Robert Browne, c.1550–1633, English clergyman and leader of a group of early separatists popularly known as Brownists. Browne conceived of the church as a self-governing local body of experiential believers in Jesus. Preaching without a license, Browne attacked the forms of government and the discipline of the Established Church; he gathered a congregation at Norwich c.1580. In 1581 he and his followers sought refuge in Holland. There he published (1582) several treatises that are generally regarded as the first expression of the principles of Congregationalism. Circulation in England of these tracts was punishable by death. Upon his return to England in 1584, Browne was imprisoned and later excommunicated. But by 1586 he was sufficiently reconciled with the Church of England to be made master of the Stamford grammar school, and in 1591 he submitted to episcopal ordination and became rector of Adchurch, Northamptonshire.