose, in strengthening the fortifications of Limerick, Waterford, and Duncannon. His chief, and indeed perennial, difficulty was the want of money. He was constantly in arrears with his soldiers, and a detachment of them stationed at Limerick, taking advantage of his absence in May 1590, mutinied, and marched to Dublin, with the intention of insisting on the payment of their arrears, but were promptly reduced to submission and the ringleaders punished, by Sir William Fitzwilliam.
The plantation of Munster, from which so much had been hoped, not progressing according to Elizabeth's expectations, Norris, who was 'well acquainted with all the accidents and services of Munster,' was, in the winter of 1592-3, sent over to England to give a detailed report of all the proceedings of the commissioners of plantation. He returned apparently about May 1593. With the exception of some slight disturbances, caused during that summer by Donnogh MacCarthy, the Earl of Clancar's bastard son, nothing occurred for some time to break the peace of the province, and the work of the plantation accordingly proceeded apace. On 10 Aug. 1594 Norris went to Dublin to meet the new lord-deputy, Sir William Russell [q. v.], whom he attended in his progress through Ulster. In the following year he served under his brother, Sir John Norris, against the Earl of Tyrone, and was wounded in the thigh in the engagement that took place halfway between Newry and Armagh on 4 Sept. He was naturally involved in the quarrel between his brother and Sir William Russell, and was charged by the latter with neglecting the duties of his office at a time of great danger. He assisted Sir John Norris as commissioner for the pacification of Connaught in June 1596; but in August he was engaged in repelling an incursion of the MacSheehys and O'Briens into Munster. He hanged ninety of them within ten days; but it was only after repeated exertions that he managed to rid the province of them. He again in September accompanied Sir John Norris into Connaught, and, Sir Richard Bingham's disgrace having temporarily deprived that province of its governor, he was appointed by his brother provisional president of Connaught: 'more,' I protest Sir John wrote, 'to follow Sir Geoffrey Fenton's advice than my own, fearing lest his remove hereafter should be a disgrace unto us both.' The arrival shortly afterwards of the new president, Sir Conyers Clifford [q. v.], enabled him to return to his own province, and in June 1597 it was reported that he had reduced Munster to tolerable quietness, and had 'happily cut off, both by prosecution and justice, many of the most dangerous rebels of that province.' On the death of Sir John Norris in that year he succeeded him on 20 Sept. as president of Munster, and in consequence shortly afterwards of the sudden death of the lord-deputy, Lord Borough, he was on 29 Oct. elected by the council, as being 'in their conceits a person tempered both for martial affairs and civil government,' lord justice of Ireland. The election was not confirmed by Elizabeth, on the ground that his presence was specially required in Munster. Accordingly, Loftus and Gardiner having been appointed lords justices, Norris returned to Munster on 29 Nov. On the general insurrection of the Irish after the battle of the Yellow Ford, on 14 Aug. 1598, and the irruption into Munster of the Leinster Irish, under Owny MacRory O'More, Norris concentrated his forces in the neighbourhood of Mallow; but, not feeling sufficiently strong to encounter Owny MacRory, he withdrew to Cork. He was much blamed for his precipitate retreat. 'Sir Thomas Norris,' wrote John Chamberlain on 22 Nov. 1598, 'hath his part with the rest, and is thought to have taken the alarm too soon, and left his station before there was need, whereby the enemy was too much encouraged, and those that were well affected or stood indifferent forced to follow the tide.' Things went rapidly from bad to worse. Norris himself suffered severely: his English sheep were stolen, his park wall broken down, and his deer let loose. Towards the end of December, however, he managed, though fiercely attacked by William Burke, to relieve Kilmallock. But a second expedition on 27 March 1599 merely resulted in the capture of Carriglea Castle, and on 4 April he returned to Cork, skirmishing with the Irish to the very walls of the city. The arrival of the Earl of Essex afforded him a slight breathing space. He went to Kilkenny to meet the lord-lieutenant, and, returning to Munster, was on his way from Buttevant to Limerick on 30 May, when, at a place conjectured to be Kilteely, near Hospital, co. Limerick, he encountered a body of Irish under Thomas Burke. In the skirmish 'he received a violent and venomous thrust of a pike where the jaw-bone joins the upper part of the neck.' The Burkes were completely routed,' which service,' wrote Chamberlain, 'is much magnified by her majesty herself to the old Lord and Lady Norris, with so many good and gracious words to them in particular as were able to revive them if they were in swoune or half dead.' Norris's wound was not at first thought likely to prove fatal. He reached Limerick apparently on 4 June, and, having revictualled Askeaton, he joined Essex at Kilmallock, and attended him in his progress through the province till his departure on 20 June. But with the exertion his wound became rapidly worse. He was taken to his house at Mallow, and, after lingering for some time in great pain, he died there on 20 Aug. 1599. Norris was apparently a man of literary tastes, and is mentioned by Lodowick Bryskett [q. v.] as one of the company to whom Spenser on a well-known occasion unfolded his project of the 'Faerie Queen.' According to Edmund Yorke—and he seems to have expressed the general opinion—Norris was 'a gentleman of very great worth, modesty, and discretion.' He married Bridget, daughter of Sir William Kingsmill of Sydmonton, Hampshire, by whom he had one daughter, Elizabeth, his sole heiress, who married Sir John Jephson of Froyle in Hampshire. Their son, William Jephson, is separately noticed.[Burke's Extinct Peerage; Cal. of State Papers, Irel. Eliz.; Cal. of Carew MSS.; Cal. of Fiants, Eliz.; Harl. MS. 1425, f. 51; Annals of the Four Masters, ed. O'Donovan; MacCarthy's Life and Letters of Florence MacCarthy Reagh; Trevelyan's Papers and Chamberlain's Letters in Camden Society; Smith's Antient and Present State of County Cork; O'Sullivan's Historiæ Catholicæ Hiberniæ Compendium, ed. M. Kelly, 1850; Moryson's Itinerary (Rebellion in Ireland); Gibson's Hist. of Cork; Peter Lombard, De Regno Hiberniæ Commentarius; Wiffen's House of Russell; Brady's Records of Cork, Cloyne, and Ross; Liber Hiberniæ; Cox's Hibernia Anglicana; Bryskett's Discourse of Civill Life; Bagwell's Ireland under the Tudors; Devereux's Lives of the Earls of Essex.]