Anne Boleyn - English School
Anne Boleyn - English School

As I said at the end of last week’s post on Henry Norris, although we don’t know exactly when his wife died we do know that by around 1530 Norris was a widower and was courting one of Anne Boleyn’s ladies, Mistress Shelton. This courtship, along with his close friendship with the King and his reformist views, led to him being a prominent member of the Boleyn faction and it was his membership of this “clique” which led to his downfall.

On Sunday 30th April 1536, Anne Boleyn, or rather Queen Anne, was teasing Norris about his long courtship and asked him, according to Anne’s own words said to one of Cromwell’s spies in the Tower, “why he went not through with his marriage, and he made answer that he would tarry a time.” Anne took this to mean that Norris was reluctant to marry Madge Shelton because he actually had feelings for her, so she reprimanded him with the now infamous words:

“You look for dead men’s shoes, for if aught should come to the King but good, you would look to have me.”

Henry Norris was quite rightly shocked by these words because they went far further than the normal rituals of courtly love and replied in emphatic denial that “if he should have any such thought, he would his head were off”.

Alison Weir writes, in “The Lady in the Tower”, of how the usual rituals of courtly love called for a lover to importune a mistress, for a courtier to make love sighs and compliments to a queen, not for a queen to importune a courtier, which is what Anne could be said to be doing here. Norris knew that Anne’s words could be misinterpreted and that the 1351 Statute of Treason covered imagining and compassing the death of the sovereign, and he was right to be nervous and worried. Anne then said that “she could undo him if she would, and therewith they fell out”.

Weir says of this episode that:

“people might (and indeed would) think that she had flirted outrageously, gone way beyond the accepted rules of courtly banter, been overfamiliar with Norris, at the very least, or was even actively plotting the King’s assassination”

and Josephine Wilkinson writes:

“it was Anne who had acted and spoken inappropriately. No longer was the convention, in which the gentleman made love-sighs at his lady being followed. Now it was the lady, Anne, who had reversed the role, spoken out of turn and had inadvertently placed herself and Norris in grave danger.”

It wasn’t just Norris who realised the seriousness of this banter gone too far, Anne also realised that she had gone too far and so she begged Norris to go to John Skip, her almoner, to “swear for the Queen that she was a good woman” but it turns out that all this did was to make Skip suspicious and so he went to Sir Edward Baynton, Anne’s chamberlain, with the story and Baynton went straight to Cromwell and Sir William Fitzwilliam. I can just imagine Cromwell rubbing his hands with glee at this bit of news and how easy it must have been to elaborate on this story and use it as inspiration in making up other stories of adultery. Anne’s words could be twisted to suit his purpose and could be used to accuse Anne and Norris of treason. Anne had unwittingly given Cromwell the perfect ammunition to use against her. Cromwell must have realised how an alleged relationship between Anne and one of the King’s best friends would have shocked the King, perhaps blinding him to the truth, and be seen as the ultimate act of betrayal.

May Day 1536

It was just one day after Anne’s conversation with Henry Norris that Cromwell’s plans fell into place and things started moving. It is not clear how much the King knew of Cromwell’s plans and the accusations against Anne and the five men, but Henry Norris was one of the main defenders in the May Day jousts and when his horse became uncontrollable and “refused the lists and turned away as if conscious of the impending calamity to his master”, it was the King himself who gave Norris his own horse to carry on jousting. Was this a last act of kindness? Was it to lull Norris into a false sense of security or was the King unaware of events at this time? It’s hard to say.

Nicholas Sanders, a man whose words we should take with a pinch of salt, tells of how “the Queen dropping her handkerchief, one of her gallants [assumed to be Norris] took it up and wiped his face with it” and goes on to describe how the King stormed off in jealousy and anger at this proof of intimacy. Charles Wriothesley (a contemporary chronicler), however, does not mention this incident and neither do other contemporary sources so I suspect that it is a figment of Sanders’s imagination and part of his effort to blacken Anne Boleyn’s name.

According to Alexander Aless, sometime on Sunday 30th April or early on 1st May, before the May Day jousts, Anne and Henry argued. In a letter to Elizabeth in 1559, Aless wrote his eye-witnes account of this argument, saying:

“Never shall I forget the sorrow I felt when I saw the most serene Queen, your most religious mother, carrying you, still a little baby, in her arms, and entreating the most serene King your father in Greenwich Palace, from the open window of which he was looking into the courtyard when she brought you to him. I did not perfectly understand what had been going on, but the faces and gestures of the speakers plainly showed the King was angry, although he could conceal his anger wonderfully well.”

