Norris, Francis (DNB00)

NORRIS, FRANCIS, Earl of Berkshire (1579–1623), born on 6 July 1579, and baptised at Wytham, Berkshire, 19 July, was grandson of Henry, lord Norris, and son of Sir William Norris [see under Norris, Henry, Baron Norris of Rycote]. His father died in 1579, and Francis succeeded to the barony of Norris on the death of his grandfather in 1600. At the same time he inherited much landed property in Oxfordshire and Berkshire, and this was greatly increased in 1604, when the death without issue of his uncle, Sir Edward Norris [q. v.], left him heir to Sir Edward's large estates in the latter county. He seems to have early contemplated playing a part in politics, and his great wealth gave him immediate influence. He signed the proclamation announcing Queen Elizabeth's death and James I's accession on 24 March 1602–3 (Strype, Annals, iv. 519). He was made a knight of the Bath at the creation of Prince Charles as Duke of York on 6 Jan. 1604–5, entered Gray's Inn on 26 Feb. following, and was from 28 March to 29 June 1605 in Spain in attendance on Charles Howard, earl of Nottingham, the English ambassador there (Winwood, Memorials, ii. 50). In 1609 he gave to Sir Thomas Bodley the timber of twenty oak trees to be employed in building the Bodleian Library at Oxford, and in the same year Sir Thomas began the permanent endowment of his library by conferring on it the manor of Hindons by Maidenhead, which he purchased of Norris (Macray, Annals of the Bodleian Library, ed. 1890, p. 37). In 1611, according to Chamberlain, Norris gave to Prince Henry ‘Shotover, and those walks about Oxford, gratis’ (Court and Times of James I, i. 147).

Of impetuous and quarrelsome disposition, Norris had a long dispute with Robert Bertie, lord Willoughby de Eresby (afterwards Earl of Lindsey) [q. v.] In the autumn of 1613 he had a duel with Peregrine Bertie, Willoughby's brother, ‘upon an old reckoning, and hurt him dangerously in the shoulder’ (Winwood, Memorials, iii. 154). In September 1615 Willoughby and Norris met in the churchyard at Bath, and their retainers fought with swords. One of Willoughby's servants was slain, and Norris was tried and convicted of manslaughter. But the king granted him a free pardon (Letters of Sir George Carew to Roe, Camd. Soc. p. 16; Hist. MSS. Comm. 3rd Rep. p. 214). On 28 Jan. 1620–1 he was made Viscount Thame and Earl of Berkshire, at the suggestion of Buckingham, who was anxious that Norris's only daughter should marry his friend Edward Wray. Very soon afterwards, on 16 Feb. 1620–1, while in a narrow passage leading to the House of Lords, Lord Scrope pushed past him. Losing his temper, Berkshire thrust himself in front of Scrope. The house was sitting at the moment, and Prince Charles was present. The encounter between the two noblemen was brought to the notice of the peers, and Berkshire was committed to the Fleet prison. He did not recover from the humiliation. Returning to his house at Rycote in Oxfordshire, he shot himself with a cross-bow, and died of the self-inflicted injuries on 29 Jan. 1622–3.

The earl left by his wife Bridget, daughter of Edward Vere, seventeenth earl of Oxford, an only child, Elizabeth, who, as Buckingham had desired, married at St. Mary Aldermary, London, on 27 March 1622, Edward, younger son of Sir William Wray, bart., of Glentworth, Lincolnshire. Her husband was groom of the bedchamber to Charles I. Lady Elizabeth Wray was buried in Westminster Abbey on 28 Nov. 1645. Her husband was buried at Wytham 29 March 1658. She left an only child, Bridget (1627–1657), who married, first, on 24 Dec. 1645, at Wytham church, Edward (d. 1646), second son of Edward Sackville, fourth earl of Dorset; and afterwards Montagu Bertie, second earl of Lindsey (d. 1666). By her second husband she was mother of James, who became Baron Norris in her right in 1675 (with precedence from 1572), and was created Earl of Abingdon in 1682. She was buried in St. Andrew's Chapel, Westminster Abbey, on 24 March 1656–7. The earldom of Abingdon is still extant in the direct line of descent from her (Chester, Westminster Abbey Register, 140, 149). To her William Basse [q. v.] dedicated his poem ‘Polyhymnia,’ the opening verses in which are addressed to her grandfather, the Earl of Berkshire (Basse, Works, ed. Bond, pp. 153–4).

The Earl of Berkshire also left an illegitimate son, Sir Francis Norris (1609–1669). His mother was Sarah Rose, afterwards wife of Samuel Haywarde, who was also known as Francis Rose, alias Norreys. By an indenture dated 1 June 1619 the earl settled on the boy Francis the manors of Weston-on-the-Green and Yattendon with lands at Cherrington, Chilswell, and elsewhere. To this property Francis succeeded on his father's death in 1623. On 27 Aug. 1633 he was knighted at Abingdon (Metcalfe, Knights, p. 193), and in 1635–6 served as high sheriff of Oxfordshire. In that capacity he endeavoured to collect ship-money amid much opposition. He was elected M.P. for the county in 1656, and was returned for the same constituency to Richard Cromwell's parliament in December 1658; but in February 1658–9 the house resolved that the return was invalid, and declared Henry Carey, viscount Falkland, duly elected in his place (Davenport, Sheriffs of Oxfordshire, p. 46). By his wife Jane (d. 1713), daughter of Sir John Rouse, he was father of Sir Edward Norris of Weston-on-the-Green, who was knighted on 22 Nov. 1662, and was M.P. for Oxfordshire in six parliaments (1675–1679, 1700–8), and for Oxford in four; while his son Francis (d. 1706) was M.P. for Oxford in three parliaments (1700–5).

[Brydges's Memoirs of Peers during the Reign of James I, 1802, i. 465; Doyle's Baronage; C[okayne's] Complete Peerage, i. 43; Lee's Hist. of Thame; Dugdale's Baronage; Gent. Mag. 1797, pt. i. p. 654 (for entries in Wytham Parish Register); Gardiner's Hist.]

S. L.