Sir Edward Norreys
The picture of the ownership of Englefield and Englefield House in the turbulent times at the end of the 16th century is further clouded by the presence of Edward Norreys.
A local story is that in 1597 the Earl of Essex sold part of the estate to Lord Norreys and that Norreys probably built the Elizabethan house. The tale goes on to relate that Lord Norreys gave the estate to his son Sir Edward on his return from the Netherlands and that it was he who added the Long Gallery at Englefield House before entertaining the Queen there in 1601. Jackson-Stops says that it was the main block on the south side that was built by Sir Edward Norreys. Certainly, Lord Norreys did buy a small estate at Englefield in 1597 and did give it to his son but the rest is not supported by the evidence.
Sir Edward's grandfather, Henry Norreys, was beheaded on the orders of Henry VIII in 1536 for refusing to bear false witness against Anne Boleyn, saying that he would rather die a thousand deaths than ruin an innocent person. Elizabeth I remembered this act of chivalry towards her mother when she sent Henry's son as ambassador to France in 1562 and on his return created him Baron Norreys of Ryecote. Ryecote, along with the manor of Ufton Nervet, had been inherited by Lord Norreys's wife Margery on the death of her father Lord (John) Williams, who had been entrusted with the care of Princess Elizabeth by Queen Mary in 1553 and whose daughter had become a life-long friend of Elizabeth. Lord Norreys, his wife and six sons are depicted on a memorial in Westminster Abbey. While the others all kneel with their hands clasped in prayer, Edward is shown differently (right), with "...a lively expression, which seems to point him out as a survivor", according to Mary Sharp. He was, in fact, the only one of the six to survive his father.
The property at Englefield bought by Lord Norreys is considered by most authorities (including the Lysons) to have been not Englefield House but elsewhere on the estate and the Victoria County History says it was bought for £1,500 from Sir Thomas Sherley, citing an official document of the time, and that it consisted of “a messuage, toft, dovecot, two gardens, two orchards, 44 acres of pasture and 4 acres of wood”. Sherley is known to have had estates in Berkshire (though none known at Englefield) and was certainly in need of money at this time having been caught embezzling the funds he was sent as Treasurer-at-War in the Netherlands. It is possible that he managed to offload the Englefield property just before being declared bankrupt and imprisoned in the Fleet later the same year, when his remaining property was seized by the Crown.
Lord Norreys gave the Englefield property to his son, Sir Edward, in 1599 when he was recalled by Queen Elizabeth from his duties as Deputy Governor of Ostend and married his cousin Elizabeth, the widow of a man called Webb. Sir Edward enlarged the house,“…the halfe as much as old Englefield’s building…”, enclosed a park around the house and created a garden. This garden is said to be the apparent parterre that is seen in the 1762 plan occupying the space between Englefield House and the church. However, that garden seems more likely to be the one made by Francis and Anne Paulet and their son towards the end of the 17th century. Norreys's house is likely to have been Cranemoor House, the old residence of the Englefields.
It was indeed Norreys (and not Walsingham as some claim) who entertained the Queen in 1601, when she knighted his father in law John Norris and Reade Stafford of Bradfield, but not at Englefield House.
When Sir Edward died childless in 1603 his heir was his nephew Francis, Lord Norreys, though the Englefield property was held for her life by Sir Edward’s widow who later married Thomas Erskine, first Earl of Kelly as his second wife. Francis Norreys sold the property to Kelly in 1608 and it subsequently became amalgamated back with the main Englefield estate when Kelly bought that too in 1611.
Edward Norreys as a boy, depicted on the family monument in Westminster Abbey.
© 2021 Richard J Smith