Alison Weir wonders Anne had approached Henry to try and explain herself after realising how her conversation with Norris could be misconstrued. Was she begging the King for mercy? We just don’t know. “The Tudors” series showed Anne approaching Henry with little Elizabeth in her arms and begging for him to listen to her, beseeching him to be merciful and Henry striding off in anger leaving Anne to fall to her knees. This scene is very poignant and may well have happened.

Arrest and Questioning

There is evidence that towards the end of the jousts Henry VIII received a message and left abruptly, leaving his puzzled wife to watch the action and worry over her husband’s behaviour. We do not know the content of this message but we can speculate that it told the King that Mark Smeaton had confessed. Henry Norris and William Brereton were both informed that the King needed to speak to them urgently and while Brereton was detained for questioning it seems that the King rode back with Norris, interrogating him on the way. George Constantine, Norris’s man servant reported that the king “rode suddenly to Westminster, and all the way, as I heard say, had Norris in examination” and Lancelot de Carles wrote of how “Before [Norris] went to prison, the King desired to speak to him”. According to Constantine  the King “promised him [Norris] his pardon [if] he would utter the truth”.

But what was Norris actually being accused of at this time?

Eric Ives is of the opinion that the initial accusation against Norris was of concealing Mark Smeaton’s adultery with the Queen and that it was only when he denied knowldege of this that it was assumed that Norris himself was involved and the conversation with Anne was used against him. Ives writes:

“Of itself, the pretence that Norris loved his sovereign’s wife was the common currency of courtly dalliance. What made the Norris episode so dangerous was the current tension at court and the fact that the queen was the aggressor. The rules said that the courtier should proposition the great lady, but Anne had reversed the roles. At once that put Norris’s reply on a different level. Anne was attempting to force a commitment far beyond convention. Even worse, “if ought came to the king but good you would look to have me” could be interpreted as Anne having a personal interest in Norris, hence the oath offered to her almoner”.

There were, according to Carles, witnesses to Anne’s rash words to Norris, but Norris knew that he was guilty of nothing but conversing with the queen and although Carles states that the King offered “to spare [Norris’s] life and goods, although he was guilty, if he would tell him the truth”, Constantine reports that “Mr Norris would confess nothing to the King”. Carles even suggests that Norris offered to submit to trial by combat – ” Being told the accusation, [he]offered to maintain the contrary with his body in any place”. Either Norris did not trust Henry’s word or he was innocent.

After interrogating Norris, the King order Cromwell to proceed against him and when Norris arrived at York Place he was taken away bySir William Fitzwilliam who, with other members of the Privy Council, questioned him. Norris had gone from being the King’s most trusted friend to being treated like a criminal, how far he had fallen.

Norris’s manservant, George Constantine, was informed by Norris’s chaplain that Norris did actually confess to something during this interrogation and we also have the words that Chapuys wrote to Dr Ortiz, the Imperial ambassador in Rome, when he said that “two of the five confessed their guilt”. Cromwell also wrote of a second confession when he wrote to Stephen Gardiner saying that the Queen’s lovers had disclosed things in questioning that were “so abominable that a great part of them were never given in evidence but clearly kept secret”.

So, did Norris confess to adultery with the Queen?

I highly doubt it. When he was taken under guard to the Tower of London at dawn on the 2nd of May he told his chaplain “I would rather die a thousand deaths than be guilty of such a falsehood” and Norris later said that Fitzwilliam had tricked him into confessing. Alison Weir states that this is the second independent account of Fitzwilliam coercing the men into incriminating themselves. I wonder how he did it? Although Cromwell and his team may have tortured Mark Smeaton, who was seen as expendable, I doubt that they would have dared to rack such an important person as Norris.

Why Pick on Norris?

As I said last week, Henry Norris was a popular, kindly gentleman who was a close friend of the King’s, so why on earth did Cromwell want to get rid of him, after all, it was a big risk to move against such a prominent and influential person and one who had the King’s favour?

Well, some people like Wolsey’s servant George Cavendish believed that Norris was actually guilty. Cavendish was of the opinion that Norris’s ambition had blinded him and caused him to sin against the King:-

“My chance was such I had all thing at will,
And in my wealth I was to him unkind,
That thus to me did all my mind fulfil,
All his benevolence was clean out of mind:
Oh, alas, alas, in my heart how could I find
Against my sovereign so secretly conspire,
That so gently gave me all that I desire?”

(Cavendish ” Metrical Visions”)

Another reason is, as Weir suggests, that “Norris, Brereton and Weston were long-standing intimates of the King, so to betray him with them rendered Anne’s infidelity all the more heinous.” How awful to be cuckolded by your wife but how much worse it is for the other man to be your best friend!

But, there were also political reasons for getting rid of Sir Henry Norris. Norris was in a position of power and influence and Cromwell knew that if he moved against Anne then Norris would surely defend her and perhaps persuade the King to get rid of Cromwell. Cromwell knew that a move against Anne needed to be a move against all of her supporters too. Cromwell also wanted to replace Norris with his own man “in order to extend his influence into the inner sanctum of power” (Weir), so that he could influence the King. In his mind, Anne and her supporters had far too much influence on Henry VIII.

But where was the King in all of this?

Alison Weir defends Henry and paints him as an innocent victim of Cromwell’s coup against Anne and her faction, saying that “It is hard to believe that Henry would have been party to sacrificing the faithful Norris, knowing him to be innocent, merely as a means of ridding himself of Anne” and that Henry must have been both distraught and outraged by the betrayal of his friend. BUT, Henry VIII had sacrificed friends before, just look at the example of Sir Thomas More! I don’t think the “sacrifice” of Norris clears Henry and although I believe that Cromwell was the instigator of the coup against Anne, and that it was, as Ives says, a “faction battle”, I do wonder if Cromwell could have done everything he did without the King knowing.

Cavendish, who was convinced of Norris’s guilt, imagined Norris looking back on his interrogation by the King with regrets:-

“His [Henry’s] most noble heart lamented so my chance,
That of his clemency he granted me my life,
In case I would, without dissimulance,
The truth declare of his unchaste wife,
The spotted Queen, causer of all his strife;
But I most obstinate, with heart as hard as stone,
Denied his grace – good cause therefore to moan”

(Cavendish “Metrical Visions”)

The End of Days

After being interrogated by both the King and a group of Privy Councillors, Norris was taken to the Tower and imprisoned there while he awaited trial. Anne Boleyn was also arrested and taken to the Tower and when she heard that Norris was also a prisoner there she said to Sir William Kingston, Constable of the Tower:

“Oh, Norris, hast thou accused me? Thou art in the Tower with me, and thou and I shall die together.”

Tower of London
Tower of London

Cromwell surrounded Anne with ladies who would report back to him, spies in fact. These ladies would attend the Queen in the Tower but they would also ask her questions and report back things that Anne said to Kingston, who would then write them down and send them to Cromwell. Lady Shelton, Madge’s mother and Anne’s aunt, was one of the ladies chosen to spy on the Queen and Alison Weir wonders if she was willing to spy on her niece because she felt that Anne was responsible for sullying her daughter’s reputation, by encouraging her to have an affair with the King, and that she also wanted to bring down Norris and Weston who had treated her daughter badly, in her eyes.

A Mrs Coffin was also one of Anne’s ladies and she was ordered to ask Anne about Sir Henry Norris and why Norris went to Anne’s almoner to swear for the Queen and Mrs Coffin reported Anne’s answer as being “Marry, I bade him do so”. Kingston’s report to Cromwell of what was said next is damaged but it appears that Anne said that Norris “came more to her chamber for her than for Madge”.

Kingston also reported back to Cromwell about a conversation that Norris had in his Tower prison with “a knave to his priest that waited upon him” but this report is also badly damaged but Alison Weir concludes that it was about a conversation regarding Norris’s alleged confession to Fitzwilliam and that Norris said “[If any man wishes to make?] any thing of my confession he is worthy to have [his opinion?…But if he believes/accepts?] hyt [it] I defy him.”

As soon as Henry Norris was in the Tower, the vultures descended. As soon as the 2nd May, Richard Staverton of Warfield, Berkshire, wrote a letter to Cromwell asking for Norris’s properties near Windsor. On 3rd May, just two days after Norris was detained, an inventory of his wardrobe was drawn up and then on 5th May the Bishop of Lincoln, John Longland, wrote to Cromwell offering to transfer Norris’s stewardship of Oxford University to Cromwell if Cromwell was willing to pay a small fee. Then, on the 11th May, the Abbot of Cirencester wrote to Cromwell to say that he had promised Norris’s stewardship of the abbey to Sir William Kingston. It looks like Norris’s fate was sealed days before his trial.

The Indictments

As you know, Henry Norris was charged with treason, through committing adultery with the Queen and compassing the King’s death, but here are the specific charges from the Middlesex and Kent indictments that pertain to Norris

Middlesex Indictment

“On Oct 6th, 25 Henry VIII [1533] at Westminster, and divers days before and after,  she [Anne Boleyn] procured by sweet words, kisses, touches and otherwise, Hen. Norris, of Westminster, gentleman of the Privy Chamber, to violate her, by reason whereof he did so at Westminster on the 12th Oct, 25 Henry VIII [1533], and they had illicit intercourse, both before and after, sometimes by his procurement and sometimes by that of the Queen.”

“Furthermore that the Queen and other of the said traitors, jointly and severally, 31 Oct. 27 Henry VIII [1535], at Westminster, and at various times before and after, compassed and imagined the King’s death; and that the Queen had frequently promised to marry some one of the traitors whenever the King should depart this life, affirming she would never love the King in her heart”

The Indictment of the Grand Jury of Kent

This indictment accused Anne, Rochford, Norris, Weston and Brereton of compassing the King’s death on 9th January at Greenwich.


Have you noticed what I noticed? The date of the 30th April, when we KNOW that Anne said the words that could be seen as treason, is not mentioned. Why? I cannot understand why this conversation was not used, when there were witnesses, and why Cromwell had to make up other instances. Bizarre. In fact, the dates just do not make sense at all. Eric Ives points out that in 12 of the occasions cited in the indictment Anne was not at the place named or the man in question was not at the place, and Ives says that Cromwell was very careless in picking the 6th October and 12th October for Anne’s solicitation of Norris and adultery with him at Westminster because there is evidence that Anne was actually in Greenwich “in purdah”, recovering from childbirth and unchurched. Would a woman who was recovering from childbirth and who was probably still bleeding really be in the mood for seduction and sex? I think not. Also to have sexual intercourse without being churched just wasn’t the done thing. A couple would wait until there had been a public ceremony of blessing and thanksgiving for the woman’s health and recovery before resuming their sex life.

The Trial

Norris, Weston, Brereton and Smeaton, as commoners, were tried by a special sessions of oyer and terminer and although the official records of proceedings are missing, we do have some eye witness reports. Norris declared “When his own confession was laid afore him, that he was deceived”, into confessing by Fitzwilliam and then retracted the confession saying that if anyone used it against him “he is worthy to have my place here; and if he stand to it, I defy him”. Alison Weir makes the point that  “the Crown was implying that Anne’s relationship with Norris was far more serious than the casual affairs she had supposedly had with the other accused”, which is far from how things began with Norris being accused of knowing about Anne and Smeaton’s relationship, rather than being involved with the Queen himself.

All four men were found guilty and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered, a sentence that was commuted by the King to death by beheading.

On Wednesday the 17th May, the men, along with Rochford who had also been found guilty, were led out of the Tower to a scaffold that had been erected on Tower Hill. Norris’s servant, George Constantine, witnessed the executions and writes of how Rochford was executed first, because of his rank, and Norris was second. Although some sources have Weston as going second, Constantine’s report makes more sense as Norris was higher in rank than Weston. According to Constantine, “the others confessed, all but Mr Norris, who said almost nothing at all”, but Gilbert Burnet, Bishop of Salisbury, reported that Norris said:

” I do not think that any gentleman of the court owes more to [the King] than I do, and hath been more ungrateful and regardless of it than I have”

and then Burnet writes of how Norris spoke out in defence of the Queen:

“loyally averred that in his conscience, he thought the Queen innocent of these things laid to her charge; but whether she was or not, he would not accuse her of any thing, and he would die a thousand times rather than ruin an innocent person.”

The Spanish Chronicle report on the executions of the four men states that Norris “made a great long prayer” and said that he deserved death because he had been ungrateful to the King. Crispin de Milherve wrote that all five men “suffered a death which they had no way deserved” and that even their executioner “shed tears, but the bloody corpses were allowed to lie on the scaffold for hours, half-dressed”.

Henry Norris’s body was buried in the same grave as that of Sir Francis Weston in the graveyard of St Peter ad Vincula but it is said that Norris’s family managed to claim his head and bury it in the private chapel of their family home, Ockwell Manor, near Maidenhead in Berkshire. A sad end to a life of loyalty and kindness.

Norris’s offices were given to new people, with the Duke of Richmond, Henry VIII’s illegitimate son being appointed Chancellor and Chamberlain of North Wales, Cromwell’s man, Thomas Heneage, being made Groom of the Stool and the office of park keeper at Windsor going to Norris’s brother, who was a gentleman usher of the King’s chamber. We also know that Jane Seymour’s brother Edward was given Norris’s house at Kew, a nice gift for the brother of the new Queen.

Anne and Norris

Was there any truth in the allegations made against Anne and Norris? I don’t believe so, although historians like G W Bernard may argue that Anne was guilty of some of the charges. I cannot see that Anne Or Norris were willing to risk their lives for an illicit affair, they were both intelligent people and knew what happened to those who crossed the King. But, Alison Weir wonders whether Anne loved Norris, even if she did not act on these feelings. Anne apparently said to one of her ladies in the Tower “that she had never offended with her body against the King”, so does this suggest that although she may not have offended the King with her body she may have done so with her heart? Did she secretly love someone else, someone like Norris? I don’t think so, but it is an interesting question to ponder.

Thomas Wyatt, in his poem, “In Mourning Wise Since Daily I Increase”,  about the men’s executions, writes of Norris:

“Ah! Norris, Norris, my tears begin to run,
To think what hap did thee so lead or guide,
Whereby thou hast both these and thine undone,
That is bewailed in court on every side,
In place also where thou hast never been,
Both man and child doth piteously thee moan;
They say, “Alas, thou art for ever seen
By their offences to be both dead and gone.”

From his words, it appears that Wyatt thought Norris was guilty and he wasn’t the only one. Although it is evident that Eustace Chapuys, the Imperial Ambassador, felt that Anne was innocent, because Cromwell had admitted to him that he had “thought up and plotted” Anne’s fall, he reported that “the Archbishop of Canterbury declared by sentence that the Concubine’s daughter was the bastard of Mr Norris, and not the King’s daughter”. This report seems to have been based on the gossip that was doing the rounds at court that summer and this was never declared and the King accepted Elizabeth as his daughter.

So, what do you think of Henry Norris and his fate? Also what do you think of the idea that Anne may actually have loved Norris, even if she did not act on it? Is this just reading too much into Anne’s words? Let me know your thoughts.


P.S. Don’t forget to check out yesterday’s post on the latest addition to our shop – The Anne Boleyn French Hood.

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30 thoughts on “Henry Norris Part 2”
  1. loves this so much as it is so nice to deepen our knowledge about those other victims of may 1536. It is so sad that a few ill judged words could have given Cromwell the opportunity to bring the Boleyn faction down so maliciously and I feel it is very true that to implicate those closest to the king would blind him to the truth more easily because of the shock factor especiially as historically in his tempestuous relationship with Anne cold winds could sometimes easily turn back to passion. this is even more true as if Ives is to be believed and the suggests he is, the king was still very publically aligning himself to Anne right up to the end of April 1536 shown by his dealings with the Emperor. But Henry was a vain and fickle man and he was played by a sly and clever man in Cromwell and Jane seymour was cleverly pushed right under his nose at precise moment when he was in shock. thankyou again for your hardwork in enlightening us Anne fans

  2. Well done, Claire! From what I can figure out. Norris was a friendly person and was probably liked by many, including Anne. But liking someone does not mean having an affair. Just an opinion, but maybe Cromwell wanted Norris removed because he was envious or jealous of him and his popularity. I also wonder if Anne’s flirting with Norris would have been seen as less serious if she and Henry had a more secure relationship.

  3. Hello Claire,
    Of all the great posts regarding the four men brought down with Anne you have saved the best till last!. It cleverly brings together all the information relating to Norris’s fall but does so cogently, sympathetically and in a very balanced way.
    If Henry ever regretted the evil perpetrated in May 1536 it could well have been because of his willingness to sacrifice the life of his best friend for the sake of his own happiness. I agree with lisannejane that Anne’s flirtations would have been seen as nothing more than harmless fun if Henry had still loved her. Because after all, that was what it was, and this is a very perceptive comment.
    I agree with you that Anne was probably not in love with Norris, and I also agree that Henry had to have known that his friends were innocent. Cromwell was not a fool. Would he seriously have risked the King’s wrath by accusing his wife and best friends of adultery unless he was confident that the king was prepared to have them sacrificed?
    I know that Weir argues that there was cause for Henry to believe in Anne’s guilt. The main thrust of her book is an attempt to exonerate Henry of any blame. But I personally think it is a naive argument. It is not true that her guilt was generally believed. Ives puts it best when he says, ‘A case sufficient to quiet the general public and satisfy pliant consciences had been manufactured by innuendo and implecation, but those in the know were aware how flimsy it was.’
    Henry was certainly in the know as were people like Thomas Wyatt. I don’t interpret Wyatt’s poetry as confirmation that he believed in Norris’s guilt. In fact quite the reverse. I think he is saying in the second and third lines, what on earth did such a decent man as you ever do to deserve such an end. And the answer, as Wyatt was well aware, was that he had done nothing.

  4. Thank you, Louise, Henry Norris is definitely my favourite out of the men. I really don’t feel that Anne was in love with Norris, I think she loved her husband and her daughter.
    I do think that Cromwell was responsible for “cooking up” the plot but, like you, I can’t see how Henry could have been ignorant of what was going on, surely Cromwell would not have dared to plot against the Queen and friends of the King without having the King’s blessing. It would have been more dangerous to plot behind the King’s back than to just leave things as they were.
    I agree with you too about Wyatt. Although Weir writes of how Wyatt is damning the men, I think you can read his poem in a completely different way. Even Chapuys, who hated Anne “the concubine” admitted that he did not believe that she and the men were guilty.
    Thanks for the comment, Louise.

