NORTON, Thomas (by 1532-84), of London.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer




Family and Education

b. by 1532, 1st s. of Thomas Norton of London by Elizabeth, da. of Robert Mery of Northaw, Herts. educ. Michaelhouse, Camb., matric. 1544 and 1545, MA 1570; I. Temple, adm. Nov. 1555. m. (1) by 1561, Margaret, da. of Thomas Cranmer, abp. of Canterbury, s.p.; (2) by 1568, Alice, da. of Edmund Cranmer, 4s. 2da. suc. fa. 10 Mar. 1583.1

Offices Held

Counsel to Stationers’ Co. 1562; remembrancer, London 6 Feb. 1571-d.? garbler of spices 10 Mar. 1583-d.; commr. to examine Catholic prisoners 1574, 1578-83, for Guernsey 1579, for Sark 1583; solicitor to Merchant Taylors’ Co. 1581; censor for bp. of London by 1581.2


Thomas Norton’s father, who came of a yeoman family at Sharpenhoe in Bedfordshire, made his career as a grocer in London. On 24 Oct. 1542 the City made him its garbler of spices for life, but when four years later he asked for the office to be assured to him and his heirs for 40 years the common council turned down the request. In the first session of the Parliament of 1547 he exhibited a bill to this effect which received two readings in the Commons before he withdrew it at the request of the aldermen. After agreeing to abide by the decision of the committee chosen to reconsider the matter he enlisted the aid of the Protector Somerset, but when the committee recommended an extension for one year after Norton’s death a further letter from Somerset in 1549 failed to obtain more than this nominal concession. This favour shown to the elder Norton by the Protector was perhaps linked with the younger Norton’s joining Somerset’s household as a tutor, although no reference has been found to his employment there before 1550. In that year Norton published his translation of the letter sent by Peter Martyr on Somerset’s release from the Tower. After Somerset’s death he assured Calvin that the duke’s children were

liberally educated and have no other attendants or governors but those to whom they were entrusted by their father in his lifetime. Philip Gilgate, a worthy gentleman, is their governor, and I retain my old office of instructing them.

A sonnet written while Norton was in Somerset’s service was included by William Turner in A Preservative or triacle agaynst the poyson of Pelagius in 1551 and his epitaph on Henry Williams was printed in The Songes and Sonnettes written by Henry Haward late Earle of Surrey and others six years later.3

Norton seems to have remained tutor to the Seymour children until his admission to the Inner Temple. It was probably not he but his father whose action against a servant of (Sir) Edward Hastings led to the issue of a writ of privilege by the Commons on Nov. 1553. Norton’s career at the Temple was marred by an affray in which he, Thomas Copley and others took part at the Autumn reading in 1556. The offenders were committed to the Fleet but were pardoned after making humble submission. It was doubtless Copley who suggested Norton as his fellow-Member at Gatton, where his mother was the sole elector. Norton later won fame as a speaker in the Commons but it was Copley who focused attention upon himself in the Parliament of 1558. All that is known about Norton as one of its Members is that his name is among those marked with a circle on a copy of the Crown Office list: the significance of this annotation is unexplained. In 1558 he became a freeman of the Grocers’ Company.4

In his Protestantism Norton inclined more to Calvin whose Institutes he translated than to Cranmer whose daughter and niece he married successively: his zeal for persecuting Catholics under Elizabeth earned him an unenviable reputation as ‘rackmaster-general’. His fame today rests not on his faith nor his activity in the House, but on his writings, particularly his co-authorship with Thomas Sackville of The Tragedie of Gorboduc. Norton died at Sharpenhoe on 10 Mar. 1584 and was buried at Streatley.5

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: S. R. Johnson


  • 1. Date of birth estimated from age at fa.’s i.p.m., C142/203/12. DNB; N. and Q. (ser. 3), iv. 480; Harl. 1234, f. 113; 1547, f. 45v; Her. and Gen. iii. 276; Vis. Herts. (Harl. Soc. xxii), 80-81, 152; R. E. C. Waters, Fams. Thomas Cranmer and Thomas Wood, 22-23.
  • 2. Archaeologia, xxxvi(1), 106, 115; Lansd. 33, f. 150; 48, f. 188 seq.; APC, viii. 319; xi. passim; xii. 62, 88-89, 264-5; xiii. 37, 144, 164-5; CSP Dom. 1581-90, p. 48.
  • 3. Beds. RO, A BP/R 15, f. 52 ex inf. Miss Joyce Godber; City of London RO, Guildhall, rep. 10, f. 286; 11, ff. 385, 396, 397, 422v, 454v, 456(2), 478v, 479v; 12(1), f. 103v; jnl. 15, f. 269; M. L. Bush, Govt. Pol. Somerset, 110-11; Zurich Letters (Parker Soc.), iii. 339.
  • 4. CJ, i. 30; Cal. I.T. Recs. i. 187; Her. and Gen. iii. 276 seq.; Wm. Salt Lib. SMS 264.
  • 5. F. P. Wilson, Eng. Drama 1485-1585, pp. 132-7; C142/203/38; VCH Beds. ii. 382-3.