NORRIS, Edward (c.1550-1603), of Rycote, Oxon. and Englefield, Berks.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

b. c.1550, 3rd s. of Sir Henry Norris I, 1st Lord Norris of Rycote, by Margery or Margaret, da. and coh. of John Williams, Lord Williams of Thame; bro. of Sir Henry II, Sir John and William. m. 1600, Elizabeth, da. and h. of John Norris of Fyfield, Berks., wid. of one Webb of Salisbury, s.p. Kntd. 1586.2

Offices Held

Capt. in the Netherlands 1578, in Ireland c.1584; Lt. to (Sir) Philip Sidney as gov. of Flushing; capt. on the Portugal expedition 1589; sewer of the Household by 1590; gov. Ostend 1590-9; j.p. Berks. 1598, custos rot. 1601, j.p.q. Berks. and Oxon. 1601; clerk of the petty bag by May 1600.3


Though the Norris and Knollys families were rivals in Oxfordshire, Edward Norris was returned for Oxford at a by-election in January 1581, while Sir Francis Knollys was high steward and one of his sons the senior burgess for the town; it was Knollys, indeed, who had recently broken the corporation’s opposition to the return of ‘outsiders’. Possibly Norris’s election for Oxford, like his return for Abingdon in 1584, was the result of his father’s purchase in 1574 of the Earl of Leicester’s estate on Cumnor hill, which overlooks both towns. Some time after this purchase Lord Norris may have succeeded Leicester as high steward of Abingdon, of which Edward Norris was sworn a secondary burgess on 18 Nov. 1584 and immediately chosen MP.4

Leicester had no good opinion of Norris, whom he blamed for his brother John’s insubordination. Defending John’s honour, Edward was involved in August 1586 in a drunken brawl with a Count Hohenloe, whom he tried to provoke to a duel, Sir Philip Sidney bearing the cartel; in May 1588 Norris was still pleading with Walsingham that he might be allowed to fight Hohenloe, which Leicester had forbidden. As the Armada approached he asked to be allowed to return home, and both Edward and John Norris were in England, personally attending upon the Queen, in the autumn of 1588, and able to secure return to Parliament. In July 1590 Burghley secured the governorship of Ostend for Norris, who had recovered from a head wound received on the Portugal expedition. The Queen, displeased at his impending departure from court, forbade him to go till his office of sewer had been filled. Norris was clearly something of a favourite. As governor, facing several attacks upon Ostend and an attempt on his life with a poisoned dagger by an agent of the Cardinal Archduke, he received personal letters of exhortation from the Queen, who addressed him as ‘Ned’. He had harsher treatment from Elizabeth than from the Privy Council, however, in the matter of the continual complaints about his conduct made by the Dutch estates, which he was told to answer in person. In 1599 his last two surviving brothers died in Ireland, and in September he was recalled to comfort his aged parents.5

On his return, Norris settled at Englefield in the house, which he bought for £1,500, forfeited by the attainted Catholic exile, Sir Francis Englefield; the Queen visited him there in 1601. Despite rumours in 1600 that he would become president of Munster, and in 1602 that he was to be appointed deputy of Ireland, and although he kept himself informed of events in Ireland and the Netherlands through his servants, Captain George Whitton and Dudley Carleton, he was thenceforward less interested in resuming his military activities than in building up his property and influence in Oxfordshire and Berkshire. Excluded from succession to Lord Norris’s wealth by the son of the eldest of his dead brothers, he hoped to found a new line by marrying the daughter and only child of John Norris of Fyfield. He enlarged his house and made a new park for the sake of his wife, already a rich widow, and in October 1600 went to court ‘well attended with martial followers ... to present himself a married man’. But no heir was born, and it was reported that his wife ‘feigned a miscarriage’.6

It appears that Norris took advantage of the age of his father and the youth of his father’s heir. He ‘gave it out’ that no one was to communicate with his father except through him. When Lord Norris died in the summer of 1601, Edward was executor with his mother, and in this capacity engaged in litigation with the new Lord Norris ‘even to the making of him[self] ridiculous’. But his nephew’s wife was the niece of Sir Robert Cecil, with whom Norris himself was at odds. Perhaps in consequence he acted in a compromising fashion towards Essex, whom he sped to Ireland with hopes that he would return in glory. When he took his wife to court, he effected some reconciliation with Cecil, and ‘had his face washed with court holy water’, but ‘he speedily returned to his climacterical talk, and in the way homeward, marred all again by his visitation of my Lord of Essex, with many caresses and kind greetings’. Friendship with Essex did not mean any lessening in the traditional rivalry with the Earl’s uncle, (Sir) William Knollys, however, and here Norris had no success. The two men quarrelled scandalously over the stewardship of Sonning, at the funeral of Lord Norris, to whose lieutenancies Knollys succeeded, though Norris had asked them of Cecil. Norris was not ‘of the Parliament’ in 1601, as John Chamberlain remarked, though he was much in town.7

In London he feasted, was ‘much visited by cavaliers’ and attended the gaming tables, comforting himself with the reflection that losses there were less dangerous than in competition at court, a ‘base kind of business ... wherein we give matter to all men to speak, but none to our good’. In an isolated revelation of religious conviction, he remarked that ‘God has made in our family patterns for men to judge what the world is worth, and how vain all is, save only the contemplation of God’. He died 8 Sept. 1603, and was buried in Englefield church. His nephew, Lord Norris, succeeded to his estates. His will, which has not survived, was the subject of a suit between his heir and his widow’s third husband; Lord Norris offered to settle by paying ‘the pretended executors’ £2,000 for Norris’s debts and £1,000 for his servants.8

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: Alan Harding


  • 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
  • 2. DNB; Vis. Berks. (Harl. Soc. lvii), 185; CP.
  • 3. Lansd. 64, ff. 155, 157; CSP Dom. 1598-1601, p. 435; HMC De L’Isle and Dudley, iii. 270.
  • 4. Sir R. Naunton, Fragmenta Regalia, ed. Arber, 39-41; VCH Berks. iv. 400; A. E. Preston, St. Nicholas, Abingdon, 425-7; Abingdon bor. recs. minutes, 1, f. 52v.
  • 5. Leycester Corresp. (Cam. Soc. xxvii), 301, 391-2, 394, 473; CSP For. 1586-7, p. 173; 1587, pp. 205-7; Jan.-June 1588(1), pp. 346, 531; July-Dec. 1588, pp. 18, 175, 366; Lansd. 64, ff. 149, 155, 157; 100, f. 100 seq.; HMC Hatfield, v. 500; viii. 133-5; APC, xxi. 273; xxii. 109-11, 362, 392; xxv. 172; CSP Dom. 1595-7, p. 362; 1598-1601, p. 319; J. L. Motley, United Netherlands, iii. 268.
  • 6. CSP Dom. 1598-1601, pp. 34, 392, 444, 478, 481; 1601-3, p. 65; HMC De L’Isle and Dudley, ii. 40; Chamberlain Letters ed. McClure, i. 131, 142, 149.
  • 7. HMC Hatfield, viii. 281, 404, 506; x. 15, 251, 296; xi. 324, 584; xv. 177-8, 184; PCC 51 Woodhall; CSP Dom. 1598-1601, pp. 197-8, 456, 478; Chamberlain Letters, i. 128, 134.
  • 8. Chamberlain Letters, i. 182; CSP Dom. 1598-1601, pp. 433, 458; Add. 1580-1625, p. 431; C142/314/127; HMC Hatfield, xvi. 247, 344; A. C. Baker, Historic Abingdon, 35.