(1547? – 3 July 1597)
John 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.
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 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."