Last week, I wrote about William Brereton who turned out to be a bit of a Tudor bad boy, although perhaps not as bad as the Jesuit assassin Brereton from “The Tudors”! Well, this week, I’m going to introduce you to all round Mr Nice Guy, Henry Norris, a man who was known as “Gentle Mr Norris” and a man who was framed by Master Secretary, Thomas Cromwell, and let down by his good friend the King.

The Field of the Cloth of Gold - Norris attended
The Field of the Cloth of Gold - Norris attended

Henry Norris’s Background

I must say a big thank you to Josephine Wilkinson for her book “The Early Loves of Anne Boleyn” because she has a great section on Henry Norris and his family background, information that is sadly missing in many books on the men who were executed in the coup against Anne Boleyn – thanks, Josephine! Alison Weir also gives a fair bit of information on him in “The Lady in the Tower”.

Henry Norris was born sometime in the late 1490s and was thought to be a few years younger than Henry VIII who was born in 1491.He was the second son of Sir Edward Norris and his wife Frideswide, the daughter of Francis, Viscount Lovell, a man who had been a close friend of Richard III. Norris’s family had a long history of serving the monarch – his great-grandfather, Sir John Norris, had been Keeper of the Great Wardrobe to Henry VI and his grandfather, Sir William Norris had been Knight of the Body to Edward IV. Sir William Norris had been attainted after being involved in the Duke of Buckingham’s rebellion against Richard III and had been forced to flee to Brittany, where he joined the forces of Henry Tudor and may even have fought at the Battle of Bosworth. What we do know is that Sir William had a command in June 1487 at Stoke and went on to become the Lieutenant of Windsor Castle.

Although Alison Weir writes of Sir Henry’s mother being the daughter of Viscount Lovel, a supporter of Richard III, Josephine Wilkinson adds that she was descended from the de Veres of Oxford who had actually been enemies of Richard III.

Sometime prior to 1526, Henry Norris married Mary Fiennes, daughter of Lord Dacre. The couple had three children: Mary who grew up to marry Sir George Carew, Captain of the Mary Rose which sank in 1545 along with its captain and many of its crew; Henry, who was born around 1525 and who was educated in a reformist manner alongside Mary Boleyn’s son Henry Carey; and Edward who did not survive infancy, dying sometime around 1529. Norris was left a widower in around 1530.

A Royal Career

Henry Norris received his first royal grant as a young man in 1515 and by 1517 we know that he was serving in the King’s Privy Chamber. By 1518, he had obviously proved himself enough to be handling money for the King and Wilkinson writes of how he was probably made a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber in September 1518. Just a few months later, in January 1519, there is record of Norris receiving a annuity of 50 marks which shows the high regard that the King must have had for him, he was definitely on the rise and was a royal favourite.

His popularity and his loyalty to the King meant that he survived as Gentleman of the Privy Chamber when Cardinal Wolsey “weeded out” some of Henry’s men in May 1519 and we know that he attended the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520. Like the King, he was a sportsman, excelling at jousting, and Wilkinson writes of how he was always an active participant in court festivities and pageants and was attractive and popular.

Sometime before 1529, Norris became Groom of the Stool and by stool I mean toilet! The man who had this job had to “preside over the office of royal excretion” (defined by Bruce Boehrer,”The Privy and Its Double: Scatology and Satire in Shakespeare’s Theatre,” in Dutton, Richard; Jean Elizabeth Howard (2003). A Companion to Shakespeare’s Works: Poems, problem) which, to put it simply, meant wiping the royal bottom! Although this sounds an appalling job, David Starkey says:

“The Groom of the Stool had (to our eyes) the most menial tasks; his standing, though, was the highest … Clearly then, the royal body service must have been seen as entirely honorable, without a trace of the demeaning or the humiliating.”

So, wiping the royal bottom was a good job in those days!

