BROWNE, Sir Anthony (c.1500-48), of Battle Abbey and Cowdray Park, Suss.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer




Family and Education

b. c.1500, 1st s. of Sir Anthony Browne by Lucy, da. and coh. of John Neville, Marquess of Montagu; half-bro. of William Fitzwilliam, Earl of Southampton. m. (1) by 1528, Alice, da. of Sir John Gage of Firle, Suss., 7s. inc. Anthony I 3da.; (2) 1542, Elizabeth, da. of Gerald Fitzgerald, 9th Earl of Kildare, 2s.; 1s. 1da. illegit. suc. fa. 1506. Kntd. 1 July 1522; KG nom. 23 Apr., inst. 19 May 1540.3

Offices Held

Surveyor and master of hunt, castles and lordship of Hatfield, Thorne and Conisbrough, Yorks 1518; knight of the body 1522; lt. I.o.M. 1525; gent. privy chamber 1526, ambassador, France 1527, jt. (with Sir Edward Guildford) standard bearer 1528-34, sole 1534-46, jt. (with s. Anthony) 1546-d.; j.p. Surr. 1532-d., Suss. 1544-d.; master of the horse 1539-d.; PC by 1539-d.; capt. of gent. pens. 1540-d.; commr. subsidy, Household 1540, benevolence, Surr. 1544/45, musters, Berks., Hants, Oxon., Surr., Suss. and Wilts. 1545; other commissions 1535-46; master of the King’s harriers 1543-d.; numerous minor offices.4


Anthony Browne’s career resembled in many ways that of his elder half-brother William Fitzwilliam, Earl of Southampton. From the age of ten Fitzwilliam had been brought up in the royal household with the future Henry VIII, and it is likely that Browne joined him there at an early age; both may have owed this privilege to their mother, a niece of Richard, Earl of Warwick, or to her second husband Sir Anthony Browne, a cadet of the Browne family of Betchworth, Surrey, who became standard bearer of England and lieutenant of Calais castle. In 1518, at the age of about 18, Browne accompanied an embassy to France for the delivery of Tournai to Francis I, and by 1520 he held office in the royal household.5

Browne gave early evidence of a wayward personality when, in March 1519, he struck a colleague in Sir Thomas Boleyn’s embassy to France. The King demanded the recall of both, but Browne’s career was not to suffer: Boleyn gave him a good report and Francis I on leavetaking made him a gentleman of his household with a pension of 200 crowns a year. Jousting provided an outlet for his youthful energy and at the Field of Cloth of Gold, where he acted as a server to the King, he distinguished himself at the tournament. The subsequent war gave him a chance to try out his military skills, and he was knighted after the raid on Morlaix by the admiral ‘for hardiness and noble courage’.6

When Browne was himself appointed ambassador to France in 1527 he revealed an antipathy to that court and country which was to grow with the years. His despatches strike a slightly petulant note, he found fault with everything, the French manner of hunting, the King’s latest mistress, the Order of St. Michael which he considered a poor copy of the Garter, and the fact that he could find nothing worth purchasing. Later in the year the two Kings enrolled each other in their premier orders of chivalry, and Browne was commissioned with Lord Lisle and others to invest Francis I with the collar, mantle, garter and statutes of the English order. In spite of Browne’s personal bias against the French the King must have found his service useful for in 1533 he was with Norfolk’s embassy in France. A certain thoroughness of application is revealed in his ‘book of ordinary charges’ for this mission: his signature on several pages suggests that he himself checked the weekly bills.7

