Thursday, August 9, 2012

5: George Browne (-1556), introducing the Anglican Reformation to Ireland

Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin ... Archbishop George Browne was the principal figure in introducing the Anglican Reformation to Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

George Browne, who died in 1556 was an English Augustinian friar who became Archbishop of Dublin and during the reign of King Henry VIII he was the main figure in introducing the Anglican Reformation to Ireland. It has been said that there was practically no campaign on behalf of the Reformation, and no Reformation preaching as such in Ireland until Browne became Archbishop of Dublin in 1536. Archbishop Michael Jackson of Dublin has described George Browne as “perhaps the greatest Anglican irony of the Reformation.”

Although he may have been born either in Canterbury or London, Browne’s date of birth is unknown, and we know little about his background, his early life, family or career, or the circumstances of his ordination. Nor are there any known surviving or catalogued portraits or images of him. He may have been educated by the Augustinians in Oxford, and in 1532 he received the degree of BD (Bachelor of Divinity) at the University of Oxford.

In that year, Browne became the Prior of the large Augustinian Priory in London. Thomas Cromwell later appointed him the Provincial of the English Augustinian friars. Around this time, Browne sold two houses belonging to the order to Thomas Cromwell, and made himself available for the “advance of the King’s affairs.” Browne is said to have recommended himself to the king by advising the poor in distress about the religious changes to make their supplications to Christ alone.

Browne is said to have performed the secret marriage of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn in 1533, and he proclaimed Anne as Queen in a sermon in the Austin Friars Church in London on Easter Day that year.

In 1534 or 1535, he received the degree DD (Doctor of Divinity) from the University of Oxford.

In 1536, Cromwell appointed Browne, as provincial of the Augustinian Hermits or Austin Friars in England, and the Bishop of Rochester, John Hilsey, as the provincial of the Dominican friars (Blackfriars), to visit all the mendicant houses and to administer the 1534 Oath of Succession to all friars in London and the south of England.

Lambeth Palace, where George Browne was consecrated Archbishop of Dublin on 19 March 1536 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

He received the degree of Bachelor of Divinity at the University of Oxford in July 1532, although Murray suggests Browne may have studied abroad and received his doctorate in theology in Continental Europe. On 20 July 1534, through Thomas Cromwell’s influence, he obtained the degree of Doctor of Divinity (DD) at the University of Oxford “without costs or charges.” He subsequently received the DD at University of Cambridge by incorporation from Oxford in 1535.

That year, he was appointed Archbishop of Dublin, where the see had been vacant since Archbishop John Allen was murdered in Artane on 28 July 1534 during the rebellion of the Earl of Kildare. Having kept the see vacant for almost two years, the king filled it without any reference to the Pope. Browne was consecrated at Lambeth Palace on 19 March 1536 by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, assisted by the Bishop of Salisbury, Nicholas Shaxton, and the Bishop of Rochester, John Hilsey. Cranmer and Shaxton had been members of the early group of reformers who met in the White Horse Inn in Cambridge in 1520s.

Browne took up residence in Dublin in July 1536. His first duty in Dublin was to proclaim the Act of Supremacy and force it through the Irish Parliament. However, the delay in enacting the legislation for the programme for the Reformation and the lack of a royal commission left the archbishop unable to promote change for an entire year.

The actions of the deputy, whether from personal or political motives or a combination of both, suited the dominant families in the Pale who did not want religious change, and who were condemned by one English-born reformer as “papists, hypocrites and worshippers of idols.”

Clonfert Cathedral, Co Galway ... Richard Nangle was consecrated bishop by Browne, but was unable to gain possession of the diocese (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

On 13 June 1537, Browne consecrated Richard Nangle, an Augustinian Observant friar as the first reformed Bishop of Clonfert. However, the papal-appointed Bishop of Clonfert, Roland de Burgh, was an influential kinsman of the Earl of Clanrickarde and Nangle never took possession of his diocese, becoming instead, effectively, a suffragan of Dublin. Nangle continued to function as Vicar Provincial of the Augustinians in Ireland and was prior of the Dublin community when it was dispersed in 1539.

Meanwhile, Browne’s delay in pushing forward the Reformation prompted Henry VIII to rebuke both him and the Bishop of Meath, Edward Staples, in July 1537, for failing to advance his “affairs” in Ireland. Staples, who had been Bishop of Meath since 1530, had been forced to flee to England after the Earl of Kildare’s rebellion in 1534, and had returned to Ireland with Browne in 1536.