However awful this job sounds, it did make Norris and the King very intimate and they became firm friends.Weir writes about the importance of Norris’s position as Groom of the Stool, saying:

“Yet there was more to his role than that [being present when the King performed his basic natural functions], for any who wished to present a petition to the King had to lay their request before Norris, rather than Cromwell, something that Cromwell may rather have resented.”

Henry Norris was the King’s closest companion and he controlled access ot the King’s private chambers, and the King himself, was able to advise and influence the King and could exercise patronage by recommending people to the King. No wonder, Cromwell included Norris in his coup against Anne!

Josephine Wilkinson also writes of how Henry Norris held the position of Keeper of the Privy Purse which involved him looking after gifts that the King had been given, such as jewellery. Norris’s high favour was also shown by the fact that he was appointed keeper of the manor of Placentia (Greenwich) and also of East Greenwich Park and Tower. When Sir William Compton died in 1528, Sir Henry Norris took his place as royal favourite, a position that he deserved, being a popular and trustworthy man. The King obviously trusted Norris because he gave him very important, and rather “delicate” jobs. For example, it was Norris who carried the King’s secret letters and message to Wolsey after the Cardinal’s fall from Grace and the fact that Wolsey rewarded him with a precious cross containing a piece of the true cross of Christ, and a cross that Wolsey always wore next to his skin, shows that Norris must have treated the Cardinal with much respect, courtesy and kindness.

Other posts that Henry Norris held include Chamberlain of North Wales (appointed in 1531), Master of the Hart Hounds and of the Hawks, Black Rod in the Parliament House, Graver of the Tower of London, Weigher of the Goods at the port of Southampton, Collector of Subsidy in the City of London, High Steward of the University of Oxford and steward or keeper of various parks, manors and castles. These positions, offices and lands meant that Norris was able to boost his rather modest income of £33.6s.8d (about £11,650) by a staggering £400 (£139,700) – a huge amount!

Alison Weir describes Norris as a “discreet, level-headed man of proven integrity” and also writes of how ” he was not only the Chief Gentleman of H’s Privy Chamber, which was the King’s private household, but its most trusted member and ‘the best-beloved of the King'”. Do you get the picture that Norris was a nice guy?!

Henry Norris and the Boleyns

It is thought that Norris had been a member of the Boleyn faction since at least 1530, around the time that he was widowed. He had much in common with Anne Boleyn and her circle, being of a reformist persuasion, and Weir writes of how Norris’s man servant, George Constantine had been a “zealous Protestant and trafficker in forbidden books”, so much so that he had only escaped being burned as a heretic by Sir Thomas More in 1531 by fleeing abroad. it was Norris who brought Constantine back to court, under his protection, and helped him bring back a copy of Miles Coverdale’s English translation of the Bible for Anne Boleyn.

In 1533, Norris’s favour with both the King and Anne Boleyn led to him being one of the witnesses at their secret marriage and it was in the 1530s that Norris started courting Mistress Shelton*, the daughter of Sir Thomas Boleyn’s sister, Anne, and her husband Sir John Shelton. This courtship came to nothing and it was Anne’s teasing of Norris’s lack of commitment to Mistress Shelton and her words to Sir Francis Weston, who also seemed keen on Mistress Shelton, that were used against Anne in Cromwell’s plot to oust the Queen and her circle.

Next Time

So, how did the King’s closest and most trusted companion come to be executed for treason on 17th May 1536? How could such a popular and “gentlemanly” chap come to such an ugly and brutal end? Find out in my next post…


* It is commonly thought that Norris was courting Margaret Shelton (Madge) but some historians argue that Madge and Mary have been mixed up because of “Marg” and “Mary” looking similar in Tudor handwriting.


Happy Thanksgiving to those who will be celebrating with family and friends on Thursday! Daniela and Tiffini will not be working on Thursday but I will be – boo hoo!

