BROWNE, Robert I (by 1507-58), of Leiston, Suff. and the Middle Temple, London.
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Family and Education
Bencher, Lent reader, M. Temple 1530, Autumn reader 1544.
J.p. Suff. 1537-d.; commr. relief 1550; other commissions 1538-d.; chamberlain and receiver, ct. of gen. surveyors 1545; baron of Exchequer May 1550-d.2
Robert Browne’s parentage is obscure. He was probably descended from the Leiston family which had favoured the baptismal name Robert since the early 14th century. He was presumably related to Thomas Browne alias Singer bailiff of the lands of Leiston abbey at its dissolution in 1536 who leased the site and capital messuage of Leiston: in June 1547 Robert Browne was granted this lease by patent of the court of augmentations. Another hint of a connexion between the two men is that both chose a Hopton for testamentary duties, Thomas appointing John Hopton of Blythburgh his executor in 1545 and Robert making Owen Hopton† his supervisor in 1558.3
If Robert Browne of Leiston is to be distinguished, as he doubtless should be, from a namesake who served as royal page and sewer between 1514 and 1520 and became steward of the honor of Wormegay in Norfolk and Suffolk as early as 1519, the first known fact about him is his admission to the Middle Temple. His election as double reader is sufficient evidence to identify him as the man appointed to commissions of the peace and of sewers in Suffolk. In 1541, described as Robert Browne, gentleman, he was involved in a dispute as to rights of pasture with certain inhabitants of Leiston who brought the matter before the Privy Council; Browne already had some title to property in Leiston perhaps as leaseholder under Charles, Duke of Suffolk, the first purchaser of lands of the dissolved abbey there and he later stated in evidence that he had dwelt there since about 1536. This suggests that he may have been the man who in that year leased ‘the hundred of Blithing’, Suffolk, from the duke, being described as his ‘servant’. An award in the case with his Leiston neighbours was made in June 1542 by Sir John Jerningham and Sir Edmund Rous, but the controversy continued; in 1548 the sokeman of Leiston complained in the Star Chamber that their rights held in the time of the monastic overlordship had been rudely disturbed by Browne as lessee of the royal lordship there. In 1557 he bought outright the site of the manor and lands in Leiston and Theberton already in his tenure, purchasing them in the names of himself and his wife Joan for over £570. He also held the manor of Scotts in Dunwich and Westleton as tenant of Sir Edmund Bedingfield.4
Browne’s return as Member for Dunwich, which lay near his home at Leiston, to the last two Parliaments of Henry VIII was probably promoted by the Duke of Suffolk. The duke’s death in 1545 may explain why Browne was not to sit again until April 1554, when his reappearance doubtless answered to his local standing and position in the Exchequer. Browne died on 21 Dec. 1558, having made his will on 16 Nov. in the same year. He had previously given his youngest son Owen a lease of the site and demesnes of Leiston manor. The widow was to enjoy certain lands there for life and to have a large quantity of livestock including turkeys, peahens and peacocks. Browne threatened to disinherit his eldest son John who, he alleged, had gone away (presumably to attend the second session of the Parliament of 1558 as a Member for Dunwich) ‘I being marvellous sore sick’, without giving bonds ‘to bury me as I ought to be’ and to perform the legacies and discharge the executors. Should John not fulfil these obligations, his inheritance after the death of his stepmother was left to his brother Philip. Other bequests included annuities of £5 each, after the death of the widow, to Richard and Owen, Browne’s sons by his second marriage, and small sums to a number of servants. The executors of the will, proved on 28 Apr. 1559, were Browne’s ‘brothers’ Edmund Jetton and Thomas Lovell.