Sir Henry Norris by Lana Norris

I have a friend named Heather. She is known in our circle as a delightful source of wry humor. Always ready with a proverb or a pithy statement, she specializes in “quotable quotes.” When she sees injustice or feels that life has dealt an unfair hand, she quotes her father:
“No good deed goes unpunished.”

It is an ironic commentary on the tendency of life to reward good and loyal men with an undeserved twist of fate and sadly it sums up the life and death of Henry Norris.

Sir Henry Norris is variously described as a gentleman, kind, good-looking and well-liked. He was known to be a formidable opponent in the Joust, and a skilled sportsman who was actively involved in the social whirl of Court life. Little wonder that King Henry would single him out for favor and responsibility; he shared the King’s interests and passions. The single greatest favor and the position of greatest responsibility in the day-to-day life of the Court was “Groom of the Stole (or Stool). The Stole was the toilet and all that goes with it. Highly coveted, the position of the King’s Groom entitled Norris to unlimited access to the King. He probably saw more of King Henry than did even Queen Anne, as she had entirely separate apartments while he slept on a cot at the foot of the King’s bed.

The influence that came with being Groom of the Stole was priceless. The power he was able to wield over those who would curry favor with the King was absolute. But the nitty-gritty, day-to-day hard work of this particular job could cause one to pause, in saner moments and wonder if the honor was not too dubious a one. Being at the beck and call of Henry VIII would require a man of strength, stamina, and amazing organizational skills. A sort of washroom attendant / chief-of-staff. The administrative tasks alone would be a full time job even without having to stop what one was doing at any time of the day or night and accompany the King to the loo to perform a very, um, intimate duty. Necessarily, the Groom of the Stole required a delicate touch (no pun intended) and the patience of a saint.

Sir Henry presents himself to history as a man of integrity. How many of us would not yield to the temptation to flaunt our intimate knowledge of the king’s business, his thoughts, his personal habits? These were the currency of the day, the stuff of gossip and speculation. A courtier’s stature was, among other things, measured by his proximity to the king. A casual reference, a knowing glance, a secretive smile would speak volumes among those who longed to be in the intimate circle. After a night of gambling and drinking wine with friends how easy it would be for the tongue to slip, to trade information for money, prestige, or a night of pleasure with one of the Queen’s women. Therefore it stands to reason that a man who held the king’s most trustworthy position as well as his affection would be a person of integrity.

If discretion, tact and patience were the hallmarks of Norris’s reputation, then diplomacy, courtesy and humor were his most essential tools. He seems to have possessed an urbane quality that was at odds with the sometimes undignified nature of his position as Groom of the Stole. But he was a product of his time. He would have been raised to appreciate the paradox of such a life; being required to fill a need that would have been the job of a slave, in other places and other times and the irony of being honored to do so. It is inevitable that jealousy should accompany such privilege. Authority, respect, power, proximity to and intimacy with the king combined to create a potent brew of envy. And envy was dangerous in Henry’s court.

It is tempting to take such a man, who is involved in what amounts to a Renaissance version of a Greek Tragedy, and make him what we wish him to be. Contemporary accounts of him are few and far between; most written precisely because he was one of the characters at the center of the greatest scandal at the English court of the 16th century. Had the King not decided to rid himself of Anne Boleyn, Henry Norris would have been a name among many names in the obscure lists of those who served Henry VIII. Because he has been cast in the role of the lover of a queen who was “the scandal of Christendom,” the temptation to present him as dashing and gallant is almost irresistible, especially when the tale is embedded in a time of dying chivalry. Sir Henry is among the last of a dying breed of knights playing at the game of courtly love which had been de rigeur for the aspiring courtier since the time of Eleanor of Aquitaine.

