Elizabeth called her ‟mine own crow“:1 Margery Norris, the black-haired wife of Henry Lord Norris of Rycote was the queen’s good friend. Prominent in the counties of Berkshire and Oxfordshire, she and her husband were also old acquaintances of Robert Dudley who in September 1560, after the death of his wife Amy, asked Henry to help with the inquiries, while Margery was chief mourner at Amy’s funeral.2
Robert Dudley frequently stayed at Rycote, and the queen honoured the Norris with her presence, too.3 In September 1582 another visit was planned, but the weather suddenly worsened dramatically, so that the roads were considered unsuitable for the royal cavalcade by Elizabeth’s household officers in charge. These were Christopher Hatton, Captain of the Guard, and the Earl of Leicester, Master of the Horse.
The decision to change the route of the queen’s progress meant the prospective hosts had planned and spent a lot in vain, and Elizabeth decided that she at least could send the Master of the Horse in person to tell them: Leicester, now a man of 50, after a day’s riding arrived on a Saturday evening and the next day reported to his friend and colleague Hatton about his encounter with Lady Norris.
Good Mr. Captain,
Having so convenient a messenger I thought good to salute you, and withal to let you know I found a very hard journey yesterday after I departed from you. It was ten of the clock at night ere I came here, and a more foul and ragged way I never travelled in my life. The best was, at my arrival I met with a piece of cold entertainment at the Lady’s hands of the house here; and so had you done too, if you had been in my place; for she was well informed ere I came that I and you were the chief hinderers of her Majesty’s coming hither, which they took more unkindly than there was cause indeed. But I was fain to stand to it that I was one of the dissuaders, and would not for anything, for the little proof I had of this day’s journey, that her Majesty had been in it; being, indeed, the very same day her Highness should have come hither, which I remembered not till this question grew.
Well, I did, I trust, satisfy my Lady, albeit she saith she cannot be quiet till you have part of her little stomach too. Trust me, if it had not been so late, I think I should have sought me another lodging, my welcome awhile was so ill; and almost no reason could persuade but that it was some device to keep her Highness from her own gracious disposition to come hither. But I dealt plainly with her, that I knew she would have been sorry afterwards to have had her Majesty come at this time of the year to this place. I assure you, you should find it winter already. Thus much I thought good to tell you, that, when my Lady comes thither, you may satisfy her, as I hope I have done; but her Majesty must especially help somewhat, or else have we more than half lost this lady. To help to make amends, I offered her my lodging there, if her Majesty stayed at Oatlands. They had put the house here in very good order to receive her Majesty, and a hearty noble couple are they as ever I saw towards her Highness. I rest here this Sabbath-day to make peace for us both; what remains you shall do at their next charge upon you. God grant I find her Majesty no worse than I left her, and you as well to do as myself.
From Rycott, the 11th of September 1582.
Your old assured friend,
So, to mollify Lady Norris, when visiting Elizabeth at Oatlands soon, she could use the Earl of Leicester’s apartments. – This privilege had special significance, since at all palaces his rooms were located nearest to the queen’s, and so were his guests. In 1578, Bess of Hardwick had been another old friend exceedingly happy to be given “one very good chamber with some little other room” in the earl’s court lodgings.5
Later in the 1580s Robert Dudley quarrelled regularly with Sir John Norris, Henry’s and Margery’s eldest son – yet did this not deter him from stopping by at Rycote once again, on 28 August 1588. There the next day he wrote a little note to Elizabeth, his last letter.
1 Jenkins 2002 p. 145
2 Skidmore 2010 p. 385; Adams 1995 p. 132
3 Jenkins 2002 p. 145
4 Hatton pp. 269 – 271
5 Williams 1959 p. 141
Memoirs of the Life and Times of Sir Christopher Hatton. (ed. Harris Nicolas, 1847).
Adams, Simon (ed.) (1995): Household Accounts and Disbursement Books of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, 1558–1561, 1584–1586. Cambridge University Press.
Jenkins, Elizabeth (2002): Elizabeth and Leicester. The Phoenix Press.
Skidmore, Chris (2010): Death and the Virgin: Elizabeth, Dudley and the Mysterious Fate of Amy Robsart. Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
Williams, E. C. (1959): Bess of Hardwick. Longmans.