Anthony Maria Browne was born on 23rd October 1574. He was the son of the third Anthony Browne of that name (1552-1592) and Mary Dormer.  At the age of 18 in October 1592, he inherited his grandfather’s estates and title, as his father had died in July of that same year. The estate was worth between £3,600 and £5,400 per annum, making Anthony Maria a wealthy young man, but also placing upon him considerable expectations.

Amongst his acquisitions were his grandfather’s ‘choller of gold of the Order, and all George’s chaines, garters and robes of the Order of estate and Parliament.’  He also inherited all the family portraits, which were a record of all the significant moments in the family’s loyalty and service to the Crown. The Browne family owned manors and estates in Sussex and Surrey, including West Horsley Place, which had been given to Anthony Browne, great-grandfather to Anthony Maria in 1547, by Henry VIII. The Browne family owned the estate for the next hundred years, and were responsible for gradually converting the medieval hall house to a house of several storeys. Anthony Browne I was married twice: to Alys Gage, by whom he had nine children, and to Elizabeth Fitzgerald, the ‘Fair Geraldine’ of the Earl of Surreys sonnet, no children survived from this marriage.  During his tenure, the ceiling of the second storey was adorned with low heraldic reliefs bearing the initials of Anthony Browne and Elizabeth Fitzgerald.  These survive notably in the small room at one end of the first floor drawing room, now known as ‘The Geraldine Room.’ This Tudor ceiling once covered the entire  area above today’s drawing room.

Anthony Browne’s son, another Anthony Browne, was made Viscount Montague by Queen Mary.  He died at West Horsley Place in October, 1592.  As his son had died in July of that year, Anthony Maria Browne, aged 18, became heir to the Browne estates. His grandfather had made a long speech to his household, tenants and local gentry just before his death, and it is very likely that his young heir was present at West Horsley Place on this occasion.  


In 1588, when he was fourteen, Anthony Maria had accompanied his father and grandfather to Tilbury. The 1st Viscount was the first nobleman to appear with his private army in support of the Queen during the threat of invasion by the Spanish Armada: 

      ‘The first that showed his bands to the Queen, was that noble, virtuous,

       honourable man, the Viscount Montague…who now came, though he

      was very sickly, and in age, with a full resolution to live and die

      in defence of the Queen…And to show his mind agreeable thereto,

      he came personally himself before the Queen, with his band of horse

      men, being almost two hundred: the same being led by his own sons,

      and with them a young child, very comely, seated on horseback, being

      the heir of his house, that is, the eldest son to his son and heir: a matter

      much noted of many, to see grandfather, father, and son at one time on

      horseback, afore the Queen for her services.’

 Anthony Maria’s father, the 3rd Anthony Browne (1552-1592) had served as Sheriff of both Surrey and Kent.  He had enjoyed a warm relationship with his step-mother, Lady Magdalen, who was a powerful patron for Catholics in the late 16th early 17th centuries.  He was seen as a possible successor before his premature death.  He was actually denounced by Robert Hammod, the informer for associating with suspect Catholics, who had been spotted at Browne’s residence, Riverbank House. The Recusancy Law was passed in 1552, under its ruling Catholics – and Protestants – who did not attend services were liable to a fine which was increased to £20 a month in 1581.  In fact, Browne’s public appointments, and his relationship with his loyal father show an acceptance of the status quo. The death of father and son within a month of each other placed the grandson, Anthony Maria Browne, now 2nd Viscount Montague in the religious spotlight. But there was another influence on the 2nd  Viscount.  In 1591, he had married Jane Sackville, daughter of Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, and later Earl of Dorset. Sackville was steadily climbing the greasy pole of late Elizabethan politics, so this marriage to a noted Catholic must have raised Tudor eyebrows (In 1599, he was to succeed Lord Burghley as Lord High Treasurer). Presumably Sackville thought that the Browne family was of proven loyalty to the sovereign, and sufficiently conformist, and they were certainly rich. It must have been a significant match for the Browne family.