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40 thoughts on “Sir Henry Norris Part 1”
  1. As always, excellent post! I have to say that coming to this website is like a welcome break or mini- vacation for me! I also want to mention that a great book about Marie Antoinette is the one by Antoinia Fraser, you may have already read it though. 🙂 I think the new Opulence jewelry line is absolutely stunning, beautifully luxurious! I am looking forward to your next post! Thanks for having this site and keeping it so interesting and awesome!

  2. Thank you, Ashley. I’m glad that you enjoyed the post and that you like the site, it’s so sweet of you to say. No, I haven’t read that Antonia Fraser book, I’ll put it on my rather long list of must-reads!
    Thanks also for the kind words about the Opulence range – I want all of it! Daniela is going to be doing some real gemstone earrings too soon. Have a great Thanksgiving x

  3. Hello Claire.
    Again another good and sympathetic post. The fact that Norris was such a nice guy throws Warnicke’s theory that the men executed with Anne were all sexual deviants into even greater disarray!
    You mention in your post that Norris was one of the witnesses at the wedding of Henry and Anne. Could you let me know whether this comes from a primary source because I’ve never been able to find this out. Chapuys only refers to Anne’s parents, brother and two favourites being present and I have never been able to find out who those favourites were.

  4. Thanks, Louise. Weir cites “Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII” as her source for who attended the secret marriage but I’ve been unable to find this information. I’ll let you know if I find it. I do wish she’d be more specific! Norris was definitely the King’s favourite at the time so it is likely that he was there.

  5. Thanks Claire.
    I agree with you that is was likely Norris was there, but Weir, as a historian, should be specific if she is going to state this as fact. Like you I find Weir worryingly vague with her references. Saying LP rather than giving a specific volume and document number is simply not acceptable. It gives the impression, whether rightly or wrongly, that she has made an assumption rather than rely on hard evidence, and by being so vague in her references makes it difficult to fully trust her sources. I believe that was one of John Guy’s major gripes with her work.

  6. Yes, I do find it frustrating too because, as you know, there are many volumes of Letters and Papers! It would be helpful to state the volume and date at least. I did find John Guy’s review of Lady in the Tower very interesting.

  7. Hello Claire.
    I have checked Letters and Papers. The wedding of Henry and Anne is at volume vi and the specific documents which refer to it are numbered 167, 180 and 661. I have cross referenced these with Henry Norris and he is not mentioned. If Weir did rely on Letters and Papers to supply us with this fact, it seems she may well have made an error.
    Lucky for her that her references are so vague!

  8. Thanks for the info, Louise, I did various searches and couldn’t come up with a mention of Norris and the wedding either. I can imagine him being at the wedding, seeing as he was a favourite and a very trusted friend of Henry’s, but it would be good to know for a fact.

  9. Hello Claire.
    I’m so sorry to harp on about this, but the assumptions made by Weir are a bit of a bugbear of mine. I have found a reference to Norris being one of the witnesses. It is in Ives at page 168. He quotes from a secondary source, namely Nicholas Harpsfield, who based his evidence on supposition.
    Ives points out, like you and I do, that this is very plausible bearing in mind Norris’s closeness to Henry and Anne. However, Ives does not state it as a fact and does not try to pull the wool over our eyes by suggesting there is evidence in Letters and Papers to prove it. By saying this information is in Letters and Papers, when clearly it isn’t, Weir is telling us there is evidence which doesn’t actually exist.
    I know this is a minor point, but it is indicitive of Weir’s work, and I am not happy that in effect she is insulting my intelligence.

  10. Harp away, I know how you feel. I think I maybe Ives’s number one fan as I do find that he always backs up his theories with evidence. Have you read “Elizabeth the Queen” by Weir? I was enjoying it until I got to the bit where she theorises that William Cecil may have arranged for Amy Robsart to be murdered! It’s a good book but I just couldn’t figure out why she suddenly dropped that bombshell.
    I don’t like to criticise, afterall, I’m not a “proper” historian, just someone who spends my days (and quite a bit of my nights!) researching, but I am going off Weir’s work just because I find it frustrating to follow up on.

