Sir Anthony Browne 1487-1548

by Clare Mccan

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Sir Anthony Browne, a long-serving courtier and confidant of Henry VIII, is a figure of considerable interest in Surrey. He was the only son of Sir Anthony Browne of Betchworth and knew Henry VIII from childhood.

His first official appointment was in 1518 and he was knighted in 1522. Several missions to France for the King followed. After the break from Rome in 1536 there were uprisings known as The Pilgrimage of Grace. The King sent Sir Anthony, amongst others, to suppress the protests and, perhaps in part, to test his loyalty. Browne, a life-long Catholic, did not fail the King.

In 1537 he played an important role in the christening of the future King Edward VI. Browne was elected to parliament as Knight of the Shire for Surrey in 1539 and was also appointed Master of the King’s Horse. In the same year, he took on responsibility for the lands, formerly Newark Priory, the ruins of which lie between Ripley and Pyrford. Other properties which passed to Browne were the chapel and vicarage of St Mary Magdalene in Ripley, also included was Newark Mill, various local farms and The George Inn.

In 1540 he was made a Knight of the Garter and given ownership of Battle Abbey and the Priory of St Mary Overy in Southwark, both confiscated in 1538 as part of the dissolution of the monasteries. The house which he built at Southwark was for generations the London residence of the Viscounts Montague. More locally, in 1544, he acquired the Manors of Send, Jury and East Clandon.

In 1536 Henry VIII seized West Horsley Place and gave it to Henry Courtenay but, following his beheading for plotting, ownership reverted to the King and later it was given to Sir Anthony Browne. He only managed to enjoy the house for a couple of years, as he died in 1548 but his descendants continued to own significant lands in Surrey for over 150 years. In 1712 they were sold by the 5th Viscount Montague to the Onslows.

It is worth noting that Sir Anthony had retained Henry’s trust to the end – no mean feat for the times. During the king’s last illness, Browne took responsibility for telling the King of his approaching end. Henry appointed him guardian to Prince Edward and Princess Elizabeth, made him one of his executors, and left him a legacy. On the King's death, Browne broke the news to the young Prince, and when he, now Edward VI, made his public entry into London, Browne rode beside him. Browne survived Henry VIII by only one year and died at his house at Byfleet on 6th July 1548. He was buried with great pomp at Battle, under a splendid altar tomb which he had prepared himself. Although he is buried in Sussex, Sir Anthony Browne was a son of Surrey, a distinguished courtier and statesman and deserves to be remembered as part of the county’s cultural heritage.

NB. ‘Letters Patent’ – granting the Manor of Send and Ripley to Sir Anthony has survived with its splendid royal seal and can be seen at the Surrey History Centre in Woking.

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