William was the eldest son of Henry, Baron Norreys of Rycote, and his wife, Margery the daughter of John, Baron Williams of Thame. He would have mostly grown up at Wytham Abbey. Later, as a young man, he spent some time in France, where his father was ambassador, and some in the household of Sir William Cecil in London.
William and his brother, John, were eventually recommended to Walter Devereux, Earl of Essex, by their father and they travelled with him on his expedition to conquer Ulster and colonize Ireland in 1573. William became the Earl's chief lieutenant and commanded a troop of 100 mounted men. The Irish used guerilla tactics against the English invaders and William was the first of Essex's commanders to be ambushed by them, near Massareene. His horse was killed beneath him and he would have been killed, had his brother not rescued him. The Earl praised their actions in a letter to the queen.
Back in England, in 1576, William married Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Richard Morrison of Cassiobury in Hertfordshire, and was temporarily appointed Marshal of Berwick in succession to Sir William Drury, but he soon returned to Ireland, hoping to build a Norreys 'empire' in the Emerald Isle. However, it was not to be. William did obtain a knighthood and became Receiver of Ireland in the Irish Government after the Earl of Essex's death at which he was present.; but he caught a violent fever and died at Newry on 25th December 1579. It is said that he accurately foretold his own death. Queen Elizabeth sent his mother a letter of condolence, but this can have been little comfort to his widow who was now the mother of a four month old son, Francis, later to become Earl of Berkshire.
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