« PreviousContinue »
A little more than two years after this letter was written, on the 6th of September 1591, Browne was duly instituted rector of Achurch, or ThorpAchurch, or Achurch cum Thorp, a small rectory in the union of Oundle, on the river Neuse, in Northamptonshire, " a very considerable living.""
The parish of Thorp-Achurch was a small village of eighteen families. The church took its name from John de Church, a monk of Peterbor ough Abbey, and compiler of the Register of the convent, who was born in the village. The church consisted of a body, chancel, and cross aisle, tiled. At the west end was a spire steeple and four bells. Length of the church and chancel, ninety feet; cross aisle from north to south, forty-five feet. The living was a rectory, with the vicarage of Silford, in the archdeaconry of Northampton and diocese of Peterborough. In 1535 the rectory was rated at £45 6s. 8d. Narisford Hundred originally belonged to the Abbey of Peterborough. The reversion of the manors of Achurch and ThorpWatervill, fell to Henry VIII. in the first year of his reign, at the death of Margaret, Countess of Richmond. With the crown they continued till the fifth of Edward VI., when, with the advowson of Achurch, they were granted, with the title of Richmond's lands, to Sir William Cecil. Lord
* Brook, 11. 368; Collier, 11. 582; Strype's Whitgift, 1. 619; Hanbury, 1. 24; Fuller, bk. 1x. sect. 6; Masters, p. 223. Thorp, a small village or hamlet, from the German trupp-troop.
Burleigh was patron of the living in 1562; and one of Cecil's (Lord Burleigh's) lineal descendants, John, Earl of Exeter, was lord of the Achurch manor as late as 1791. A little thatched house, in which Browne lived, was standing at ThorpWatervill, a hamlet whose lands were mixed with those of Achurch, in 1791, occupied by a tenant of the Earl of Exeter, though, from the date on the chimney, 1618, it was supposed to be one hundred and seventy-three years old.*
Achurch parsonage was Browne's resting-place if such a man can be said ever to have rested for about thirty-nine years, or until 1630. But though he was thus long the rector of an episco pal church, he is said never to have performed the duties of the office, employing a curate to take his place.†
Robert Browne was a man of some learning and very considerable ability. In his younger days he was an attractive and popular preacher, and a clear and vigorous writer. And though a severe sufferer
* See Parliamentary Gazetteer of England and Wales, art. ThorpAchurch; and History and Antiquities of Northamptonshire, vol. II. pp. 364-66, Oxford, 1791. Heylyn says that this living was presented to Browne by "Thomas, Lord Burleigh, after Earl of Oxon." - P. 258.
† Ch. Hist. bk. IX. sect. 6; Brook, 11. 368; Hanbury, 1. 24.
Baylie says that the best arguments for that schism have ever since been drawn from Browne's writings. - Dissuasive, p. 14. And he quotes Giffard as saying: "Whosoever shall read Brown his books, and peruse all his scholars' writings, shall see that they have no sharp arrow but which is drawn out of his quiver.".
for his opinions having, according to his own statement, been committed to no less than thirtytwo prisons, in some of which he could not see his hand before him at noon-day- yet, after all, he was a man of whom neither his early nor later friends had any occasion to be proud. He was not only a radical, but an ultraist; not merely zealous, but passionate. He not only broke away from his early associates and friends, but he quarrelled with his later ones. He was an unfaithful pastor, and an unkind husband, even cursing and beating his old wife, from whom he was finally separated.* Such a man could not, of course, retain the respect of his parishioners; and becoming poor, and neglecting to pay a certain parish rate, and being somewhat roughly dunned by the constable, his own godson, Browne in a passion struck the constable, and he, in retaliation, took the old man before a justice. Irritated by such treatment, Browne was so insolent to the justice that he
*Paget says: "Old father Browne being reproved for beating his old wife, distinguished, that he did not beat her as his wife, but as a curst old woman." - Heresiography, 77; also, 86.
Baylie's Dissuasive, p. 14, says: "I have heard it from reverend divines, that he was a common beater of his poor old wife, and would not stick to defend publicly this his wicked practice; also that he was an open profaner of the Sabbath; and that his injustice in not paying the small pittance he was indebted to him whom laziness in his calling made him to keep for the supply of the cure of his parsonage, did bring him to prison, in the which, for that very cause, he continued till death."
Paget improves on this scandalous story, and makes it a characteristic of the Brownists or Separatists generally, that they beat
committed the old sinner to Northampton jail; whither corpulent and infirm and unable to walk he was carried on his bed, in a cart, and there soon ended his eventful and turbulent life, "about 1630," in the eighty-first year of his age.* "He is said to have been buried under a large stone at the entrance of the chancel of Achurch; although Fuller, who ought to know, has told us that it was in one of the churchyards at Northampton." †
Fuller says of Browne: "I will never believe that he ever formally recanted his opinions, either by word or writing, as to the main of what he maintained. More probable it is, that the promise of his general compliance with the church of England (so far forth as not to make further dis
their servants and even their wives: "You may read in the book called 'The Prophane Schism of the Brownists' how cruelly also they used their servants for not doing their tasks, as some they hand up by their hands, and whip them stark-naked, being womengrown; yea, they spare not their wives, but correct them. It may be they learnt this of their patriarch father Brown, who would curstly correct his old wife, as before [narrated]." — Heresiography, 86.
Bits of scandal about the Separatists were nuts to Baylie and Paget. They rolled them as sweet morsels under their tongues. Their books abound with them. But no discreet man will swallow them without careful consideration.
* Fuller, bk. 1x. sect. 6; Neal, 1. 378; Hanbury, 1. 24; Collier, VII. 3. The justice who committed him was "Sir Rowland St. John, of Woodford, knight of the Bath, who was inclined to have spared him, had not his stubborn behavior prevented it.” — Masters, 233, note.
↑ Masters' Hist. C. C. C. 254.
turbance therein) met with the archbishop's courteous acceptance thereof." And Masters thinks it "highly probable that his promise of compliance with the church of England, was only not to give disturbance, and that he never formally recanted his opinions." And Ainsworth intimated pretty plainly his opinion of Browne, when he said to Bernard who had argued against the cause of separation, that "Mr. Browne revolted and came back from you"-"How well Mr. Browne approveth of your church, though he live in it, if you ask him, I suppose he will tell you." †
"For my own part (whose nativity Providence placed within a mile of this Browne his pastoral charge)" continues Fuller, " I have, when a youth, often beheld him. He was of an imperious nature, offended if what he affirmed but in common discourse were not instantly received as an oracle. He was then so far from the sabbatarian strictness to which precise Brownists did afterwards pretend, that both in judgment and practice he seemed rather libertine therein. In a word, he had in my time a wife, with whom for many years he never lived, parted from her on some distaste; and a church, wherein he never preached, though he received the profits thereof." Another contemporary (probably Bridwell) writing against Brownism in 1588, says: "Barrowe and Greenwood
Hist. C. C. C. 284.
† Counterpoyson, p. 23. Ch. Hist. bk. IX. sect. 6.