Browne, John (1638–1712?), lawyer and entrepeneur, of Kinturk and Westport, Co. Mayo, was the second son of Major John Browne (d. 1670) of the Neale, near Ballinrobe, Co. Mayo, and his wife Mary. His mother was a daughter of Sir Dominick Browne (qv) and his wife Anastacia, née Darcy. Browne's parents were both catholics, but his mother's family was Old English, long established in Galway, and not related to Major Browne, the grandson of an English settler of Elizabeth's reign. Major Browne, whose claim of descent from an English catholic courtier, Sir Anthony Browne (d. 1548), is not proved, was the grantee of a Scottish baronetcy in 1636 which was not assumed by him, nor by his descendants until 1762. He suffered confiscation under Cromwell (qv) but was restored to his lands by Charles II in 1661.
His son John was admitted to Gray's Inn in 1662, and to the King's Inns in 1669, and was practising at the bar in Connacht by 1680. He acquired extensive lands in Mayo and Galway, built the first Westport House and was running an ironworks at Knappagh, Co. Mayo, by 1687. He raised a regiment for King James II (qv) in 1689 but this was not taken into pay and Colonel Browne probably saw little of the battlefield. His contribution to the war effort was to mobilise the resources of Connacht, especially Co. Mayo, for the Jacobite army. He was appointed deputy to Mayo's lord lieutenant (his son-in-law Lord Athenry) in 1689 and was given titles such as ‘commissioner for the management of affairs in the county of Mayo’ in the regular instructions he received from 1689 to 1690 from the Jacobite authorities, specifying the men, provisions, clothes and ordnance he was to send them. His ironworks employed 150 men manufacturing muskets, cannonball and tools for the army.
He was one of the Jacobite leaders in Limerick during the siege of 1691, and was one of the lawyers in the party which negotiated the articles of Limerick with General Ginkel (qv). A clause (the thirteenth of the civil articles) dealing with his own affairs, and apparently added at the last moment to the ‘treaty’ of Limerick, had a complex subsequent history. It imposed a levy, on the estates of all catholics benefiting under the articles, to repay Browne and his protestant creditors for debts incurred during the war, not on his own account, but on account of the Jacobite war effort. This episode, which has not been fully elucidated, involved lengthy proceedings in the Irish privy council and parliament. The imposition was resented by some catholics, while not all protestants were satisfied with the implementation of the clause. The Irish parliament debated the matter in every session between 1692 and 1705, and again in 1709, and acts were passed in 1695 and 1705. Sales of 155,000 Irish acres of Browne's estates in Mayo and Galway, between 1698 and 1708, realised over £47,000.
Browne's business undertakings continued after the war. In 1693, when he complained of the effect on his iron and salt works of a proclamation forbidding the assembly of more than ten catholics, the government ordered that he should be allowed free use of men, horses and boats for his undertaking. He does not appear to have suffered from grave accusations made against him in 1697: in June Archbishop Tenison of Canterbury was told that Browne was one of the leaders of a Jacobite plot to undermine Irish protestants, and in November the Irish house of commons was presented with a document, said to be by Browne and found among the papers of the late Bishop Patrick Tyrrell (qv), ‘containing a scheme and proposal for the utter extirpation of the protestants and protestant religion in this kingdom, and other matters of dangerous consequence’.
Other members of his family also served James II: his elder brother, George, was sheriff of Co. Mayo, and George's son John, a captain in the Jacobite army, was taken prisoner at the siege of Derry; both were pardoned in 1698. Colonel John Browne, who died about 1712, married twice, but the name of his first wife is unknown. He married secondly in 1669 Maude, younger daughter of Theobald Bourke (qv), 3rd Viscount Mayo, and a descendant of Gráinne O'Malley (qv). The couple had two sons and three daughters, and a grandson was created 1st earl of Altamont (qv). Despite the land sales, Browne passed on great wealth. The Sligo papers, containing much material relating to Browne, are in the NLI. A portrait, in Westport House, is reproduced in Lord Sligo's book and in the article in the Irish Sword.