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CHURCH OF ENGLAND, 1575–1581.-


THE last quarter of the sixteenth century is a memorable era in Congregational history. It was during this period that many of the more zealous and courageous puritans broke the trammels of education, became open, uncompromising separatists from the church of England, and organized themselves into distinct churches, after the' apostolic models. This, however, was by no means the beginning of Congregationalism in England, as many are disposed to believe. So far from this, it is evident, from the details given in the preceding volumes of this history, that practical Congregationalists had abounded in the kingdom for nearly two centuries. And that there were organized churches, also, there can be little doubt; though the constant and deadly persecution to which they were exposed compelled them to practise so much secrecy that very few particulars of their history have come down to us. Near the close of the six(1)



teenth century, however, separatism became more open and undisguised, and the history of Congregationalism, consequently, becomes more easily and satisfactorily traced.

The bold new measures which inaugurated this era of our history first attracted special attention in the neighborhood of Bury, in the diocese of Norwich, county of Suffolk, the birthplace of the famous Nicholas Bacon, and of the notorious Bishop Gardiner. How long the leaven had been at work in that neighborhood cannot be certainly determined, though it is certain that from a very remote period this diocese had been the home of determined dissenters from popery and kindred


Somewhere about 1575-76, two persons at least were thrown into prison in Bury for the crime of nonconformity, one of whom afterwards suffered death for his principles. Persecution, as usual, excited rather than extinguished the spirit of dissent, and about the year 1580-81 it was blown into a flame by the fiery zeal of one who ultimately became the most notorious, though by no means the most consistent advocate of Congregational principles.

Robert Browne, after whom the early Separatists

* William Sautre, one of the very earliest burnt-offerings to popery in England, in 1400-1, was parish priest in this diocese, near Bury. See ante, vol. 1. p. 416, and onwards. See, for accounts of persecutions in this county, ante, vol. 1. pp. 526, 528, 531-35, and 555.

of Elizabeth's reign were called Brownists, was probably born in Tolethorpe, in Rutlandshire, about the year 1550.* He was the third son of Anthony Browne, Esq., of Tolethorpe, and Dorothy, daughter of Sir Philip Boteley, of Wodhal, in Hertfordshire.

The Brownes were an ancient and wealthy family, who for some two hundred years had maintained an honorable position among the gen. try of the county, and in later years had intermarried with the nobility of the land. They originated at Stanford, where they were drapers, and afterwards wealthy merchants of the staple. One of them, William Browne, who died in 1488 after having been chief magistrate of the borough for a number of years and high sheriff of the county, is mentioned by Leland, in his "Itinerary," as "a merchant of very wonderful richnesse." To his liberality the town was indebted for a hospital, and one of the churches for an elegant steeple.† Chris

* Paget says that Robert Browne was a Northamptonshire man. - Heresiography, p. 66, 6th ed. Lond. 1662. Collier (Great Dictionary) says he was born in Northampton. So does Heylyn, p. 256. But they are all probably wrong. Masters says "Robert Browne was of an ancient and honorable family in Rutlandshire, and the son of Anthony Browne, Esq., of Tolthorpe; but whether born there, or at Northampton or Stamford, about the year 1550, authors are not agreed." - History of Corpus Christi College, p. 251, 252; quarto, Cambridge, Eng., 1753.

"In the Southe Parte of Staunford Towne, withyn the waulles, and by the Market Place, is an Hospitale omnium Sanctorum, founded by one Browne of that Towne, a Merchant of a very wonderful richnesse, and he lived in hoc ætate." - Leland's

topher Browne, the great-grandfather of Robert, seems to have been the first of the family who settled at Tolethorpe, sometime previous to the year 1492. He accompanied the Earl of Richmond (afterwards Henry VII.) when he landed at Milford Haven, August 4th, 1485, and without doubt proved himself a useful retainer; for Henry made him a grant, in 1504, of Tolethorpe and seven neighboring villages and hamlets in Casterton Parva Hundred, with important privileges and liberties. He was sheriff of the county three years. Francis Browne, son and heir of Christopher and grandfather of Robert, was evidently a man of some distinction also, and in high esteem with the king; for he received letters-patent from Henry VIII. exempting him from service on juries, from being sheriff or escheator, and authorizing him to keep his head covered in the presence of the king, his heirs and successors, and all great men, spiritual and temporal, of the kingdom. This exemption from the necessity of uncovering the head in the presence of royalty itself was so rare a privilege that only two other instances are believed to be on record in English history. One of these was that of Radcliff, Earl of Sussex, commander of Queen Mary's army on her first accession to the crown, and who rendered her very great service in securing the quiet possession of the English

Itinerary, vol. vI. fol. 29. The same Browne built an elegant steeple for the church of All Saints. - Blore's History and Antiquities of Rutland, pp. 89–96, folio, Stanford, 1811.

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