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Henry, 1st Baron Norris of Rycote

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Henry, 1st Baron Norris of Rycote

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Henry Norris (also commonly spelt ‘Norreys’) was born c.1525. His father and namesake was executed as one of the alleged lovers of Anne Boleyn in 1536. His marriage to Margery Williams brought him substantial wealth and Rycote Park. The Norrises enjoyed a warm relationship with Elizabeth I and entertained the Queen at Rycote on several occasions. Elizabeth knighted Henry Norris in 1566 and elevated him to the peerage as Baron Norris of Rycote in 1572. He served as the Queen’s ambassador to France, 1567-1571. Henry and Margery were famed for their six “valiant and warlike” soldier sons who fought with distinction in the Elizabethan military. Five of the brothers died in the Queen’s service, all within the lifetime of their parents.

Henry Norris was the son of Henry Norris (d. 1536) and Mary (d. c.1530), daughter of Thomas Fiennes, 8th Baron Dacre (Doran, 'Henry Norris', ODNB). Although corrupted in blood, following his father's execution, the young Henry Norris was retained at court as a ward of Henry VIII (Nolan, Sir John Norreys, p. 6).

He married, prior to 26 August 1544, Margery, the second daughter of Sir John Williams (House of Commons 1509-58, vol. 3, p. 19). It was a marriage that would vastly increase his fortune. On 21 June 1553 Norris was amongst the signatories to Edward VI’s attempt to alter the succession in favour of his Protestant cousin Lady Jane Grey (Nichols, Jane and Mary, p. 100). His father-in-law, however, declared himself for Edward’s Catholic half-sister Mary and proclaimed her Queen in Oxfordshire (Nichols, Jane and Mary, p. 9). Norris does not appear to have suffered any retribution from Mary for his actions (Nolan, Sir John Norreys, p. 8).

In October 1559 John, now Baron Williams of Thame, died bequeathing Rycote and other substantial parts of his estates to Henry and Margery Norris (Account of Lord Williams, pp. 19-36). Norris’s opportunities for personal advancement, as well as that of his family, had also dramatically improved following the accession to the throne of the Protestant Elizabeth I in November 1558.

On 6 September 1566 Elizabeth arrived at Rycote following her progress to the University of Oxford. On the same day she knighted Henry Norris (Nichols, Elizabeth, vol. 1, p. 250). It was the first of four visits that the Queen would make to Rycote during her reign. Later that year, on 30 November, Norris was appointed Elizabeth’s ambassador to the French court.

Norris attended his first audience with Charles IX and his mother, Catherine de Medici, in Paris on 20 January 1567 (CSP Foreign, Elizabeth, 1566-8, p. 168). Norris’s embassy proved to be a challenging one. He was not popular at the French court. His contacts with the Huguenots aroused deep suspicion. His post was seized and searched at least three times (CSP Foreign, Elizabeth, 1569-71, p. 47).  On one occasion the King’s own mother, Catherine de’ Medici, arrived at Norris’s house to question his reasons for living outside Paris (CSP Foreign, Elizabeth, 1566-8, p. 413). He was recalled in January 1571 (CSP Foreign, Elizabeth, 1569-71, p. 398).

On 6 May 1572 Norris was elevated to the peerage by Elizabeth as Baron Norris of Rycote (Cokayne, Peerage, vol. 9, p. 644). In 1576 an Act of Parliament was passed for Norris’s restitution in blood (Parlt. Archives HL/PO/PB/1575/18Eliz1n24). From c.1585-1599 he served as Lord Lieutenant of Oxfordshire and Berkshire. It was a position held jointly with Sir Francis Knollys and then Sir William Knollys (House of Commons 1558-1603, vol. 3, p. 136). Whilst carrying out his duties in 1586 he was the victim of an attack by scholars of Magdalen College seeking retribution for Norris’s imprisonment of a Magdalen man for poaching in Shotover forest. Their initial assault at the Bear Inn was repulsed by Norris’s servants and son Maximilian. The scholars were not to be cowed, and as Norris left the city they “went up privately to the top of their Tower and sent down a shower of stones that they had picked up, upon him and his retinew” (Wood, History of the University of Oxford, vol. 2, p. 229).

In November 1596 Rycote was the target of an intended uprising in Oxfordshire lead by Bartholomew Steer. Steer, once a carpenter in Norris’s employment, planned to attack the estates of local landowners, seize the armoury at Rycote and then head for London (CSP Dom. 1595-7, p. 317). The uprising never took place. It was aborted after support failed to materialise. The local authorities, however, learned of the scheme, and Steer and his fellow conspirators were arrested. Norris oversaw the investigation in Oxfordshire. The conspirators were tried and executed, although Steer seems to have died in prison before the trial was held (Walter, 'A Rising of the People?', pp. 127-8).

Henry and Margery Norris were renowned for their “right valiant and warlike” six soldier sons (Camden, Britain, p. 384). Each son fought with distinction in the armies of Elizabeth I. Five died in the Queen’s service, all within the lifetime of their parents. The Norrises’ only daughter, Catherine, married Sir Anthony Poulett (Cokayne, Peerage, vol. 9, p. 645).

Margery Norris died in December 1599 (Cokayne, Peerage, vol. 9, p. 646). Henry Norris died on 27 June 1601. His estates and title passed to his grandson Francis. Lord and Lady Norris, together with their six sons, are commemorated by a fine monument in the chapel of St Andrew, Westminster Abbey.

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The shield is correct - it is not a mirror image. The supporters are new to me. The 'sinister' (right-hand) supporter may be a greyhound and Lord Williams's arms had two of those. Lord Norreys's supporters should be chained beavers, sometimes erroneously depicted as chained monkeys as on the Norreys tomb in Westminster Abbey. The City of Oxford adopted a beaver as a supporter of its coat of arms in 1574, reflecting the family's importance at the time.

Norreys 11/11/2013

Yes, as far as we are aware, this is the correct image of the coat of arms.

Matthew (Bodleian Libraries) 24/10/2013

Could you confirm, this is the correct image of the 'arms' and has not been 'reversed'.

Thank you

Lesley Norris 23/10/2013

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