BROWNE, Anthony II (1509/10-67), of South Weald, Essex.
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Family and Education
b. 1509/10, 2nd or 3rd s. of Sir Wistan Browne of Abbess Roding, Essex by Elizabeth, da. of William Mordaunt of Turvey, Beds. educ. ?Oxf.; M. Temple. m. by 1551, Joan, da. and h. of William Farrington of Lancs., wid. of Charles Booth and of Henry Becconshall of Becconshall, Lancs., d.s.p. Kntd. 2 Feb. 1567.3
Lent reader, M. Temple 1554.
Commr. gaol delivery and clerk of assize, home circuit 1538-d., relief, Essex 1550, goods of churches and fraternities 1553; other commissions 1551-d.; j.p. Essex 1547-d.; member, council of 16th Earl of Oxford c.1554; serjeant-at-law and Queen’s serjeant 1555; c.j.c.p.Oct. 1558-Jan. 1559; j.c.p. Jan. 1559-d.; duchy of Lancaster steward of Penwortham, Lancs. 1553-d., of manors in Clare honor, Essex and Suff. 1558; chief steward, crown lands in Essex 1558-9; under steward and clerk of swanmote ct., Waltham forest Aug. 1558; receiver of petitions in the Lords, Parlts. of 1559 and 1563.4
The Brownes, a family of west country origin, had been settled in Essex for several generations. Anthony Browne’s father, a soldier knighted by Ferdinand of Aragon in 1511 and sometime treasurer of Calais, was sheriff of the county in 1516. Two of the Member’s uncles, Sir John Mordaunt and Sir Humphrey Browne, were prominent lawyers and, although he is said to have begun his studies at Oxford before following Sir Humphrey to the Middle Temple, the law was an obvious choice of career for him as a younger son.5
Browne attracted the attention of Cromwell, perhaps as a result of these connexions, but no doubt also by his ability. Sir John Spelman, the senior judge on the home circuit, wrote to Cromwell on 12 Apr. 1538 that he had made Browne his clerk of assize at the minister’s request, although he had meant one of his own sons to have the post. Two months later Browne became a commissioner for gaol delivery on the circuit at the early age of 28. During the rest of Henry VIII’s reign he presumably followed the normal career of those destined for judicial office, combining study with practice at the bar. He was to leave the precedent book ‘of my old master John Jenour’ to Andrew, son and heir of Richard Jenour, ‘from whom I had it’.6
Browne’s legal expertise may have secured his return in 1545 for Lostwithiel, a duchy of Cornwall borough, where his name was written on the indenture over an erasure ending ‘ote’. The man whom he replaced was perhaps John Southcote I, a Devon lawyer associated with the Temple; Southcote was one of the town’s Members in the next Parliament and was re-elected there at least twice, so that he might have stepped down in favour of a colleague at the request of the duchy in 1545. Browne is not known to have had any links with the duchy, but his fellow-Member Walter Mildmay, who was also from Essex, had a brother in its employment. No link has been found between Browne and his probable patron at Great Bedwyn in 1547, the Protector Somerset, but the Protector’s brother-in-law (Sir) Clement Smith sat in this Parliament for Maldon, the borough for which Browne was himself to be returned for the first time in the election of March 1553. On that occasion Browne was also returned for Preston, for which he chose to sit, being replaced at Maldon by Henry Fortescue. His standing in his own county may account for his election for Maldon, which he was to represent in two subsequent Parliaments, but he could doubtless reckon on the support of the 16th Earl of Oxford, whose kinsman he could claim to be and whose council he may already have joined: he had acted for Oxford in the Parliament of 1547, when he helped to secure the passage of the Act for frustrating assurances to the Duke of Somerset made by the earl (5 and 6 Edw. VI, no. 35) and received £6 13s.4d. for his pains. He must have owed his return for Preston to duchy of Lancaster patronage: his uncle, Sir John Mordaunt, had been chancellor of the duchy, his father had been receiver for duchy lands in Essex and he himself was later to hold duchy stewardships, including that of Penwortham in Lancashire, a county in which he had already acquired land. He was also known to (Sir) John Gates, chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster and an Essex man, who had probably been responsible for the choice of Browne as one of the committee of six lawyers appointed on 21 Mar. 1552 to draw up a new bill for the punishment of treason. The bill, inspired by Northumberland, sought to make it treason for anyone to question the title of the actual wearer of the crown, however he (or she) had acquired it, but this purpose was frustrated by skilful textual alterations made after the bill was engrossed following its second reading in the Commons (5 and 6 Edw. VI, c.11). A bill against regrators of beasts and corn had also been committed to Browne on 26 Jan. 1549.7
After such services and after signing the device altering the succession Browne was suspect to Queen Mary; he was committed to the Fleet on 29 July 1553 but was released after two days. An Essex Protestant being tried before Browne in 1555 claimed that he had learned his religion from Browne himself, ‘For in King Edward’s days in open sessions you spake against this religion now used, no preacher more’. Browne denied the allegation and after his brief imprisonment and an order of September 1553 to return plate which he and the other Essex commissioners for church goods had taken, he was to enjoy only approbation and favour from the Queen. He requited this trust by his zealous enforcement in Essex of the law against dissent.8