  11. Weir isn’t a “proper” historian either. But really, all a historian is is a person who investigates extant documents and records, and comes up with a plausible and rational theory based on that evidence (i.e. someone who doesn’t just make it up as they go along). If you spend your days and nights researching then you are perfectly entitled to critisise who you like, because the only difference between you and Weir is that Weir’s got a book contract!

  12. I guess you’re right. I’m just not an academic historian i.e. not a professor of history like John Guy or Eric Ives. If you write a book you are putting yourself out there to be criticised and your theories torn to shreds.

  13. Hi Claire,
    I love your site and enjoy it daily! I was wondering if you were planning on doing a history on Cromwell as he was a major part in the whole plan of eliminating Anne and those men. He sure was something else, wasn’t he? It would be interesting to find out what kind of a man he was. He seems to be a self centered, mean spirited person.

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and to everyone!

  14. HI Everyone,

    This site is extremelly fascinating – I think in the past we have always (or some of us) taken Anne Boleyn’s lovers for granted as innocent tools but it’s great to have more background about them. But again I wonder how much Henry VIII had to do with it all or whether it was a case of using people like Cromwell, etc. to dig up dirt and then Henry, being a selfish bastard, washed his hands when it suited him. As Claire knows in August 2007 their was weekend debate organised by English Heritage on who was considered to be Britain’s top monarch with the top 3 being Henry VIII (backed by Alison Weir) Victoria (backed by Martyn Downer) and Elizabeth 1 (backed by Sarah Gristwood). Henry didn’t get a look in – Results on the Saturday were Top Dog Victoria and on the Sunday Top Dog was Elizabeth 1. Strange that women ousted the man!

    Have to also say that sometimes I find Alison Weir frustrating in the lck of back-up info. I got really stressed out with her “Princes in the Tower” book as she was determined to make Richard III the bogeyman but I have never been able to see any real proof.

  15. I think at the end of the day, all of these historians’ books have something to offer us, regardless of whether they make mistakes with sources or they have theories which we don’t agree with. What I like about “The Lady in the Tower” is the detail that Weir goes into on the five men, the consequences of their executions for their families and also Europe’s reaction to what happened. As you can see from my posts, I draw on Weir, Wilkinson, Ives, Warnicke, sometimes Denny, Starkey, David Loades and many others and I like to do that because they all have their different ways of looking at Anne’s story.

  16. I am reading my first serious Anne book, “Anne Boleyn: A New Life Of England’s Tragic Queen” and on page 186 Henry Norris is listed as being at the wedding. The notes say “LP. v.327:Hall, ii.p.22.”. LP means “Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic of Henry VIII, ed. J.S. Brewer, J. Gairdner and R.H. Brodie, 21 vols., London 1882-1932.” The author is Joanna Denny. I am not a historian and am not sure if this is helpful,.

  17. Hello Lisaannejane,
    Thanks for the info. You are right that LP stands for Letters and Papers of Henry VIII. I don’t really understand where Denny is coming from with her references though because LP. v, 327 is actually a letter written by Henry to Dr Bennet dated 10th July 1531, i.e. eighteen months prior to his marriage to Anne. As for Hall, volume 2 relates to the very early years of Henry’s reign?

  18. I’ve just checke mt copy of Denny – thanks Lisa for pointing this out – and it says “The witnesses were the King’s Privy Councillors Henry Norris and Thomas Heneage, while Anne was accompanied by Annes Savage, later Lady Berkeley” and the source cited is indeed LP. v. 327 but Hall, ii.p.222, not 22 – just a typo from Lisa. I haven’t got Edward Hall’s “The Triumphante Reigne of King Henry the VIII” to check that.

  19. Hello Claire.
    Edward Hall’s chronicles are available on the internet. Just google Hall Chronicles and it comes up. The book has been scanned and unfortunately it has never been translated so it is all in the original handwriting and is very difficult to read. As with her LP reference I cannot see that Denny’s reference to Hall is correct. I suspect she actually got her information from the same source as Ives, and has made the same mistake as Weir by treating it as fact.

