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A 'valiant and warlike progeny': The Norris brothers of Rycote

Letter from Elizabeth I to Sir John Norris, 1585.

When writing of the “goodly house” the contemporary historian William Camden extolled Rycote as “most renowned for that right valiant and warlike progenie” of Henry, 1st Baron Norris of Rycote, and his wife Margery (Camden, Britain, p. 384). The Norrises had six sons, all of whom fought in the armies of Elizabeth I. Five of the six brothers died serving the Queen, all within the lifetime of Lord and Lady Norris.

The first of the brothers to die was the eldest William, born c.1545/6, from a fever on Christmas day 1579 in Ireland (Cokayne, Peerage, vol. 9, p. 646). His son Francis, less than six months old at the time of William’s death, became Lord Norris’s heir.

Their second son, Sir John, is said to have been born c.1547 (van Meteren, Discovrse Historicall, p. 154). Of the six brothers, it was Sir John that achieved the greatest renown, both in England and on the continent. One of Elizabeth I’s leading military commanders, Sir John began his career in Ireland as an adventurer in the Earl of Essex’s Ulster plantation scheme in 1573. His contemporary fame, though, was largely earned in the Low Countries where he fought in support of the Dutch Revolt against Spain. Sir John played a leading role in organising the Armada defences in 1588 and a year later, with Sir Francis Drake, commanded the failed retaliatory attack against Spain and Portugal. The final years of his life were spent in France, commanding Elizabeth’s army in Brittany in support of Henry IV’s succession to the French throne, and latterly in Ireland. Upon his death in Ireland in 1597, the Queen wrote a personal letter of condolence to his mother expressing her grief at his loss and gratitude for his service.

The youngest of the brothers, Maximilian, died serving under Sir John’s command in Brittany in November 1591 (TNA SP 78/26, fol. 188).

Ireland also claimed the lives of two further brothers. Sir Thomas, born in 1556, and Sir Henry, both died of wounds sustained in battle within a week of each other in August 1559 (CSP Ireland 1599-1600, p. 128). News of the deaths of Sir Thomas and Sir Henry reached Lord and Lady Norris on the same day, 2 September 1599 (Calendar of Hatfield Mss., part 9, pp. 344-5). To assuage their grief, the Queen recalled their sole surviving son, Sir Edward, from his governorship of Ostend. Sir Edward, born c.1550, survived his parents by two years, dying in 1603 (Trim, 'Edward Norris', ODNB).

Your comments: Add to the archive

How sad that five of six brothers died in service. I wonder if this was a common occurrence, even given international relations at the time? How many ‘Saving Private Ryan’ letters was Elizabeth obliged to write in the course of her European campaigns?

Julia Hawkins 17/10/2013

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A 'valiant and warlike progeny': The Norris brothers of Rycote

The contemporary historian William Camden praised Rycote as being “most renowned for that right valiant and warlike progenie”.
More about the military careers of the Norris brothers >