Book Review Rutland Local History & Record Society Researching Rutland	Registered Charity No 700273
By pupils of Ryhall CE Primary School and John Haden Published by Barny Books ISBN: 978-1-906542-61-0 This volume represents the work of the pupils in Years 5 and 6 from Ryhall Church of England Primary School who have explored in depth the life of local hero or villain (delete as appropriate), Robert Browne. Browne was a member of what had been in the fifteenth century Stamford’s most prominent family, and was a descendant of Christopher Browne, who had set himself up as a member of the landed gentry at Tolethorpe Hall, just outside the town.  Born around 1550, he was educated at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and, the pupils suggest, came under the influence of the distinguished radical theologian, Thomas Cartwright, whose lectures he attended. Browne’s unwillingness to seek ordination after his graduation suggests that his views seem already to have been radicalised and, after a spell of teaching, he returned to the Cambridge area in 1578. It was clear that by then Browne had become one of that small number of Elizabethans who had rejected both the royal supremacy and the authority of bishops, believing that each congregation should control its own affairs. He moved to Norwich, where along with another Cambridge graduate, Robert Harrison, he developed the concept of separatism, ‘Brownism’ as it became known to contemporaries. He attracted the hostility of Bishop Freke of Norwich, who sought the assistance of Browne’s relative, Elizabeth’s chief minister Lord Burghley, to curb his activities. Browne was certainly lucky that Burghley was able to intervene on his behalf. (In contrast, his fellow separatists Henry Barrow and John Greenwood would be executed in 1593). When the going in Norwich became too tough Browne and Harrison decamped to Middelburg in the Netherlands, which already had a reputation for accommodating religious radicals from England. The pupils have done particularly well in piecing together Browne’s activities in Middlelburg, including the publishing of radical tracts; Browne fared better than two of those, Elias Thacker and John Copping, who tried to sell his books in England. They were executed. It was perhaps in the nature of separatism that disputes should arise among its practitioners. After one such dispute in Middleburg, Browne and Harrison decided to try their luck in Scotland, where Browne hopelessly misjudged the situation. Scottish Presbyterians might have shared his theological views; they did not, however, share his views on church organisation and, after a short period of imprisonment, Browne left the country and returned to England. After once again falling foul of the authorities, Brown was in effect given the choice of conforming to the Church of England or remaining in prison. To the dismay of his followers he chose conformity, and for a time he contented himself with teaching at St.Olave’s School in Southwark. However, London was a centre of gathered separate congregations, to which Browne naturally gravitated. In the circumstances Burghley thought it expedient to get him out of London. Fortunately for Browne, his brother was able to present him to the living of Little Casterton, so, for a short time, he returned home, before moving to the living of Achurch cum Thorpe Waterville in Northamptonshire, a living which was in Burghley’s gift. Quite how conscientiously he fulfilled his duties as a country parson must remain a matter of conjecture; the pupils suggest that much of the time he was ministering unofficially to a gathered congregation in Thorpe Waterville. He retained the living of Achurch for over forty years. Sadly, however, the end of his tenure in 1633 was touched by tragedy. Arrested at the age of around of 83, he seems virtually to have welcomed imprisonment. Perhaps he looked forward to some sort of martyrdom. Certainly, by the reign of Charles I the Church of England in general, and perhaps the diocese of Peterborough in particular, was no place for a man of Browne’s views. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, imprisonment for a man of his years proved fatal. Browne remains a significant figure in the Elizabethan Church. As the acknowledged founder of separatism, he spawned a force which would become powerful on both sides of the Atlantic. It was his fellow separatists who established the colony of Massachusetts in 1620 and, for a short time during the Cromwellian period, separatism, or independency as it became known, was the dominant religious strain in Cromwellian England. Browne was thus a very significant Rutlander. The children of Ryhall Primary School have done him an excellent service in re-asserting the importance of his career. In the process they have shown just how valuable the study of local history can be in developing the historical imaginations of the young, especially in demonstrating how important the interaction can be between the local, the national and, indeed in this case, the international. Mike Tillbrook
‘Troublechurch’ Browne of Tolethorpe and the Separatist Movement