NORBURY, John (d.1414), of Hoddesdon and Little Berkhampstead, Herts.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1386-1421, ed. J.S. Roskell, L. Clark, C. Rawcliffe., 1993
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

yr. s. of Thomas Norbury of Nantwich, Cheshire. m. (1) by c.1385, Petronilla at least 1da.; (2) by c.1410, Elizabeth (d. 5 Feb. 1465), da. of Sir Thomas Butler*, wid. of Sir William Heron, Lord Say (d.s.p. 30 Oct. 1404), of Eshott and East Duddoe, Northumb. and Eppleden, co. Dur., at least 2s. Henry and John.1

Offices Held

Dep. captain of Brest by 1 Aug. 1382-27 June 1397.2

Commr. to conserve the truce between England and France Feb. 1384, 1403;3 supervise the government of Brest and prevent breaches of the truce Dec. 1391;4 of oyer and terminer, London, Mdx. Jan. 1400 (rebellion against Henry IV); to prevent the spread of treasonous rumours, Herts. May 1402; of array, Kent July 1402; to muster men, Southampton Nov. 1402; supervise public works, Kent June 1406.

Captain of the castle and lordship of Guînes, France 21 Aug. 1399-8 Dec. 1406.5

Treasurer of England 3 Sept. 1399-31 May 1401.

Havener, Devon and Cornw., pesager of tin, Cornw. and keeper of Lostwithiel gaol 1 Oct. 1399-d.

Parker of the royal manor of Havering-atte-Bower, Essex 1 Oct. 1399-d.

Keeper of the castle, manor and lordship of Leeds, Kent 1 Oct. 1399-7 Dec. 1412.

Keeper of the privy wardrobe in the Tower of London 5 Nov. 1399-13 Feb. 1405.6

Member of Hen. IV’s council Nov. 1399-Mar. 1405.

J.p. Herts. 28 Nov. 1399-d., Kent 16 May 1401-Feb. 1407.

Ambassador to negotiate a truce with the King of France 29 Mar.-21 May 1406.7


By the time of his death in 1414 that ‘valens armiger, strenuus ac probus vir’ John Norbury, was generally recognized as one of the country’s leading figures. His success is all the more remarkable in view of his modest beginnings, for he was a younger son with no immediate prospects of either wealth or position. He left his family home in Cheshire to become a soldier in France, seizing the opportunity for advancement offered by the Hundred Years’ War. As early as 1368, when he must still have been very young, he was commanding a small freelance company on the Breton march in the service of Duke John IV of Brittany, moving subsequently to Gascony as the captain of the castle at Libourne. But the career of a condottiere had its set-backs, too, and he then suffered imprisonment in Bordeaux castle for certain unspecified offences. Henry Percy, earl of Northumberland, who may have recruited him at this time intervened in February 1380 to obtain royal letters of pardon following Norbury’s escape from custody, and soon afterwards we find him among the castle garrison of Fronsac. This early attachment to the Percys evidently paid dividends, for by August 1382 he had been retained by the earl’s younger brother, Thomas, who was then captain of Brest, to be his deputy. Thomas did not long remain in office, although Norbury continued to serve until Richard II relinquished this important stronghold to the duke of Brittany, his kinsman by marriage, 15 years later. He was, of course, often absent on other business, but if the duke is to be believed he made Brest a base for various freebooting ventures. Certainly, in June 1383, Norbury took part in a somewhat dubious transaction involving the purchase of a barge from foreign privateers and its immediate resale (for £800) to the Bristol merchants from whom it had originally been stolen. Such highly irregular activities notwithstanding, he was appointed in the following year as a conservator of the truce between England and France. His circle at this date evidently included the distinguished soldier, William, Lord Windsor, who then made him a trustee of his estates in Dorset. That he also had enemies in high places is clear from the wording of another royal pardon awarded to him in March 1385, on the testimony of John, Lord Neville, because he had been ‘indicted maliciously’ of various ‘treasons, felonies, crimes, trespasses, negligences, misprisions and defaults’ while serving in Aquitaine. Within a matter of months, Norbury hired himself out as a mercenary captain to João I of Portugal in his war against the Castilians, helping to secure their defeat at the battle of Aljubarotta in the following autumn. His experience of warfare thus made him a valuable addition to the retinue of Henry, earl of Derby, which he joined at some point over the next four years.8

