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BROWNE, Sir William (1692-1774)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0113 MS-BROWW
Held at: Royal College of Physicians
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Full title: BROWNE, Sir William (1692-1774)
Date(s): 1708-[1774]
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 3 volumes
Name of creator(s): Browne | Sir | William | 1692-1774 | Knight | physician


Administrative/Biographical history:

Sir William Browne was born in 1692, in the county of Durham, the son of a physician. In 1707 he entered Peterhouse, Cambridge. He graduated BA in 1711, and MA in 1714. He received a license from the University in 1716, and subsequently set up practice in Lynn, Norfolk. In 1721 he obtained his MD from Cambridge and was incorporated at Oxford.

Browne lived in Lynn for thirty years, and through his practice amassed a comfortable fortune. He was known to be an eccentric, and it has been said that `his egotism and garrulity were so great as to rivet the attention of his contemporaries' (Munk's Roll, vol II, p.95). In 1725 he was admitted a candidate at the Royal College of Physicians, and the following year was made a Fellow. In March 1738/9 Browne was admitted a Fellow of the Royal Society. He was knighted, through the interest of the Duke of Montagu, in 1748, and moved to London in 1749, setting up his home and practice in Queens Square, Bloomsbury.

Browne was closely involved with the Royal College of Physicians throughout his life, and held a number of offices. He was named one of the Elects of the College, 9 April 1750, delivered the Harveian Oration in 1751, and served as Censor, 1750-53 and in 1771. He was also elected Treasurer in 1751, and was a member of the Council in 1752, 1755, and 1762. In 1765 and 1766 he served as President. In April 1767 he presented his portrait by Thomas Hudson, depicting him in his gown as President, to the College.

It was at this time that there was a violent dispute between the College and its licentiates, over the restrictions in place on the latter. It has been said that

`Sir William Browne, a man of strong feelings, extraordinary garrulity, and utterly devoid of discretion, was wholly unfit at such a crisis to occupy the presidential chair' (ibid, p.98).

Browne was a defender of the privileges of the universities and favoured barring from practice those who did not have Oxbridge degrees. He had offended the licentiates, many of them graduates from the Scottish universities, in their quest to become more involved in the affairs of the College. A potentially embarrassing incident followed whereby a number of licentiates forced their way into a Comitia meeting, at which Browne was presiding, in an attempt to obtain a dispensation from the College. The satirist Samuel Foote consequently caricatured Browne on stage in his farce, `The Devil on Two Sticks', which was based on the whole affair (presented May 1768, published 1778). Despite a good-humoured response, Browne found it difficult to maintain his stature within the College and, fearing some future indignity, handed in his resignation as President.

He proceeded to Bath in 1767 to enjoy the spa waters, and whilst there called upon Bishop Warburton at Prior Park. Warburton described Browne in an account of his visit as having `showed all the alacrity of a boy both in body and mind' (DNB, vol. VII, p.75), despite his approaching 80 years of age.

Browne returned to London where he entered `a contest for some subordinate parochial office' (Munk's Roll, p.103), opening taverns for men, and coffee house breakfasts for women, with great energy. He appeared on St Luke's Day 1771, at Batson's coffee house, to show himself to the Lord Mayor. In response to comment on his healthy appearance Browne's explanation was `that he had neither wife nor debts' (DNB, p.76).

Browne had married and had one daughter. His wife died on 25 July 1763. His daughter Mary married William Folkes, brother of Martin Folkes, President of the Royal Society. Browne died on 10 March 1774 at his house in Queens Square, at the age of 82. He was buried at Hillington, Norfolk, where there stands a monument to his memory, written by him. He left a complicated will, containing a number of philanthropic gestures. These included three gold medals, worth five guineas each, to be given to undergraduates at Cambridge, and his founding of a scholarship of twenty guineas a year for entrance to Peterhouse.

