Norrington served in the Royal Navy as a lieutenant, and was stationed aboard HMS Dauntless as it made the crossing from England, carrying Governor Weatherby Swann and his young daughter, Elizabeth, to Port Royal. Upon sighting a wrecked merchant vessel, Norrington ordered his men to search for survivors. He was so preoccupied by the rescue effort that he failed to notice the Black Pearl disappearing into the mist.
Eight years later, Captain Norrington is about to be promoted to Commodore. Among those gathered for the ceremony is Elizabeth Swann, now a beautiful young woman that Norrington has fallen in love with. Believing a wife is the only thing missing in his life, he wishes to marry her.
When the newly-promoted Commodore attempts to propose atop the fortress, Elizabeth, overcome by heat and a constricting corset, faints and topples over the fortress wall, into the harbor below. Norrington and his men rush to her aid, only to find that the notorious pirate, Captain Jack Sparrow, has rescued her. Norrington arrests Sparrow when he sees a scar from a Pirate brand on Sparrow's arm and immediately orders him imprisoned to be tried for piracy despite his heroic deed. Sparrow escapes, but is quickly subdued by Will Turner, a blacksmith's apprentice who secretly loves Elizabeth. He is imprisoned to be tried as quickly as possible.
More troubles ensue when pirates attack Port Royal and kidnap Elizabeth thereby postponing the trial and forcing Norrington to spend more of his time planning a rescue than to remember Jack. Norrington unsuccessfully attempts to formulate a plan to pursue the pirates' ship, the Black Pearl. The situation escalates further after Will Turner willingly frees Jack Sparrow from jail and helps him commandeer HMS Interceptor to locate the Pearl and rescue Elizabeth. Norrington, left helplessly stranded aboard the disabled HMS Dauntless, can only watch as Sparrow and Turner make off with the Interceptor, grudgingly acknowledges Sparrow's unexpected cleverness and competency.
Norrington, aboard Dauntless, after repairing the damage from Jack Sparrow's booby traps, pursues Sparrow and Turner with three objectives: reclaim the Interceptor, capture Jack Sparrow, and rescue Elizabeth. But another group of pirates sink the Interceptor and when he finds the debris over the water, Norrington sees a smoke signal, which turns out to be coming from a desert island where the evil pirate captain Barbossa, of the Pearl, has marooned Jack and Elizabeth. Norrington rescues them.
James Norrington places Jack under arrest to decide whether or not to hang him for piracy, and ignores Elizabeth's plea to rescue Will from Barbossa, believing he turned pirate even when Elizabeth says all he wanted was to help her. However, when Elizabeth requests this as a wedding gift to her, Norrington, stunned and delighted that Elizabeth has accepted his proposal, agrees. He even asks for Jack's assistance to locate Isla de Muerta but under the condition that he remains quiet for the rest of the long voyage back to Port Royal afterward. (He uses the phrase "silent as the grave.")
Norrington and his crew arrive at Isla de Muerta, only it is Jack Sparrow who now appears to be controlling the proceedings, though Norrington hardly trusts Sparrow or his plan to ambush the pirates. While waiting outside the sea cave's entrance in a longboat, Norrington is unaware that the pirates have distracted them from their soldiers on their ship with a dressed up Pintel and Ragetti, so that the pirates can infiltrate the Dauntless, and are currently attacking his crew.
Hearing a distress call from one of his men by bell, he orders his men back to the ship where they battle the immortal pirates. The situation seems hopeless until Will Turner is able break the curse from within the island, thus making the pirates mortal once more, allowing Norrington's men to defeat them and finally trust Sparrow's plans again.
The Commodore imprisons the evil surrendered pirates and brings everybody back to Port Royal including Jack Sparrow. Despite thanking him for the victory against Barbossa, Norrington, apparently reluctantly, agrees to obey the law and hang Jack for piracy. Will and Elizabeth see the kindness in Jack and free Sparrow from the gallows, but they are quickly caught. Elizabeth, who loves Will, stands by him and Jack. Governor Swann pardons Will again, while Sparrow escapes. Norrington graciously accepts Elizabeth's wish to marry Will, and even postpones pursuing Sparrow for one day.
While pursuing Jack Sparrow, Norrington's ship was lost in a hurricane off Tripoli. Disgraced, Norrington resigned his post and disappeared. Norrington's whereabouts are still unknown when Lord Cutler Beckett arrives in Port Royal with an arrest warrant for Norrington's part in Jack Sparrow's escape. Beckett also arrests Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann.