The letters patent of September 1389 by which John of Gaunt awarded Norbury an annuity of £10 payable for life from his estates in Norfolk refer specifically to services already given to both Gaunt and his son, the earl.9 Clearly, therefore, Norbury’s attachment to the house of Lancaster was well established when, in the following August, he left England on Derby’s expedition to Prussia. His decision to take part in this crusading venture may have been made in the spirit of the true condottiere, anxious for both spoils and adventure, although it marked a turning point in his life. The staunch and unwavering support which Norbury showed henceforth for the Lancastrian cause brought with it rewards which transformed his career and eventually made him one of the most powerful crown servants in England. From the very beginning he seems to have enjoyed Derby’s favour, since he was paid a knight’s rather than an esquire’s wages, and also helped with some of the preparations for the campaign. Besides the gift of £10 which he received during the course of the expedition, Norbury was permanently retained by the earl himself in the autumn of 1391 at a fee of £20 p.a., over and above the two separate sums of £40, which he received shortly afterwards as his expenses while ‘engaged on business of the lord’.10 His return to the Parliament of that year as a representative for Hertfordshire possibly owed something to Derby or his father, since the influence of the duchy of Lancaster was strong in the county, although the sheriff, Sir William Coggeshall (who returned himself for Essex), may well have enlisted his support in helping to deal with various allegations then being made against him in the Commons. Whether Norbury’s investment in the local property market followed directly upon his recruitment by Gaunt or whether, as is equally possible, he became drawn into the latter’s service because of his position in the county cannot now be determined, although it is clear that by 1387, if not before, he had begun to acquire land in Hertfordshire. His initial purchases lay in Bedwell, Essendon, Little Berkhampstead and Bishop’s Hatfield; and in July 1389 he joined with several other neighbouring landowners to buy up a share in the manor of Sacombe which had been forfeited from Justice Holt by his enemies, the Lords Appellant.11

Barely a few days after the close of the 1391 Parliament, Norbury was made a commissioner to supervise the government of Brest, where he was still deputy captain. His return to Brittany probably explains why he did not accompany the earl of Derby on his journey to the Holy Land in 1392, and may well account for the general lack of information about him over the next few years, as well as his evident reluctance to enter the House of Commons for a second time. Having supervised the English evacuation of Brest, in the summer of 1397, Norbury became a member of Derby’s household proper, and it is interesting to note that his expenses over the next few months included a visit to Shrewsbury while Parliament was meeting there. The earl had need of supporters in the town, for it was during this eventful session that his quarrel with the duke of Norfolk first came to light—a quarrel which was to lead to his banishment in September 1398, and, eventually, his usurpation of the English throne. Norbury’s close relationship with Derby (cemented by the marriage of his daughter, Joan, to Nicholas Usk, the treasurer of Gaunt’s household) prompted him to join his patron in exile; and in June 1399 he witnessed a secret agreement drawn up in Paris between him and Louis, duke of Orléans, for their mutual protection and support. Norbury and his wife, Petronilla, had by then been awarded a joint annuity of 40 marks from the earl’s estates in Cambridgeshire and Buckinghamshire, and it appears from the wording of the grant that ‘nostre treschere demoysele, Petronelle’ was herself closely connected with the Lancastrian establishment.12

As one of Derby’s most loyal and capable followers, Norbury played a principal role in the chain of events which began with the landing at Ravenspur and ended with the deposition of Richard II and, on 13 Oct. 1399, the coronation of Henry IV. From this date onwards, he was the recipient of many grants and offices, of which the most important was undoubtedly the treasurership of England. His success depended largely upon his close personal relationship with the King, who held him in extremely high regard, and made him a permanent member of the royal council. Between November 1399 and March 1405 Norbury’s record of attendance as a councillor was outstanding, and there were few matters of state in which he did not become involved. His long friendship with Henry IV particularly qualified him as a confidential agent in matters such as the arrangement of the King’s marriage with Joan of Navarre; while on the other hand his years of military experience helped him to advise on the strategy of Prince Henry’s campaigns against the Welsh.13 In common with his royal master, Norbury felt a deep and passionate hatred towards lollardy, against which he took an uncompromising stand. Shared religious beliefs as well as a strong sense of personal attachment made Henry IV all the readier to become godfather of Norbury’s elder son, who bore his name.

