William Browne 1590/1-1645?

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William BROWNE 1590/1-1645?

Biographical Note

Born at Tavistock, Devon, son of Thomas Browne (occupation unknown, but the ancestry can be traced back to a medieval Sir Thomas of Betchworth Castle, Surrey). Entered Exeter College, Oxford in 1603 but did not graduate; admitted to the Inner Temple, 1612 (transferred from Clifford’s Inn). After publishing an elegy on the death of Prince Henry (whose patronage he may have sought), Browne produced Britannia’s pastorals (1613), an epic poem aiming to represent the national character. He went on to establish his reputation as a poet with The shepheards pipe (1614) and a second book of Britannia’s pastorals (1616). He was associated with other contemporary poets, including Christopher Brooke, Michael Drayton and George Wither. He was patronised by William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, and other members of the Herbert family, for whom he wrote a number of elegies; he was back in Exeter College, Oxford in 1624 as tutor to Robert Dormer (a Herbert ward), when he was granted an MA degree, and travelled with Dormer in Europe in 1625. After marrying the heiress Timothy Eversfield in 1628 he moved to Horsham, Sussex to live with her family; in 1634 they moved to Dorking, Surrey. The date of his death is unknown but administration of his estate was granted on 6 November 1645. Although his poetic reputation has not been significant since the 17th century, he was widely read during his lifetime and was an influence on major figures like Milton and Vaughan.


We know very little about the extent of Browne’s collection of printed books but he owned a number of medieval manuscripts (ca. 20 can be identified), with particular interests in Middle English verse and prose. He had several manuscripts of Thomas Hoccleve, and included an edition of one of his poems in The shepheard’s pipe. Several of Browne’s manuscripts previously belonged to John Stow. It is not clear how or when his Browne’s collection was dispersed, but it is likely to have been during the middle or later 17th century; one group of the manuscripts was acquired by George Davenport in 1664. Examples: BL MS Harley 4196, MS Lansdowne 699; Durham UL MS Cosin V.II.13, V.II.15; St John’s College, Oxford B.2.28.

Characteristic Markings

Browne typically inscribed his books with his name, and sometimes the date of acquisition.