Browne found that the Pope’s authority was “not a little rooted among the inhabitants here.” He later complained that of the 28 most senior clergy in Dublin, there was “scarce one” who favoured the Reformation. He admitted that “neither by gentle exhortation, evangelical instruction ... nor by threats of sharp correction, can I persuade any, either religious or secular [priests], since my coming over, once to preach the word of God, or the just title of our most illustrious prince.”

The relations between Browne and Staples became hostile. Staples strongly supported the royal supremacy, and it was partly owing to his advice that Henry assumed the title of king of Ireland. But Staples clung to the Mass, and his quarrel with Browne became such a scandal that on 31 July 1537 Henry wrote to Browne threatening to remove him for his lightness of behaviour and pride, and to Staples censuring his neglect of his ecclesiastical duties.

The clergy of Dublin stubbornly refused to “open their lips in any pulpit,” but instead did everything they could behind the scenes to thwart the archbishop’s reformation campaign. He encountered the most virulent hostility from the Observant friars. Browne complained of the resistance of the clergy in Dublin to his injunctions and in late 1537 he was compelled to send his own servants in order to cancel the name of the ‘bishop of Rome’ from all liturgical books.

The royal letter chiding Browne and Staples seems to have had little effect, and on one occasion in 1538, while preaching before Browne in Kilmainham, Staples denounced the archbishop as a heretic. This sermon was examined by the Irish Council, and both Browne and Staples complained to Thomas Cromwell. However, the quarrel was patched up and as a reward for his zeal Staples was allowed to annex the archdeaconry of Kells in 1544.

However, Leonard Grey, who was Lord Deputy from 1536 to 1540, hindered Browne’s efforts to bring about religious change. In 1538, he released a leading Roman Catholic dissident in Dublin, James Humfrey, a Prebendary of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, who had been jailed by Browne in the archbishop’s prison at Saint Sepulchre’s Palace in Dublin. Browne complained that that action destroyed his credibility.

Saint Parick’s Cathedral and mediaeval ruins in Trim, Co Meath ... Grey’s actions in Trim undermined Browne’s authority (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

On another occasion Grey “heard three or four masses” before Our Lady’s statue in Trim, Co Meath, while the suffragan Bishop of Meath, whom Browne had arrested, together with a number of friars, were being tried in the town for breaching the statute against the Pope’s authority. Grey’s public action encouraged the jury not to indict the clergymen.

Spurred into action by the king, Browne conducted a visitation early in 1538 and promoted the royal supremacy. In October 1538, he published Cromwell’s New Injunctions in Dublin and throughout the south-east Ireland. These injunctions included a decree to pluck down “any notable images or relics” and this was widely carried out in the Pale.

In February 1539, Browne issued a commission for the destruction of all shrines. All the precious metals and jewels were to be sent to the Exchequer. Christ Church Cathedral yielded £35.15s.6d. worth of valuables – the second highest amount after Our Lady’s Shrine in Trim, Co Meath. What happened to the relics themselves, including a miraculous speaking Crucifix from Christ Church Cathedral, is a matter of debate.

It is said Browne had all the relics from Christ Church, including Saint Patrick’s Crosier – known as baculus Ihesu or the “Staff of Jesus” – gathered into a heap and burned. The annalist of the monastery at Lough Key wrote that “there was not a holy cross, a statue of Mary nor a venerable image within their jurisdiction that they did not destroy.” But Browne specifically denied burning the relics, and there is evidence that the baculus Ihesu was in private hands in the late 16th century, and in the Diocese of Meath in the late 17th century.

The former priory cloisters at Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

A decision by the Royal Commissioners on 12 December 1539 was confirmed by Letters Patents from Henry VIII on 10 May 1541, reconstituting Christ Church Cathedral as a secular establishment. The Prior and Canons of Holy Trinity became the Dean and Chapter of Christ Church Cathedral. The Prior, Robert Castle (alias Paynswicke) became the Dean, and the Sub-Prior, Richard Ball, became the Precentor respectively, while Walter Whyte, former Precentor, became Chancellor and John Moss, Sub-Precentor, became Treasurer.

In this way, the last Augustinian Prior, Robert Castle, became the first Dean of Christ Church. The process of change continued between 1540 and 1542, finishing with a cathedral chapter of eight clergy.

In 1539, Henry VIII introduced his Six Articles, which endorsed many traditional Catholic doctrines and ceremonies, except those relating to purgatory, religious images and saints, and upheld the obligation of clerical celibacy. As a married man, Browne was at risk from this partial reversal of the Reformation, and in 1540 he separated from his wife, Elizabeth Miagh, although they had three children, and assumed the role of a more traditional bishop.

