The Brownists were followers of Robert Browne who was born at Tolethorpe Hall in Rutland, England in about 1550.


There had been early advocates of a congregational form of organization for the Church of England, in the time of Henry VIII. When, on the re-establishment of the Anglican Church, after Mary's reign, it became clear that the English government had other plans, they looked towards setting up a separate church.

Browne's leadership

By 1580 Browne had become a leader in this movement and attempted to set up a separate Congregational Church in Norwich, Norfolk, England. He was arrested but released on the advice of William Cecil, his kinsman. Browne and his companions were obliged to leave England and moved to Middelburg in the Netherlands in 1581.


They are briefly mentioned in Shakespeare's play, Twelfth Night (a play written with performance before Queen Elizabeth in mind), when Sir Andrew tells us "I would as lief be a Brownist as a politician". The family seat, Tolethope Hall is now home to the Stamford Shakespeare Company.


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