NORRIS, Sir Henry I (c.1525-1601), of Rycote, Oxon. and Bray, 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.1525, 1st s. of Henry Norris of Bray by Mary, da. of Thomas Fiennes, Lord Dacre of the South. m. by 1544, Margery or Margaret (d.1599), yr. da. and coh. of John Williams, Lord Williams of Thame, 6s. inc. Edward, Sir Henry II, Sir John and William 1da. suc. fa. 1536. Kntd. 1566; cr. Lord Norris 1572.

Offices Held

In King’s service by Aug. 1544; official of royal stables by 1546; gent. of privy chamber to Edw. VI by 1547; butler of Poole 1553; j.p. Berks. from 1559, Oxon. from c.1561, sheriff, Oxon. and Berks. 1562-3; ambassador to France 1566-70; keeper of the armoury and porter of the outer gate, Windsor castle 1578; high steward, Abingdon c.1580, Wallingford from 1588; jt. ld. lt. Oxon. and Berks. from c.1585-99, first with Sir Francis , then with (Sir) William Knollys; capt. of light horse, the Queen’s bodyguard July 1588.1


Norris moved about 1559 from Berkshire to Rycote, his main seat for the rest of his life. In 1565 the death of his uncle Sir John Norris added to his original inheritance in Berkshire. He had a town house at Charing Cross, where as an old man he received the governor of Dunkirk into custody.

At Elizabeth’s accession he and his wife became firm favourites at court, Sir Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, describing them as ‘a hearty noble couple ... as ever I saw towards her Highness’. Lady Norris became an intimate friend of Elizabeth, who gave her the nickname of her ‘Crow’.2

In September 1562, during a change of ambassadors, Norris was for a short time in Paris, where he tried to explain Elizabeth’s anger at recent developments in French policy. After his return he spent much of his time at court, and was a competitor in the tournament held in November 1565 to celebrate the Earl of Warwick’s marriage. The Queen knighted him on her visit to Rycote in 1566. During his period as ambassador to France, Cecil several times urged him to economize. By February 1569 he was asking to be recalled, and his successor was sent out in December 1570.3

By the time of the election for the 1571 Parliament, Norris was an obvious choice for an Oxfordshire seat, and he was instrumental in getting Richard Ward elected for Berkshire. There is evidence that Norris was able to exercise influence at Abingdon during the 1580s. Norris was active in the Parliament of 1571. He made a ‘short, mild and plain speech’ on the bill to preserve the Queen’s safety, 9 Apr. and two days later spoke on the Bristol merchants’ bill. He served on committees considering the subsidy, 7 Apr.; religion, 10 Apr.; the treasons bill, 11 May and fugitives, 25 May. He received a writ of summons to the Lords in May 1572 and in 1576 Parliament passed an Act restoring him in blood. A statute in 1585 settled a land dispute Norris and his wife had with Lord and Lady Dacre.4

Norris and Sir Francis Knollys were the two leading magnates in Berkshire and Oxfordshire. Each had a large family of sons:

No county in England can present such a brace of families contemporaries, with such a bunch of brethren ... for eminent achievements. So great their states and stomachs that they often jostled together; and no wonder if Oxfordshire wanted room for them, when all England could not hold them together.

However, the two fathers seem usually to have worked amicably with each other, perhaps because both had puritan sympathies. Jointly in 1579 they petitioned Leicester, as chancellor of Oxford university, to obtain a licence for the puritan preacher John Field, as they wished to ‘place him in a lecture at Henley’. All but one of Norris’s sons died as soldiers, his heir, William, in 1579, and between 1593 and the autumn of 1599 four younger sons. In August 1599 two sons died within a week, both in Ireland. Elizabeth wrote a personal letter of sympathy to the bereaved parents, promising to recall their one remaining son, Sir Edward, to England, ‘as we know that it would stay your sorrow to see him that is in foreign parts’. Before the end of the year Lady Norris was also dead, leaving her husband with considerable financial complications. He was a wealthy man, but most of his land was entailed or ‘engaged in the Queen’s hands’, and several of his sons had died in debt. Elizabeth wrote off £2,000 owing to her from one of them, Sir John, in the Netherlands, but Lord Norris, now an old man, found the amount of work involved in the settlement of so many different estates a severe strain. In addition there was a court of wards commission to inquire into his wife’s property. In July 1600 he wrote to Sir Robert Cecil with a sharpness unusual for him:

I perceive by your letters there is a great looking into my proceedings. My course of life has been such that I may hope to obtain the privilege ... to do with my own as seems to me best.

His health had begun to fail, but he refused to give up his old manner of life. Dudley Carleton wrote in October:

Our old Lord draws every day downward, and yet retains his old stirring spirits, being every morning on horseback before any man else be on foot.

He died on 27 June 1601, and in August was buried at Rycote. His will, made in September 1599, was proved in July 1601. His wife was still named as an executrix. Her co-executor was their son Edward, and the supervisor (Sir) Thomas Egerton, the lord keeper, to whom Norris left £100.5

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. CP; LJ, i. 704; LP Hen. VIII, xvii. p. 564; xxi(2), p. 401; CPR, 1553-4, p. 276; OR, i. 375; Bull. IHR, v. 20-1; APC, xv. 118; xvi. 196; CSP Dom. 1595-7, p. 296; LP Hen. VIII, ix(2) g 166(64).
  • 2. LP Hen. VIII, xvii. p. 564; xix(2), p. 82; CPR, 1553-4, p. 276; 1558-60, p. 448; 1560-3, pp. 383-4; 1563-6, p. 196; C142/141/1; HMC Hatfield, vii. 434-5; Chron. Q. Jane and Q. Mary (Cam. Soc. xlviii), 100; H. Nicolas, Sir Christopher Hatton, 270.
  • 3. CSP For. 1562, p. 296; 1569-71, pp. 32, 378; Strype, Cheke, 134; Read, Cecil, 391-2.
  • 4. St. Ch. 5/N10/11, N16/38; D’Ewes, 159, 160, 161, 178, 183, 188; CJ, i. 83, 84, 85, 89, 92; Trinity, Dublin, anon. jnl. ff. 8-9; Private Act 18 Eliz. 27; CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 516; LJ, ii. 87.
  • 5. Fuller, Worthies, iii. 15; Reg. Oxf. Univ. (Oxf. Hist. Soc. x), ii(1), p. 149; SP40/1, p. 126; CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 703; 1598-1601, pp. 11, 319, 481; CSP For. 1584-5, pp. 676-7; 1585-6, p. 33; HMC Hatfield, iv. 377; vi. 469; x. 111, 251; APC, xxx. 138-9; PCC 51 Woodhall.