Open main menu

John Norris (Royal Navy officer)

Admiral of the Fleet Sir John Norris PC (1670 or 1671 – 13 June 1749) was a Royal Navy officer and Whig politician. After serving as a junior officer during the Nine Years' War and the Williamite War in Ireland, he was given command of a squadron sent to North America to protect British settlements on the banks of Hudson Bay in 1697. Although he developed a plan to recapture some territories in Newfoundland and Labrador taken by French forces the previous winter, he was prevented from implementing that plan when the local council overruled him.

Sir John Norris
John Norris.jpg
John Norris by Godfrey Kneller in 1711
Nickname(s)Foul-weather Jack
Born1670 or 1671
Died13 June 1749
Hemsted Park, Benenden, Kent
Buried
St George's Church, Benenden, Kent
Allegiance Kingdom of Great Britain
Service/branch Royal Navy
Years of service1680–1734
RankAdmiral of the Fleet
Commands heldHMS Pelican
HMS Spy
HMS Sheerness
HMS Royal Oak
HMS Sussex
HMS Russell
HMS Carlisle
HMS Content
HMS Winchester
HMS Orford
HMS Britannia
Mediterranean Fleet
Battles/warsNine Years' War
Williamite War in Ireland
War of the Spanish Succession
Great Northern War
War of Jenkins' Ear

Norris served under Admiral Sir George Rooke at the Battle of Cádiz at an early stage of the War of the Spanish Succession. He went on to command the vanguard at the Battle of Malaga in August 1704 and then served under Admiral the Earl of Peterborough at the capture of Barcelona in October 1705.

As a flag officer, Norris was sent with a fleet to the Baltic Sea to support a coalition of naval forces from Russia, Denmark and Hanover taking in the Great Northern War. Tsar Peter took personal command of the coalition fleet and appointed Norris as his deputy in 1716: together they protected British and other allied merchant vessels from attack by warships of the Swedish Empire. In November 1718, following the death of Charles XII of Sweden, Britain switched sides and Norris returned to the region to protect British merchant shipping from attack by Russian raiders. Norris also acted as a commissioner in the negotiations leading to the Treaty of Nystad which ended the War in September 1721.

Norris went on to be commander-in-Chief of the Channel Fleet at the outset of the War of Jenkins' Ear in 1739. In 1744 he was asked to defend Britain from an imminent French Invasion: he was preparing for battle against the French fleet, when storms intervened scattering the invasion transports, with heavy loss of life, thereby ending the immediate threat of invasion.

Early careerEdit

 
The Battle of Barfleur at which Norris saw action in command of a fire ship during the Nine Years' War

Born of uncertain Irish parentage, Norris joined the Royal Navy as a captain's servant in 1680.[1] Promoted to lieutenant in August 1689, he joined the third-rate HMS Edgar commanded by Cloudesley Shovell during the Nine Years' War.[2] He transferred to the third-rate HMS Monck early in 1690 and served off the Coast of Ireland during the Williamite War in Ireland.[2] Promoted to commander on 8 July 1690, he was given command of the fire ship HMS Pelican and took part in the Battle of Beachy Head in July 1690 in another action of the Nine Years' War.[2] He transferred to the command of the fire ship HMS Spy in December 1691 and saw action again at the Battles of Barfleur and La Hogue in May 1692.[2]

Promoted to captain on 13 January 1693, Norris was given command of the fifth-rate HMS Sheerness and fought at the Battle of Lagos in June 1693.[2] He transferred to the command of the third-rate HMS Royal Oak, then to the command of the third-rate HMS Sussex and then to the command of the second-rate HMS Russell and was deployed to the Mediterranean early in 1694.[2] He transferred to the command of the fourth-rate HMS Carlisle and then to the command of the third-rate HMS Content in Spring 1695.[2]

Norris was given command of a squadron sent to North America to protect British settlements on the banks of Hudson Bay in 1697.[3] Although he developed a plan to recapture some territories in Newfoundland and Labrador taken by French forces the previous winter, he was prevented from implementing that plan when the local council overruled him and he received some criticism when he returned to England for his inaction.[1] However he was defended by the Earl of Orford from potential dismissal,[4] his successful career continued and he was given command of the fourth-rate HMS Winchester later in 1697.[3] Investigations were restarted into his conduct in Newfoundland in early 1699 he was suspended from the navy in April 1699.[4]

Norris was given command of the third-rate HMS Orford early in 1702 and served under Admiral Sir George Rooke at the Battle of Cádiz in August 1702 at an early stage of the War of the Spanish Succession.[3] He went on to command the vanguard at the Battle of Malaga in August 1704.[3] He was given command of the first-rate HMS Britannia, flagship of Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell, in 1703 and then served under Admiral the Earl of Peterborough at the capture of Barcelona in October 1705.[3] Following his return to England he was knighted on 5 November 1705.[3]