  5. Henry VIII’s promise to Norris – to spare his life if he confessed – is something I have often wondered about. Even though we don’t believe the accusations, IF Norris had confessed, would Henry truly have spared him a traitor’s fate? Or did perhaps he just mean that he would get an “easier” death, such as a beheading instead of burning.

    Reading the indictments is chilling – to know those are the exact words that robbed Anne (and the men) of her life.

    That scene in The Tudors – where Anne confronts Henry, begging, with Elizabeth in her arms, is heart-wrenching! Natalie Dormer was superb, conveying the desperation Anne must have felt.

  6. Hello Claire.
    I know you are interested in primary sources so I wonder whether you have come across Google Book Search? If not, you will have hours of fun with it!
    Also, I was messing around on the internet over the weekend and discovered that the internet archive free download also has Holinshed’s Chronicles and Wriothesley’s Chronicles, which are probably the best. I bought Wriothesley’s Chronicles a few years ago and they are brilliant. The site, which is Canadian, has far more to it than I previously realised. The only major primary source it doesn’t have are the Lisle Letters, which if you haven’t got are well worth purchasing. They contain a wealth of information, particularly if you are interested in George Boleyn as I am.

  7. Hi Louise,

    Thanks for letting me know about those, I will add them to the Primary Sources page. I also found a translation of the Spanish Chronicle on there so it will be good to browse that too. It is fantastic that there are so many of these primary sources available online.
    Yes, I am very interested in George Boleyn. The full volume set of the Lisle Letters is rather expensive so I’ve ordered the abridged version but I’m not sure if this will give me all of the information I need. Have you got the full set?
    Thanks so much for your help with this x

  8. Claire I bought the abrided version and it was very unhelpful. I found it a waste of money. I bought the full set for £118; worth every penny. If you would like to borrow them I will gladly arrange for them to be sent to you.

  9. what sources can be believed that were there @ the time and witnessed what people did and said? Chapuys? the court? what words did Cromwell ever say?

  10. Hi Rosalie,
    There are lots of letters and reports from Chapuys to Charles V but Chapuys was known to repeat gossip and often had to correct himself. In the Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, there are lots of different records from Henry VIII’s reign – letters, indictments, records of people being given royal grants etc. They really are fascinating. Cromwell obviously wrote lots of letters but I’m not sure that you can believe his word in relation to Anne and the five men as he was plotting against them. Check out our Primary Sources page for links, it is wonderful to be able to browse primary sources online but I warn you, you will get completely immersed in them. You can search through them by name or date so you could type in Norris and see what comes up, although spellings often vary.

  11. Thank you Claire. The biographers constantly remind us that none of the individuals’ reports can be trusted; but I think Starkey wrote that what could be trusted were official documents – inventories and revenue records; property tax rolls, etc. a “forensic” record of the time. On another subject: did you have the opportunity to visit the Henry VIIII-letters-to-Anne. I think it was september this year.
    I think your site is wonderful and you are doing an excellent job.

  12. I found by the internet search engines that Sir Henry Norris is my direct ancestor.My grandma was a Norris before she married grandpa.
    It is shocking to know that an ancestor suffered such an awful death.Yet it is reality and nothing changes that.
    I’ve gotten a feeling for Sir Henry’s kindness and consideration and that I even feel for King Henry that he sacrificed such a loyal friend.
    No, I don’t think Queen Anne and Sir Henry had an affair.As previously noted they were both intelligent and knew well the danger they would incur.It is fascinating to find one’s ancestors in history and see them as people.

    1. Hello Lynne
      Sir Henry Norris is my 13th great grandfather and I am addicted to Tudor history, particularly the reign of King Henry VIII.

  13. Although Henry would have felt distressed and distraught and betrayed by the idea of his wife bieng unfaithful with his great friend, Henry Norris who was very close to him: you would also think that he would know his friend well enough to be aware that he was innocent. He even took him aside and asked him if the accusations were true, promising to save his life if he confessed that he was the Queen’s lover. When Norris denyed it, surely Henry could have worked out that he was telling him the truth and not just acting innocent. Just because he was accused by Cromwell did not mean he was guilty and Cromwell had produced no evidence to indite Norris.

    Had Henry learned of the conversation between Anne and Norris and her attempts to smooth things over. But why did Anne have Norris go to Skipp and tell him that she was a good woman? Why not just issue a plain and simple apology to Norris about her behaviour and accusations and make sure that also was witnessed. She had put him in a dangerous position and realised it but asking him to swear she was a good woman just made her seem guilty.

