Sir Richard BROWNE of Sayes Court

Born: 1539

Died: 1604

Father: John BROWNE of St. Peter

Mother: Florence CHERSEY

Married: Joan VIGOROUS (d. Nov. 1618) (dau. of John Vigerus of Langham) (w. of Nicholas Eve)


1. Christopher BROWNE of Sayes Court

The details in this biography come from the History of Parliament, a biographical dictionary of Members of the House of Commons.

Third son of John Browne of Colchester, Essex by his 1st w. Florence, dau. and h. of John Chersey. Educ. I. or M. Temple. Married Joan, dau. of John Vigors of Langham, Essex, at least 1s. Kntd. 1603.

?Escheator, Essex 1569-70; clerk of the peace, Essex by 1584; victualler to Earl of Leicester’s expedition to the Netherlands 1585; clerk of the Green Cloth 1588; clerk comptroller of the Household by 1596; master of the Household and cofferer 1603-d.; j.p.q. Mdx. by 1600.

The origins of Browne’s connexion with Leicester are not known, but he was in the Earl’s service by 30 Oct 1584, when Leicester wrote to the borough of Maldon, unsuccessfully requesting that in the approaching parliamentary election they should choose Browne, ‘a servant of mine, your countryman, clerk of the peace of your shire and well-known unto you’. Browne accompanied his master on the expedition to the Low Countries in Dec 1585, being employed, at first unofficially, as a victualler to the forces. By Sep 1586, still in Leicester’s service, he was negotiating with one Bruin, a servant of Walsingham, for the division between them of the victualling of certain places in the Netherlands, probably Bergen-op-Zoom, Ostend and Flushing. In Feb 1587, and by then responsible for the victualling of these three towns, Browne was in England arranging supplies, though anxiously awaited in the Netherlands, where food was running low. On 22 Feb Thomas Morgan wrote from Bergen to Thomas Wilkes, clerk of the Privy Council:

"The victualler should have been [here] four days past and yet he is not come. Those men that are in her Majesty’s pay have been this eight days in great want, and I have persuaded them from day to day, and yet they had almost been in a mutiny today ... I would pray you to write plainly to his Excellency that Browne is not able to answer this with his neck; for secure yourself that if they do mutiny, I will drown all Browne’s men."

And a month later Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, reported from Middleburg, probably to Walsingham, that at Bergen there was food enough for three days only and that the local merchants would give them no credit at all. He calculated that Browne must have had £1,500 for their relief for about a month, but had not yet used a penny of it for that purpose,

"and so the poor soldiers are like to perish, for whose relief I have directed Sir Thomas Shirley to imprest £20 weekly until some order may come from you, which for Jesus’ sake hasten with all speed, and that such victuallers may be appointed as will have conscience not to make themselves rich with the famine to poor soldiers."

Shortly afterwards, on 27 Apr, Buckhurst wrote again to Francis Walsingham regretting that he had not heard of Browne’s arrest and punishment, ‘for he justly deserves it’. It was known, he continued, that money was owed to Browne, but he should have made the soldiers his first concern,

"whereas, so soon as he had the money, he retains it to pay his former debt, and leaves the poor soldiers to famish, which they had done, or a revolt of the town to the enemy, if we had not devised new means to help it."

He asserted there were other complaints against Browne, who, ‘with my Lord of Leicester’s countenance ... dares do anything’.

Long after Leicester’s death and after his own return to England and appointment to an office in the Household, protests and petitions poured in from aggrieved merchants and deputy victuallers, all wanting Browne’s money. At first, the Council took his part, relating in Jul 1589 to the mayor and sheriffs of London Browne’s own tale of woe, which was that the States of Flushing, Ostend and Bergen owed him £1,100 for supplies, of which they had not paid a penny. In spite of this, he had paid the merchants in question the equivalent amount, all but £470 13s.6d., for which four Dutch merchants had various bills. In view of the hardness of the case, Browne —directed the Privy Council— was to have the city’s protection. By Sep, however, the Council was admonishing Browne to pay debts owed for provisions bought to supply English garrisons, and for which he had himself been paid. Subsequent entries in the Council register make clear that each party concerned was trying to shift responsibility, Browne to the States General, and they to the English garrison commanders whose debts to Dutch merchants had not been met.

