Sir Henry NORREYS, Knight

Born: 1491

Died: 17 May 1536, Tower of London, London, Middlesex, England

Father: Edward NORREYS (Sir)

Mother: Frideswide LOVELL

Married 1: Anne LOVELL

Married 2: Mary FIENNES ABT 1520, Hurstmonceaux, Sussex, England


1. Henry NORREYS (1 B. Norreys of Rycote)

2. Edward NORREYS (b. 1524 - d. 16 Jul 1529)


Copyright of David Nash Ford.

Biography reproduced by kind permission of the Royal Berkshire History Website

Henry was second son of Sir Edward Norreys of Ockwells in Bray, Berkshire, who took part in the Battle of Stoke in 1487, and was then knighted, by his wife Frideswide, sister of Francis, Viscount Lovell. The eldest son, John Norreys, was an esquire of the body to Henry VII, and was afterwards usher of the outer chamber both to Kings Henry VIII and Edward VI. He was afterwards promoted, as a rank papist, to be chief usher of the privy chamber to Queen Mary. He married Elizabeth, sister of Edmund, Lord Bray; but dying, according to Dugdale, on 21 Oct 1564, left no legitimate issue, and his property descended to his brother's son.

Many references say that Henry was apparently the second son of Richard Norreys. Richard was Edward's younger brother, but according to the Heralds' Visitations of Berkshire (1664/6), he was the father of only a single daughter, Anne. This is consistent with the descent of his manor of Great Shefford which she inherited around 1522.

Henry Norreys came to court in youth, was appointed Gentleman of the King's Chamber and was soon one of the most intimate friends of Henry VIII. The King made him many grants and his influence at Court grew rapidly. On 8 Jun 1515, Henry was made Keeper of the Park of Foliejon in Winkfield, Berkshire, an office which had been held by his father. On 17 Feb 1518, he became weigher at the common beam at Southampton, then the great mart of the Italian merchants. On 28 Jan 1519, he was appointed Bailiff of Ewelme in Oxfordshire. He was also Keeper of the King's Privy Purse. In 1519, he received an annuity of fifty marks (33.6s 8d) and was at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520. On 12 Sep 1523, he received the Keepership of Langley New Park in Buckinghamshire and was made Bailiff of Watlington. Henry early took the side against Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and was one of the main instruments in bringing about his fall. Wolsey certainly recommended him for promotion in a letter of 5 Jul 1528; but it may be assumed from the letter itself that this was rather done to secure Henry's favour for the writer himself than with the idea that Norreys had any need of the Cardinal's influence.

Henry adhered closely to Anne Boleyn while she was gaining her position at Court and became one of her intimate friends and a leader of the faction that supported her proud pretensions to control the State. He had the sweating sickness in 1528. Norreys risked the wrath of the Boleyn's faction when, just before the fall of Thomas Wolsey, he offered the Cardinal his own rooms when the Cardinal had deliberately been left without accommodation; and, on 25 Oct 1529, gratified his enmity to Wolsey by being present when he resigned the Great Seal. On 24 Oct, Henry was the only attendant on the King, when he went, with Anne and her mother, to inspect Wolsey's property. Norreys was the bearer of the King's kind message to Wolsey, at Putney, about the same time, and seems to have been affected by Wolsey's fallen condition. In the same year, Henry received a grant of 100 a year from the revenues of the See of Winchester and was soon promoted to be Groom of the Stole. In 1531, he was made Chamberlain of North Wales; in Nov 1532, he was again ill; in 1534, he was appointed Constable of Beaumaris Castle; in 1535, he received various manors which Sir Thomas More had held. He was present at the execution of the Charterhouse monks, on 4 May 1535, and Henry granted him the important Constableship of Wallingford Castle (29 Nov 1535); and he was generally regarded as the King's agent in the promotion of the new marriage with Jane Seymour.

In Apr 1536, Queen Anne had some talk with Sir Francis Weston, who hinted to her that Norreys loved her. She, afterwards, spoke to Norreys about it and, jokingly, said that he was waiting for 'dead men's shoes'. He protested and, in the end, she asked him to contradict any rumours he might hear about her conduct. But Norreys had many enemies and his alleged intimacy with Anne was carefully reported to Thomas Cromwell. On 1st May 1536, Norreys took part in a tournament at Greenwich and, at the close, Henry spoke to Norreys, telling him that he was suspected of an intrigue with Anne and urging him to confess. He was then arrested and taken to the Tower by Sir William FitzWilliam. He was tried on 12 May in Westminster Hall. He pleaded not guilty, but was found guilty and executed on 17 May. He was buried in the churchyard of the Tower of London.

There is little reason to think that he had behaved in any way improperly with the Queen. Most of the jury seem to have been officials or open to suspicion of partiality. Apparently, Queen Elizabeth always honoured his memory, believing that he died in a noble cause and in the justification of her mother's innocence. At the time of his arrest, he was contemplating a marriage with Margaret Shelton and, both his interest and his long experience as a courtier, would doubtless have deterred him from encountering the danger certain to spring from a liaison with Anne Boleyn. His knowledge of the King would also have taught him that his ruin and death must be the consequence of such desperate adventures.

Henry married Mary, daughter of Thomas Fiennes, Lord Dacre of the South. She died before 1530 and, by her, he had a son Henry, 1st Baron Norreys of Rycote. Another son, Edward, born in 1524, but died on 16 Jul 1529. A daughter Mary married, firstly, Sir George Carew, and, secondly, Sir Arthur Champernowne.


Dictionary of National Biography (1891)
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