Dr Gregory's Elements of Catoptrics and Dioptrics, translated from the Latin original by William Browne, MD, at Lynn Regis, in Norfolk. (with some additions) (London, 1735)
Oratio Harveiana, Principibus Medicis parentans; Medicinam, Academias utrasque laudans; Empiricos eorum cultures perstringens; Collegium usque a natalibus illustrans: in Theatro Collegii Reg. Med. Lond. habita Festo Divi Lucae (London, 1751)
A Letter from Sir William Browne, deputy-lieutenant of the County of Norfolk, to his Tenants and Neighbours, Seriously Recommended at this Time to the Perusal of all the People of England (London, 1757)
Two Odes in Imitation of Horace (the second Ode addressed to the Right Hon. Sir Robert Walpole, on ceasing to be Minister, February 6, 1741 (London, 1763 & 1765)
Opuscula varia utriusque Linguae (containing the Harveian Oration, 1751) (London, 1765)
Appendix Altera ad Opuscula (his farewell oration) (London, 1768)
Fragmentum Isaaci Hawkins Browne Arm. sive Anti-Bolinbrokius. Liber Primus, translated for a second Religio Medici (London, 1768) & Fragmentum Isaaci Hawkins Browne completum (London, 1769)
Appendix ad Opuscula (a Latin Ode with translations) (London, 1770)
A Proposal on Our Coin: to Remedy all Present and Prevent all Future Disorders (London, 1771)
A New Year's Gift: a Problem and Demonstration on the XXXIX Articles (London, 1772)
The Pill Plot. To Dr Ward, a Quack of Merry Memory, written at Lynn, November 30, 1734 (London, 1772)
Corrections in Verse from the Father of the College on Son Cadogan's Gout Dissertation, containing False Physic, False Logic, False Philosophy (1772)
Speech on the Royal Society, Recommending Mathematics as the Paramount Qualification for their Chair (1772)
Elogy and Address (London, 1773)
Latin version of the Book of Job (unfinished)


Scope and content/abstract:

Sir William Browne's papers relating to his personal and professional life, particularly his role within the Royal College of Physicians, 1708-[1774]. Includes his commonplace book, containing notes, letters and poems, in Latin, English, Greek and French, in Browne's hand, 1708-c.1774; Papers relating to the College collected by Browne, in two volumes, the first regarding the benefactions of the College, especially the eponymous lectures, c.1710-52, and the second, regarding the College's finances, such as accounts of rent charges, land taxes, and annuities, c.1751-54.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:
English, Latin, Greek and French

System of arrangement:

Conditions governing access:


Conditions governing reproduction:

All requests should be referred to the Archivist

Finding aids:

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Brown's papers relating to the College were delivered to the President of the College by the executors of Browne's will, n.d., c. 1774; Brown's commonplace book was purchased at Sotheby's, June 1899

Allied Materials

Related material:

There is material relating to Browne amongst the College's own records. He was the recipient, as Treasurer of the College, of Dr Robinson's proposal for repairs to his house, 1751, to be found amongst papers relating to College property (MS2009/9). He is listed as being present at the meeting of the Elects, 15 July 1771 (MS1022/16). Also one of the copies of the Statuta Collegii Medicorum Londinensium MDCCLII (1752 Statute), amongst the College's Statutes and Bye-Laws, is thought to be have been Browne's copy (MS2012/71).

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Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Sources: Dictionary of National Biography, vol. VII, Leslie Stephen (ed.) (London, 1886) [DNB, vol. II, pp.75-76]; Lives of the Fellows of the Royal College of Physicians of London, 1701-1800, William Munk (London, 1878) [Munk's Roll, vol.II, pp.95-105]; The Royal College of Physicians and its Collections: An Illustrated History, Geoffrey Davenport, Ian McDonald and Caroline Moss-Gibbons (eds.) (London, 2001); A History of the Royal College of Physicians of London, vol. II, Sir George Clark (Oxford, 1966).
Compiled by Katharine Williams

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives, Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
March 2003

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