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Henry Barrowe (or Barrow) (c. 1550 – 6 April 1593) was an English Separatist Puritan, executed for his views.
He was born about 1550, in Norfolk, of a family related by marriage to Nicholas Bacon, and probably to John Aylmer, Bishop of London. He matriculated at Clare Hall, Cambridge, in November 1566, and graduated B.A. in 1569–1570. Afterwards he "followed the court" for some time, leading a frivolous if not licentious life. He was a member of Gray's Inn for a few years from 1576, but was never called to the bar.
In about 1580 or 1581 he was impressed by a sermon; he retired to the country, and was led by study and meditation to a strict form of Puritanism. Subsequently he came into close relations with John Greenwood, the Separatist leader, whose views he adopted. Though resident in London at this time, he was associated with "the brethren of the Separation" there and their secret meetings.
Greenwood was imprisoned in The Clink, and Barrowe came from the country to visit him. On 19 November 1586 he was detained by the gaoler and brought before Archbishop John Whitgift. He insisted on the illegality of this arrest, refused either to take the ex officio oath or to give bail for future appearance, and was committed to the Gatehouse Prison. After nearly six months detention and several irregular examinations before the high commissioners, he and Greenwood were formally indicted (May 1587) for recusancy under an act originally directed against Roman Catholics. They were ordered to find heavy bail for conformity, and to remain in the Fleet Prison until it was forthcoming.
Barrowe continued a prisoner for the remainder of his life, nearly six years, sometimes in close confinement, sometimes having "the liberty of the prison." He was subjected to several more examinations, once before the Privy Council at Whitehall on 18 March 1588, as a result of petition to the Queen. On these occasions he maintained the principle of separatism, denouncing the prescribed ritual of the Church as "a false worship," and the bishops as oppressors and persecutors.
During his imprisonments he was engaged in written controversy with Robert Browne (down to 1588), who had yielded a partial submission to the established order, and whom he therefore counted as a renegade. He also wrote several treatises in defence of separatism and congregational independency, including:
- A True Description of the Visible Congregation of the Saints, &c. (1589)
- A Plain Refutation of Mr Gifford’s Booke, intituled A Short Treatise Gainst the Donatistes of England (1590–1591)
- A Brief Discovery of the False Church (1590).
Others were written in conjunction with his fellow-prisoner, Greenwood. These writings were taken charge of by friends and mostly printed in the Netherlands.
By 1590 the bishops had sent several conforming Puritan ministers to confer with these controversialists, but without effect. At length it was resolved to proceed on a capital charge of "devising and circulating seditious books." As the law then stood, it was easy to secure a conviction. They were tried and sentenced to death on 23 March 1593. The day after sentence they were brought out as if for execution and respited. On 31 March they were taken to the gallows, and after the ropes had been placed about their necks were again respited. Finally they were hanged early on the morning of 6 April. There is some evidence that the Lord Treasurer Burghley endeavoured to save their lives, and was frustrated by Whitgift and other bishops.
The opinions of Browne and Barrowe had much in common, but were not identical. Both maintained the right and duty of the Church to carry out necessary reforms without awaiting the permission of the civil power; and both advocated congregational independency. But the ideal of Browne was a spiritual democracy, towards which separation was only a means. Barrowe, on the other hand, regarded the whole established church order as polluted by the relics of Roman Catholicism, and insisted on separation as essential to pure worship and discipline.
Barrowe has been credited by H. M. Dexter and others with being the author of the Marprelate Tracts; but this is not generally accepted.
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Barrowe, Henry". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. which in turn cites:
- H. M. Dexter, The Congregationalism of the Last Three Hundred Years.
- F. J. Powicke, Henry Barrowe is Hispanic
- B. Brook, Lives of the Puritans.
- Cooper, Athenae Cantabrigienses (1861), vol. ii.