John Browning, D. D. — This learned divine was senior fellow of Trinity college, Cambridge, and afterwards domestic chaplain to the Earl of Bedford, but was deprived of his fellowship for his puritanical opinions. Having delivered a sermon in St. Mary's church, in which were contained certain heretical opinions, as they were called, he was convened, February 1, 1572, before the heads of colleges, and commanded to abstain from preaching, till he should be purged from his dangerous heresy. Under these circumstances, he looked upon it to be his duty to obey God, rather than men, and therefore refused to obey their command, and still continued in his beloved work of preaching; on which account he was cast into prison for contempt. Whatever were the pretended charges of his enemies, his principal crime was his nonconformity.*
Dr. Browning having remained for some time in prison, was at length released, upon giving bond of two hundred marks, and obtaining two sureties bound in forty pounds each, for his appearance to answer such charges as should be alleged against him, and to abstain from preaching till further leave should be granted.+ Being called betore his spiritual judges, they resolved, " that if the said John Browning shall from time to time appear and answer, when and wheresoever he shall be lawfully called within the realm of England, to all such matters as shall be objected unto him, touching certain words uttered by him in two sermons, for which he hath been convened before the said vice-chancellor, until he shall be lawfully discharged; and also shaU abstain from preaching, until he shall be permitted or called by the said vice-chancellor, or his deputy, or successors: And further, shall behave himself quietly and peaceably towards the queen's majesty, and all her subjects, and especially within the uersity of Cambridge, that then the recognizance to be void and of no effect, or else to stand and remain in its full power and strength."} The day following, Dr. Bying, the vice-chancellor, sent a statement of his crimes, with an account of the above proceedings, to Lord Burleigh the chancellor.^
* Baker's MS. Collec. vol. It. p. 65.
t Strype's Parker, p. 390.—Whitgift, p. 46.—Annals, vol. ii. p. 189. t Baker's MS. Collec. vol. iii. p. 392. (, Ibid. vol. iv. p. 55.
Dr. Browning himself, after his release from prison, appeared before the chancellor, subscribed a submission with his own hand, and was so far acquitted that he was sent back to the uersity, and the vice-chancellor and heads were urged to re-admit him to his former office and preferment. But this will best appear in Burleigh's own words, addressed to the vice-chancellor and heads, which were as follows:—" Having received from you a declaration of two errors committed by this bearer, John Browning, in his sermons, one of them containing matter of heresy, and the other tending to sedition, I have caused him to be further examined hereupon, in the presence of Sir Thomas Smith, her majesty's principal secretary; and finding as well by the relation ot Mr. Secretary, as by his own confession subscribed with his hand, that he utterly abhorreth them both, and affirmeth that he hath been much mistaken in the same, I thought it best, for preserving the uersity's reputation, and for the reverence of the church of God, wherein he is a minister, to suppress the memory and notice of the said errors, especially that which may be drawn to an interpretation that he should be justly thought seditious and offensive. Therefore, my advice is, that you should receive him again into his place; and if he shall wdlingly acknowledge before you the same doctrine, and misliking of the foresaid errors, whereof I mean to send you his confession under his hand, and then he may continue quietly among you."*
Though he returned to his office in the college, and to his public ministerial exercise, his troubles were not over. Having taken his doctor's degree at Oxford, two years earlier than he ought to have done, brought upon him many fresh trials. For this singular offence, which some deemed a mere trifle, and others accounted a very grievous crime, he was deprived of his fellowship, and in effect expelled from the uersity. This oppressive sentence was inflicted upon him in a most clandestine and illegal manner by Dr. Still, and even above four years after taking his degree at Oxford. This was done a long time after Dr. Still had signified his approbation of his taking the degree, by allowing him to deliver public lectures in the chapel, according to the statute of the uersity, and by allowing him to be incorporated in the same degree at Cambridge. He also confirmed-to Dr. Browning his fellowship and place in the
* Baker's MS. Collcr. vol. Mix. p. 368.
college, not only by suffering him quietly and peaceably to enjoy it, with all the privileges thereof, for more than three years, but also elected him by his own voice to be senior bursar of the college, and to be vice-master for two years by two separate elections.*
Moreover, Dr. Still's conduct was in many particulars most shameful. He proceeded against Dr. Browning with great injustice and inhumanity. Not content with illegally depriving him of his office and benefice, he would not suffer him to dine in the hall of the college, nor any one to eat or drink with him. When Dr. Browning kept his chamber in the college, this inveterate enemy would not permit any of his friends or acquaintance to come to him, or converse with him; and those of his friends who had any private intercourse with him, he strictly examined by threatenings and oaths to confess what had passed, with a view to accuse them from their own mouths. He also complained in this case to a foreign judge, expressly contrary to the statute of the college. And though he caused the name of Dr. Browning to be struck out of the buttery, he commenced an action of sS300 against him, merely on supposition that he had done the same by him. He, moreover, procured a restraint of Dr. Browning's liberty, by watching him and keeping him in his chamber for some time as in a prison. Not satisfied with these tyrannical proceedings, he assaulted Dr. Browning's lodgings in a most violent manner, and broke open his doors, and dragged him out of his chamber, to the great injury of his body ; notwithstanding the Earl of Bedford by his letters had previously required all proceedings against him to be stayed, till the cause should be heard. To .finish the business, this cruel oppressor of the Lord's servants prohibited Dr. Browning's pupils, servants and friends, from coming near him, or bringing him any thing to eat or drink, intending to starve him to death.t
During these rigorous and illegal proceedings, the Earl of Bedford, as intimated above,t wrote to the Chancellor Burleigh, desiring his lordship not to give his consent to the sentence pronounced upon Dr. Browning, till after he had heard both parties. He spoke, at the same time, in high commendation of his character; that he had good
• Baker's MS. Collec. vol. iv. p. 45, 46. t Ibid.
J Francis Earl of Bedford was a celebrated statesman, and a constant friend to the persecuted puritans. At his death he left twenty pounds to be given to a number of pious ministers, for preaching twenty sermons at Cheney, Woburn and Melshburn.—MS. Chronology, Voi. ii. p. 373. (92.)
experience of his sound doctrine, his useful preaching, and exemplary conversation, saying, that his deprivation was hard dealing.* If his deprivation of his fellowship was hard dealing, what must all the other proceedings have been ? These troubles came upon him in the year 1584: but we do not find that this persecuted servant of Christ obtained any relief.