Book Review Rutland Local History & Record Society Researching Rutland	Registered Charity No 700273
Alan Rogers Abramis Publishing 2012: ISBN 9781845485503 360pp, £19.95 This work is the culmination of the author’s long association with the study of the history of Stamford. Despite its title, it is not a biography of William Browne. The sources do not permit that. Rather it is a distillation of the key developments of the history of the town focused around the activities of its most prominent resident, known to us through his foundation of Browne’s Hospital. The task which Professor Rogers set himself was not easy. Unfortunately, little remains of the town’s official records from the period, and the author has been painstaking in tracking down relevant material from a considerable number of archives. From this he has produced what is likely to prove a definitive reconstruction of the political, social and economic history of fifteenth-century Stamford. By this time the town had declined somewhat from its economic position in the earlier middle ages. However, it remained an important settlement during much of the period under consideration not least because of its links to the Yorkist dynasty, one of whose power bases was at nearby Fotheringhay. Matters came to a head in 1450 and 1452 when, prior to the outbreak of the Wars of the Roses, there were disturbances in the town in favour of the Duke of York and against King Henry VI. Browne managed to distance himself from this discontent, though he was shrewd enough to ensure that he kept clear of trouble through the insurance policy of taking out a pardon. Browne himself prospered as a result of a successful business career. Beginning as a draper, his subsequent position as a significant wool exporter was embodied in his membership of the Calais Staple, an organisation of some 250-300 merchants, whose position was pivotal both to the economic wellbeing of the country and to the royal finances. The Company funded military expeditions to France and in 1466 it took over responsibility for paying directly for the Crown’s garrison at Calais, then still in English hands. Browne clearly took great pride in both his Stamford connections and in his membership of and status within the Company, being described invariably in official documents as either ‘merchant of Stamford’ or ‘merchant of the Calais Staple’. Through exporting, property rentals and money lending Browne clearly became a person of considerable influence, not only in Stamford but much further afield. In fact, Browne had sought to restrict his local office holding. He had secured an exemption from public office holding in 1439, presumably to enable him to prioritise his business interests. Nevertheless, he did serve in an impressive range of offices, not only in the town but also in the wider community: alderman of the town, sheriff of both Lincolnshire and Rutland, a Rutland JP, and a lay subsidy assessor. Moreover, he was adroit enough to have held office through all of the monarchical regimes in the troubled 1480s. However, it is as a public benefactor that he is still remembered in Stamford, through the foundation and endowment of Browne’s Hospital, in reality an almshouse. In addition, he contributed to the rebuilding of All Saints church and paid for the hall of the Gild of St Katherine. Professor Rogers details these matters with great skill and erudition, interweaving the institutional with the personal wherever the sources permit. He is particularly effective in reconstructing Browne’s familial relations, especially his long and apparently happy marriage to Margaret. However, the main significance of this book will be its significant contribution to the economic and social history of England in the fifteenth century as a result of the detailed examination of a wide range of often intractable sources. Historians, both local and national, will be in his debt. Mike Tillbrook
Noble Merchant: William Browne (c1410-1489) and Stamford in the Fifteenth Century