Pilgrims or Pilgrim Fathers (and their link to Lilford Hall)

Robert BrowneRobert Browne (1550-1633) who lived on the Lilford Estate for over 40 years was the first seceder from the Church of England, and the first to found a Church of his own separate from the Church of England. His Church was based on Congregational principles, and indeed he is considered as the father of the worldwide Congregational Church movement. Followers of Robert Browne were known as Brownists.



The core of the group that would come to be known as the Pilgrims were brought together by a common belief in the ideas outlined by Robert Browne and promoted to the Pilgrims by Richard Clyfton, a Brownist parson at All Saints' Parish Church in Babworth, Nottinghamshire, between 1586 and 1605.


This congregation held Separatist beliefs known as Brownists led by Robert Browne, comparable to other nonconforming movements (i.e., groups not in communion with the Church of England) . Separatists held that their differences with the Church of England were irreconcilable and that their worship should be organized independently of the trappings, traditions and organization of a central church.



In consequence, the beliefs of Robert Browne ultimately led to the Pilgrims travelling to America, and thus Robert Browne is called the "Father of the Pilgrims" and "Grandfather of the Nation"(USA).



Robert Browne


Tolethrope HallRobert Browne was a prominent Elizabethan Separatist and the founder of the Brownists, a common designation for early Separatists from the Church of England before 1620.  He was the first seceder from the Church of England, and the first to found a Church of his own on Congregational principles, but ended up later in life returning to the Church of England.


1550 Browne was born at Tolethorpe Hall in Rutland, England, part of a wealthy and very prominent Northamptonshire family, the Elmes of Lilford. Thomas Elmes (d1632) owner of the Manor of Lilford was his cousin, both being relations of the extremely wealthy Staple of Calais mayor William Browne of nearby Stamford.


Robert Browne saw the Church of England as being in a state of moral disrepair and catholicism. Rather than reforming the Church from within, Browne sought out a new "true church" ethic. He advocated an early church polity which would later be known as congregationalism. He was the first to advocate religious separation from the Church of England, and the first to actually set up a Separatist Church. Browne was only an active Separatist from 1579-1585.


Browne has been actively criticized by those who came after for recanting his principles and giving in to the Establishment for his own personal liberty. This did not stop the influence of his writings or the spread of Brownist congregationalism and theology.


Browne and his writings were major contributions in the early development of Elizabethan English religious dissent, and the beginnings of the English Separatist movement during the later reign of Elizabeth I. His light may have shown only briefly, but he lighted the path for others to follow including some with other more radical points of view.


Many English dissidents would set sail for America (including the Pilgrim Fathers) and establish congregations along the lines of basic Brownist theology. Later generations were usually referred to simply as Congregational. Browne has often been called the "Father of Congregationalism".






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


William CecilBy 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 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 live as a Brownist as a politician".


The term Brownists was a common designation for early Separatists before 1620. Indeed the terms Brownists, Independents, and Separatists were all used somewhat interchangeably for those nonconformists who broke with the Church of England.


The term came to be more specifically applied to those who followed the writings and teachings of Robert Browne, and to a much lesser extent those of Robert Harrison, a college friend and later companion of Browne to 1583 when they had a parting.



Pilgrims or Pilgrim Fathers


Pilgrims (US), or Pilgrim Fathers (UK), is a name commonly applied to early settlers of the Plymouth Colony in present-day Plymouth, Massachusetts. Their leadership had fled a volatile political environment in the East Midlands of England for the relative calm and tolerance of the Netherlands, settling in Leiden.


Concerned with losing their cultural identity, the group later arranged with English investors to establish a new colony in North America. 102 people were chosen to travel on Mayflower. Of these, about half had come by way of Leiden, and about 28 of the adults were members of the congregation.


The colony, established in 1620, became the oldest continuously inhabited British settlement and the second successful English settlement (after the founding of Jamestown, Virginia in 1607) in what was to become the United States of America. The Pilgrims' story of seeking religious freedom has become a central theme of the history and culture of the United States.