To judge the character of a man dead 500 years is virtually impossible. It is the tendency of historians and writers to deify the decent man, romanticize the rogue, and vilify the villain. The growth of legend surrounding those long dead is proportionate to the distance removed in time and place from the actual persons and events. Exaggerations develop and evolve, often to the point where friends and family would not even recognize their own loved one. But, what if Sir Henry Norris was neither hero, nor rogue, nor villain? What if he was simply a man serving his Sovereign and enjoying the perquisites of the job?

In his younger years Henry Tudor had been a man to inspire goodwill and loyalty. He was beloved for his openness and his genuine interest in those around him. After the grim years of his father’s reign Henry Tudor’s ascent to the throne was greeted with great hope and joy. He was an intelligent yet lighthearted young king, but he was too trusting; easy prey for ambitious and clever men. After 20 years of kingship he had collected about himself a coterie of men who gladly served him for love of their King as well as the more tangible benefits of nearness to the throne. To be sure there were those who circled the King for less noble reasons. They were the self-serving, those on the lookout for advancement, constantly jockeying for position; in-sincere men who claimed friendship but who in reality wanted pieces of his kingdom. Bitter experience with manipulation and betrayal had made the King jaded and suspicious and those whom he truly considered friends had become fewer with the passing of time.

If Henry Norris was in all aspects the ultimate insider, then Thomas Cromwell in many aspects was an outsider. Although he was 2nd only to King Henry in power and position, it appears that the King retained Cromwell more because of his ability to carry out his less-popular wishes than for any true affection or liking. Theirs was not a relationship of comfortable intimacy. He was not showered with gifts from the King. He was not popular, nor was he well-liked. The courtiers slighted him for his common background. They snubbed him for his course speech and manners. They also feared and mistrusted Cromwell because so little was actually known about the man and the functions he performed for the King. An air of un-savoriness clung to him; of dark deeds and secretiveness that made it impossible to form friendships, only alliances of convenience.

Obviously, these were reason enough for Cromwell to hate him, but the fact that Sir Henry could outmaneuver Cromwell any time he chose was unbearable. Thomas Cromwell, the highest man in the land, 2nd in authority only to the King, could be kept cooling his heels in the presence chamber, while Sir Henry Norris stood guard at the door, smiling. While Cromwell must wait to be summoned in order to approach the King, Sir Henry Norris dressed the King, stood by while he performed his bodily functions, and tucked him into bed; all the while whispering in his ear comments favorable to the Queen and her family. The Boleyns, once one of those alliances for convenience, were now a collective thorn in his side. Dour and disliked, Common Cromwell had a new agenda. Good natured and good-looking, Sir Henry Norris blocked the door to the King’s privy chamber. Smiling. Well, the King had given Cromwell this particular agenda and it was going to be a particular pleasure to fulfill it and at the same time wipe the smile from Sir Henry Norris’s face. To remove Norris from the door to the King’s chamber altogether.

What was it like that Spring day? Did King Henry call upon his boon companion for a friendly canter back to the palace with his usual bonhomie? Sir Henry probably suspected nothing, as his job as well as his friendship with the King made this an ordinary occurrence. Was his face glowing with the exertion of the morning’s tournament? He was said to have acquitted himself well. The only bad moment was when his horse became uncontrollable, but the King had bestowed the honor of offering his own mount for Norris’s use. Was he laughing in a group of friends and well-wishers, crowding about him, offering their congratulations for a good morning in the lists? Perhaps he was still in his armor, wiping his sweaty, smiling face with a kerchief when he received Henry’s summons. He bids his companions goodbye not realizing that it is the last time he will see some of them and if there is a next time it will be in a court of law and he will be defending his honor as well as his life.

As he strides off to join the King, his friend, was the early May weather fine or disappointingly cold and wet? English weather is always a bit dicey for this time of year. Did he notice the festive sights and smells surrounding him? The freshness of the new air mingled with the aroma of horses and sweat and food being prepared for the feast to follow. Perhaps there is an annoying ache in joints that are fast approaching the age when they will not allow him the pleasure of jousting. Already there are younger men who are rising at court to threaten his standing. How sad that years of training and disciplining the body to perform at a competitive level are coming to a close. Ah well, there are still the pleasures of music and poetry left to a fellow. There is wine and gaming and those lovely women who prefer an older, more experienced man to the callow, inexperienced youths who know nothing of how to treat a lady of the court.