Any assessment of this influential MP’s career must also take into account the significance of his other connexions, most notably those in the City of London, since these also increased the value placed upon him by the Crown. Given that the wages and emoluments of office constituted only a small proportion of his annual income, there is every reason to believe that Norbury had already made a considerable fortune for himself during his time as a mercenary. He was certainly in a position to lend substantial sums of money to Henry IV, and, perhaps because of his great wealth, to establish strong links with some of the leading merchants of the day. His widowed daughter married the prominent mercer, William Parker I*, and he was himself a close friend of John Hende, one of the King’s leading creditors. Norbury’s relationship with Ralph Neville, earl of Westmorland, suggests that he was able to use his standing at Court to attract a group of patrons from the ranks of the nobility. In November 1399, the earl granted him and his wife a pension of £60 from the manors of Cheshunt (Hertfordshire) and Bassingbourne (Cambridgeshire) which was confirmed by royal letters patent two years later. Many other fees and douceurs of this kind must have come his way over the years, and evidence of his growing prosperity is to be found, for example, in his various property transactions. Besides consolidating his holdings in Hertfordshire, Norbury purchased other estates in Kent, Middlesex and Sussex, which were together said to produce over £294 a year in 1412.14

A shrewd and ambitious man, who seized every opportunity for personal advancement and certainly made the most of his position after 1399, Norbury well deserved his reputation as ‘vir potens in rebus secularibus’. The plans for his daughter’s remarriage, after Parker died, to Richard, Lord Saint Maur (which were frustrated in 1404 by her own early demise), show how far he had risen up the social ladder, as, indeed, does his own second marriage, by about 1410, to the daughter of Sir Thomas Butler, heir to the barony of Sudeley.

Norbury retired from public life in 1409, and appears to have died in 1414, soon after making an elaborate settlement of his estates. He was buried in the church of the Grey Friars of London (the most fashionable in the City) beside his first wife, in what was to become a family tomb. His widow, Elizabeth, survived him to marry Sir John Montgomery of Charlton, Hampshire. Henry Norbury, his elder son, married Anne, the daughter and heir of William Croyser* of Stoke Dabernon, and thus became a figure of some consequence in Surrey. Both he and his younger brother, John, fought with distinction in France, and both eventually sat as shire knights in the House of Commons.15

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: C.R.


Variant: Northbury. Unless otherwise stated all references to Norbury’s career are to be found in M. Barber’s article on the MP (EHR, lxviii. 66-76), upon which this biography is largely based, and where fuller details of his career after 1399 may be found.

  • 1. DL28/4/1, f. 6v; Misc. Gen et Her. (ser. 5), ix. 232-6, 242-3.
  • 2. Recueil des Actes de Jean IV ed. Jones, i. no. 418; ii. nos. 461, 1099-1100.
  • 3. Foedera ed. Rymer (orig. edn.), vii. 421; Rot. Gasc. et Franc. ed. Carte, ii. 184.
  • 4. Foedera, vii. 709.
  • 5. E101/69/2/304; E404/21/306; Rot. Gasc. et Franc. ii. 177.
  • 6. E101/404/17, 25, 405/4.
  • 7. E364/40 m. B; Rot. Gasc. et Franc. ii. 191.
  • 8. CPR, 1377-81, p. 442; 1381-5, pp. 390, 570; CCR, 1381-5, p. 84; Recueil des Actes de Jean IV, i. no. 418; ii. nos. 461, 1099-1100; K. Fowler, Finance de la Discipline dans les Armées Anglaises en France, 70; Chetham Soc. xxxix (ser. 3), 22, 136, 159; Cal. P. and M. London, 1381-1412, p. 45.
  • 9. DL42/15, f. 43v.
  • 10. DL28/3/3 m. 4.
  • 11. CPR, 1388-92, p. 80; E210/2337; C. Rawcliffe, ‘Parl. and Settlement of Disputes’, Parl. Hist. ix (pt. 2), 330-3.
  • 12. J.H. Wylie, Hen. IV, i. 85; DL28/1/10, ff. 5, 30, 4/1, f. 6v; DL42/15, f. 84v.
  • 13. EHR, lxxix. 30; TRHS (ser. 5), xiv. 39, 43, 47, 49-50, 54, 61-63.
  • 14. Feudal Aids, vi. 460, 475, 488, 523.
  • 15. HP ed. Wedgwood 1439-1509, Biogs. 635.