  20. While I was trying to find this out I came across a great source which I never knew existed. If you google Internet Archive: Free Download: Hall’s Chronicle there is in fact a typed transcript. All this time I’ve been reading the handwritten version while the typed is so much easier to follow.
    Anyway, the marriage is refered to on page 794, but only gives a brief description saying it took place in secret when the king returned from Calais in November 1532. That is all Hall says about it. However, he gives a great deal of info on the Coronation. It starts at page 798 and is definately worth a read.

  21. Well done, Louise, I will definitely look at the typed transcript as the handwritten one was doing my eyes in. I’ll also mention it in my Friday Round Up tomorrow because I think it’s a great resource in conjunction with the online Letters and Papers. I will get reading now!

  22. On p 794 it just says “The kyng after his returne, maried priuily the lady Anne Bulleyn, on mariedto sainct Erkenwaldcs daie, whiche manage was kept so secrete, that very fewe knewe it, til Buikyn e she was greate with child, at Easter after” and, as you say, does not go into detail on witnesses etc. When do you think this marriage took place? Hall’s Chronicle suggests late 1532 but Weir says 1533 and Denny says 25th January 1533.
    The one thing I like about Denny is that she cites her sources very clearly, giving detail rather than just saying LP. I have moved away from trusting Denny because I think she is (or was) overly sympathetic towards Anne and I prefer Ives’ rather balanced view.

  23. Based on Hall, Paul Friedmann argues that it took place on 14th November 1532, but if you look at page 170 of Ives he refutes that and believes there may have been a formal committment on that date with the actual ceremony taking place on 25th January 1533.

    Letters and Papers is very hazy on the point because the marriage is hardly mentioned at all, but at volume vi, 661 there is a reference to it taking place on St Paul’s Day, which is 25th January. Sorry I can’t be any more helpful.

    It is good that sources are properly cited because it is easier to tell if they are wrong. I too found Denny way too sympathetic, as I find Weir way too critical. If you merge Weir and Denny together Anne is probably somewhere in the middle.

  24. Henry Norris was born in 1482 which would have made him nine years older than the king of England but in another source it states that Norris may have been born amid the 1490’s which would mean that Noriss would have been the King’s junior.His surname can be spelt Norris or Norreys.The later probably being his last name in old english.Henry Noriss gained entry to court at a very young age and took on several various duties whilst attending the king.He first became groom of the bedchamber,then he became part of the king’s privy chamber then groom of the stool. This is when he bacame the kings companion.Norris was probably one of the most loyal and closest companions the king had at the time.Noriss had offered Cardinal Wolsy his rooms to stay in after Thomas had been left deliberately without any place of stay.Noriss had witnessed the Cardinals resign from office and also when the King,Anne and her mother Elizabeth Howard had gone on a ride and visit to Wolseys residence Noriss had been given a letter to give the Cardinal in putney.Before the Kings marriage to Anne Noriss had ordered his servant cavandish to bring and send over a Miles Coverdale translated edition of the bible for Anne boleyn.Cavandish had escaped heresy charges that were brought against him by Thomas More.After the execution of More Noriss had been given and granted his estates.Henry Noriss had helped Anne Boleyn during her marriage and queenship rise to power.

    I have never heard of Noriss being present at the secret marriage of the king and Anne Boleyns wedding until now but if I had to say who was there I would undoubtedly say it was Henry Noriss.I would like to know who the other confidant was.Also there is speclation on who married Henry and Anne.Was it Archbishop Cranmer? or was it some other bishop or priest who we know nothing of not even a name.? I personally thought though it was Archbishop Cranmer who had wed them but then again I could be wrong. As for when Henry and Anne wed,one source says November whilst another says january.What I can say is that Anne would have been undoubtedly pregnant with Elizabeth in january so I feel that january for their wedding most probably was january.

