Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Browne, Richard (1605-1683)

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BROWNE, Sir RICHARD (1605–1683), diplomatist, born in 1605, was the only son of Christopher Browne of Sayes Court, Deptford, and Thomasine Gonson, whose father and grandfather, Benjamin and William Gonson, had been treasurers of the navy. The father of Christopher, Sir Richard Browne, knight, was in the service of the Earl of Leicester while governor of the Netherlands, and held the appointment of clerk of the green cloth under Elizabeth and James I. Richard Browne was educated at Merton College, Oxford. After travelling on the continent, and especially, as it would seem, in France, he returned to England, and was sworn clerk of the council to King Charles I on 27 Jun. 1640–1. In the same year he was sent on two diplomatic missions, to the Queen of Bohemia and the Elector Palatine, and to Henry Frederick, prince of Orange. In July 1641 Browne entered on the chief occupation of his life, being at that date appointed king's resident at the court of France, in succession to the Earl of Leicester. This appointment he held for no less than nineteen ycars, acting as the representative both of Charles I and of his exiled son. Browne was a staunch royalist, and has he loyalty was thoroughly tried. During the whole of his diplomatic career in France he seems to have been practically obliged to give his services gratuitously. More than once he is found writing anxiously for some payment of his allowances, while on one occasion he complained bitterly that he had not even ‘the wherewithal to provide himself out of mourning a new coat and liveries.’ The sum due to him for his allowance as resident was stated, after the Restoration, to amount to 19,732l., of which only 7,668l. had been paid or deducted as a fine on the lease to him of Sayes Court. An attempt made in 1649 by Augier, ‘the agent for the rebels,' to bribe the king’s resident if he would ‘serve the new state, and discover what came to his knowledge of the Louvre councils,' was, however, indignantly repelled. ‘I replied,' wrote Browne at the time, ‘that I took it very ill that he or any should dare to make any such overture to me . . . that I held his masters the most execrable villains that were ever upon the face of the earth, and that if his majesty—now that I had spent my whole estate in this my last eight years’ service—were neither able nor willing to use me, I would retire into some remote, cheap corner of the world, where, feeding only upon bread and water, I and mine would hourly pray for his majesty’s re-establishment.’ But probably Browne’s greatest service in the eyes of the royalists was his maintenance of the public service and liturgy of the church of England during the exile of the English king. In his large house in Paris, Browne erected a chapel which was much frequented by many well-known English divines and other exiles. On the Trinity Sunday of 1650 John Evelyn was present at a service in this chapel, when the ordination took place of two Englishmen—Durell, afterwards dean of Windsor, and Brevint, afterwards dean of Durham; the Bishop of Galloway officiated, and the sermon was preached the Dean of Peterborough. It is recorded that divers bishops, doctors of the church, and others who found an asylum in Browne’s house at Paris, were accustomed, in their disputes with papists and sectaries, at a time when the church of England seemed utterly lost, ‘to argue for the visibility of the church,' solely from the existence of Browne’s chapel and congregation. About 1652–3 Browne also purchased a piece of ground for the interment of protestants who died in or near Paris.

A selection from Browne's correspondence has been published in the appendix to Bray's edition of Evelyn‘s ‘Diary and Correspondence;’ the most important portion of it consists of the letters which passed privately between himself and Sir Edward Hyde (afterwards Earl of Clarendon), principally from February 1652 to August 1659. In the correspondence very frequent mention is made of the ‘prizes' captured, after the death of Charles I, by the privateers of Scilly and Jersey. Those islands being then in the hands of the parliamentary forces, the freebooters were compelled to bring their prizes into the ports of France, and, in return for the sanction of the royal commission, were called upon to pay certain dues into the exchequer of the exiled English king (see Bray's notes to the Hyde and Browne Correspondence in vol. iv. of Evelyn). In the collection of these dues Charles experienced great difficulties, and from the close of 1652 to 1654 Browne was actively engaged in Brittany, at Brest and Nantes, endeavouring to collect the sums owing to the king. On 1 Sept. 1649 Browne had been created a baronet by Charles II, in virtue of a dormant warrant sent to him by Charles I in February 1643. On 19 Sept. 1649 he had also received from Charles II the honour of knighthood.

At the Restoration the king's resident returned to England, landing at Dover 4 June 1660. He continued to hold office as clerk of the council until January 1671–2. The remainder of his life was spent (according to Wood, Fasti Oxon.) at Charlton in Kent, where he passed his time ‘in a pleasant retiredness and studions recess.' For some few months before his decease he suffered from gout and dropsy, and died on 12 Feb. 1682–3, at Sayes Court, Deptford. He was buried in the churchyard of St. Nicholas, Deptford, his funeral being attended by the brethren of the Trinity corporation, of which he had been master, Browne married Elizabeth, daughter of Sir John Prettyman of Dryheld in Gloucestershire. Their only daughter, Mary, became the wife of the well-known John Evelyn.

The Sir Richard Browne of this article should he carefully distinguished from Alderman Sir Richard Browne (d. 1669) [q. v.]

[Evelyn's Diary and Correspondence (ed. Bray) passim and Browne's Correspondence thereto subjoined; Monumental Inscriptions at Deptford, printed in Lysons`s Environs of London, vol. iv.; Wood's Fasti (Bliss). pt. i. pp. 439–40; Calender of State Papers, Domestic, especially from 1640–1 to 1663.]

W. W.