Sir John Norris

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Norris, or Norreys, Sir John, President of Munster (grandson of Sir Henry Norris, executed for alleged criminality with Queen Anne Boleyn), was born the middle of the 16th century. He distinguished himself in the Low Countries, in 1575 served under Lord Essex in Ireland, and on 22nd July carried out the massacre on Rathlin Island [see MACDONNELL, SORLEY BOY]. According to Mr. Froude, some 200 of a garrison, and 400 women and children were slain on this occasion — "chiefly mothers and their little ones,.. hidden in the caves about the shore. There was no remorse, not even the faintest shadow of perception that the occasion called for it. They were hunted out as if they had been seals or otters, all destroyed." (Froude's England, vol. xi. p. 185.) He was appointed President of Munster in June 1584. In 1589 he was joint commander with Drake in an expedition against Spain. In February 1595 he landed a force of some 2,000 veteran troops to oppose O'Neill and the confederate chieftains of the north.

He and his brother Sir Thomas were wounded in an effort to revictual Armagh the same summer. Next year he headed a great hosting against O'Neill, O'Donnell, and the northern chieftains, and placed garrisons at Cong, Galway, Athenry, Kilconnell, Ballinasloe, Boscommon, Tulsk, and Boyle. He was knighted in Christ Church, Dublin, in April 1597. In the same year, according to the Four Masters, he "was deprived of his office by the new Lord-Justice, who had last arrived in Ireland, and went to Munster, where he remained with his brother, Sir Thomas Norris, who had been previously [Vice] President under him of Munster for the period of twelve years."

Fynes Moryson says that the ill success of the war in Ireland and the jealousy of the Earl of Essex on account of some old transactions in Brittany, "brake his brave and formerly undaunted heart, for without sickenes or any publike signe of griefe, he suddenly died in the embrace of his deere brother Sir Thomas Norreys."

Considerable differences had latterly existed between him and Lord Deputy Russell as to the proper policy to be pursued towards the native chieftains — Sir John favouring conciliation, and Russell desiring a "rigorous prosecution of the rebels." Probably on account of his cruelty at Rathlin, he was believed by the Irish to have sold himself to the Devil, who carried him off unexpectedly. O'Sullivan Beare concludes that O'Neill had often defeated, not only Norris, "peritissimum Anglorum imperatorem, omni pugnandi apparatu superiorem, sed ipsum etiam diabolum qui illi ex pacto fuisse opitulatus creditur vicerit."

Sources

134. Four Masters, Annals of Ireland by the: Translated and Edited by John O'Donovan. 7 vols. Dublin, 1856.

54. Burke, Sir Bernard: Peerage and Baronetage.

69. Carew Manuscripts, Calendar. 4 vols. London, 1869-'73.

140. Froude, James A.: History of England, from the Fall of Wolsey to the death of Elizabeth. 12 vols. London, 1862-'70.

247. Moryson, Fynes: Itinerary. London, 1617.

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