    Norris, I believe admired the Queen, but he was part of the Boleyn faction at court and had not changed sides. Thomas Cromwell did not just want to bring down the Queen, he wanted a purge. Norris fell in that purge and the Queen’s foolish words to him aided in that fall. What was Anne thinking making such a scene and did she not realise that she was in company? Norris would not have been in her chambers alone: even had he come to visit Madge Sheldon, then he would have had other ladies around the Queen and taken the lady aside. Even so, this does not amount to adultery or even to treason as Norris denied the charge and made as he believed the Queen was being outrageous. He was greatly alarmed and made no secret of the fact. Norris was obviously trying to protect himself, but he may have believed that the Queen’s own honour was at stake by her foolish words as well.

    Having said all of this, I still find it very hard to work out why Henry believed that Norris was guilty? The only thing that I can think of is that having already been confronted with the evidence of his wife’s adultery, the claims by Cromwell and the confession by Mark Smeaton, Henry was no longer able to think straight. He could no longer function and no longer reason. The added shock that so close a personal and old friend could be involved must have been too much for him to handle. And a whole load of mind stuff!
    That would explain why he demanded that Norris confess and would listen to nothing else but an admission of guilt: he had already made his mind up that all those accused where guilty: he could conceive of nothing else. Poor Norris, he did not stand a chance and in the biggest set up in history: he headed for a fall; execution and death.

  14. Hi Claire,
    I was so happy to find your website. Henry Norris is my 9th great grandfather and it’s fascinating to read your description of him and the sad events of his downfall. The most intriguing part of your post is how similar his personality traits are to that of my late father, William George Norris. I think it was most likely that Henry was just another pawn used by King Henry VIII, but I have to ask if there was any real substance to the idea that Elizabeth was really his child?

    1. Obviously it is not possible to know definitively that Elizabeth was Henry’ VIIIIs child, but she resembled him in many ways, both physically and in character. Henry VIII never seems to have seriously doubted it, even though after Anne’s execution he was able to take that line had he wished. At the time of her conception Henry VIII and Anne were not even married, I can see no reason why Anne would have been having an affair at great risk to her future career as Queen, why risk throwing away everything she had worked for on the brink of success? Later on in her life the probabilities change, although I still believe she was innocent of the charges brought against her. Apart from anything I can’t see how she would have got the privacy to do it! Lives were led so much more in public then, especially for royalty and people on the edge of royalty, and she was probably literally never alone, even before she was actually married to Henry VIII she was treated pretty much as Queen, with all that entails.

    2. Hello
      He is my 13th great grandfather and I agree it is all very fascinating. I am now a serious student of Tudor history.

  15. No one knows the truth of it and virtually everyone believes that Anne was unjustly railroaded. I wondered if the truth could be approached from another direction–eye color. Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn were brown-eyed people but Elizabeth R had pale blue eyes. Geneticaly and assuming Henry VIII paternity, this can only happen one way. Both parents must be Brown-Blue heterozygotes which is to say that each parent must have one dominant brown-eyed gene [producing brown eye color] and one recessive Blue gene. If this is the case, 25 % of offspring will, on the average, be Blue-eyed and 75% will be Brown-eyed.

    Because the mother of Elizabeth is certain we can safely predict that Anne was a Brown-blue heterozygote. But paternity, especially before DNA testing, is never certain. Is there another way to get to an answer. I’ve looked at portraits of Henry VIII’s parents [granted, email reproduced portraits] and both were brown-eyed. I haven’t looked at portraits of Henry’s grandparents for eye color. Odds are pretty good that Henry was a Brown-Brown homozygote and should, therefore have produced only brown-eyed children.

    Purely numericaly….and this emphatically isn’t proof…it is quite possible that Henry VIII wasn’t Elizabeth’s father. If it were possible to exhume Henry and Elizabeth’s bones and if it were possible to extract DNA, we would know for certain whether Henry was the father.

  16. Henry Norris was born sometime in the late 1490s
    Read more:
    This has to be a typo as his proposed father Edward bc1464-5 June 1487.
    When Henry was executed, he had a son, Edward who was 2 years old, born 1534 died @ 5yrs, on 26th July 1539. This I confirmed, with the church brass, by contacting the church direct.
    This makes Mary’s death (Henry’s wife) later than the 1530/1 usually reported..