In 1538 Edmund Bonner, bishop of Hereford and resident ambassador in France, spoke highly of Browne to Cromwell, praising his ‘dexterity and discretion’ and saying that he would need him greatly if there was much to do. Yet Browne’s special visit to France in that year was to cause considerable embarrassment to the English government. He and Bonner complained bitterly to the King and Cromwell of the bad lodging and cool treatment afforded them by the French. The King bridled at the implied disrespect to his person and ordered Browne to make a pointed withdrawal. Through their own ambassador the French took an injured attitude but the King supported Browne’s behaviour, saying that Browne had done nothing he had not been charged to do; the most the King would admit was that perhaps Francis did not know personally how Browne had been used. A few weeks later, however, after the pope had ordered the execution of a bull of excommunication against the King, the English were put on the defensive. Cromwell told the French ambassador that if Browne had not mixed his private grudges and complaints about his meagre reception with the affairs of his mission he would have received promotion; to this the imperial envoy Chapuys added that Cromwell had called Browne a ‘glorieux coquart’ and blamed him for obstructing friendship with France. Although Browne was forthwith promoted master of the horse in place of the attainted Sir Nicholas Carew, there was probably substance to Cromwell’s view. When there was talk of Browne’s visiting France in 1542 Marillac expected trouble, describing him to Francis I as ‘the worst of those hostile to France’, and in the same year Chapuys expressed the opinion that if the Emperor wished to exploit the English he should give pensions to those who already supported him, Browne among them.8

Browne took an active part in suppressing the northern rebellion of 1536. He was one of the Surrey notables required to attend on the King with a retinue of 50 men. On 15 Oct. he was sent forward from the base at Ampthill to join the Duke of Suffolk with reinforcements of cavalry and ammunition. He arrived as the rebellion in Lincolnshire was dying down and in November was sent to quell the movement in Yorkshire. In the first week of December he was one of the commissioners who met the rebels’ representatives at Doncaster. He followed up the military operation by administrative work designed to restore order, and he was later among those consulted when the affairs of the north came before the Council.9

Browne saw military service again in 1542, by which time he had been appointed captain of the gentlemen pensioners. On 10 Sept. he left London with Fitzwilliam, now Earl of Southampton, to join Norfolk and Tunstall as the English commissioners at York. Fitzwilliam died at Newcastle, and Norfolk wrote to Gardiner and Wriothesley saying that he now had only Browne left of his experienced subordinates; the duke had great faith in Browne, who lacked ‘neither wit, diligence or soberness’, and he ventured the hope that the King would make Browne his half-brother’s heir ‘in the name and lands of Southampton’. Browne lived up to his military reputation by devastating the area around Hawtell. In the campaign of 1544 against France he again served under Norfolk and won further distinction. During the defensive war of 1545 and 1546 he was busy securing the coastal defences and advising the Earl of Hertford on troops, fortifications, food and forage.10

In 1539 Fitzwilliam had ridden round Surrey, Sussex and Hampshire in preparation for the coming Parliament: he rallied his friends, among them Sir Richard Weston, to secure Browne’s return as knight of the shire for Surrey, a place Browne was to retain in the three succeeding Parliaments. His activity in the Commons has left several traces. In the Parliament of 1539 he was twice joined with Sir Thomas Cheyne and Sir William Kingston in bringing up bills, eight in all, from the Commons and with Kingston in bringing up a further three; in 1545 he was concerned in taking up seven bills to the Lords. At the beginning of the Parliament of 1542 he witnessed a proxy entered for Thomas, Lord Sandys by Southampton and Sir John Russell, Baron Russell. He was doubtless responsible for the return of his eldest son Anthony, when still a minor, for Guildford in 1545 and again in 1547.11

When not employed on diplomatic or military missions Browne was usually close to the King. In 1526 he gave the King a bonnet as a New Year gift and in 1532 he was present at Whitehall when the great seal was delivered to Audley. At the christening of Prince Edward in 1537 he was one of four gentlemen of the privy chamber who, in aprons and towels, had charge of the font until relieved by the lord steward; in the following month he followed the young Queen’s funeral chariot to St. George’s Chapel at Windsor castle. On New Year’s day 1540 the Cleves party were met at Rochester by Browne on the King’s behalf, and it was to him that the King made a disparaging remark about the bride-to-be which made him fear for his half-brother who had written in her praise. In the divorce proceedings Browne testified that the King had entered the marriage reluctantly. The statement that Browne had married Anne as the King’s proxy appears to rest on a description made in 1777 of a portrait at Cowdray, and lacks confirmation.12

