John Norris (Royal Navy officer)

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Sir John Norris
John Norris.jpg
John Norris by Godfrey Kneller in 1711
Born 1670 or 1671
Died 13 or 14 June 1749
Allegiance  Kingdom of Great Britain
Service/branch  Royal Navy
Rank Admiral of the Fleet
Commands held HMS Britannia
Battles/wars War of the Spanish Succession

Admiral of the Fleet Sir John Norris (1670 or 1671 – 13 or 14 June 1749) was a British naval officer of the 17th and 18th centuries, who served as Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Navy under George II.


Early career[edit]

In May 1699 he married Elizabeth Aylmer, daughter of Admiral Matthew Aylmer, which greatly aided his distinguished career.[1] He was given command of HMS Britannia, flagship of Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell, in 1703[1] knighted in 1705 and made an admiral in 1709.[2] He was a Member of Parliament from 1708 until his death. In 1707, Norris serving under Shovell, took part in the unsuccessful Battle of Toulon.[1] Sailing aboard his flagship HMS Torbay, Norris was present during the great naval disaster off the Isles of Scilly when Shovell and four of his ships were lost, claiming the lives of nearly 2,000[3] sailors.

Norris, whose nickname was "foul-weather Jack",[2] saw a good deal of service during the War of the Spanish Succession under William III and Anne. Under George I he was sent several times with a fleet into the Baltic Sea to forward the king's policy by giving the northern nations some idea of the strength of Great Britain.[1]

Baltic Operations[edit]

John Norris by George Knapton circa 1735

In 1715 he was sent with a fleet to the Baltic Sea, officially to protect the English merchandise, but in reality to pressure Sweden on account of Hannover, where George I was Elector.[1] He fraternized in Reval with the Russians and got on friendly terms with tsar Peter, who offered him command of the Russian navy. However, in October that year he returned to England. In May 1716 he was again sent to Nordic waters with orders to prevent a possible Swedish attempt by Jacobite interests to conquer Scotland.[1] After some hassles and various meetings with Danish, Russian and other ships, he set sail back again in November that year.

In 1717 he again negotiated with tsar Peter, now in Amsterdam, but without results. To the Baltic Sea he returned in 1718 with minor troops.

After the death of King Charles XII of Sweden, negotiations between George I and Sweden were initiated, and John Norris was now commissioned to prevent Russian ravages on Sweden's east coast.[1] By the time he got there, however, the Russians had already set back home, and Norris returned to England again.

He was sent on some further expeditions with the purpose of holding the Russians off Sweden's back, the last one in 1727.

In 1734 he became Admiral of the Fleet and commander-in-chief.

In 1739, Norris was one of many founding governors for a new charitable ventures in London, the Foundling Hospital, which sought to lessen the capital's problem of child abandonment.

French Invasion[edit]

In 1744 he was given total control over the home defence to defend Britain from an imminent French Invasion.[1] He was preparing for battle against the French fleet, when storms intervened, saving the smaller French force from a likely defeat - but also scattering the invasion transports, with heavy loss of life, thereby ending the immediate threat of invaion. Following this Norris retired from the navy later that year.


Further reading[edit]

  • J. F. Chance, George I and the northern war (1909).
Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by
Edward Southwell
Phillips Gybbon
Member of Parliament for Rye
With: Phillips Gybbon
Succeeded by
Phillips Gybbon
The Lord Aylmer
Preceded by
Sir Edward Ernle, Bt
Sir Charles Wager
Member of Parliament for Portsmouth
With: Sir Charles Wager
Succeeded by
Thomas Lewis
Philip Cavendish
Preceded by
Phillips Gybbon
Matthew Norris
Member of Parliament for Rye
With: Phillips Gybbon
Succeeded by
Phillips Gybbon
Thomas Pelham
Military offices
Preceded by
Sir George Byng
Admiral of the Fleet
Succeeded by
Sir Chaloner Ogle
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Vice-Admiral of Great Britain
Succeeded by
The Lord Anson