Norton, Thomas (d. ca. 1477)
The exact date of this alchemist’s birth is wrapped in mystery,
and little is recorded about his life in general. But at least
it is known that he was born in Bristol, England, towards the
end of the fourteenth century, and that in the year 1436 he was
elected to represent that town in Parliament. This suggests that
he was an upright and highly-esteemed person, and the conjecture
is strengthened by the fact that Edward IV made him a
member of his privy council and employed him repeatedly as
an ambassador.
At an early age Norton showed curiosity concerning alchemy,
demonstrating his predilection by attempting to make the
personal acquaintance of George Ripley, sometime canon of
Bridlington, who was reputedly a man of extraordinary learning,
author of numerous alchemical works. For many months
Norton sought Ripley in vain, but at length the canon, yielding
to the other’s importunity, wrote to him in the following manner
‘‘I shall not longer delay; the time is come; you shall receive
this grace. Your honest desire and approved virtue, your
love of truth, wisdom and long perseverance, shall accomplish
your sorrowful desires. It is necessary that, as soon as convenient,
we speak together face to face, lest I should by writing
betray my trust. I will make you my heir and brother in this art,
as I am setting out to travel in foreign countries. Give thanks
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Norton, Thomas
to God, Who next to His spiritual servants, honours the sons
of this sacred science.’’
After receiving this very friendly and encouraging letter,
Norton hurried straightway to Ripley’s presence, and thereafter
for more than a month the two were constantly together.
The elder man taught the novice many things, and he even
promised that, if Norton showed himself an apt and worthy
pupil, he would impart to him the secret of the philosophers’
stone. In due course this promise was fulfilled, though it is reported
that Norton’s own alchemical research met with various
On one occasion, for instance, when he had almost perfected
a certain tincture, his servant absconded with the crucible
containing the precious fluid; while at a later time, when the alchemist
was at work on the same experiment and thought he
was just about to reach the goal, his entire paraphernalia was
stolen by a mayoress of Bristol. This defeat must have been
doubly galling to the unfortunate philosopher, for soon afterwards
the mayoress became very wealthy, presumably as a result
of her theft.
Norton himself does not appear to have reaped pecuniary
benefit at any time from his erudition, but to have been a comparatively
poor man throughout the whole of his life. This is a
little surprising, for his Ordinall of Alchemy was a popular work
in the Middle Ages and was repeatedly published. The original
edition was anonymous, but the writer’s identity has been determined
because the initial syllables in the first six lines of the
seventh chapter compose the following couplet
Tomas Norton of Briseto A parfet master ye maie him
Norton died circa 1477, and his predilections descended to
one of his great grandsons, Samuel Norton. The younger Norton
was born in 1548, studied science at St. John’s College,
Cambridge, and afterward became a justice of the peace and
sheriff of Somersetshire. He died about 1604, and in 1630 a
collection of his alchemistic tracts was published at Frankfort.

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