When the King visited Lincoln in 1541 Browne, as master of the horse, led the sovereign’s horse in the procession into the city. On his return to London the King was told of Catherine Howard’s infidelity. Browne took part in the questioning of the culprits, taking evidence in his own handwriting from one of the Queen’s attendants and examining the Duchess of Norfolk about the relations between the Queen and Francis Dereham; he was one of the special commission which tried Dereham and Culpeper at Guildhall. In 1543 Browne attended the King’s marriage to Catherine Parr. In the same year he was one of the Councillors who questioned witnesses on charges against the Earl of Surrey, and in 1547 he took part in the earl’s trial: he also examined Surrey’s father, his old patron Norfolk, and witnessed his confession.13

In religious matters, ‘as it is commonly known’ according to his servant William Wightman, Browne ‘did much dissent from the proceedings’, that is, from the breach with Rome. In his will, made on 22 Apr. 1547, he directed the saying of masses and dirges by the priests of Battle church. Only once had his sympathies brought him under suspicion and that was in 1536 when the King believed that nearly all his Councillors, Cromwell included, were secretly supporting Princess Mary in her refusal to submit. On that occasion Browne was closely examined on his ideas about the succession, his words, his actions and his evident affection for the Princess: his answers must have satisfied the King since there was no aftermath. Foxe has a story that in 1539 the keeper of Princess Elizabeth’s bears, a keen Catholic, went to the Council chamber to give Browne and Gardiner what he considered was damning evidence of heresy against Cranmer, and in 1543 Browne’s chaplain was examined during the prebendaries’ plot against the archbishop. A rumour circulated in 1539 that Fitzwilliam, Kingston and Browne wanted Bishop Tunstall to replace Cromwell and had suggested as much to the King. Russell, one of the reforming members of the Council and an enemy of Browne’s, wrote of him to Paget as ‘a man most unreasonable and one whose words and deeds do not agree together ... one that will blame every man for that fault and yet will do worse himself’.14

Himself one of the conservatives appointed by the King as his son’s Councillors, Browne tried to persuade the King to include Gardiner among them. Gardiner’s exclusion left the conservatives without a leader and on the King’s death Browne was the first to accept the ascendancy of the Earl of Hertford. According to an account given by Browne’s servant Wightman to William Cecil in 1549, Browne agreed while walking with Hertford in the garden at Enfield, as they were bringing Edward VI from Hertford castle to London, that Hertford should be Protector, ‘thinking it ... both the surest kind of government, and most fit for that commonwealth’. His adhesion was significant since he stood eighth of the late King’s executors in order of precedence, and also because as a Catholic he was one of those on whom Henry VIII is said to have relied to check Hertford and the reformers. Browne was one of the seven Councillors who signed the letters patent of 12 Mar. 1547 confirming Hertford’s appointment. In the same month Browne, Hertford and (Sir) Edward North received the great seal from the outgoing chancellor, Wriothesley.15

Browne’s inheritance was relatively modest, although on his mother’s death in 1534 he received the manor of Wickhambreaux, Kent, worth £111 a year. The bulk of his estate he acquired for himself, starting in 1528 with a grant of the manors of Stewton in Lincolnshire, Newhall and Coppenhall in Cheshire, and Egleton in Rutland. By 1537 he had exchanged these for the Cheshire lordship of Nantwich and for various Sussex manors which had belonged to Henry, 5th Earl of Northumberland. In the following year, while the court was at Fitzwilliam’s house at Cowdray, Browne was granted the site and demesne lands of Battle abbey and in 1539 he paid £850 for several of the abbey’s manors. He obtained further monastic lands in Sussex and his last acquisition there formed part of the bequest of lands worth £100 a year made to him by Henry VIII. The total acreage of his lands in Sussex, including those of which he had the ultimate reversion from Fitzwilliam, has been estimated at 11,000 acres and its annual value at £679 for lands in possession and £147 for those in reversion. His estate in Surrey, although worth less than half that in Sussex, amounted to not less than 8,500 acres and included the priory of St. Mary Overey, granted to him in 1544 ‘for his services’. He also obtained property in Cambridgeshire, Essex and Warwickshire. His half-brother left no legitimate child, and most of his lands, which included, besides such further Sussex property as the manor of Midhurst, some 4,600 acres in Hampshire, were to pass to Browne on the death of the widow. Although Browne died before the countess, he had already come into possession of at least one of these estates, Cowdray, which was to become the family seat.16

