Friday, February 13, 2009

Question from Caroline - Info on Henry Norris

Any info on Henry Norris, who was one of the men executed for committing adultery with Anne Boleyn??? Any suggestions for reference material? I've looked and looked to no avail.

[Ed. note - This is a topic I keep meaning to look into as well. I have some Norrises in my family tree in England during that period and I've often wondered if I'm distantly related to him.]


Foose said...

He was the grandson of a half-sister of Lady Boleyn (Anne's mother), which might have a bearing on Anne's rise to favor (Norris was Henry's Groom of the Stole, a confidential position that his predecessor Compton used to facilitate Henry's extramarital activities) and also on his own fall.

Foose said...

Lucy Wooding in her Henry VIII notes that Henry had only four Grooms of the Stole; Compton until 1526, Norris until 1536, then Sir Thomas Heneage until 1546 and Sir Anthony Denny for Henry's last year, 1547. Compton and Denny are known to have exerted considerable influence on Henry and I suspect Norris did too. In contrast to many of the great offices -- Treasurer, Chamberlain, etc., which were rotated regularly among favored courtiers (not to mention the position of Queen) -- the Groom of the Stole was a much more personal and long-lasting appointment. The Groom functioned as Henry's closest intimate and was privy to many personal confidences and even matters of state.

Henry expected a high degree of loyalty from those whom he trusted. Norris may have gone down possibly because he was acting as Anne's spy, not Henry's servant. Compton had no conflict in his role as Henry's pimp -- Catherine of Aragon was nothing to him personally -- but Henry Norris, as Anne's kinsman, may have been steadily feeding her information about the king's romantic affairs and helping her to interfere or confront the king. Possibly he might also have passed even more sensitive information on to her, regarding Henry's plans to abandon the French alliance. If Henry didn't detect what was going on, Cromwell certainly would have.

I've looked for books on Norris, and all I came up with is O'Conor's Godes Peace and the Queen's, which I can't really recommend because it focuses almost exclusively on Norris' son, also Henry Norris, one of Queen Elizabeth's favorites. Henry Norris senior gets about one line, noting his execution, so it's not really useful for understanding Norris' background or motivation.

Ives' The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn is one of the better sources on the background of the courtiers executed with Anne.

On Google Books there is a 1998 thesis listed, "Henry Norris and the Boleyn Faction," by Jeff Lavender at Marshall University, which sounds like it might be useful. You would probably have to ask the University to contact the author for permission to read it.

Foose said...

I doublechecked and I was mistaken in Norris' ancestry - it was his wife (Mary Fiennes) who was the granddaughter of Lady Boleyn's half-sister. It makes the connection somewhat more tenuous, but it would be enough for Anne to utilize him in her factional efforts.