By now, Norrington has hit bottom; he drinks heavily, and wears his filthy, tattered commodore uniform when he turns up in Tortuga, applying for a position aboard Jack Sparrow's ship, the Black Pearl. He soon becomes obsessed with reclaiming his honor any way he can, and seeks revenge against those he believes responsible for causing his downfall, notably Sparrow.
While aboard the Pearl, Norrington believes Sparrow is being dishonest about the Chest of Davy Jones, but takes interest in the Letters of Marque signed by the King of England that employ the trader an occupation for the EIC signed by also Lord Cutler Beckett. The Letters of Marque, if validated, give the owner a full pardon and employment as a Privateer for England. He also observes a budding relationship between Sparrow and Elizabeth, who is also aboard. When Elizabeth hears that Will Turner is being held captive on Davy Jones' ship, the Flying Dutchman, Norrington suggests to her that Sparrow is somehow involved but she refuses to believe him.
When the Black Pearl arrives at Isla Cruces, Norrington is among the crew who accompany Jack Sparrow and Elizabeth Swann ashore to search for Davy Jones' chest, after digging it and pulling it out of the ground, once he hears the heart beat he admits Jack was telling the truth. After a series of events, including Will Turner's sudden arrival, Norrington becomes embroiled in a three-way sword fight with Sparrow and Turner to claim the key to the chest containing Davy Jones' beating heart; Jack wants to free himself from his blood debt with Davy and avoid the Kraken; Will wants to free his father from Davy's servitude, and Norrington wants to get his job back. Norrington just before the battle revealed that Lord Beckett hopes to claim the Chest, if Norrington delivered it he would get his life back, Just when Norrington was about to kill Jack, Jack pointed that Will had been responsible for some of the events that led to Norrington disgrace, Norrington then turned on Turner. Matters are further complicated by the Flying Dutchman's crew appearing on the scene. Shortly after, While the crew of the Black Pearl were distracted Norrington finds the Letters of Marque and Jones' heart he hides them in his coat. Norrington feigns a diversion that allows the Black Pearl crew to escape, while he makes off with the chest, heart, and Letters of Marque. When Jones' men catch up to him, Norrington tosses them the now empty chest, then flees, the heart and Letters of Marque hidden in his overcoat.
Norrington, after being found by EIC ships is taken to Port Royal when offering a trade for the Letters of Marque. Norrington then delivers the heart of Davy Jones to Lord Beckett thus giving Beckett control of the seas; in exchange for his job back. The delighted Beckett then unseenly informs Norrington that not only will he get his honors back but he will be granted full pardon, and put as England's Navy's Admiral.
Norrington has now truly regained his career, though not his honor, by serving Beckett, who has promoted him to Admiral for the East India Trading Company's fleet, and presents Norrington with his old Royal Navy sword.
Lord Beckett is furious that Davy Jones destroys pirate ships without leaving any survivors to interrogate. Beckett places Norrington in command of the Flying Dutchman (Jones' ship), and posts marines to guard the Dead Man's Chest that Beckett had placed on board to remind Jones who controls him.
After the Empress attacks HMS Endeavour, Beckett orders the Flying Dutchman to pursue it. Norrington leads the boarding party, and is reunited with Elizabeth Swann, who is now captain of the Empress. Though Norrington is ecstatic to find her alive, Elizabeth is hostile, accusing Norrington of serving her father's murderers. Norrington denies any knowledge of or involvement in Governor Swann's death, though Elizabeth is hardly appeased, she also admonishes him for switching sides and serving Beckett. The prisoners are taken to the brig, but Norrington offers Elizabeth his quarters, which she refuses, preferring to be with her crew.
Norrington releases Elizabeth and her crew from the brig, declaring that he is, "choosing a side." As the Empress crew clamber across the tow rope to their own ship, Elizabeth still refuses to forgive Norrington. He again states he took no part in her father's death, though laments his other misdeeds. Elizabeth, relenting, urges him to join her and forgives him. But before he can answer, Bootstrap Bill Turner, deranged from Jones' cruel imprisonment, sounds an alarm that the prisoners are escaping.
Norrington claims he will follow Elizabeth across the tow rope, but she knows he is lying. With a farewell kiss, Norrington says that though their lives have been intertwined, their destinies are separate - "our lives are entwined but never joined". Elizabeth escapes as Norrington releases the Empress before being mortally wounded by Bootstrap. Arriving on the scene, Davy Jones asks Norrington if he fears death. Norrington defiantly thrusts his sword into Jones' shoulder before dying. Unharmed, Jones simply pulls out the sword, keeping it for himself.
- Although he does not make a physical appearance, he is briefly mentioned in Square Enix's Kingdom Hearts II on a note Sora finds on the cannons.
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