In July, 1593, the 2nd Viscount’s first child – a son – was born.  Godparents were to be the Queen, Lord Burghley and the Earl of Somerset, which would seem to confirm Sackville’s trust that his son-in-law was an integral and accepted member of the Court. The christening was to be a great social event, but, alas, the baby died on the day of the baptism. This had a truly profound effect on the 2nd Viscount, who concluded that the death was a judgement upon him for agreeing to an established Church baptism. He resolved never to make the same mistake again, saying: ‘if God sent him any more children, he would take another course for it.’ 1.

When a daughter was born on 22nd May 1594, he turned his back on the established Church and baptised the child himself.  He performed the baptism at Sackville’s house in Fleet Street, where his wife, Jane was recovering from the birth.  When his father-in-law asked him to appoint suitable godparents, Montague replied that: ‘the manner of christening troubled his conscience.2’  This enraged his father-in-law, who forbade any alternative arrangement in his house, threatening: ‘if any came thither for to do any such thing (putting his fist to his mouth) he would pull them to pieces with his teeth.3.’  As a result of this, Montague realised he could not admit a Catholic cleric into his father-in-law’s house, so he christened his daughter himself, choosing a moment when the attendants had left his wife’s chamber, and all was calm. He used a little silver box belonging to Jane, filled it with water, and hid it under his shirt, approaching the cradle, he took as much water as he could in his hands, and placed it on the child’s face making the sign of the cross and saying: ‘I baptise thee Mary in the name of the Father, and of the Sonne and of the Holy Ghost.’4

The result of all this was a severe questioning on 22nd May, 1594, by Archbishop Whitgift and Lord Keeper Puckering, as to why he had not christened Mary in the established Church. Montague gave his concerns and was at pains to assure them that he had acted alone, trying to protect Catholic friends he had turned to in his grief over the loss of his son. When Montague inherited the title from his grandfather, he appeared to have been outwardly conformist, with no Catholic chaplain in his house, just praying privately, but no accusation of active recusancy was levelled against him. The private christening coincided with the agent of the Crown, Robert Topcliffe arresting notable Catholics from the Montague circle of friends. It is possible that the death of his son, the response to the christening of Mary, and the new hostility, fostered a reaction in the 2nd Viscount, who began to exhibit a more intense interest in Catholicism.  The government perceived him as a potential leader of the English Catholics.  Consequently, he was placed under some form of house arrest  at his father-in law’s residence, and during this time he was not allowed to retain any of his Catholic servants.  His local prestige fell to such an extent that his four deer parks at Riverbank (or River Park according to Questier).5 in his Cowdray estate were savaged by poachers, who saw their opportunity while the Viscount was restrained by the Queen’s government.

In January 1595, Montague attempted to be awarded precedence over the younger son of the late Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, who had been executed for treason, but his suit was rejected by a commission which consisted of Lord Burghley, Lord Howard of Effingham and Lord Hunsdon. Later that year in May, his fortunes improved and he was awarded the stewardship of the Manor of Godalming.  There does seem to have been effort by the Elizabethan regime to gather him up by moderation, rather than punishment. It was in this year that he wrote his extraordinary Book of Orders and Rules. The table of contents lists 37 members of his household from his Household Steward to his Sculleryman, and runs to many pages of detailed instructions.

As the 1590s progressed, it does seem that Montague’s religious beliefs were hardening.  In 1597 he wrote an outspoken document of pious advice to his young daughter, persuading her to practice the ‘true religion.’ While he was confined to Sackville’s house during the christening episode, he would have been exposed to Protestant clerics assuring him that the two Churches held the same beliefs, and had much in common. This he rejected, and the epistle to his daughter Mary is a radical affirmation of the ‘true religion.’ He mentions the sorrow his grandfather, the 1st Viscount felt when he saw his country leave the Catholic fold, referring to a book his grandfather had written for him on this subject.

In 1598, a portrait of the 2nd Viscount and his two brothers John and William was painted by the English painter Isaac Oliver:  This has been interpreted by Dr. Mary Trull as showing ‘communal loyalty and singleness of purpose…adherents of  ‘an embattled religious cause.’ ’The brothers are dressed alike, and with closely linked arms, and closely attended by a servant. 5.