If it was a nice May Day, most likely Norris was expecting a pleasant ride thru sun-dappled woods, where the shade would be welcome. It was damnably hot inside the dazzling, but now dirty armor, whether the sun shone or not. As had been their custom for years he and the King would exchange stories of past adventures they had shared. And in the time-honored tradition of men, each telling would grow in its exaggerations of near-misses and glorious triumphs. They would laugh and insult each other good-naturedly. King Henry was known as “Bluff King Hall” to his subjects and a fond arm about the shoulders or a friendly punch on the arm were to be expected. Since the King could no longer ride in the lists, Sir Henry would have to tread carefully around the King’s ego, humbly downplaying his triumph at today’s tournament. It would not be good sport to probe the King’s wounded vanity, nor would it be wise. Finding the proper balance between an exciting telling of his victory, and not offending the King was no easy thing, but he and King Henry had grown so close over the years that he was adept at it.

When he greets the King and his retinue, is there a feeling of tension in the air or does the King pretend that nothing is amiss until they are on their way? How does the King first approach the reason for his abrupt departure from the tournament and the subsequent summons? Is he sly? Is he encouraging? Does he attempt to reason and reassure? Or does he use the force of his notorious wrath to devastate? The reality was ugly and horrible and unbelievable. Accusations of adultery. With the Queen. Deception. Unfaithfulness. Treason. As Sir Henry began to realize that the King’s accusations were not a joke, what were his first coherent thoughts? Did he search his memory for possible unrealized offenses? Was there a spasm of fear for his family, his friends, his Queen? That embarrassing episode with Queen Anne the day before must have been in the forefront of his mind. “You look for a dead man’s shoes, Sir Henry!” According to Norris’s man-servant, the King battered his master with continued accusations, questions, threats. When those bore no fruit, he switched tactics and tempted Sir Henry with offers of freedom and the retention of his earthly goods if he would only confess to Adultery with the Queen. Norris continued to deny any wrong-doing, stating and restating his loyalty to his King. Perhaps he appealed to King Henry, reminding him of his years of loyal service and friendship. At last in desperation and indignation he offers to submit to trial by combat at any place of the King’s choosing. It is certainly a gallant act, but also somehow pathetic. Sir Henry, the King’s Knight, is trying to play by the rules of a bygone chivalry while His King has cast them aside.

After the King finished interrogating Sir Henry, he gave his old friend over to Cromwell, ordering Cromwell to proceed against him. Cromwell modestly conceals his satisfaction. He is wise enough not to gloat before the King, because he knows the sentimental nature of the man. Later, after all is done, there will certainly be a time when Henry Tudor will cast about for someone else to blame for the loss of his friends and Cromwell intends that it will not be him. As it is, he prefers to enjoy his triumph when it is a fait accompli and all of his enemies are vanquished. Dead.

More questions, more accusations from the Privy Council lasting all day and night, until finally at dawn Norris is removed, exhausted, to the Tower. He was provided a chaplain to whom he confessed only “I would rather die a thousand deaths than be guilty of such a falsehood.” Days pass. There is a trial and the pre-ordained verdict. Guilty. Finally, on the scaffold he watches his friend, George Boleyn die. When it is turn to speak his words are brief and respectful , admitting only to having not being grateful enough for the favor shown by his King. He speaks out in defense of the Queen, that in his own conscience he thought her innocent, but he would die a thousand deaths rather than ruin an innocent person. He prays. He dies well. He has served the Tudor to the end as a friend and a gentleman. Surprisingly to Cromwell the emotional man whom he though he knew never did grow sentimental over his old friend and faithful servant, Norris. In fact, he doesn’t appear to miss him at all.

