Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Brabourne, Theophilus

BRABOURNE, THEOPHILUS (b. 1590), writer on the Sabbath question, was a native of Norwich. The date of his birth is fixed by his own statement in 1654: 'I am 64 yeares of age' (Answer to Cawdry, p. 75). His father was a puritan hosier, who educated his son at the free school of Norwich till he was fifteen years of age, and designed him for the church. Incidentally he mentions some curious particulars of Sunday trading in Norwich during his schoolboy days, and says that the city waits played regularly at the market cross 'on the latter part of the Lord's day,' in the presence of thousands of people. When the lad should have gone to Cambridge, the silencing of many puritan ministers for non-compliance with the ceremonies induced the father to take him into his own business, and send him to London, as factor for selling stockings wholesale. He remained in London till his marriage to Abigail, daughter of Roger and Joane Galliard. He was thus brother-in-law of Benjamin Fairfax who married Sarah Galliard. After his marriage, Brabourne lived for two or three years at Norwich with his father, and resuming his intention of entering the ministry, he studied privately under 'three able divines.' He seems to have been episcopally ordained before 1628, and it is probable that he officiated (Collings says he got a curacy of 40l. a year) in Norwich; there is no indication of his having been connected with any other place after he left London, though Wood, probably by a clerical error, calls him a Suffolk minister. In 1628 appeared his 'Discourse upon the Sabbath Day,' in which he impugns the received doctrine of the sabbatical character of the Lord's day, and maintains that Saturday is still the sabbath. Hence Robert Cox regards him as 'the founder in England of the sect at first known as Sabbatarians, but now calling themselves seventh-day baptists.' This is quite incorrect; Brabourne was no baptist, founded no sect, and, true to the original puritan standpoint [see Bradshaw, William], wrote vehemently against all separatists from the national church, and in favour of the supremacy of the civil power in matters ecclesiastical. His attention had been drawn to the Sabbath question ('Discourse,' p. 59) by a work published at Oxford in 1621 by Thomas Broad, a Gloucestershire clergyman, 'Three Questions concerning the obligations of the Fourth Commandment.' Broad rests the authority of the Lord's day on the custom of the early church and the constitution of the church of England. Brabourne leaves it to every man's conscience whether he will keep the sabbath or the Lord's day, but decides that those who prefer the former are on the safe side. He took stronger Sabbatarian ground in his 'Defence ... of the Sabbath Day,' 1632, a work which he had the boldness to dedicate to Charles I. Prior to this publication he appears to have held discussions on the subject with several puritan ministers in his neighbourhood, and claimed to have always come off victorious. He tells us that he held a conference, lasting 'many days, an houre or two in a day,' at Ely House, Holborn, with Francis White (bishop of Norwich 1629-31, of Ely 1631-8). This was the beginning of his troubles; in his own words, he was 'tossed in the high commission court near three years.' He lay in the Gatehouse at Westminster for nine weeks, and was then publicly examined before the high commission, 'near a hundred ministers present (besides hundreds of other people).' The king's advocate pleaded against him, and Bishop White 'read a discourse of near an hour long' on his errors. Sir H. Martin, one of the judges of the court, moved to sue the king to issue his writ de hæretico comburendo, but Laud interposed. Brabourne was censured, and sent to Newgate, where he remained eighteen months. When he had been a year in prison, he was again examined before Laud, who told him that if he had stopped with what he said of the Lord's day, namely that it is not a sabbath of divine institution, but a holy day of the church, 'we should not have troubled you.' Ultimately, he made his submission to the high commission court. The document is called a recantation, but when safe from the clutches of the court, Brabourne explained that all he had actually retracted was the word 'necessarily.' He had affirmed 'that Saturday ought necessarily to be our sabbath;' this he admitted to be a 'rash and presumptuous error,' for his opinion, though true, was not ' a necessary truth.' Brabourne's book was one of the reasons which moved Charles I to reissue on 18 Oct. 1633 the declaration commonly known as the Book of Sports ; it was by the king's command that Bishop White wrote his 'Treatise of the Sabbath Day,' 1635, 4to, in the dedication of which (to Laud) is a short account of Brabourne. Returning to Norwich in 1635, Brabourne probably resumed his ministry; but he got some property on the death of a brother, and thenceforth gave up preaching. In 1654 he writes in his reply to John Collings, formerly of St. Saviour's, ten of St. Stephen's, Norwich, 'I have left the pulpit to you for many years past, and I think I may promise you never to come in it again.' Collings was a bitter antagonist of his non-presbyterian neighbours. Brabourne had written in 1653 'The Change of Church-Discipline,' a tract against sectaries of all sorts. This stirred Collings to attack him in 'Indoctus Doctor Edoctus,' &c. 1654, 4to. A second part of Brabourne's tract provoked 'A New Lesson for the Indoctus Doctor,' &c., 1654, 4to, to which Brabourne wrote a 'Second Vindication' in reply. This pamphlet war is marked by personalities, in which Collings excels. Collings tells us that Brabourne, after leaving the ministry, had tried several employments. He had been bolt-poake, weaver, hosier, maltster (in St. Augustine's parish), and was now 'a nonsensical scribbler,' who was forced to publish his books at his own expense. While this dispute with Collings was going on, Brabourne brought out an 'Answer' to the 'Sabbatum Redivivum,' &c., of Daniel Cawdrey, rector of Great Billing, Northamptonshire. Cawdrey was dissatisfied with White's treatment of the question in answer to Brabourne, and of course Brabourne unconvinced by Cawdrey. Five years later was he wrote on his favourite theme against Ives and Warren. Nothing further is heard of Brabourne till after the Restoration, when he put out pamphlets rejoicing in liberty of conscience, and defending the royal supremacy in ecclesiastical matters. In these pamphlets he spells his name Brabourn. The last of them was issued 18 March 1661. Nothing is known of Brabourne later.