All this provides a curious foundation for Browne’s appointment to the royal Household, where it fell to him, in Jul 1597, to report to the Queen on the findings of a body known as the ‘lords in commission for Household causes’. Not content with the reforms following this report, the Queen, in the last year of her reign, again became uneasy about the expenses of her Household. Summoning the officers of the Green Cloth before her, she singled out as her chief butt the unfortunate Browne, demanding why £40,000 was no longer sufficient. Browne’s answer was inflation, so he was told to draw up tables of comparative costs from 3 to 43 Eliz. The results did not reassure her.

Browne’s parliamentary career is not easy to disentangle when so many Members bore the same surname. After failing at Maldon in 1584, Leicester secured his return at Lichfield. He may have been the Richard Browne who sat on the committee to suppress piracy, 24 Mar 1585. It is just possible that he was the man returned at Gatton in 1589, where court or Howard of Effingham influence prevailed in the 1580s, but it is more likely that this was Richard Browne. Returned for Newtown, Isle of Wight, in 1593, by Sir George Carey, captain of the island, he was appointed to committees concerned with removing benefit of clergy from rapists (8 Mar), the subsidy (13 Mar), maimed soldiers (24 Mar) and the assize of timber (5 Apr). Browne was again returned in 1601, presumably through the influence of someone at court, but as there were five Brownes and two Richard Brownes in this Parliament it is again impossible to be sure about his contributions to the business of the House. On 12 Nov, when he intervened on a point of procedure, he was considerately described as ‘one Mr. Browne, clerk comptroller to the Queen’s household’, but the journalist does not keep it up. On balance the following appear to belong to Browne. There were speeches or minor interventions on privilege for servants of Members (19 Nov), the shilling fine for recusants (20 Nov), and the bill for suppressing alehouses (10 Dec). On this last subject he had a personal interest, for Sir Walter Ralegh had once made over to him his right to sell licences to keep taverns. He was ordered to suspend these operations in 1589 and produce his records for inspection by the Privy Council. In his speech of 10 Dec he objected to the proposal that justices should license the sale of wine:

"This would be a wrong to divers licences which are made by patentees of her Majesty and a beggaring of all vintners. And he that now keeps an inn, if he pleases not the justices, he shall be turned out."

It was probably he who spoke (14 Dec) on the denization of a fishmonger called Questor, and was appointed to distribute the collection for the poor at the end of the session (17 Dec). On the very last day (19 Dec) the journalist relents and describes him as ‘Mr. Browne of the court’ in a debate on the responsibility for pregnant maidservants. Browne thought

"the woman is to be relieved, and the child also, where it is gotten, for their masters may look better to them, than let their servants be so lewd. And therefore this coming by his negligence, or want of care, or perhaps by his too much familiarity with his servants, I see no reason but he in whose house the child is gotten should be charged with both."

In addition to these speeches, membership of two committees can reasonably be attributed to Browne: fairs and markets on Sundays (4 Dec) and a matter of privilege (17 Dec).

Having been confirmed in office as a Household official by James I, Browne took his seat in Parliament for the last time in 1604, as Member for the new borough of Harwich. Shortly afterwards, while making ‘a vehement speech’ about the composition of purveyors, he collapsed and died ‘by the rupture of a vein’. He was buried the same month, May 1604, aged 65, at St. Nicholas’s, Deptford, near his home at Sayes Court. A monument in the church briefly records his achievements. Neither will nor inquisition post mortem has been found. His widow lived until Nov 1618, his heir being their son Christopher.


M.R.P.: BROWNE, Richard II (c.1538-1604), of Horsley, Essex; later of Sayes Court, Deptford, Kent.

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