40 thoughts on “Sir Henry Norris by Lana Norris”

  1. Lilah Hart says:

    Hi! I just recently found out that I’m descended from
    Henry Norris. I enjoyed reading this. Thanks for posting it.:)

    1. Paul NORRIS says:

      I am a direct descendant of Henry Norris and very proud of a most loyal man

      1. Jennifer Deshotel says:

        I am a descendant of Henry Norris as well…so hello to all our “family”!

    2. SARA B says:

      I also am able to call Sir Henry Norris my relative. I am most fascinated by his life and cant get enough information mmn ation.

  2. Kimberly Norris says:

    Also a direct descendant, but this story seems too romantic for me. Hey ^^ we’re all related!

    1. Stephen Norris says:

      ..we certainly are!!
      Stephen Norris

  3. BanditQueen says:

    Out of all the men that Anne was accused with (I say all: I know it was only 5 she was tried with) the one that always makes me wonder how is Sir Henry Norris! Not only was he the Groom of the Stool, the most intimate and honour you could have near the King, he was one of the closest people to the King. He shared a love of the joust and many other things that Henry had done and had known him for many years. He did not suddenly make an appearance with Anne at Court so was not simply one of her lot if you know what I mean: he was well established before Anne arrived. He seems to have known Henry very well, and Henry was genuinely fond of him. They had shared a lot of years together and it seems almost impossible that he should have been caught up in Anne’s arrest and so on.

    Henry even took him aside and demanded to know if the accusations were true: was he the Queens lover? This was highly unusual and Henry even offered him his life if he confessed. For someone who was meant to have been close to this man to ask him such a thing is horrifying. Would Henry not have known that he was telling him the truth?

    In fact I read somewhere that the only person closer to Henry than Norris was Charles Brandon. He may as well have been asking him the same question, only he would never believe him capable of sleeping with Anne as he hated her. But Sir Henry Norris was still his next best friend, so why did he believe ill of him?

    The argument that opened Henry to this accusation is totally ridiculous in itself. Henry comes courting Madge Sheldon or another lady at the Queens apartments, and he comes once too often for Anne’s liking. He is meant to be taking his time and has not yet asked the lady to marry him, although he clearly has royal permission to do so, which he needs as she is in royal service. Anne, sober or drunk, hits on the fact that Sir Henry may also admire herself and accuses him of not making an honest woman of Madge as he loves another: her, the Queen. Anne rashly says that Henry looks for dead men’s shoes. In other words, he is wishing the king was dead and then he can marry the queen. This accusation is treason as to imagine the kings death is treason. But it is the Queen who makes the ridiculous statement and Henry who flatly denies them, and yet it is this that is used against him. If he has denied it in public, how can it be used against him?

    Any how, the whole thing seems fixed and Henry VIII demands to know why his friend denies the charge that he is guilty off. When poor Sir Henry insists it is because he and the Queen are innocent, for some reason Henry will not accept this and he is arrested. It is no wonder he will not say another word on the matter. He simply cannot win.

    But how could the King believe such a thing against his best friend, let alone his wife. He may want to get rid of Anne, but surely this is an accusation too far?

    1. I Think King Henry the Vlll Th wanted to be rid of Anne Boleyn and if he had to sacrifice his best friend Henry Norris in order to do it, so be it. I think this is a trademark of the rich and powerful.

  4. Amalia Norris says:

    Meet another direct descendent of Sir Henry and the Norris family. It’s a shame there isn’t more known about him. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  5. Andrea Norris says:

    Hi I too am supposed to be a descendent of Sir Henry Norris. My
    Grandfather researched his family tree 35 years ago an believed we are
    Descendants! I would be interested to see Henry’s family tree, do you Paul have a copy
    Which can be viewed? Would love to see if any of my family are in it!
    Andrea Norris

    1. Sara B says:

      You can follow your family and create a tree on Ancestry. You’ll be able to connect and share info from other family trees that overlap yours. That iis how I eventually found Sir Henry and the Norris family within my tree. I’d be happy to help and share with you what I have on Sir Henry.