The late 1590s were the years of the Appellant dispute, also known as the Archpriest Controversy. This occurred within the Catholic community when George Blackwell was appointed by the Pope as Archpriest in 1598, with jurisdiction over the secular clergy in England and Scotland.  This appointment increased existing tensions between Jesuits and secular clergy, who resented the growing influence of the Jesuits. This new form of ecclesiastical government by an Archpriest was the last straw for the secular clergy – or appellants – and the fallout which ensued impinged on prominent Catholics such as the 2nd Viscount. There is no direct evidence of his testimony but his entourage, like that of  his step-grandmother, Lady Magdalen, was not aligned with the Jesuits, and he appears to have had empathy towards the appellants.  In any case, the government was already sifting evidence against him and fellow Catholics, and Montague House, his London residence in Southwark was searched in 1599, and informers claimed that Masses were being said on the premises. The beginning of the 17th century saw Montague again under restraint at Sackville House, where he wrote to Sir Robert Cecil, telling him that he was:

      ‘emboldened to make my suit unto you that, whereas I am by her Majesty’s

      favour now shortly to appear before you and the council for my further

      enlargement, I may by your favour be graced with such equal and upright

      conditions as may offer to a subject who giveth place to no man living in

      obedience to his prince, no hold any other religion than by which I am

      taught to prefer her Majesty to all other potentates.’ 6.



In the early hours of 24th March 1603, Elizabeth 1st died at Richmond and James VI of Scotland became king. Prominent Catholics such as Montague, other appellant supporters, and even George Blackwell had great hopes that this would be a new beginning for their faith in England, but shortly after James’s succession, the Bye and Main Plots were uncovered. The Bye Plot had been the work of two appellant Catholics close to the Browne family though the 2nd Viscount’s entourage quickly expressed its loyalty to the Crown.  Both these plots showed the political and religious tension which lay just below the surface of the early Jacobean regime, and also  the Catholic community, as it attempted to express its loyalty to the sovereign. Montague and other prominent members of his faith were anxious to persuade James to grant some form of religious toleration.  There was a sense that although James pronounced himself a Protestant, he remained a Catholic in heart and mind. An impulse arose  to find a committed Catholic nobleman who would assume the mantle of head of the Catholics and ask the king for  liberty of conscience. The Catholic clergy selected the 2nd Viscount, pronouncing him ‘a man well noted and knowne.’  The appellant faction in the Catholic Community strongly favoured the Viscount, believing, in spite of his youth and lack of powerful influence, he had leadership qualities.  The Jesuits, though not against him, saw him as a literary man rather than a fighter.

In February 1604, James, who had seemed tolerant of Catholic dissent, made a statement referring to parliamentary bills aiming to ‘prevent hereafter the like daungers and mischiefes’ . He commented on the usurpation of the papacy which ‘threatened all Christian princes.’  Montague now decided to step forward, denouncing the new anti-recusant legislation: An Acte for the due Execution of Statutes against Jesuits, Seminary Priests, Recusants, etc.  On 25th June 1604, he denounced this legislation on its third reading. The terms he used were viewed as  derogatory to the Crown.  The House of Lords Journal reads that Montague: ‘did not only declare his open and earnest dissent but undertook (as it were by way of an apology for all sorts of recusants) the defence of their religion, and to inveigh against the whole state of religion now established in this realm; pretending the great antiquity of theirs and the novel of this: saying, that we had been misled to forsake the religion of our fathers and to follow some light persons, of late time sprung up, that were of unsound  doctrine and evil life, or to such effect.’ 

