The Tudor Society

April 8- Magdalen Browne (née Dacre), Viscountess Montagu, a woman who sheltered Catholic priests

the gatehouse of Battle Abbey, home of Magdalen Browne and her husband

Battle Abbey

On this day in history, 8th April 1608, in the reign of King James I, Magdalen Browne (née Dacre), Viscountess Montagu and patron of Roman Catholics, died at Battle in East Sussex, following a stroke she had suffered in January 1508.

Magdalen was buried at Midhurst.

Here are some facts about this Tudor lady:

  • Magdalen was born in 1538 and was the daughter of William Dacre, 3rd Baron Dacre of Gilsland and his wife, Elizabeth Talbot, daughter George Talbot, 4th Earl of Shrewsbury.
  • She grew up at Naworth Castle in Cumberland, leaving there at the age of 13 to join the household of her older sister, Anne, Countess of Bedford.
  • In 1554, at the age of 16, Magdalen became a maid of honour to Queen Mary I and attended her at her wedding to Philip of Spain.
  • In 1556, when she was 18, she became the second wife of Anthony Browne, 1st Viscount Montagu. Their wedding was attended by Mary I. They went on to have eight children: five sons and three daughters.

  • Magdalen’s married life was spent at her husband’s properties, Battle Abbey, Cowdray House, and Montague House.
  • Magdalen had been brought up a Catholic and her husband was also a staunch Catholic. He served Mary I by being one of three ambassadors who helped negotiate England’s return to the Catholic fold.
  • Even though she was Catholic, Magdalen had a good relationship with Elizabeth I, following her and her husband's declaration that they would be loyal to the Queen if the Pope invaded or caused trouble. Their properties, however, were known as Catholic centres.
  • When the Queen visited the Montagus in 1591, they kept their priests hidden.
  • Montagu died in 1592 and Magdalen carried on running a household that was predominantly Catholic. Her property at Battle was known as Little Rome by the local Protestants, and she kept 3 priests there, one of whom was Thomas More, great-grandson of Sir Thomas More.
  • Magdalen used Battle Abbey and Montague House as safe houses for Catholic priests coming from the Continent. Luckily, many of the local law enforcers were Catholics, so Magdalen managed to avoid getting into trouble until 1599 when her London property was searched, and again following the Gunpowder Plot.
  • Magdalen suffered a stroke on 21st January 1608 and never recovered, dying at Battle on 8th She was survived by her children Sir George Browne, Sir Henry Browne, Elizabeth Dormer and Jane Lacon, as well as grandchildren.
  • Archpriest George Birkhead said of Magdalen that she was “a great mother in Israel, and the priests everywhere did extol her as the worthy patroness of the holy faith and the singular ornament of the Catholic religion in England” and Richard Smith, her confessor, wrote a biography of her, “Life of the most Honourable and Vertuous Lady, the Lady Magdalen Viscountesse Montague” with chapters on her excellent humility, notable chastity, singular patience, prompt obedience, liberality towards others, notable piety towards God, and her zeal and constancy in supporting and professing the Catholic faith.

Read "The life of the most honourable and vertuous lady the Lady Magdalen Viscountesse Montague" by Richard Smith at

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April 8- Magdalen Browne (née Dacre), Viscountess Montagu, a woman who sheltered Catholic priests