Thomas Norton, born in 1532, was a member of a wealthy London family associated with the Grocer’s Company. While still quite young, he entered the household of Lord Somerset, the Protector, proving himself a very intelligent youth and serving that important nobleman well as an amanuensis. Some of Norton’s Calvinist ideas were formulated while he served under Somerset. As early as 1552, Norton corresponded with John Calvin.
The lives of Thomas Norton and Thomas Sackville, four years Norton’s junior, touched each other several times during their careers. The first such occasion came perhaps in 1555, when they both entered the Inner Temple to study law, of which Norton later made a successful career, serving as counsel for the Stationers’ Company and later as solicitor for the Merchant Taylors’ Company.
Norton married twice, both times to relatives of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer: first to a daughter, Margery, then to a cousin, Alice. Cranmer was burned by the Catholics in 1556, the year after Norton had married Margery. In the latter part of his life, Norton was virulently anti-Catholic.
Norton and Sackville were associated as members of Elizabeth’s first Parliament in 1558. Norton began the main period of his literary career about that time. His translation of Calvin was published in 1561; his collaboration on Gorboduc culminated in the performances of 1561-1562; and his verse translations of certain psalms belonged to 1562. He also wrote a few poems in Latin and some in English, as well as a number of polemical attacks against Catholics.
At various times between 1558 and 1580, Norton was a member of Parliament for Berwick and for London. Norton and Sackville both were seated in Elizabeth’s second Parliament, convening in January of 1563, which wrote a new petition to request again the same things that the first Parliament had been denied: that for the good of the country Elizabeth should agree to marry and should define the succession to her Crown. Norton was a member of the committee charged with studying the question of succession, and he may even have been its chairman since his was the voice that read the committee report to the second Parliament. Norton also was the probable author of the new petition.
Norton entered Oxford in 1565, receiving a master of arts degree in 1569. In that year, he wrote an attack on the duke of Norfolk because of the proposed marriage of the duke to Mary, Queen of Scots. Norton’s religious fervor earned for him a new appointment. He was asked officially to take notes at Norfolk’s trial for treason, at which Sackville was one of the men who sat in judgment.
In 1571, the City of London appointed Norton to the newly created position of Remembrancer. His hatred of Catholicism led him to Rome to gather information to be used against English Papists, and in 1581, he officially became the censor of Catholics, carrying out his task with torture and with persecution. Among others, Edmund Campion and Francis Throckmorton evidently suffered from the cruelty of the Puritan zealot who came to be known as “Rackmaster-General.” Indeed, Norton’s Puritan fanaticism soon led him too far. When he dared to criticize episcopacy, he was removed from office, and when he continued his attacks, he was charged with treason and imprisoned in the Tower of London for a brief time in 1583. When released, his health was broken. He died the next year at the...
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