Browne died at Byfleet on 28 Apr. 1548 and was probably replaced as knight of the shire by (Sir) Thomas Cawarden. He appointed as executors of his will (Sir) Richard Rich, Lord Rich; Lord Russell; Sir William Paulet, Baron St. John; (Sir) John Baker I; Sir John Gage, and John Skinner II, leaving them each a gift as token of his goodwill and explaining that ‘these simple legacies come from the father of so many children’. He directed that he should be buried in the same tomb as his first wife and the funeral procession began in London and passed through East Grinstead and Dallington to Battle. Browne’s eldest son was still under age at his father’s death. Of his other children, Mary married the Marquess of Dorset’s younger son John, Mabel married Gerald Fitzgerald, 11th Earl of Kildare, and Lucy married Thomas Roper. Browne’s widow married Edward, 9th Lord Clinton, later 1st Earl of Lincoln.17

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: S. R. Johnson


  • 1. E159/319, brev. ret. Mich. r. [1-2].
  • 2. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
  • 3. Browne’s parents married in or after 1497 and his fa. died in 1506. R. E. Brock, ‘The Courtier in Early Tudor Soc.’ (London Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1964), 26, 336, 338-40; PCC 10 Coode; LP Hen. VIII, xv.
  • 4. Brock, 40, 162, 318-19; LP Hen. VIII, ii-vi, xi-xv, xvii, xviii, xx, xxi, add.; The Gen. n.s. xxx. 19; Lansd. 2(11), f. 34; CPR, 1547-8, pp. 90, 240; A. F. Pollard, Eng. under Protector Somerset, 77; PPC, vii. 49; E371/300, m. 47, 304, r. 47.
  • 5. Brock, 17, 318.
  • 6. LP Hen. VIII, iii.
  • 7. Ibid. iv; HMC 7th Rep. 601.
  • 8. LP Hen. VIII, xiii, xiv, xvii.
  • 9. Ibid. xi, xii; Brock, 118-19.
  • 10. Brock, 211-12; LP Hen. VIII, xvii, xix.
  • 11. LP Hen. VIII, xiv; Elton, Tudor Rev. in Govt. 285; LJ, i. 107, 111-12, 121, 164, 278, 281.
  • 12. Brock, 132-3; LP Hen. VIII, iv, xii, xiv.
  • 13. LP Hen. VIII, xv, xvi, xviii, xxi.
  • 14. Tytler, Edw. VI and Mary, i. 169; PCC 10 Coode; Tudor Tracts, ed. Pollard, 35 seq.; LP Hen. VIII, x, xiv, xx.
  • 15. Pollard, 18-24; Lit. Rems. Edw. VI, pp. lxxxiv, lxxxviii; Tytler, i. 169; Burnet, Hist. Ref. ii. 35; Brock, 66, 67; CPR, 1547-8, p. 97; W. K. Jordan, Edw. VI, i. 49, 51-52, 73, 88.
  • 16. J. Dallaway, W. Division of Suss. i. 251; C142/88/79, 89/132, 143; LP Hen. VIII, iv, xii-xiv, xvii-add.; Brock, 244-50; VCH Surr. iii. 433; Wealth and Power, ed. Ives, Knecht and Scarisbrick, 90, 100.
  • 17. Brock, 339, 362; C142/88/79; PCC 10 Coode.