Anthony St Leger, who was the king’s deputy in Ireland from July 1540, continued his predecessors’ policy of avoiding religious controversy as far as possible. The remaining years of Henry VIII’s reign saw no further attempts to change the religious laws in Ireland, and St Leger won wide acceptance for an essentially Catholic religious settlement. In 24 of the 32 dioceses in Ireland, there was a bishop who acknowledged the royal supremacy. St Leger showed that many of the elites in Ireland, landowners, urban oligarchs and senior churchmen, were prepared to turn their backs on the papacy as long as they could retain their Catholic religion and practices.

Browne also had a struggle to recover alienated church lands. In 1542, he successfully contested a lawsuit with Lord Howth concerning the ownership of the island of Ireland’s Eye off Howth Head.

Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin ... Browne took an active role in its dissolution in 1547 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In 1546, the king instructed St Leger to accept the surrender of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, and in 1547, in the dying days of Henry VIII and in the opening days of the reign of Edward VI, Browne oversaw the suppression of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and its chapter, ensuring that Christ Church would be the only cathedral in his diocese. All the plate, jewels and ornaments of Saint Patrick’s were transferred to Christ Church. Browne's later plans to establish a university at Saint Patrick’s, modelled perhaps on Christ Church in Oxford, never came to fruition.

The next stage of the Reformation got off to a slow start in the reign of Edward VI, while St Leger remained as Deputy in Ireland. However, after he was recalled in May 1548 and replaced with Deputy Bellingham, the pace of religious change accelerated.

In November 1548, Browne issued his Book of Reformation for use in churches, cathedrals and dioceses throughout the ecclesiastical province of Dublin. In 1550, he oversaw the introduction of the first Book of Common Prayer, already introduced in England in 1549. The 1549 Book of Common Prayer was received with strikingly little opposition.

Anthony St Leger returned as Deputy in August 1550 but, despite his own religious conservatism, he actively promoted the official religious programme throughout the English lordship. He replaced the aged bishops of Waterford and Limerick with younger men who would support the Edwardian reformation, and he sent a royal commission to Limerick and Galway in January and February 1551 to introduce religious changes in those cities.

Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin ... the 1549 Book of Common Prayer was first used on Easter Day 1551 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

On Easter Day, 29 March 1551, the English-language 1549 Book of Common Prayer was used for the first time in Ireland in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, with Browne preaching the sermon. The 1549 Book of Common Prayer was the first book printed with movable type in Ireland.

However, instructions to have the book made available in Irish were not followed, and in response to local hostility to services in the English language, St Leger had a Latin version of The Book of Common Prayer translated in Limerick on an experimental basis.

Armagh was the only diocese within the Pale where the Edwardian Reformation was held at bay. The Archbishop of Armagh, George Dowdall, continued to resist the Reformation until the summer of 1551, when St Leger was replaced as Deputy by Sir James Croft. Dowdall wrote to his cousin, the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, that he would “never be bishop where the holy Mass was abolished.” He fled to the Netherlands and took refuge in the monastery in Centre in Brabant. The dignity of Primate of All Ireland, an ancient privilege of the See of Armagh, was now claimed by Browne, and was transferred by royal patent to Dublin.

Hugh Goodacre, an Englishman sent by Cranmer, was consecrated by Browne as Dowdall’s replacement in Christ Church Cathedral on 2 February 1553. However, Goodacre never reached Armagh – he died in Dublin on 1 May 1553, allegedly poisoned by Catholic opponents.

Goodacre came to Ireland with John Bale, a radical reformer who was part of the ‘Little Germany’ group of reformers in Cambridge. He was labelled ‘bilious Bale,’ and had been nominated as Bishop of Ossory. The second Book of Common Prayer (1552) had never been authorised for use in Ireland, and Bale claimed the 1549 Book of Common Prayer was still being “used like a popish Mass” in Ireland.

Bale insisted on the bishops using of the 1552 Book of Common Prayer at his consecration by Browne in Christ Church Cathedral in February 1553. With some hesitation, Browne and the Lord Chancellor, Thomas Cusack, agreed to Bale’s demand, but Thomas Lockwood, Castle’s successor as Dean of Christ Church protested at the use of the new Prayer Book as the ordaining bishops were about to lay their hands on Bale.

A few months later, when Mary Tudor succeeded to the throne in July 1553, Bale was forced to abandon Kilkenny and the Diocese of Ossory and fled for his life from Kilkenny to Dublin. But Browne refused to allow Bale to preach in Dublin.

In October 1553, Mary sent St Leger back to Ireland as her Deputy with instructions to restore Roman Catholic order in the Church. She reinstated Dowdall as Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, and appointed local men to vacant Irish dioceses.