Browne was again returned for both Maldon and Preston (where his name was inserted in a different hand on the indenture, possibly over an erasure) to Mary’s first Parliament but on this occasion it is not certain which borough he chose; he was to receive a present of wild fowl from Maldon during the first year of the reign and to sit for the borough in November 1554. He must have been known to the new chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, Sir Robert Rochester, an Essex gentleman whose nephew and successor in the chancellorship, Sir Edward Waldegrave, Browne’s precursor as under-steward of Waltham forest, was to name him in his will. In 1554 Rochester helped Maldon to obtain a new charter. Browne probably owed his next seat, at Scarborough, to similar influence. A neighbour of the Browne family, Richard Josselyn of High Roding, Essex, was to sit for the borough in 1558 and Sir John Tregonwell, a friend and colleague of Sir William Petre, had done so in October 1553. Browne had been present at the marriage in June 1552 of Petre’s stepdaughter and Richard Baker and was to name Petre as overseer of his will. Returned to the Parliament of November 1554 for Maldon (where his name was again inserted) and Ludgershall, where his patron was presumably (Sir) Richard Brydges, a fellow-Middle Templar and possibly a kinsman by marriage, Browne chose to sit for Maldon, Sir John Price replacing him at Ludgershall. A bill touching the admission of schoolmasters was committed to him on 8 Dec. 1554 and according to the imperial ambassador Renard he spoke in support of John Pollard in urging the rejection of a treasons bill in the Lords, the terms of which were considered insufficiently protective of Philip. As a serjeant he received writs of assistance to the Parliaments of 1555 and 1558 and carried bills and messages from the Lords to the Commons on several occasions; in this, too, he was following his uncle Sir Humphrey Browne, who had been receiving writs of assistance since 1536.9
On 5 Oct. 1558, after only three years as a serjeant and without having served as a puisne judge, Browne was appointed chief justice of the common pleas. Edmund Plowden called him ‘a judge of profound learning and great eloquence’ but such qualities, even if the assessment is valid, hardly suffice to explain his promotion over the heads of the puisne judges, and the appointment was probably, at least in part, a reward for his services against heresy in Essex. It was renewed by Elizabeth on her accession but shortly afterwards, on 22 Jan. 1559, he was reduced to the rank of puisne judge. Browne’s persecuting zeal under Mary can hardly have commended him to Elizabeth and his conduct in the case of Skrogges v. Coleshill was probably a contributory factor in his demotion. Mary had appointed Robert Colshill exigenter in the court of common pleas, an office normally in the gift of the chief justice; the letters of appointment bore the same date as Browne’s to the chief justiceship but recited that the appointment was made during the vacancy caused by (Sir) Robert Broke’s death. Refusing to admit Colshill, Browne appointed his own nephew Scroggs and when the dispute came to trial at the end of 1559 (before a court from which justices of the common pleas were excluded) the judges upheld Scroggs’s appointment, adding that ‘the Queen herself cannot be chief justice’. Elizabeth ignored this judgment and set up a commission to retry the case. Scroggs refused to plead and was committed to the Fleet for contempt but the judges of the court of common pleas ordered his release and he probably recovered the office.10
Browne remained a justice of common pleas and at least did nothing more to incur Elizabeth’s disfavour. In July 1563 the Spanish ambassador reported that (Sir) Nicholas Bacon was likely to lose and Browne to be granted the office of lord keeper. According to a Catholic report published in 1594, Browne was offered the office but declined it ‘for that he was of different religion from the state’. In 1571 William Barker confessed to having heard from the bishop of Ross that Browne had been ‘a principal doer in the making of the two books written on behalf of the Queen of Scots’. Several manuscript copies made later in the century have survived of a discourse upholding the succession of the Queen of Scots to the English throne; all are attributed to Browne and one is entitled ‘The argument and answer of Sir Anthony Browne Kt. to the matters of Sir Nicholas Bacon Knight.’11
Browne acquired a large estate in East Anglia and Lancashire. His wife’s grandfather (Sir) Henry Farrington had apparently barred an entail on part of the family estates for her benefit, but although Browne had done everything possible to confirm his legal title during Sir Henry’s lifetime, including obtaining a chancery decree in his own favour, there followed some years of dispute in and out of the law courts with a younger son of Sir Henry who was supported by Sir John Southworth† of Samlesbury, Lancashire. Part of his wealth Browne, who was childless, devoted to the foundation of Brentwood grammar school. Letters patent for the foundation were granted in July 1558 and Browne provided an endowment of lands to the yearly value of £36.12
Browne appointed his wife (who was to survive him less than six months) executrix of the will which he made on 20 Dec. 1565, and Sir William Petre and (Sir) Edward Saunders overseers. Among the beneficiaries were Edmund Tyrrell and George White. His body was to be buried ‘with such funerals, alms, obsequies and ceremonies to be done ... as becometh and in the Catholic church of God is used’. He died on 16 May 1567 and the Spanish ambassador, writing to Philip II on the following day, described him as a great help to the Catholics and his death as a great loss to them. His heir was his great-nephew, Wistan Browne.13