Browne, Robert (1550-1633)

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Robert Browne of Tolethorpe in Rutland County, England was the father of the idea of Independentism, i.e., a religion independent of the state, which became reality in England in Congregationalism. He possessed a passionate, impulsive nature of rare gifts, and was descended from a respected family. At first he was a clergyman in the state church, and then joined the Puritans. Under his leading the first Separatist church arose in Norwich in 1580.

The ideas defended by Browne, such as the independence of the church from the state and the selection of preachers from the congregation, are related to Anabaptist principles. He himself declared that he and his followers were called Anabaptists. Perhaps he had connections with the Dutch who were then staying in Norwich and were later condemned as Anabaptists. Complete independence from them is impossible. Without doubt the Dutch colony in Norwich had great influence upon the establishing of the first Congregationalist church, and Browne must have borrowed his ideas from Anabaptism. His motto was no longer a purification of the church but a separation from it; i.e., the separation of religious matters from state control. With clearness of principle and fiery progagandistic zeal he presented these modern ideas in his preaching and writing. In the fall of 1581 he immigrated to Middelburg, Dutch province of Zeeland, with his little congregation, but returned in 1583 after much strife.

This was the end of his historic career. He was reconciled with the state church. In the village Achurch (bishopric of Peterborough) he lived 40 years longer. His apparently characterless submission to the state church, although he held the same ideas as before, is explained by the fact that after his imprisonment in 1585 he was mentally abnormal.


Burrage, Champlin. The true story of Robert Browne (1550?-1633) father of Congregationalism : including various points hitherto unknown or misunderstood: with some account of the development of his religious views : and an extended and improved list of his writings / by Champlin Burrage. Oxford : H. Frowde, 1906.

Burrage, Champlin. "Robert Browne and the First English Congregational Church." The Early English Dissenters. London, 1912: I, 94-117.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe; Schneider, 1913-1967: v. I, 275.

Hoop Scheffer J. G. de and W. E. Griffis. History of the Free churchmen called the Brownists, Pilgrim fathers and Baptists in the Dutch republic, 1581-1701. Ithaca, NY: Andrus & Church, 1922.

Powicke, Frederick James. Robert Browne: pioneer of modern Congregationalism. London: Congregational Union of England & Wales, Inc., 1910?

Selbie, W. B. "Robert Browne and the Brownists." in Congregationalism. London, 1927: Chapter II.

Author(s) E. M. ten Cate
Date Published 1953

Cite This Article

MLA style

Cate, E. M. ten. "Browne, Robert (1550-1633)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web. 22 Jun 2021.,_Robert_(1550-1633)&oldid=144019.

APA style

Cate, E. M. ten. (1953). Browne, Robert (1550-1633). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 22 June 2021, from,_Robert_(1550-1633)&oldid=144019.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, p. 440. All rights reserved.

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