  6. Hi, I am another relative as he was my 12th great grand father. I love reading anything to do with Henry and his role in the court. I find it very interesting that the way he is described very much sounds like my own father–William George Norris.

    1. Alexandra Collard says:

      Hi Linda, Henry was also my 12th great grandfather. I’m currently writing a fiction book about him and as far as I can tell from all the research I have done he was definitely one of the good guys in the court scene.

    2. SARA B says:

      He is my 13th great grandfather!

      1. liv says:

        as am i!!

  7. DAVID NORRIS says:


    1. David, the same is true for me and by the way i have an older brother whose name is also David. I also have a younger brother whose name is Chuck.

  8. Gordon Norris says:

    I am also a decendent of Sir Henry Norris. I have traced my tree from present in the USA, to Newfoundland, to England , and back to Normandy France about the year 850. I have a tree on I have let my subscription run out, I might restart it.

    1. Sara B says:

      I am an Ancestey member currently, but before I was I created a large family tree, partly by gathering info from other people’s shared trees, as well as developing ancestors from the hints, all free!! Once I discovered my relationship to Sir Henry Norris and the scandal surrounding Anne Boelyn and the rest in 1536, I finally joined for a year (when it was on sale) I wish you the best and would be happy to help or share info. It’s how we can all keep growing our trees. As we share at least 1 ancestor and no doubt more, our trees overlap. I too have traced back hundreds of years, in my case to the Vikings before they settled in the British Isles.

  9. Dianne A says:

    I am a descendant of Henry Norris also! I just found this out in the last week. I am do excited to learn about this part of my family.

  10. My name is Larry Norris. I am a descendant of Thomas Norris who came to Virginia about 1630. I am descended from John Norris, the ninth and last child of Thomas Norris and Ann Hynson and I have a clear line of descent from that John Norris to my son John Norris, which covers 11 generations. I can go backwards 9 generations from John Norris born 1652 to a Geoffrey Norreys born about 1370 in Congham England, but am not as confident about the accuracy of those 9 generations as I am about the 11 generations from Thomas of 1630 to my son John. I have tried to make a connection with Thomas Norris, my ancestor, to Sir Henry Norris who was beheaded by Henry Vlll but have not been successful. It would appear that there were many branches of the Norris family not to mention different spellings of the name, and trying to find any records of how they are related, if they are related, has been difficult. Is there any information available that would help me make this connection?

    1. Avery Matthews says:

      Larry I’m related to Thomas Norris who lean away from home (Norfolk Eng.) Was a cab8n not docked in Virginia. My mom’s grandfather was Edward Rufus Norris Sr. McColl SC. Find a grave is great !!

  11. Krista Miller says:

    Another descendant here!

  12. Carmen Greer says:

    I too am a descendent of Henry Norris, Groom of the Stool.

  13. Heather Johnson (nee Norris) says:

    I have been trying to track down my family tree earlier than the 1800’s. I’ve tracked my ancestry to Norris ‘ from Bray but can’t find anything earlier to find out whether our branch is related to Sir Henry. Can those who have traced their lineage from Sir Henry Norris to modern day please advise me where to find this information or direct me to a family tree.

    1. Sara B says:

      Ancestr com. I have an extensive tree which includes Sir Henry Norris (Norreys). I’d be happy to help, advise or share. Of course you’ll have to develop your own tree, but we would share a certain branch.

  14. Henry Norreys says:

    Unfortunately, Henry Norris or Norreys has no descendants with the surname ‘Norris’. He has many, maybe thousands, of descendants but they all have different surnames, being descended through women. Anyone believing otherwise has been misinformed. Norris is quite a common surname and those who have it now are not descended from a common ancestor, anymore than all the Smiths in the world form one kindred group.