  25. Hi Tudorrose,
    It’s interesting how sources differ over such things as birthdates. Norris seems to have been a very kind man and it is a shame he had such a tragic end. I think it was George Constantine who was his servant, Cavendish was Wolsey’s wasn’t he?
    Some think that the other favourite of Henry’s who could have been at this secret marriage was Sir William Brereton, but I can’t find any evidence that definitely names the two of them.
    Thanks for your comment, particularly the bit about Norris giving Wolsey a roof over his head.

  26. Yes it was George Constantine who was Henry Norris’s servant.My mistake.For some reason I had the name Cavandish in my head for some reason.

    I take a great pride in Tudor history and have done since the age of eleven and I am still learning new things about the period.I especially am interested when the topic comes to Henry VIII and his six wives and with Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard in particular.

    I am glad to help within my subject of interest where I can.I will be waiting to give my view in part two of the rise and fall of one of most loyal and kind hearted men to the king and of the privy chamber next week.

  27. Thanks Louise and Claire for the additional information. I could not understand the footnotes in the book – I did not get the part about Edward Hall. It seems that no document exists that tells exactly what happened or who attended their wedding, so I suppose historians are making assumptions and not quoting facts.

  28. I just wondred if anyone on this site knows if… Henry Norris had lands in Englishcombe Bath, Somerset, Please?
    I would be extremely grateful for any Information. Thankyou .

  29. I’ll have a look through Letters and Papers and see if I can find anything linking him with Somerset. I know he had a house at Kew and he was given various royal grants, but none of them for lands in Somerset. I’ll let you know if I find anything.

  30. I just wanted to mention that Fridewide Lovel was the sister, not the daughter, of Francis, Viscount Lovel. Fridewide was the daughter of John Lovel, 8th Lord Lovel. I would be very careful about anything Alison Weir writes.

  31. I really enjoy reading historical articles about Sir Henry Norris as my name is also Norris.
    I have traced my ancestry back 18 generations to a Geoffrey Norreys who was born about 1370 in Congham, England. I am descended from a Thomas Norris ,born 1608 in Congham, England who came to Nansemond county,Virginia about 1630. The surname has went through at least 4 changes, from DeNoers to LeNorreys, to Norreys and finally to Norris by my ancestor John Norris born 1504 in Congham England. I Have tried to find
    any information that would tell me if Sir Henry Norris was in any way related to me. I can not. I wish I knew of a way to get information about this. I am apaulled at the callousness of HenryVlll in that he was willing to execute his closest friend in order to get rid of his second wife Anne Boleyn who fell from his favor primalrily because she could not give him a son and heir to the throne. After reading of the political turmoil that was going on in this era, it makes me thankfull that I am living in this one, dispite the many problems we are having in this country, and indeed the world today.

  32. I’m thrilled to find this website. I have hunted for years to find information about Henry Norris. I am a direct descendant of him through English families, Champernowne, Strode, and Thames. I presume many others are also.

    Does any portrait of him exist?

    1. Hi Stanley,
      Unfortunately, there are no surviving portraits of Sir Henry Norris, so we don’t know what he looked like. How exciting to be descended from him!

  33. I just recently found out that I’m descended from Henry Norris and Mary Fiennes through their son Henry. Reading this makes me very proud. Thank you.:)

  34. Incredibly good Tips, thanks. When it comes to guys and women who also plan to slim down immediately, try our website for the most efficient way to drop some weight without delay.

  35. Your site makes great reading, thank you.
    I too need primary documentation, otherwise it’s just fiction stories and not fact.
    Keep up the good work.

  36. What I have to wonder about is Norris’ association with Oxford. Could he have backed Anne in her quarrel with Cromwell over the spoils of the Dissolution? This would have definitely put him on Cromwell’s hit list, due to his influence. Had Cromwell viewed him as an ally or client he might have been left in peace.

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