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Norris, Roger (DNB00)


NORRIS, NORREYS, or NOREIS, ROGER (d. 1223), abbot of Evesham, was a monk of Christchurch, Canterbury, at the time when Archbishop Baldwin (d. 1190) [q. v.] was endeavouring to make his authority prevail in the government of the convent against the strenuous resistance of the monks. In 1187 Norris was one of the three treasurers of the convent (Ep. Cant. Rolls Ser. No. xcvi), and was, with the aged sacristan Robert, deputed to appeal to Henry II, who was then in France, against the archbishop's pretensions. They were expressly warned by the convent to refuse to hold office from the archbishop, but while at Alençon they treacherously agreed to acknowledge his sway (ib. No. cxi), and the king regarded them as fully authorised to treat for the convent (ib. No. cxiv). Norris was accordingly made cellarer by the archbishop. On 28 Aug. 1187 he returned home, but the convent refused to acknowledge his title to the office, and confined him in the infirmary. At the end of January 1188 he escaped through the sewer of the monastery, and joined the archbishop at Otford (Gervase of Cant. i. 404). On 6 Oct. Baldwin appointed him prior of the convent. On 8 Nov. the convent assembled before the king at Westminster and asked for Roger's removal. A compromise was arrived at: the convent begged the archbishop's pardon, and Roger, whose character was notoriously bad, was deposed.

In 1191, through the agency of King Richard I (Chron. Evesham, p. 103), he became abbot of Evesham, and was consecrated by William, bishop of Worcester (ib. p. 134). For four years he tyrannised over the abbey, and then complaint was made to Archbishop Hubert as legate. Norris escaped retribution by bribery, amended his ways for a year, and made friends with great men, especially the chief justiciar, Geoffrey Fitz-Peter; and when in 1198 a second complaint was made, he was able to hush the matter up. In 1202 he had to cope with the question of the Bishop of Worcester's right to visit the abbey. By skilfully playing off the jealousy of the monks against the bishop, Norris succeeded both in excluding the bishop and tightening his own hold on the abbacy. He was thus free to continue his oppressions, which took the usual form of depriving the convent of its share of the estates. The monks, led by Thomas de Marleberge [q. v.], made efforts to recover their property; but in 1203, when inquiry was made by the archbishop, the abbot triumphed, and the rebellious monks received a nominal punishment.

Part of the question of exemption from episcopal visitation was in 1205 referred to Rome. The astute lawyer Marleberge and the abbot met there in March 1205, and they agreed to act together; but Marleberge went in fear of his life because of the abbot's plots against him. The bishop had been accorded jurisdiction over the abbey pending the decision from Rome, and he excommunicated Norris when he and the convent closed their gates against him. But the papal decision in favour of the convent's exemption left the abbot free on his return to continue his old courses. In 1206 the convent was visited by the legate; complaint was then made of Norris's misconduct, but the inquiry which followed was partial. He next attempted to expel the ringleaders of the rebellious monks; but thirty monks elected to join them, and in an armed encounter the abbot's party was defeated, and Norris had to submit to his own monks. Still for six years more the abbey continued to suffer at his hands, and not till 1213 did Marleberge tell the whole story of the abbot's iniquities to the legate Pandulph. Full inquiry was made, and charges of robbery and neglect of the convent, of simony, homicide, and notorious unchastity were established. The abbot was on 22 Nov. 1213 ordered to resign and restore the conventual property. After five days the convent petitioned the legate that he should be made prior of Penwortham, and he held this office five months, when the legate deprived him of it on account of his excesses. He proceeded to Rome, and strove to win back the abbacy, without success. On returning to England he tried in vain to make friends with the Bishop of Worcester and the legate Gualo in 1216. He sought to get money from the convent, and rather than that he should become one of the vagabond monks (gyrovagii) condemned by St. Benedict, the legate Pandulph in 1218 restored the priory of Penwortham to him. He died on 19 July 1223. His enemy Marleberge admits that he was courageous, and adds that his flow of words gave him the appearance of learning. Not only the monks of Christchurch (Ep. Cant. p. 253), and chief among them Gervase the historian, but also Alan of Tewkesbury, Giraldus Cambrensis, and Thomas de Marleberge, all agree in condemning his vices.

[Ep. Cant., ed. Stubbs, Rolls Ser. loc. cit.; Gervase of Canterbury, ed. Stubbs, Rolls Ser., i. 382, &c.; Chron. Evesham, ed. Macray, passim; Giraldus Cambrensis, ed. Brewer, iv. 91.]

M. B.