Dowdall, who had met Cardinal Reginald Pole while in exile, was a key figure in the Marian restoration in Ireland, along with William Walsh, later Bishop of Meath, and Thomas Leverous, later Dean of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and Bishop of Kildare (1555-1560). At the end of 1553, Dowdall called a synod for the Province of Armagh which ordered the restoration of Catholic rites and practices, and allowed for the reconciliation of clergy who had used Protestant rites. He ordered the burning of Protestant books and set up inquisitions to deal with any unrepentant heretics.

Queen Mary established a royal commission in April 1554 to remove any married clergymen from office in Ireland. Five bishops and a few lesser clergy were deprived, including George Browne as Archbishop of Dublin. In March 1555, Browne was absolved from the sin of apostasy and from the censure for violating the law of celibacy by Cardinal Reginald Pole, who was a papal legate and the newly-appointed Roman Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury.

Not only did Browne receive a general absolution, but he became the Prebendary of Clonmethan or a canon of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin – the cathedral he had helped to suppress in 1547. His former wife, Elizabeth Miagh, married his servant, Robert Bathe.

Browne ended his days in comparative comfort; some accounts say he died in 1556, others in 1558, although he may have died as late as 1559.

Browne’s successor, Hugh Curwen, was consecrated Archbishop of Dublin in September 1555 in Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London, by the Archbishop of Canterbury, assisted by the Bishop of Exeter and the Bishop of Bangor. When Curwen later transferred his allegiances to Anglicanism in the reign of Elizabeth I, he became the only Archbishop of Dublin to be recognised as such by both the Roman Catholic and Anglican successions.

Evaluating Browne’s contribution to Anglican theology

Archbishop James Ussher described Browne as “a man of cheerful countenance; in his acts and conduct, plain and downright; to the poor, merciful and compassionate.” Browne was a strict Erastian in Church polity, and has often been portrayed as the Patriarch of the Reformation Church of Ireland, with a standing equivalent to that of Thomas Cranmer in the Church of England.

James Murray, in his recent study, offers an explanation for the failure of the reforming initiatives by the Archbishops of Dublin and the Tudor viceroys. The members of loyal community of the Pale ultimately rejected the Anglican Reformation and because it perceived it to be irreconcilable with their own traditional English culture and mediaeval Catholic identity.

Brendan Bradshaw of Queens’ College, Cambridge, in evaluating the career of Browne as Dublin’s first Reformation archbishop, avoids the traditional stereotypes of the archbishop as an ogre to Catholics and a patriarch to Protestants, and has produced a more realistic assessment of him as a desultory royal functionary.

Select bibliography:

Brendan Bradshaw, ‘George Browne, first Reformation Archbishop of Dublin, 1526-1554,’ Journal of Ecclesiastical History 21/04 (Cambridge, October 1970), pp 301-326.
Brendan Bradshaw, ‘The Edwardian Reformation in Ireland,’Archivium Hibernicum 34 (1977), pp 83-99.
Brendan Bradshaw, The Irish Constitutional Revolution of the Sixteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979)
(Revd) Henry Cotton, Ecclesiae Hiberniae Fasti (Dublin, 1851-1860, 5 vols).
‘Dublin,’ in Charles Herbermann, (ed), Catholic Encyclopedia (1913).
Richard Watson Dixon, ‘Browne, George (d.1556),’ Dictionary of National Biography, vol 7, pp 43-45.
Raymond Gillespie, ‘The coming of reform, 1500-58,’ pp 151-194, in Milne (ed).
Dr Henry A. Jefferie, ‘Culture & Religion in Tudor Ireland, 1494-1558,’ Multitext Project in Iris History, UCC, (accessed 19.07.2012).
Kenneth Milne (ed), Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, A History (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2000).
Brian Mayne in the Oxford Guide to the Book of Common Prayer.
James Murray, ‘Ecclessiastical justice and the enforcement of the reformation: the case of Archbishop Browne and the clergy of Dublin,’ pp 32-51 in A Ford, J McGuire and K Milne (eds) As by law established: the Church of Ireland since the Reformation (Dublin: Lilliput Press, 1995)
James Murray, Enforcing the English Reformation in Ireland, Clerical Resistance and Political Conflict in the Diocese of Dublin, 1534–1590 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009)
James Murray, ‘Browne, George,’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, vol 8, pp 161-162. (Brother) Colman O Clabaigh OSB, The Friars in Ireland 1224–1540 (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2012).
WJR Wallace (ed), Clergy of Dublin and Glendalough (Belfast: Ulster Historical Foundation, and Dublin: Diocesan Councils of Dublin and Glendalough, 2001).
(Sir) James Ware, Works (Dublin, 1764, 2 vols).
(Revd) James Wills, Lives of Illustrious and Distinguished Irishmen (Dublin, 1840-1847, 6 vols or 12 parts).

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

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