He published:

  1. 'A Discourse upon the Sabbath Day … Printed the 23th (sic) of Decemb. anno dom. 1628,' 16mo (Brabourne maintains that the duration of the sabbath is 'that space of time and light from day-peep or day-break in the morning, until day be quite off the sky at night).
  2. 'A Defence of that most ancient and sacred Ordinance of God's, the Sabbath Day. … Undertaken against all Anti-Sabbatharians, both of Protestants, Papists, Antinomians, and Anabaptists; and by name and especially against these X Ministers, M. Greenwood, M. Hutchinson, M. Furnace, M. Benton, M. Gallard, M. Yates, M. Chappel, M. Stinnet, M. Johnson, and M. Wade. The second edition, corrected and amended; with a supply of many things formerly omitted. …' 1632, 4to (according to Watt, the first edition was in 1631, 4to, and there was another edition in 1660, 8vo. 'M. Stinnet' is Edward Stennet of Abingdon, the first English seventh-day baptist minister, who published 'The Royal Law contended for,' &c., 1658).
  3. 'The Change of Church-Discipline,' 1653, 16mo (not seen).
  4. 'The Second Part of the Change of Church-Disciple … Also a Reply to Mr. Collins his answer made to Mr. Brabourne's first part of the Change of Church-Discipline …' 1654, 4to (the reply has a separate title-page and pagination, 'A Reply to the "Indoctus Doctor Edoctus,"' 1654, 4to).
  5. 'The Second Vindication of my first Book of the Change of Discipline; being a Reply to Mr. Collings his second Answer to it. Also a Dispute between Mr. Collings and T. Brabourne touching the Sabbath Day,' 1654, 4to (not seen).
  6. 'An Answer to M. Cawdry's two books of the Sabbath lately come forth,' &c, 1654, 12mo. 6. 'Answers to two books on the Sabbath: the one by Mr. Ives, entitled Saturday no Sabbath Day; the other by Mr. Warren, the Jews' Sabbath antiquated,' 1659, 8vo (not seen; Jeremy Ives's book was published 1659, 4to ; Edmund Warren's (of Colchester) was also published 1659, 4to).
  7. 'God save the King, and prosper him and his Parliament' … 1660, 4to (published 9 Aug.)
  8. 'The Humble Petition of Theophilus Brabourn unto the hon. Parliament, that, as all magistrates in the Kingdome doe in their office, so Bishops may be required in their office to own the King's supremacy,' &c. 1661, 4to (published 5 March; there is; A Postscript, (sic) 'Of many evils' (sic) which follow upon the King's grant to Bishops of a coercive power in their courts for ceremonies').
  9. 'Of the Lawfulness (sic) of the Oath of allegiance to the King, and of the other oath to his supremacy. Written for the benefit of Quakers and others, who out of scruple of conscience, refuse the oath of allegiance and supremacy,' 1661, 4to (published 18 March, not included in Smith's 'Bibliotheca Anti-Quakeriana,' 1872).
[Wood's Athenæ Oxon. i. (1691), 333; Brook's Lives of the Puritans, 1813, ii. 362 ; Barham's Collier's Eccl. Hist. 1841, viii. 76; Hunt's Rel. Thought in England, 1870, i. 135 seq.; Hook's Lives of the Archbishops of Canterbury, xi. 1875 (Laud), 237 seq.; Cox's Literature of the Sabbath Question, 1875, i. 443, &c.; Browne's Hist. of Congregationalism in Norfolk and Suffolk, 1877, 494 n; works cited above.]

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