The Norreys (sometimes Norris) family of Ockwells Manor at Cox Green in Bray and of Yattendon Castle are just about the most important gentlemanly family from Berkshire. Indeed, it is apt that they eventually became Earls of Berkshire, even if the title died out shortly after it had been bestowed on them.
This Norreys family should not be confused with the Norreys of Fifield House, also in Bray. The two did intermarry and always claimed to be quite closely related, both supposedly being descended from the early 15th century Norreys of Speke Hall in Lancashire. In fact the late members of the Ockwells/Yattendon family even adopted the arms of Norreys of Fifield because their own arms featuring the three ravens had been transferred to them from their maternal ancestors, the Ravenscrofts of Hardingstone in Northamptonshire. The Fifield Norreys were certainly descended from those resident in Speke. The Ockwells/Yattendon family may not have been. However, the prolific Norreys researcher, Steven D. Norris, believes that they do descend from the Norreys of Burtonhead in Lancashire who had a common ancestor with those from Speke back in the mid-13th century. They are all supposed to descend from Ivo 'le Norreys' - the Norseman - a messenger from the King of Norway at the Court of King Henry I.
The first Norreys in Berkshire was Richard le Norreys, the Chief Cook to Queen Eleanor of Castile, the beloved wife of Edward I. He must have been a good cook, for his service was rewarded by the gift of the manor of Ockwells in 1283. It's not clear how much time he would have had to spend on his country estate, but his grandsons certainly made Berkshire their home. The youngest live in Cookham. Another, William, established the Winkfield branch of the family who survived at least into the 1590s. His son, William, was probably the Steward of Foliejon Park of that name. He later lived in Kent and there were other members of the family in Oxford. William Senior's elder brother, Sir John, meanwhile, built himself a superb timber-framed hall house at Ockwells, kitted out with magnificent heraldic stained glass. It still stands today as a monument to the family. Sir John was Keeper of the Great Wardrobe to King Henry VI. His wife, however, was not a Lady of the Garter as is sometimes claimed Sir John appeared in poems of the day and, of course, got caught up in the Wars of the Roses. He had to change sides rather quickly when Edward IV took the Throne. He married three times and inherited Yattendon Castle from his first father-in-law, Richard Merbrook. Sir John's second son and namesake was an Esquire of the Body to the new king as well as Sheriff of Berkshire. His family lived also in Winkfield for a couple of generations. His eldest brother, Sir William, a Knight of the Body to the same king, fell out with the next monarch, Richard III, and joined Buckingham's abortive rebellion. He fought for Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth and, when he became king, commanded the English army against his rival at the Battle of Stoke. His eldest son, Edward, seems to have been killed during the battle. Another son, Richard, was resident at Great Shefford Manor, having a single daughter and heiress. Their half-brother, Lionel, lived in Hampshire, but had no children. Sir William married three times, but the order of his wives is often confused. He was succeeded in his estates by his grandson, another Sir John, who entertained Henry VIII at Yattendon but inexplicably murdered someone and had much of his land, including Ockwells, confiscated. His younger brother, Henry, had to make his way at Court and became a great friend of the King. He was powerful enough to bring about the downfall of Cardinal Wolsey but was executed for supposedly having a torrid affair with Anne Boleyn - something he always denied.
Queen Elizabeth I much favoured Henry Norreys' son, also Henry, for his father had died upholding her mother's honour. His wife was her great friend. His sister was married to the Captain of the Mary Rose. Watching the Royal Fleet from Southsea Castle, she collapsed when her husband's ship sank. The Queen made Henry her Ambassador to France and then Lord Norreys of Rycote, the palace in Oxfordshire that he inherited from his father-in-law, Lord Williams of Thame and where the Queen visited him a number of times. He and his wife also lived at Wytham Abbey. They had a large family of six sons, but only one daughter. The sons were well known at Court and great rivals of the Knollys brothers, particularly in the tiltyard. They all fought in the English army, mostly in Ireland where all but two died. Another died in Brittany. Sir Edward survived. He married one of the heiresses of the Fifield Norreyses, lived in Englefield and employed Dudley Carleton as his secretary. Lord Norreys' second son, Sir John, was the Drake of the army, but few people have heard of him today. His eldest son, Sir William, was the father of Francis Norreys, who was made Earl of Berkshire in 1621. This was apparently recompense from the King's favourite, the Duke of Buckingham, for his daughter having eloped with his protégé, Edward Wray. Berkshire had a long-running feud with Peregrine Bertie whom he duelled with a number of times, on one occasion killing a servant. He later insulted and had a scuffle with Lord Scrope in the House of Lords, in front of the Prince of Wales. Overwhelmed with shame, he died after having shot himself with a cross-bow in the Fleet Prison. He had no sons and the Earldom died with him.
The family continued in an illegitimate line for a couple more generations at Weston-on-the-Green in Oxfordshire, but the name finally died out in 1718. The Earl of Berkshire's daughter - whom he appears to have suggested was not actually his - and then his grandaughter inherited the Barony of Norreys of Rycote. The latter, Bridget Wray, married, as his second wife, Montagu Bertie, the Earl of Lindsey. Their youngest son married the heiress of the illegitimate Norreys of Weston. Their eldest son was created Earl of Abingdon. His family subsequently lived at Rycote House and Wytham Abbey for generations.
The Norreys had the right to quarter their arms with those of Ravenscroft, Merbrook, De Vere (after 1526), De Bolbec, De Sanford, De Badlesmere, Sergeaux, De Arundel, Lovell, Deincourt, Grey, Holland, Fiennes (after 1594), Dacre, De Multon, Bowet, Ufford, FitzHugh, Williams, Iestyn ap Gwrgant, Moore and Bledlow. They married into most of the great families of Berkshire. The family appears in the Heralds' Visitations of Berkshire for 1532 only. There are twenty-three wills and eleven administrations listed for Norreys in the records of the Archdeaconry of Berkshire between 1508 and 1710. There are forty-four Berkshire wills listed in the records of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, although few of them appear to be members of this family. The family memorials in Bray Church are no more, though a sculptured arms survives. There is a non-contemporary mural tablet in Yattendon Church, but the family's great memorial is the magnificent and gigantic monument to Lord Norreys and his sons in the north transept of Westminster Abbey.
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