NORTON, Richard (1615-91), of Southwick and Old Alresford, Hants.
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Family and Education
b. 19 Nov. 1615, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Sir Daniel Norton† of Southwick by Honor, da. and coh. of Sir John White of Southwick. educ. privately (Mr Fletcher); Brasenose, Oxf. 1631; G. Inn 1634; travelled abroad 1634-6. m. (1) 4 July 1636, Anne, da. of Sir Walter Erle of Charborough, Dorset, 1s. d.v.p. 1da.; (2) Elizabeth, da. of William, 1st Visct. Saye and Sele, 3s. 2da. suc. fa. 1636.2
Col. of militia ft. Hants by 1640-2, ?1689-d.; freeman, Portsmouth 1640, 1682, Winchester by 1647; j.p. Hants 1641-d., sheriff 1643-4, commr. for assessment 1643-52, 1657, 1659-80, 1689-90, sequestration 1643, accounts 1643, execution of ordinances 1644, safety 1645, militia 1648, Mar. 1660, scandalous ministers 1654, oyer and terminer, Western circuit 1655, July 1660-at least 1673; commr. for security, Hants 1655-6; foreman of grand jury, Hants 1656; lt. Alice Holt and Woolmer forests 1657-9, July 1660-2; dep. lt. Hants July 1660-?76, 1689-d., commr. for recusants 1675; gov. of White Paper Makers Co. by 1690-d.3
Commr. for exclusion from sacrament 1646, scandalous offences 1648; councillor of state 1652-3, 25 Feb.-29 May 1660; commr. for army 1653-4, trade 1655-7.
Norton’s father, a younger son of the Rotherfield family, took to the sea, but acquired the former monastic estate of Southwick, seven miles from Portsmouth, by marrying an heiress. A puritan and a member of the country party, he sat for Portsmouth or Hampshire in several Parliaments, and acted as guardian of Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper from 1631 to his death. Norton was likewise a Presbyterian, and fought for Parliament in the Civil War with unquestionable courage but only moderate success. He sat for the county as a recruiter until Pride’s Purge, and was readmitted in 1651 as a special favour to Oliver Cromwell, whose son’s marriage he had arranged. But he was in touch with royalist agents by 1658 and lost office on the overthrow of the Protectorate. On the return of the secluded Members he was elected to the Council of State and made governor of Portsmouth.5
Norton was returned at the general election of 1660 for Portsmouth as well as for Hampshire, where he was probably unopposed after an electoral bargain with Andrew Henley. Choosing to sit for the county, he was marked as a friend by Lord Wharton. But ‘Idle Dick’ (as the Protector called him) was not an active Member of this or any later Parliament. He made no recorded speeches, but he had taken his seat in the Convention by 5 May, when he told Edmund Ludlow: ‘You see into what a condition you have brought us’, and rather heartlessly offered to buy the regicide’s horse, ‘intimating thereby that he thought I was not like to be long in a condition to make use of any’. He was named only to the committees to draw up instructions for the messengers to the King and to confer with the Lords about his reception. Lord Wharton, mindful perhaps of his second wife’s strong Independent proclivity, listed him as a friend; but he had undoubtedly become a Royalist, and had no difficulty in making his peace with the Court, probably through the intervention of William Legge I, whose brother had married Norton’s sister. He regained the lieutenancy of two local forests, and was allowed to retain the command of the Portsmouth garrison.6
Norton had to step down from the county seat in 1661, but strengthened his position at Portsmouth with a timely demand for the arrears of pay due to the garrison, and was duly elected there. Again listed by Lord Wharton as a friend, he ‘scrupled to take the sacrament kneeling’ at the corporate communion of 26 May, though he urged conformity. He served on no committees of political importance, and on only 29 throughout the Cavalier Parliament. He remained for several years in good standing with the Government. Even after handing over the crown forests to Legge in 1662, he supplied the navy with timber from his own woodlands, and joined with two other Hampshire Members, Lord St. John (Charles Powlett I) and Sir Robert Howard, in raising a loan of £20,000 for the second Dutch war, for which, moreover, he himself returned briefly to the colours. He was the only Member in 1668-9 to be noted both as a friend of Ormonde and as one to be engaged for the Court by Buckingham, and it is a further indication of his popularity with both sides of the House that he was not called to the bar in 1671 to explain his default in attendance, but allowed to make his excuse from his place. His real reason was probably distaste for the conventicles bill, since he was at this time maintaining an ejected minister in his house. On 3 Feb. 1674 he was given leave to introduce a bill for paving the Portsmouth streets and erecting an almshouse and workhouse, which obtained two readings but failed to emerge from committee before the end of the session. He was appointed to the committee to hear a petition from the Isle of Wight against the customs officers at Portsmouth and other mainland ports in 1675, and soon afterwards went into opposition. Edward Noel seems to have omitted him from the lieutenancy, and in 1677 Cooper (now Earl of Shaftesbury) marked him ‘doubly worthy’, later reduced to ‘worthy’.7
Norton was returned as knight of the shire for the fifth time in the first general election of 1679, and again marked ‘worthy’ on Shaftesbury’s list. He was appointed only to the committee of elections and privileges in the first Exclusion Parliament, and with his usual prudence abstained from the division on the bill. He sat for Portsmouth in the second and third Exclusion Parliaments, in which he was totally inactive. He remained on the commission of the peace, but did not stand in 1685. He told the regulators in April 1688 that he would consent to the repeal of the Penal Laws, but not of the Tests. In September the King’s electoral agents reported that ‘the leaving Colonel Norton out of the commission of the peace, who we are assured will go right in your Majesty’s interests, is a trouble to many’. He declined to stand for the county, but it was reported that Petersfield would elect him and that John Braman had ‘fully discoursed him as thoroughly right’. On the dÃ©bacle that followed the Dutch invasion, he wrote: ‘Oh, unhappy man to follow such counsel! The like was never, or will be in story: a King with a great army driven out of his kingdom by a lesser army without fighting!’ At the general election he was involved in a double return at Petersfield with Robert Michell, which he renounced, but he regained his seat at Portsmouth though unable or unwilling to bring in Francis Gwyn as his colleague. He did not attend the opening weeks of the Convention, being still detained in the country by indisposition on 23 Feb. 1689. He was appointed to the committee to bring in a bill to render the militia more effective on 24 Apr., and in the following month received William III at Southwick. In the second session he was appointed to the committee of inquiry into martial law on St. Helena, but was given leave of absence for a month on 7 Dec., thereby missing the divisions on the disabling clause in the bill to restore corporations. At the general election of 1690 he was again returned for the county, but died in May 1691. His grandson sat for Hampshire as a Whig from 1693 to 1700.