BROWNE, Sir Richard (c.1539-1604), of Sayes Court, Deptford, Kent
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Family and Education
b. c.1539, 3rd s. of John Browne of St. Peter’s, Colchester with his 1st w. Florence, da. and h. of John Chertsey. educ. ?I. or M. Temple. m. (?1) unknown, at least 1s.; (?2) by 1591, Joan (d. Nov. 1618), da. of John Vigerus of Langham, Essex, yeoman, s.p.2 kntd. 24 July 1603.3 d. 13 May 1604.4
Kpr./steward of Leicester House, Westminster and/or Wanstead House, Essex, for the earl of Leicester (Sir Robert Dudley†) by 1566-d., steward, Leicester’s household, Neths. 1587.5
Victualler, earl of Leicester’s Neths.’ expedition 1585-at least 1587;10
A household servant of the Elizabethan earl of Leicester for more than 20 years, Browne is chiefly memorable for his corrupt provisioning of Leicester’s forces in the Netherlands. Despite his notoriety, he was subsequently found a minor position in the queen’s Household, doubtless through Leicester, the lord steward. By 1594 Browne had risen to become one of the two clerk comptrollers of the Board of Green Cloth, and by the end of the decade had been promoted to clerk, despite being singled out for blame by the queen for mismanaging the supply of her Household. He rose no further, however, despite claims to the contrary made by his great-granddaughter’s husband, John Evelyn.14
Knighted with his colleagues in the Green Cloth at the beginning of James’s reign, Browne was granted £2,000 arising from certain forfeitures by the new king in January 1604.15 A former clerk of the peace for Essex, he evidently helped the town of Harwich acquire a new charter three months later, which entitled the borough to parliamentary representation.16 The new corporation expressed its gratitude by returning him to Parliament, where he was anxious to defend the Board of Green Cloth against the widely voiced complaints against the system of purveyance. On 26 Apr. he was accused by the Member for Bristol, Thomas James, of employing threatening behaviour after James presented the committee for purveyance with a letter from the whitestaves reprimanding Bristol’s mayor, John Whitson*, for indicting a purveyor in his court. According to James, Browne had remarked that ‘it were good he [James] were sent for after the end of the Parliament’. The Commons ordered an investigation but, being anxious to preserve good relations with the whitestaves, it resolved that Browne’s menacing aside was ‘of small weight’ and therefore pardonable (27 April).17 On 11 May Browne rose to his feet after John Hare proposed that the king surrender purveyance in return for an annual payment of £20,000, but all that he is recorded to have said is ‘that the king’s part and the subject’s may be indifferently considered’. Shortly thereafter it was resolved that the purveyance committee should meet the following afternoon. Browne was thereupon added to its ranks and instructed to provide its members with a note of the composition agreements already in existence and to inform it ‘touching the king’s desmesnes and pastures, and who hath the occupation of them’. As a marginal note in the Commons Journal suggests, this order was a barb aimed deliberately at Browne himself, whose perquisites of office included the lease of the royal manor of Sayes Court, near Deptford.18 However, two days later, before the committee could question him, Browne died suddenly. Family tradition relates that he expired ‘by the rupture of a vein in a vehement speech he made about the compositions’ in Parliament.19
Before he died Browne was named to just three legislative committees. These concerned the debts and estate of the Norfolk squire Edward Downes (2 May), the ownership of assart lands (3 May) and revisions to the statute of rogues (5 May).20 No will, administration or inquisition post mortem has been found. Succeeded by his only son, Christopher,21 Browne was buried at St. Nicholas, Deptford, where a white marble monument was erected in his memory by Evelyn.22
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Author: Andrew Thrush
- 1. OR. The indenture does not survive; this is the date of the writ.
- 2. Vis. Essex (Harl. Soc. xiii), 360; P. Morant, Essex, i. pt. 1, p. 111; N. Dews, Hist. Deptford (2nd edn.), 81; Feet of Fines for Essex VI: 1581-1603 ed. F.G. Emmison, 86; PROB 11/144, f. 52. For discussion of a possible 1st mar. see HP Commons, 1558-1603, i. 503-4.
- 3. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 127.
- 4. P. Croft, ‘Parl., Purveyance and the City of London’, PH, iv. 33, quoting LS13/168, f. 78v.
- 5. S. Adams, ‘Pprs. of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, I. The Browne-Evelyn Collection’, Archives, xx. 65, 67; APC, 1588-9, p. 81; Household Accts. and Disbursement Bks. of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester ed. S. Adams (Cam. Soc. ser. 5. vi), 28, 430, 452.
- 6. List of Escheators comp. A.C. Wood (L. and I. Soc. lxxii), 46.
- 7. Clerks of Counties, 1360-1960 comp. E. Stephens, 84.
- 8. C231/1, f. 13.
- 9. Ibid. ff. 37, 81, 117; C66/1620.
- 10. Leycester Corresp. ed. J. Bruce (Cam. Soc. xxvii), 40; CSP For. 1585-6, p. 358; 1586-7, pp. 154, 357. Adams incorrectly suggests that Browne was engaged in victualling Leicester’s forces for just six months: Adams, ‘Dudley Pprs.’ 67, 82.
- 11. APC, 1588, pp. 354-5.
- 12. Essex RO, D/Y 2/6, p. 25; Lansd. 80, f. 89 (we are grateful to J.C. Sainty for this ref.); A. Woodworth, ‘Purveyance for the Royal Household in the Reign of Eliz.’ Trans. Am. Phil. Soc. n.s. xxv. pt. i, p. 60.
- 13. APC, 1599-1600, pp. 120-1, 156; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 72.
- 14. Diary of John Evelyn ed. E.S. de Beer, iv. 303. Evelyn claimed that he was both master of the Household and cofferer, an assertion which has misled both Adams (‘Dudley Pprs.’ 67) and HP Commons, 1558-1603, i. 503 (via Dews, 197).
- 15. CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 72.
- 16. Harwich bor. recs. ms 109/3.
- 17. CJ, i. 185b, 187b; Croft, 16.
- 18. CJ, i. 207a, 969b; Adams, ‘Dudley Pprs.’ 67; E. Hasted, Kent, i. 351.
- 19. Diary of John Evelyn, iv. 303.
- 20. CJ, i. 195a, 197b, 199b.
- 21. A warrant issued after Browne’s death incorrectly calls Christopher ‘Robert’: CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 171.
- 22. Dews, 81; Evelyn Diary, iv. 303n. 3.