(1 B. Norreys of Rycote)

Born: ABT 1525, Bray, Berkshire, England

Acceded: 1572

Died: 27 Jun 1601

Father: Henry NORREYS (Sir Knight)

Mother: Mary FIENNES

Married: Margery WILLIAMS (B. Norreys of Rycote) BEF 1544


1. William NORREYS (Sir)

2. John NORREYS (Sir)

3. Edward NORREYS (Sir)

4. Catherine NORREYS

5. Henry NORREYS (Sir)

6. Thomas NORREYS (Sir Lord President of Munster)

7. Maximilian NORREYS

Copyright of David Nash Ford.

Biography reproduced by kind permission of the Royal Berkshire History Website

Born ABT 1525, first son of Henry Norreys of Bray by Mary, dau. of Thomas Fiennes, 8th Lord Dacre of the South. Kntd. 6 Sep 1566. Official of royal stables by 1546; gent. privy chamber by 1547; butler, port of Poole 1553; j.p. Berks. 1558/59, Oxon. 1561-91; sheriff, Oxon, and Berks. 1562-3; Ambassador to France 1566-70; 1566-70; cr. Lord Norreys 1572; keeper of the armoury and porter of the outer gate, Windsor castle 1578; high steward, Abingdon c. 1580, Wallingford 1588; jt. ld. lt. Oxon. and Berks. c.1585-99; capt. of light horse, the Queen's bodyguard Jul 1588.

The Norreys family owed its eminence to Sir John Norreys, keeper of the great wardrobe to Henry VI. He acquired the manor of Yattendon through his wife and bought many neighbouring estates. These lands descended through his son Sir William to his various grandchildren, of whom three died comparatively young, so that much of the inheritance was reunited under Sir John Norreys, Sir William's eldest son by his second marriage. John had already received Yattendon, where he lived, while his younger brother Henry, father of the Member, was making his way at court. After attracting Henry VIII's favour, the elder Henry Norreys rose rapidly, only to be arrested on 1 May 1536, on a charge of adultery with Anne Boleyn, and beheaded on the 17th. He left one son and one daughter by a wife who had died five years earlier.

The early years of this son, the younger Henry, are obscure. His patrimony was restored to him by an Act of 1539 (31 Hen. VIII, c.22), and in Dec 1542 his uncle Sir John Norreys of Yattendon, who was childless, was licensed to settle his estates in reversion on Henry, who was his ward, and on Margery, the younger daughter of Sir John Williams, and their heirs. The couple must therefore have been betrothed by this date, and by 26 Aug 1544 they were married. Norreys was then described as a royal servant, and since Margery was to become the coheir of her wealthy father, who in the same year became treasurer of the court of augmentations, his prospects were bright. The couple received several properties, all but one formerly monastic, and as Williams was continuing to acquire land in Berkshire, as well as Rycote in Oxfordshire, the deaths of his uncle and father-in-law would greatly increase Henry Norreys's already considerable wealth.

These advantages notwithstanding, Norreys's youth and inexperience made him an unusual choice as knight of the shire for Berkshire in 1547. He is not known to have been a partisan of the Duke of Somerset, although his cousin Sir William Wroughton was described by the Duke as a kinsman and had been a ward of Sir John Seymour, and he seems to have taken no part in local administration under Edward VI and to have received no land or office. He is not known to have sat in the Parliament of Mar 1553, for which the names of many Members are lost, but on 21 Jun he was among the King's gentlemen who witnessed the device settling the crown upon Lady Jane Grey. After the succession crisis Mary did not hold this act against him as she approved his appointment as butler of Poole in the autumn, but he was to take little part in public affairs during her reign save for an interlude in 1554 when he is said to have helped to guard the Princess Elizabeth at Woodstock.

Norreys was to prosper under Elizabeth, who took the view that his father had died for his loyalty to Queen Anne and who bestowed her friendship on him and his wife. On the death of Lord Williams in 1559 he received much Oxfordshire property, and settled at Rycote.

In 1561, Norreys was Sheriff of Oxfordshire and Berkshire. In 1565, he took part in a tournament in the Queen's presence on the occasion of the marriage of Ambrose Dudley, Earl of Warwick. In Sep 1666, the Queen visited him at his house at Rycote on her return from Oxford, and knighted him before her departure. In the autumn of 1566, she appointed him Ambassador to France. Norreys did what he could to protect the French Protestants from the aggressions of the French Government but, early in 1570, warned the English Ministers that the French Government threatened immediate war with England if Elizabeth continued to encourage the Huguenots in attacks upon their princes. Although he fulfilled his duties prudently, he was recalled in Aug 1570 to make way for Sir Francis Walsingham, who was commissioned to make a firmer stand on behalf of the French Protestants. By way of recompense for his services abroad, Norreys received a summons to the House of Lords, as Baron Norreys of Rycote, on 8th May 1572. In Sep 1582, he was disappointed by a promised visit from the Queen to Rycote, and was not well pleased when Leicester arrived in her stead; but his guest wrote that Norreys and his wife were "a hearty noble couple as ever I saw towards her highness". In Sep 1592, the Queen revisited Rycote on another journey from Oxford.

In Oct 1596, Norreys was created Lord Lieutenant of Oxfordshire. He already held the same office for Berkshire. In 1597, the grief of Norreys and his wife upon the death of their distinguished son, Sir John, was somewhat assuaged by a stately letter of condolence from the Queen to "my own dear crow", as Elizabeth still affectionately called Lady Norreys. Norreys died in Jun 1601 and was temporarily buried, on the 21st, in the church at Englefield, where his son Edward was living. Finally, on 5th Aug, he was re-interred at Rycote, in a vault beneath the chapel of St. Michael and All Angels, which was founded in 1449 by Richard Quatremains and Sybilla, his wife, in the grounds of Rycote House. Norreys' will was dated 24th Sep 1589. His wife died in Dec 1599 and both she and himself are commemorated by the monument erected in honour of them and their six sons in St. Andrew's Chapel in Westminster Abbey. Life-size figures of Lord and Lady Norreys lie beneath an elaborate canopy supported by marble pillars and they are surrounded by kneeling effigies of their children.

"Although himself of a meek and mild disposition", Camden says that Norreys was father of "a brood of spirited, martial men". His six sons - especially John and Thomas - all distinguished themselves as soldiers.

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