Senior commandEdit

 
John Norris by George Knapton circa 1735

Promoted to rear admiral on 10 March 1707, Norris became second-in-command of the Mediterranean Fleet, with his flag in the third rate HMS Torbay.[3] After taking part in the British defeat at the Battle of Toulon in July 1707 and, while sailing aboard his flagship HMS Torbay, Norris was present during the great naval disaster off the Isles of Scilly in October 1707 when Shovell and four of his ships were lost, claiming the lives of nearly 2,000 sailors.[5] Promoted to vice admiral on 26 January 1708, Norris transferred his flag to the third-rate HMS Ranelagh.[3] At the 1708 British general election, Norris was returned as Member of Parliament for Rye. He was a supporter of the Whig Junto, but whle on active service, made little contribution in Parliament.[6] While still serving as second-in-command of the Mediterranean Fleet, he took personal charge a squadron deployed to the Baltic Sea to prevent Swedish grain arriving in France in 1709.[3] Promoted to full admiral on 21 December 1709, he became Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet early in 1710.[3]

Norris was returned again as MP for Rye at the 1710 British general election. The new Tory Administration relieved him of the Mediterranean command in October 1711 which allowed him to devote more time to Parliamentary business. He followed the progress of the war and took an interest in naval matters. He voted with the Whigs for the motion ‘No Peace without Spain’ on 7 December 1711 and against the French commerce bill on 18 June 1713. At the 1713 British general election, he was returned again as Whig MP for Rye, and voted against the expulsion of Richard Steele on 18 March 1714.[6]

Norris was returned again for Rye at the 1715 British general election. With the new Whig Administration, he returned to active service.[7] He was sent with a fleet to the Baltic Sea to support a coalition of naval forces from Russia, Denmark and Hanover taking in the Great Northern War.[3] Tsar Peter took personal command of the coalition fleet and appointed Norris as his deputy in 1716: together they protected British and other allied merchant vessels from attack by warships of the Swedish Empire.[3] Norris joined the Board of Admiralty led by the Earl of Berkeley in March 1718.[8] In November 1718, following the death of Charles XII of Sweden, Britain switched sides and Norris returned to the region to protect British merchant shipping from attack by Russian raiders.[9] Norris also acted as a commissioner in the negotiations leading to the Treaty of Nystad which ended the War in September 1721.[9] At the 1722 British general election, he was returned unopposed as Member of Parliament for Portsmouth.[10][7] and was advanced to Senior Naval Lord on the Admiralty Board in June 1727[11] but stood down as a Lord Commissioner of the Admiralty when the Walpole–Townshend Ministry fell in May 1730.[8]

 
Norris's home, Hemsted Park in Kent (now occupied by Benenden School)

Norris lost his post as Lord on the Admiralty in 1730, and lost his command to Sir Charles Wager in 1731. In Parliament he joined the opposition and voted against the Government on the army in 1732 and on the excise bill in 1733. At the beginning of 1734, the government came to terms and he was promoted to Admiral of the Fleet[7] on 20 February 1734 and, with his flag in HMS Britannia, he became commander-in-chief of a fleet sent to the Iberian Peninsula to protect Portugal from Spanish attack.[9] He was returned as Member of Parliament for Rye again at the 1734 British general election.[12] and was appointed Vice-Admiral of Great Britain in April 1739[13] and went on to be Commander-in-Chief of the Channel Fleet at the outset of the War of Jenkins' Ear in Autumn 1739.[9]

In 1744 Norris was asked to defend Britain from an imminent French Invasion and in 1745 made Captain of Deal Castle. He was preparing for battle against the French fleet, when storms intervened scattering the invasion transports, with heavy loss of life, thereby ending the immediate threat of invasion.[9] Norris retired from the navy later in the year.[9]

Norris died at his country home, Hemsted Park in Kent, on 13 June 1749 and was buried at St George's Church in Benenden.[14]

FamilyEdit

In May 1699 Norris married Elizabeth Aylmer, daughter of Admiral Matthew Aylmer;[14] they had five children (including Vice Admiral Henry Norris[15] and Captain Richard Norris).[9] His granddaughter was the art collector and amateur artist John Norris Hewett.[16]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ a b Godfrey, Michael (1974). "Norris, Sir John". In Halpenny, Francess G (ed.). Dictionary of Canadian Biography. III (1741–1770) (online ed.). University of Toronto Press.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Heathcote, p. 195
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Heathcote, p. 196
  4. ^ a b Aldridge, p. 47
  5. ^ Sobel, p. 6
  6. ^ a b "NORRIS, Sir John (c.1671-1749), of Benenden, Kent, and St. Paul's, Covent Garden, London". History of Parliament Online (1690-1715). Retrieved 6 August 2019.
  7. ^ a b c "NORRIS, Sir John (c.1670-1749), of Hemsted, Kent". History of Parliament Online (1715-1754). Retrieved 6 August 2019.
  8. ^ a b "Sainty, JC, Lord High Admiral and Commissioners of the Admiralty 1660-1870', Office-Holders in Modern Britain: Volume 4: Admiralty Officials 1660-1870 (1975), pp. 18-31". Retrieved 9 May 2015.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g Heathcote, p. 197
  10. ^ "No. 6045". The London Gazette. 24 March 1722. p. 3.
  11. ^ Rodger, p. 51-52
  12. ^ "No. 7292". The London Gazette. 31 March 1739. p. 3.
  13. ^ "No. 7793". The London Gazette. 31 March 1739. p. 1.
  14. ^ a b "John Norris". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 9 May 2015.
  15. ^ Burke, p. 180
  16. ^ "John Norris Hewett, a singular woman". 19 October 2016. Retrieved 28 August 2017.

SourcesEdit

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit