Wednesday, May 16, 2012



Every now and then I get a crazy urge to dive once more into the great puzzle of our Quaker Brownes.

It’s crazy because better minds than mine have attempted this impossible task, and I suspect eventually thrown up their hands in despair.  Take my word for it, trying to untangle the various Browne’s who graced the pages of England’s history in the 1500’s and 1600’s is a bit like piecing together a giant jigsaw on a slanted board, the pieces keep sliding off the edge.

As was the custom in those troubled days of English history nearly all the Browne’s I researched evolved from, and created for themselves large families.  Not all these numerous sons of similar names featured prominently in archival records, some became mired in nondescript domesticity  with only a few leaving behind factual pin points in the pages of history.

A major problem with my Quakers Browne rests squarely on the identity of one lady, and to find her I must first find the correct Browne family from long ago England.

And that is where the jigsaw puzzle becomes downright annoying.

You see generations of researchers before me all latched onto a certain lass called Mary Master, daughter of the renowned Knight Sir William Master of Cirencester  as our first Quaker’s bride. 

And they were all barking up the wrong tree.


Remember those first Quakers in the story of my Grandfather, Bertie Brown, the American from Indiana who left home in his teens, adopted another name and persona, married my Grandmother in Fiji and lived a most un-Quaker like life in Australia...

For centuries now his ancestors, all of them my ancestors, lived with the assumption that our first Quaker, Richard Browne married Mary Master, daughter of the renowned knight Sir William Master, in Cirencester some time around 1644. This union gave us entree to some fascinating ancestors all the way back to the Plantagenet’s.

There was however always the small hiccup over Richard’s father John, and grandfather Francis.  I know because whenever I tried to prove the ongoing provenance of these men I came to a grinding halt. 

That didn’t seem to bother other amateur historians though, they merely hurdled over the mystery men and latched on to various other rather interesting families that might, just might be ours.

And no doubt to match the illustrious Master family, those well meaning but ill informed scribes from an earlier era supplied hints that Richard Browne of Puddington (actually Podington) came from well to do stock.

In that respect I think he probably did.  But together with a number of  other modern day amateur historians I had lingering doubts about the actual identity of his wife,  my g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-Grandmother.

The early history of the Browne's was first presented by early American members of the family way back in the 1700’s when family history was largely word of mouth and the tyranny of distance, both in time and sea miles was considerable.

The first mention of our Quaker's Browne origin should be attributed to grandsons, George Churchman and William Brown who returned from a visit back to the Olde Country in 1752 and mentioned that they met ‘many members at the meetings of Friends in the town of Luton who were descendants from the stock of Browns... and carried their name.’

When these 18th Century grandsons of the American branch of the Browne Quaker family made the trip back to England in the mid 1700’s they reported meeting with cousins in both Luton and Wellingborough. 
Which wasn’t at all strange, after all when William Snr and James Browne emigrated to the new colonies they left behind four brothers and two sisters. One brother, Daniel, would be listed on a number of occasions in UK Archives of the late 1600’s appearing in various courts for his non-conformist religious beliefs, he too was a Quaker.

The two intrepid travellers brought back stories of their distant relations but lacked detail. No actual mention was made of Richard’s wife. 

Later George Churchman would publish his journal the contents of which would be presented to and ‘accepted and read at the monthly meeting held at East Nottingham on the 28th of the 1st mouth. 1786, and being approved, was allowed to be entered on record in the book for births and burials, belonging to said monthly meeting; as it was apprehended to contain some profitable memorandums concerning the pious ancestors of many living in these parts.’

Yet another descendent,  a 3rd generation William Browne (the same first name crops up again and again!) who actually descended from James,  recalled various conversations he had with the American Patriarch William but one or the other managed to incorrectly name the first English Quaker of our family as William instead of Richard. 

This early historian stated that a Northamptonshire farmer, (the one incorrectly identified as William,) was convinced by a travelling Quaker who began his testimony with the words, "O Earth! Earth! Hear the word of the Lord." Later, that same travelling Quaker, William Dewsbury, prophesied prosperity in America, and between 1677 and 1684, two of the farmer's sons immigrated across the sea to the new America.  The two sons of course were William and James Brown.

Later still Gilbert Cope in his book The Browns of Nottingham (1864) would write...
‘(Richard) was some time in communion with the Baptists, afterwards joining a sect called Puritans, and was convinced as a Quaker by William Dewsbury.    He had six sons and two daughters, some of whom remained in England and removed to Bedfordshire, where his great-grandson William, who was in England in 1752 mentioned that the members of the meetings of Friends in the town of Luton, Bedfordshire were many of them of that name, or descendants from, that stock of Browns Lived in later years in the village of Poddington, Northamptonshire, England’.
That was more like it, though he left out one daughter. 
But none of these early scribes actually named the Great many times removed Grandmother as Mary Master.  That error came later as 20th Century researchers began compiling their histories from various sources they failed to double check.


Over the years I kept trying to solve the mystery.  I looked at the young Browne family belonging to the original Richard,  their births well documented, and noted the names of the three daughters,  Elizabeth, Joanne and Marjorie.
Wouldn’t a mother wish to pass on her own name, or failing that perhaps her mother’s or even her grandmother’s.

But there was no Mary, and no Alice who was after all Mary Master’s mother.

Just the three names Elizabeth, Joanne and Marjorie.

I was probably just as guilty as all the other researchers who latched onto the Masters family and wouldn’t let go.  I too fell in love with the detailed history of the Masters and that of Mary’s mother, Alice Estcourt who left such a marvellously intriguing family to follow.  Families that danced in and out of court intrigue and could so easily claim mention in the Doomsday Book for instance, or even family allegiance to the Plantagenet’s.

In my defence, and no doubt for all the others as well, I can explain the confusion.  The lady Mary Master did indeed marry a Richard Browne, but the gentleman, himself well documented in early archives, was not our Richard Browne.

The Richard who married into the prominent Cirencester Master family was himself a gentleman of legal bent and was known in history as Richard Browne Esquire of The Leigh.

No doubt some fellow descendents of the Quaker Brown brothers James and William, will be both bewildered and even disbelieving about this huge bombshell that has fallen on our early history, but the proof is there for all to see, tucked away in the burgeoning official archives of early English records.  For a start Mary Masters husband Richard Browne was still alive in 1681.  The Quaker Richard died in 1662.

Our Richard was a man of diverse religious persuasion, persecuted for his beliefs by the unbending laws of the land, descended from men whose wealth was amassed through trade and barter, a man who had seen better times but at his death was struggling to maintain his young family in rented property with limited means, the family bowed under by persecution.

Burkes Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry states that Mary Master of Cirencester, daughter of Sir Wm Masters, married Richard Browne Esq of The Leigh, Hasfield, Gloucestershire with his name figuring in the National Archives of Wills etc in the period to the 1680’s in close connection with the heirs of his wife’s large family.
D2957/79/2 17 February 1672.

Contents:  Grant of letters of administration by the P.C.C. to Thomas Master (knight) son and principal heir in the goods of William Masters of Cirencester, since the executors, William Jordan, Richard Morgan junior, Richard Browne and Richard Estcourt refuse to serve.
20th December 1681.

Mary Master’s mother was Alice Estcourt, kinswoman to one of the four executors of Sir William Master’s last Will and Testament, Richard Estcourt.

Our Quaker Richard Browne is known to have died in 1662 and was reputedly the first person to be buried in the Wellingborough Quaker Cemetery.  Somewhat difficult then for him to participate 20 years later in legal matters.

While this little gem uncovered by my daughter Jenny now living in Ecuador, settles once and for all the denial of any Master’s connection to our family, it opens yet another kettle of worms.  Who was our 9 times removed Great Granny?


I gathered all the clues I could to Richard’s birth.  Some sources said he was born in Sywell, others that he was born in Bedford but moved later elsewhere, then there was the constant mention of his father John, a Justice of the Peace in Luton.

I then looked at the names of other Quakers in those early days, families who had been influenced by the same Dewsbury, Fox and Penn.  Some of the names popped up besides that of various Brownes, men with the given names of Richard,  William, Thomas and John.  Some were evidence of apprenticeships to these Browne men... a young Embree was one such name.

Many seemed to be centred in the same general area of Moule, Luton, Sywell, Podington and Wellingborough...and even in Tolethorpe, only marginally distant from the towns already mentioned.

One family however did present an historical tree that included the three names of prominent males mentioned in our early records of the American Quaker brothers, James and William Browne.

Richard, the son of John Browne, who in turn was the son of Francis Browne.  All these particular family members around, alive and kicking in the appropriate part of England and in the marginally correct time frame.

The following family tree is probably going to bore some of my readers, but it’s a necessary part of this struggle to part the curtains of history... maybe, just maybe this is the Brown trail we all hope to find, the one that will eventually and accurately connect to the Quaker Browns of early America.

b 1349 John Browne
D 1379
B1380 John Browne, draper. Merchant of Staple Calais. Ald 1414,1422 & 1427. Built All Saints
D 1442 Church where interred, still standing at 1862.
M 1442 m Margery b 1382 d 1460.
William 1st son died without heir, estate to nephew Christopher, son of John
B 1426 John Browne 2nd son: wool merchant
D 1462
M 1438 m Agnes
B 1457 Christopher. Sheriff Rutland, supported Edw 1V. Bosworth Field with Henry V11
D 1516 Henry V111 issued son Francis patent appear before king with head uncovered.
Will proved London 1518.
m 1479 1st Grace Pinchbeck 2nd Agnes Bedginfield 3 Elizabeth.
B 1476 Francis
D 1550 m Margaret Mathew of Bradden
B 1523 Anthony Sheriff Rutland in time of Q Mary & Q Elizabeth: Had 5 sons, 2 da.
D 1590 m Dorothy Boteler da of Phillip son Robert, dissenter.
B 1587 Francis Inherited Tolethorpe on death of Anthony
M1614 m Lucie Macworth of Empingham, sister Thomas Mackworth, Normanton
D 1633
B 1587 John
M 1614 m Mary Quarles b 1594, Romford Essex. Da James Quarle & Joane Dalton.
D 1633
B 1625 Richard Browne
M 1644 m Margery (Mary) Mooy b 1632, da Elija Moye & Eliza Holston
D 1662

I became particularly excited about this family for one outstanding reason, the names of Richard Browne’s maternal grandparents, James Quarle and Joane Dalton... and that of Margery Mooy’s mother Eliza Holston.

Those three names stand out in Richard of Poddington’s own family...

The Browne children, Johanna born in 1653, and James born in 1656, named perhaps in honour of their paternal grandmother’s own parents..and Elizabeth born in 1655, to honour her grandmother Eliza.


If this Tolethorpe family should prove to be part of our early English heritage then we should take pride in their achievements. 

Early Browne’s of Tolethorpe were merchants and town Aldermen.  Later the family became involved in the wool trade, and one, Christopher born in 1457 a Sheriff of Rutland, even supported King Edward 4th and Henry 7th in major battles.  Another son Francis Browne received the honour of King Henry 8th’s patent to appear before him with his head uncovered.

Which I guess was a lot kinder than attempting to remove it.

Before the time of the Tudors, another of this branch of the family, William Browne who was born in 1410 became one of England’s wealthiest men, his real estate holdings and business dealings so massive he would be held in awe by billionaire land lords of today.  He figured prominently in the affairs of the Crown and Government but is best known for the charitable hospitals and Alms houses he created in the 1470’s.  One of these hospitals is still in existence today.

When this William died without male heir the estate passed to his nephew Christopher, the one who distinguished himself on Bosworth Field.

But all this honour and glory was in the past.  By the time of Elizabeth’s ascent to the Tudor throne various members of the Browne dynasty had begun to question the religion of the Church of England.

One son of the Tolethorpe Browne’s, Robert, even established his own sect.


Tolethorpe Hall, 1684, an illustration from Wright's
"The History and Antiquities of Rutland, 1684"
Showing its small medieval windows later replaced during a Victorian restoration.

The Tolethorpe’s do indeed fit the bill,  but there is a stumbling block that has yet to be hurdled.

If we slavishly follow the early historians who in each and every memorandum stated that Richard was the son of John of Luton, grandson of Francis, then we may have reached yet another impasse.

John Brown of the Tolethorpe family married Mary Quarles in 1614 and they produced a large family.  But John was declared a lunatic, which didn’t stop his production of family but did necessitate his estate be managed by other close relations.

His wife Mary was apparently a woman and mother of great determination with an abiding love for her children.  She worried so much about their future she wrote a will, it’s content and added codicil so unusual for that day it has been preserved for posterity.

In her will dated 10th May 1634 she detailed the inheritance left to each of her children, but most surprising she detailed her second son Christopher, aged 12 at the time to be an executor of her estate.

She also left a codicil directed to her son Christopher... 

‘My councell and advice to you as to choose yor loving uncle Sir Robert Quarles to be yor guardian who was true loving and faithfull to me and I am assured would be to you.  And as god hath allotted a farr larger portion to you then to all other brothers and sisters so be you loving and respectfull to them and in so doing you shall doubtless please both God and all good men.   And so fairwell dear sonne once yor loving mother, Mary Browne.’


Unfortunately there is no Richard mentioned in her will, nor is their space within the time frame for his birth.

Loath to lose this family tie so accommodating with given names, I can only suggest that perhaps Richard may have been an illegitimate child of the mentally incapable but otherwise healthy John Browne of Tolethorpe,  or perhaps he may have been born to another of the extended Tolethorpe family, another son or nephew named John Browne.

And so the great puzzle rests, but on Marjory, and not Mary...perhaps on Tolethorpe, but not on Cirencester.

Robyn Mortimer ©2012

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