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Antique print of Edward Norreys - © Nash Ford PublishingSir Edward Norreys (d. 1603)
Born: circa 1552 probably at Wytham, Berkshire
Governor of Ostend
Died: October 1603 at Englefield, Berkshire

Sir Edward Norreys was the third son of Henry Norreys, Baron Norreys of Rycote. He seems, from an early age, to have been engaged, like his more distinguished brother John, in military service abroad. About 1578, with his brothers, John and Henry, he joined the English volunteers in the Low Countries. In 1584, he was in Ireland.

Edward was elected MP for Abingdon in 1585, but, in the autumn of that year, he returned to Holland. He took command of an English company and was soon made lieutenant to Sir Philip Sidney, who had been appointed Governor of Flushing, one of the towns temporarily handed over to Queen Elizabeth I as surety by the States General. Sidney did not arrive till the end of the year and Norreys claimed to exercise his military prerogatives in his absence. Both Sir Roger Williams and the English envoy, William Davison, sent to Lord Burghley bitter complaints of his overbearing temper and of his want of judgment in the bestowal of patronage (11th November 1585). But, upon Sidney's arrival in November, he proved compliant. In the following April, the Earl of Leicester knighted Edward at Utrecht. In May, he took a prominent part in erecting, on the island where the Rhine and Waal divide at the foot of the hills of Cleves, the strong earthen fort which is still standing and bears its original name of Schenken Schanz.

On 6th August 1586, Sidney and Norreys arrived in Gertruydenberg to discuss the military situation with the Governor, Count Hohenlohe, and Sir William Pelham, the Marshal of the English Army. In the evening, the officers supped together in Hohenlohe's quarters. Norreys fancied that a remark made by Pelham was intended to reflect badly upon the character of his brother, John. He expressed his resentment with irritating volubility and was ordered by Count Hohenlohe to keep silence. Norreys refused to obey, whereupon the Count, who was barely sober, ‘hurled a cover of a cup at his face, and cut him along the forehead.’ Norreys, next morning, challenged his assailant to a duel and induced Sir Philip Sidney to bear the cartel. Leicester was informed of the circumstance and began an investigation. He wrote home that Norreys was always quarrelling with his brother officers and was jeopardising, by his insolent demeanour, those good relations between the Dutch and English troops which were essential to the success of the campaign. The Count declared that no inferior officer was justified in challenging his superior in command. For the time, the quarrel was patched up but the ill‑feeling generated by the dispute between the allies was not easily dissipated. Just before Leicester finally returned to England, in November 1587, Norreys renewed the challenge to Hohenlohe; but the Count was ill at Delft and no meeting was arranged. Hohenlohe unreasonably blamed Leicester for Norreys's persistence in continuing the dispute and reviewed his own part in the affair in a published tract, entitled ‘Verantwoordinge…..teghens zekere Vertooch ends Remonstrancie by zijne Excie den Grave van Leycester’.

Leicester left Norreys at Ostend, another town which had been surrendered to the English by the Dutch in 1580 by way of surety. The English Governor, Sir John Conway, was absent through 1588 and Norreys acted as his deputy. On 10th June 1588, Sir Edward wrote to Leicester that the town was in a desperate plight and could hardly stand a siege. In 1589, he accompanied his brother, John, and Sir Francis Drake on the Great Expedition to Portugal and was badly wounded in the assault on Burgos. His life was only saved by the gallantry of his brother. Next year, in July 1590, Edward was regularly constituted Governor of Ostend. In December, he received reinforcements and ammunitions from England, in anticipation of a siege by the Spaniards. In February 1591, he captured Blankenbergh. But in the April following, he embroiled himself with the States‑General by levying contributions on the villages of the neighbourhood. Sir Thomas Bodley, the English envoy, declared his conduct unjustifiable and Lord Burghley condemned it. Accordingly, Sir Edward was summoned to London to receive a reprimand from the Council and was ordered to keep his house. His presence was, however, soon needed at Ostend and he energetically supervised the building of new fortifications. In 1593, when the town was believed to be seriously menaced, Elizabeth sent Sir Edward an encouraging letter in her own hand, addressing him as ‘Ned’. But the danger passed away and he was at court again in December 1593. The visit was repeated four years later, when he and Sir Francis were ‘gallantly followed by such as profess arms’. In September 1599, the Queen recalled Sir Edward to comfort his parents for the recent loss of three of their sons and he does not seem to have resumed his post abroad.

On settling again in England, Norreys was granted, by his mother, some small property at Englefield, Berkshire, with the manor of Shinfield and much neighbouring land. Norreys resided at Englefield in a house on the site of the old rectory which must be distinguished from the chief mansion in the parish, which was in the occupation of the Paulet family. Sir Edward married on 17th July 1600 and, in October 1600, he presented himself to the Queen after his marriage. Dudley Carleton, who had been in his service as private secretary at Ostend, remained for a time a member of his household and many references to his domestic affairs appear in the letters of Carleton's gossiping correspondent, John Chamberlain. On 27th May 1601, Chamberlain wrote that Norreys was dangerously sick. He was noted "of late," he added, "to make money by all means possible, as though he had some great enterprise or purchase in his head". In September 1601, Norreys entertained the Queen to dinner at Englefield and Elizabeth was well pleased with the entertainment.

The Christmas of 1602, Norreys kept in great state in London, and was ‘much visited by cavaliers’. He died in October 1603 and was buried on the 15th in Englefield Church (being later removed to Rycote Chapel). A statue of him adorns the Norreys monument in Westminster Abbey. His nephew, Francis (later Earl of Berkshire), succeeded to his estates. His wife Elizabeth, by whom he had no issue, was the rich widow of one Webb of Salisbury. She was a distant cousin of his own, being daughter of Sir John  and grandaughter of Sir William Norreys, both of Fyfield in Bray and both Controllers of the Works at Windsor Castle. Lady Norreys, after Sir Edward's death, married, in 1604, Thomas Erskine, 1st Viscount Fenton and Earl of Kellie, and, dying on 28th April 1621, was also buried at Englefield.

Heavily Edited from Leslie Stephen's 'Dictionary of National Biography' (1889).


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