    1. SARA B says:

      He is my 13th great grandfather and in my family tree I have a whole list of Norreys and Norris direct descendants of the Sir Henry Norris who was beheaded in 1536.

      1. Norreys says:

        Henry had one surviving son, the 1st Lord Norreys. He in turn had two sons who left male descendants. Both their male lines died out. The peerage continued to descend to the present day, through women, to people with different surnames (Wray, Bertie).
        Anything else is wishful thinking.

    2. Sara B says:

      I am well aware and have been working with prominent genealogists to develope an accurate tree as well as doing extensive research on my own for years. It is correct that there are no contemporary ancestors with the Norris /Norreys name. In my tree there are no Norris names for a few hundred years, the peerage having descended thru women w/ many surnames.

      1. Henry Norreys says:

        I am confused. Previously, you wrote “in my family tree I have a whole list of Norreys and Norris direct descendants of the Sir Henry Norris who was beheaded in 1536”. Now you say: “In my tree there are no Norris names for a few hundred years”. The peerage has been held by people with the same surname for three and a half centuries, not ‘many surnames’, just two in 4 centuries.

        1. Diana says:

          I am finding this response regarding the Norris name quite interesting. I believe we also are related to Henry, but I am looking for a direct line from Geoffrey [wife Mary Myles] and Thomas Norris [wife Ann Hynson] which follows right on down to my grandmother who was the daughter of James Alexander Norris. Do you or anyone perhaps have a true chart or tree delineating Henry’s line. I understand is brother John adopted his children after his death.

        2. Diana says:

          I am finding this response regarding the Norris name quite interesting. I believe we also are related to Henry, but I am looking for a direct line from Geoffrey [wife Mary Myles] and Thomas Norris [wife Ann Hynson] which follows right on down to my grandmother who was the daughter of James Alexander Norris. Do you or anyone perhaps have a true chart or tree delineating Henry’s line. I understand his brother John adopted his children after his death.

    3. Margaret Lundien Skinner says:

      Yes, my line comes through his mother, with the names Carew then Chapman coming down to me.

  15. Helen Condie says:

    Yes I to believe i am a decendant,my late mum being Yvonne Norris who’s grandfather James Bramwell Norris was a direct decendant

  16. Lisa Norris says:

    I am also a direct descendant! Hi many Norris relatives! SIr Henry is my 13th Great Grandfather. Only just discovered this and am blown away… looking for as much inside info as I can get!

  17. Kelly coyle says:

    I am also a decendent Henry Norris he was my 14th x grandfather, it really interesting going back in time and find out how they lived. I’ve actually been watching on tv tonight the trials of Anne Boleyn. I really think after research Henry Norris he was a decent man and didn’t deserve to die, I think Henry the 8th was a selfish man and weak and listened to those a round him. Henry the 8th also didn’t care for people if he had a greater need he would dispose of them like they were rubbish to get what he wanted.

  18. John Brooking says:

    I am descended from Henry Norris, via his son Henry (1st Baron Norris of Rycote), William Norris, Francis Norris (2nd Baron Norris), Elizabeth Norris (Baroness) who married Edward Wray, their daughter Bridget who married (2nd husband) Montague Bertie, then though the Berties to Elizabeth Peregrine Bertie who married Giovanni Battista Andrea Gallini.

    So I have an interest in knowing as much about Henry Norris’ life as I an able.

  19. Anthony Norris Berkshire says:

    I have been forming a tree from my Berkshire side. The Norris side is crazy though, I have not started It. It is so in depth, it branches off multiple times. We share names and lineage with a lot of famous people, and a lot of crazy stories. But just to put together a simple line of people will take some space and time!

  20. Margaret Lundien Skinner says:

    Henry Norris was my 15x ggf and I would love to know more. Anthony Norris Berkshire if you can share information with me I would be tickled pink. The Boleyn name also comes in and out of my ancestry so I will have to sit quietly one day and figure it all out.

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