Sir Richard, the parliamentary general and a citizen of London, is described as a 'woodmonger' in the list of adventurers for the reconquest of Ireland, to which enterprise he subscribed £600. It therefore appears that he had a background in trade, being the son of a certain John Browne (alias Moses) of Wokingham and his wife, Anne Beard.
He took up arms for the Parliament and obtained a command in the trained bands. In September 1642, he disarmed the Royalist gentry of Kent. In December 1642, he served under Waller and his regiment was the first to enter the breach at the capture of Winchester. In July 1643, he was charged with the suppression of the rising which took place in Kent, in connection with Waller's Plot, and crushed the insurgents in a fight at Tonbridge on 16th July 1643. On 28th December 1643, the Parliament appointed Browne to the command of the two regiments (the white and the yellow) sent to reinforce Waller's army and he shared the command at the victory of Alresford (Hampshire) on 29th March 1644.
In the following summer, by an ordinance dated 8th June, he was constituted major-general of the forces raised for the subduing of Oxford and commander-in-chief of the forces of the three associated counties of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire. With three regiments of auxiliaries raised in London, he took up his headquarters at Abingdon, where "he was a continual thorn in the eyes and goad in the sides of Oxford and the adjacent Royal garrisons". The parliamentary 'Diurnals' are full of his exploits, while the Royalist tracts and papers continually accuse him of plundering the country and ill-treating his prisoners. An attempt was made by Lord Digby to induce him to betray his charge, between September and December 1644, but it met with signal failure.
In May 1645, Browne was employed for a short time in following the King's movements, but was recalled to take part in the first Siege of Oxford the following month. He took part in the final siege of that city in the summer of 1646. On the conclusion of the War, he was appointed one of the commissioners to receive King Charles from the Scots (5th January 1647). While at Holmby, he was, according to Anthony Wood, "converted by the King's discourses". He was at Holmby when the King was seized by Cornet Joyce, and told the soldiers that if he had had strength he should have had his life before we brought the King away. "Indeed," said the Cornet, "you speak like a gallant and faithful man;" but he knew "well enough he had not the strength, and therefore spake so boldly".
Browne was elected Member of Parliament for Wycombe (Buckinghamshire) amongst the recruiters and, in 1647, was also chosen Sheriff of London. Clarendon describes him as having "a great name and interest in the city, and with all the presbyterian party". With the majority of his party, he changed sides in 1648, was accused by the army of confederating with the Scots and the secluded members for the invasion of England (6th December), was arrested (12th December), expelled from the House of Commons and deprived of his Sheriffdom and other posts.
For several years, he remained in prison at Windsor, Wallingford, Warwick, Ludlow and other places. In the account of his sufferings, which he gave in Parliament, in March 1659, he says, "I was used worse than a cavalier; taken and sent away prisoner to Wales; used with more cruelty than if in Newgate: in a worse prison than common prisoners. My wife and children could not come under roof to see me. My letters could not pass. The governor demanded my letters; I said he should have my life as soon. I defended them with my weapon". This imprisonment lasted for five years.
In 1656, Browne was one of the members excluded from Parliament for refusing to take the engagement demanded by the Protector. In Richard Cromwell's parliament, he was one of the members for London and found, at length, in March 1659, an opportunity for securing redress. On 26th March 1659, the House of Commons annulled the vote of 4th December 1649, disabling him from the office of alderman, and ordered the payment of £9,016 still owing to him from the State. In the Summer of 1659, he was implicated in Sir George Booth's rising and his arrest ordered, but he succeeded in lying hid at the Stationers' Hall, "by the faithful secrecy of Captain Burroughes". The votes then passed against him were annulled on 22nd February 1660.
Browne was one of the persons with whom Sir Bulstrode Whitelocke took counsel for the furtherance of his scheme of persuading Fleetwood to recall the King (22nd December 1659). Browne was chosen by the city as one of the deputation to Charles II, and headed the triumphal procession which brought the King back to London with a troop of gentlemen in cloth of silver doublets. His services were liberally rewarded by the King, who conferred the honour of knighthood on both him and his eldest son. He was also elected Lord Mayor on 3rd October 1660. During his mayoralty, Venner's insurrection took place and the vigour he showed in suppressing it gained him fresh advancement. The City rewarded him with a pension of £500 a year (7th August 1662) and the King created him a baronet.
He died on 24th September 1669 "at his house in Essex, near Saffron Walden", that is to say, at Debden. He was a brave soldier and the charges of rapacity and cruelty brought against him by the Royalist pamphleteers can hardly be regarded as proved. A greater blot on his fame is his conduct at the trial of the regicides. Browne repeated against Adrian Scroop words tending to justify the King's execution which Scroop had spoken in a casual conversation, and this testimony excited a feeling in the high court and the Parliament which cost Scroop his life.
Edited from Leslie Stephen's 'Dictionary of National Biography' (1886)
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