Browne, George

, the first bishop that embraced and promoted the Reformation in Ireland, was originally an Austin friar of London. He received his academical education in the house of his order, near Halywell, in Oxford, and becoming eminent for his learning and other good qualities, was made provincial of the Austin monks in England. In 1523 he supplicated the university for the degree of B. D. but it does not appear that he was then admitted. He took afterwards the degree of D. D. in some university beyond sea, and was incorporated in the same degree at Oxford, in 1534, and soon after at Cambridge. Before that time, having read some of Luther’s writings, he took a liking to his doctrine; and, among other things, was wont to inculcate into the people, “That they should make their applications solely to Christ, and not to the Virgin Mary, or the saints.” King Henry VIII. being informed of this, took him into his favour, and promoted him to the archbishopric of Dublin, to which he was consecrated March 19, 1534-5, by Cranmer, archbishop of Canterbury, assisted by the bishops of Rochester and Salisbury. A few months after his arrival in Ireland, the lord privy-seal, Cromwell, signified to him that his majesty having renounced the Papal supremacy in England, it was his highness’ s pleasure that his subjects of Ireland should obey his commands in that respect as in England, and nominated him one of the commissioners for the execution thereof. On November 28, 1535, he acquainted the lord Cromwell with his success; telling him that he had “endeavoured, almost to the danger and hazard of his life, to procure the nobility and gentry of the Irish nation to due obedience, in owning the king their supreme head, as-well spiritual as temporal.” In the parliament which met at Dublin, May l, 1536, he was very instrumental in having the Act for the king’s supremacy over the church of Ireland passed; but he met with many obstacles in the execution of it; and the court of Rome used every effort to prevent any alterations in Ireland with regard to religious matters; for this purpose the pope sent over a bull of excommunication against all such as had ownedj or should own, the king’s supremacy within that kingdom, and the form of an oath of obedience to be taken to his holiness, at confessions. Endeavours were even used to raise a rebellion there; for one Thady é Birne, a Franciscan friar, being seized by archbishop Browne’s order, letters were | found about him, from the pope and cardinals to O’Neal; in which, after commending his own and his father’s faithfulness to the church of Rome, he was exhorted “for the glory of the mother church, the honour of St. Peter, and his own security, to suppress heresie, and his holiness’s enemies.” And the council of cardinals thought fit to encourage his country, as a sacred island, being certain while mother church had a son of worth as himself, and those that should succour him and join therein, she would never fall, but have more or less a holding in Britain in spite of fate. In pursuance of this letter, O’Neal began to declare himself the champion of Popery; and having entered into a confederacy with others, they jointly invaded the Pale, and committed several ravages, but were soon after quelled. About the time that king Henry VIII. began to suppress the monasteries in England and Ireland, archbishop Browne completed his design of removing all superstitious reliques and images out of the two cathedrals of St. Patrick’s and the Holy Trinity, in Dublin, and out of the rest of the churches within his diocese, and in their room placed the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments in gold letters. And in 1541, the king having converted the priory of the Holy Trinity into a cathedral church, consisting of a dean and chapter, our archbishop founded three prebends in the same in 1544, namely, St. Michael’s, St. John’s, and St. Michan’s, from which time it has generally been known by the name of Christ-church. King Edward VI. having caused the Liturgy to be published in English, sent an order to sir Anthony St. Leger, governor of Ireland, dated February 6, 1550-1, to notify to all the clergy of that kingdom, that they should use this book in all their churches, and the Bible in the vulgar tongue. When sir Anthony imparted this order to the clergy (on the 1st of March), it was vehemently opposed by the Popish party, especially by George Dowdall, primate of Armagh, but archbishop Browne received it with the utmost satisfaction; and on Easter-day following the Liturgy was read, for the first time within Ireland, in Christ -church, Dublin, in presence of the mayor and bailiffs of that city, the lord deputy St. Leger, archbishop Browne, &c. On this occasion the archbishop preached a sermon against keeping the Scriptures in the Latin tongue, and the worship of images, which is printed at the end of his life, and is the only part of his writings | extant, except the letters mentioned above .*


In this sermon, speaking of the Jesuits, archbishop Browne says: “God shall suddenly cut off this society, even by the hand of those who have most succoured them, so that at the end they shall become odious to all nations, They shall have no resting-place upon earth, and a Jew shall have more favour than a Jesuit.” This has not escaped that acute biographer, rev. R. Churton, “Lives of the Founders,” p. 77.

But Dowdall, in consequence of his violent and unseasonable opposition to the king’s order, was deprived of the title of primate of all Ireland, which, by letters patent bearing date the 20th of October, 1551, was conferred on archbishop Browne, and his successors in the see of Dublin for ever. However, he did not long enjoy this dignity, for he was deprived both of it and his archbishopric in 1*554, the first of queen Mary I. under pretence that he was married, but in truth because he had zealously promoted the Reformation; and archbishop Dowdall, who had lived in exile during part of the reign of king Edward VI. recovered the title of primate, and also the archbishopric of Armagh, which had been given to Hugh Goodacre. While archbishop Browne enjoyed the see of Dublin, the cathedral of St. Patrick’s was suppressed for about the space of eight years; but queen Mary restored it to its ancient dignity, towards the end of the year 1554. The exact time of archbishop Browne’s death is not recorded; only we are told that he died about the year 1556. He was a man, says Usher, of a cheerful countenance; meek and peaceable: in his acts and deeds plain and downright; of good parts, and very stirring in what he judged to be for the interest of religion, or the service of his king; merciful and compassionate to the poor and miserable; and adorned with every good and valuable qualification. 1

Biog. Brit.—Life and Sermon in Phenix, vol. I.—Harleian Miscellany.— Strype’s Cranmer, p. 57, 978.—Ath. Ox. vol. I.