    1. This Sir Henry Norris’ birthdate is given in Eric Ives’s excellent Oxford DNB biography as “before 1500” and by other historians as 1490s. He was the second son of Richard Norris and grandson of Sir William Norris of Yattendon, so I think you’re referring to another Henry Norris there, I’m not sure. He had three children with Mary, daughter of Thomas Fiennes. Their eldest son Henry went on to have a distinguished career in Elizabeth I’s reign, their second son Edward is said to have died in 1529 (so I’m interested in how the brass says 1539) and their daughter Mary married Sir George Carew. Do you have the photo of the brass? “A List of Monumental Brasses in the British Isles”, compiled by Mill Stephenson in 1926, list Edward’s brass in Ewelme as dying aged 5 in 1529 (page 405). It also lists him, as being son of Henry Norris, who was son of Edward Norris, who, in turn, was son of William Norris, so I’m interested to dig more into this and figure out why historians like Ives have Henry Norris as being son of Richard Norris. I was going on Ives as Ives is generally very accurate as he did extensive research on all of the men for his Anne Boleyn book. If Henry was the son of Edward then it would make him born earlier.

      1. Hello Claire,
        Sorry for late reply. How do I get notification’s of a reply?
        I found email from Ewelme church, they said the 1529 date is from a booklet !!! Whether or not the tomb/brass etc is still there, I don’t know and they didn’t say.
        Further delving, I agree, as no primary sources found, as yet.
        Ives has Richard as father with unknown mother… I suspect she will be Elenore Cheney. (?? d/o Alexander Cheney, Isle of Sheppey)
        In 1507, Elizabeth Kentwood and husband John Swaffham conveyed West Shefford to John and Elenore.

        1. I believe 1531 as Mary Fiennes (Fenys) death date is based on her father writing his will in 1531. Thomas Lord Fenys (prob 18 May 1534) writes Mary as “deceased daughter”……

          Will look at Sir Thomas Fenys (brother to Mary) prob 19 May 1526.

      2. Hi Claire, As I researched Henry Norris for my book, I tend to believe he was the son of Edward and not Richard. If he were Richard’s son, he would have been born in the early 1480s which would have made him in his 30s when he first went to court. Many sources say he was in his teens, or slightly younger than the king. Also I saw where Edward was supposedly killed in the Battle of Stoke Field in 1489, but I believe it was Edward’s father who was killed there. Also in those days families tended to name their children after themselves or parents. Sir Henry’s second son was named Edward. The brass confused me too. It’s possible we may never know who was who or who died when.For my book, I arbitrarily chose Edward as his father and put the death of young Edward at 1529.

  17. I really enjoy your website/blog and your extensive and well reasoned research. I am jumping into this comment stream well after the shelf date, but I have a hypothesis and I wondered if you had ever heard any facts or speculation that might lend it credence. I have wondered if Norris’ abrupt fall from grace might have stemmed from his role as Groom of the Stool. He, more than anyone (perhaps even Anne) would have been in a position to know if Henry had symptoms of venereal disease (which is often surmised) or some kind of erectile dysfunction. Its clear that Norris was close to Anne – whether those feelings were romantic or platonic, he was clearly a compassionate person under any circumstances. He would been aware how precarious her situation became with every miscarriage and the kings dwindling appearances in her bedchamber. She must have been incredibly stressed and apprehensive. Is it possible that in trying to comfort her, either privately or within their clique, that Norris spilled the beans about the state of the kings “appendage” and ability to beget. Publicly, or even privately, suggesting that the King has sexual issues, is potentially diseased, or may not be able to create heirs, could be considered treasonous – since it imagines a failure of a dynasty – as well as being a huge blow to Henry’s ego. Since no solid evidence was presented that would confirm Norris’ affair with Anne existed, and since he appears to have had the trust and affection of the king until literally hours before he was charged, is it possible that what he may have admitted not to an affair, but to repeating secrets of the closet, or sexual fears that Henry may only have told to him. This would account for Norris’ adamant insistence that Anne was entirely innocent, there was no affair in thought or deed, but that he Norris had somehow failed the king.

  18. Hello Claire,

    Thank you for preparing this very interesting article. I feel so sorry for Henry Norris whom I believe to have been a man of honour and integrity and undeserving of his tragic end.

    I have a question concerning Burnet quoting Norris before his execution:
    ” I do not think that any gentleman of the court owes more to [the King] than I do, and hath been more ungrateful and regardless of it than I have”.
    Alison Weir didn’t cite her source specifically, she just wrote “Burnet has him stating…”. Well, I’ve been searching for this exact passage in Burnet’s History of the Reformation of the Church of England and couldn’t find it. There are some passages relating to Norris and his downfall, but not a word concerning his execution speech.
    Do you know where exactly this statement originates from? Have I overlooked something or could Weir have made a mistake with her quotation?
    Your help would be greatly appreciated.


  19. The 1532 Visitation of Berkshire gives Edward as Henry’s father, as does every source I’ve ever seen. I wonder why Ives thought he knew better? It’s surely a mistake. I also wonder who the person above is pretending to be me?

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