Montague was sent to the Fleet Prison. He withdrew some of his claims, and was released on the 30th June.  He was then required to attend the Lords and apologise, when he also stressed his ‘most humble and dutiful zeal towards his Majesty.’  But the effect of the attack on James’s government implicit in his speech was considerable, as it gave rise to more challenges to the regime, most significantly by James Pounde, a relative of Montague.  Pounde was put on trial along with many other recusants.  Three Catholics were executed in the north of England, in August and September.  In August that same year, Montague wrote to the Pope describing the condition of Catholics in England, and making the case for a Catholic Bishop. The mood was set for the events of November, 1605.  

There does appear to have been a change in the 2nd Viscount’s household at this time, with an increase in people who were known – especially to informers – as committed Catholics. It is possible that Montague’s experiences in the 1590s had deepened his faith and encouraged him to express his support for his beliefs  much more openly than when he had been an adolescent and his grandfather, the 1st Viscount  had been alive.  The events in the House of Lords and his imprisonment would surely have also played a part. Around the beginning of the 1600s, Catholic chaplains and other recusants gathered around the Browne family, and their numbers ran into dozens.


Montague was known to be a friend – and relative by marriage – of one of the Gunpowder Plot conspirators, Robert Catesby.  When Montague was arrested after November 5th 1605, he admitted he had been talking to Catesby on All Saints Day.  There were other connections to the plotters. One of the Montague family servants was one William Spencer, who had strong Catholic connections. He had witnessed the 1st Viscount Montague’s Will, in 1592, and the January Marriage Settlement between the 2nd Viscount and Jane Sackville signed  by Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst. It was Spencer who introduced Guy Fawkes into the Montague menage. Some histories describe Fawkes’s dismissal by the 1st Viscount after a brief period of employment at Cowdray Park and West Horsley Place, but he was then admitted into the 2nd Viscount’s service, c.1593, again through Williams Spencer, according to Montague, when questioned after the Plot, ‘that was, as it were my servant and his (Fawkes) kinsman… he entreated me that for that instant, being some days, Fawkes might work at my table, which  he did, and departed… but from that time I never had ought to do with him, nor scarcely thought of him.’

Montague had not attended Parliament on the 5th November, along with other Catholic peers.  Fawkes confessed under duress that Catesby had advised Montague not to attend that day, though not giving any reason. Montague denied any wrongdoing, in any case he was imprisoned in the Tower for several months, but never brought to trial, probably through the influence of his father-in-law, now Earl of Dorset.


As the 17th century entered its second decade, there was a scheme from the Cowdray estate which entailed several of the 2nd Viscount’s servants travelling to the continent for training in Catholic seminaries. The households at Cowdray and Drury Lane were clearly a refuge for Catholic clergy and servants.  The 2nd Viscount now regarded himself  as a leader in the Catholic Community.  He focused on persuading the Vatican to agree to a bishop for the English Catholics, and he wrote a treatise entitled An Apologeticall  Answere, a 701 page defence of  Richard Smith, who was duly appointed. Questier describes its  ‘perfectly appalling prose style’! The work was contentious and provocative in tone, particularly in relation to the sacraments. The Jesuit section of the Catholics did not accept an English bishop as a source of authority.  There was concern that he would do a doctrinal purge on the priests, and this did happen.  Another faction did not want the laity to have too much power in the Catholic Church.  The government certainly did not approve of the Catholics having their own bishop, which smacked of an approved faith. 

As time went on, Bishop Smith was consistently supported by the Montague entourage, and the Viscount was frequently obliged to intervene on his behalf in clashes with the Jesuit faction, though the relationship between him and the Bishop was not without its dissensions.  Richard Smith had served in the household of Lady Magdalen, in Battle Abbey, and wrote a hagiography on her life and efforts on behalf of the Catholics.

In 1608, Montague’s father-in-law and protector, the Earl of Dorset, died, and the government had had enough.  A period of harassment began for both the 2nd Viscount and his step-grandmother, Lady Magdalen, at Battle Abbey.  Then Lady Magdalen died, and the Viscount assumed the leadership of the Catholic community. The suspicions of the regime remained, but in 1610, a negotiated settlement eased the situation. Then, the following year, Montague refused to back the oath of allegiance to the sovereign.  James insisted that this was simply a test of loyalty which would distinguish those Catholics who wished his demise, and those who were loyal to his person. The only other temporal peer who refused to sign was Lord Vaux, who had been convicted of recusancy several times during Elizabeth’s reign.

Once again Montague came under severe scrutiny by the government, but survived. In 1611, he was excused the monthly recusancy fine by paying the considerable sum of £6,000.  In 1615, officials in Sussex appealed to their superiors in the regime for support in examining the Montague household,  ‘where we heare are verie manie recusants.’ Parliamentary records show the Viscount attending The Lords and voting in division on 8th February, 1621.

Closer to home,  here in West Horsley, one George Howard applied for a licence to sell ale from a property which had once been adjoining cottages. It became an inn, and was named The Mount Eagle, a name connected with the Montague family. In 1621 St. Mary’s Church had a new bell, made by Bryan Eldridge, these were usually paid for by the Lord of the Manor who had the Patronage of the Church. It would have been a generous gesture of the Catholic 2nd Viscount to have paid for this bell.  In that same year, his daughter Mary married William Arundel, son of Baron Arundel of Wardour.  Montague and his wife, Jane Sackville had nine children, three sons, two of whom died young, and six daughters, two of their daughters became nuns.

James VI died in 1625.  In Charles I's reign there was an initial relaxation of rules against Catholics, but the devout Catholicism of Queen Henrietta Maria aroused suspicion and hostility .  The Viscount had to step forward once more to help Bishop Richard Smith, as he was arraigned for treason in 1629. (The Bishop eventually resigned and fled to France in 1631, he never returned). In 1629, Montague made his first trip overseas, visiting the Catholic College at Douai.  This visit, so close to his death, demonstrated his patronage of the secular Catholic clergy’s vision for their English Church. Intriguingly, a letter from this period describes  ‘the little nobleman, our friend’ setting out for France on the 22nd August. In the portrait by Isaac Oliver, of 1598, historians differ as to which of the trio of brothers is Anthony Maria Browne, the 2nd Viscount.  Questier considers that this reference to ‘the little nobleman’ places him in the centre, flanked by his two brothers.

Anthony Maria Browne, 2nd Viscount Montague died on the 23rd October 1629, according to most sources, at Cowdray, and is buried in Midhurst Church.  He was succeeded by his son, Francis, who was soon in financial trouble, and obliged to mortgage the West Horsley estate to John Evelyn, who lived nearby at Wotton.  In 1637 he married Elizabeth Somerset, by whom he had ten children. During the Civil War, as the Viscount was a Catholic and loyalist, the estate was plundered and sequestered by Parliament. In 1682, The 3rd Viscount ended his days, aged 72, in the British Colony of Virginia.



1. & 2                 Questier, Michael C., Catholics and Community in Early Modern England: Politics, Aristocratic Patronage and Religion. c.1550-1640.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,  2006. p.235

3 & 4                  Ibid, p.236

5.                        Trull. M.  Constructing Privacy: The Montague Family and the Performance of Household Affect. Paper quoted by Quester. Ibid. p.243.

 6.                        Quester, Ibid. p.243



Anthony Browne, Viscount Montague: A Book of Orders and Rules, 1595,  British Catholic History, Volume 19, October 1989.pp394-410.

British Catholic History, Volume 19, October, 1989, ed. Dr. Kate Gibbons, Cambridge Core.


Hall, Adrian, Hall, Sarah, & Foord, Keith: Brownes,  Montagues and Recusancy – 1538-1629. 

Questier, Michael C, Catholicism and Community in Early Modern England: Politics, Aristocratic Patronage and Religion, c.1550- 1640, Cambridge University Press, 2006\


Anthony Maria Browne, 2nd Viscount Montague, English School, c. 1593

The Three Brothers Browne, Isaac Olivers, 1598

King James I of England and VI of Scotland, Daniel Mytens, oil on canvas, 1621 © National Portrait Gallery, London

The Gunpowder Plot Conspirators, 1605, Crispijn de Passe the Elder, engraving, circa 1605 © National Portrait Gallery, London