The Adventures of the Rector of Puttenham – Episode 1

AD 1483: This was the time when the War of the Roses – as it later became known – had been going on for nearly 30 years.

The houses of York and Lancaster were fighting for the right to the throne of England. King Richard III, representing the Yorkies, was in power but under constant threat of being overthrown. His main challenger from the Lancastrians – Henry Tudor – was in exile in Brittany, waiting for the chance to return and take over Richard’s throne.

Christopher Urswick takes up the story…

Episode 1

I’ve just come back from my latest meeting with Lady Margaret Beaufort, my sponsor and mentor in the court of King Richard. At last I have been given a formal title to reward me for everything I have done for her and those she conspires with; I have been appointed Rector of Puttenham, a village in Hertfordshire. I don’t know too much about the place except that, according to the records kept in the Royal Archives, it was famously owned by Bishop Odo after the Norman invasion in the 11th century; apparently he was arrested there by King William after he fell from royal favour.

I thought I deserved something more than being Rector of Puttenham after all I’ve done for Margaret and her son Henry Tudor, effectively acting as their main adviser and representative. Margaret’s response was that she is restricted by the royal courtiers but that she will do more for me once her son Henry replaces Richard as King. She is both tactless and optimistic to say such things. It is exciting but rather scary to be living so close to the people and events that will decide the future of this kingdom.

The Lancastrians and the Yorkies have been fighting each other for nearly 30 years and though Richard, from the House of York, has taken the throne, there is still no clear winner. Lady Margaret is within the court of King Richard but she and her co-conspirator in chief John Morton are playing a dangerous game; they seem to be conspiring to replace the King with Margaret’s son Henry. Henry is now in Brittany, waiting for a chance to come over and take the throne. What exciting times!

I decide that I must visit Puttenham to meet the priests and assess the village and the Church. I communicate this desire to Bishop Russell within whose diocese Puttenham lies and he instructs me to meet with Master Thomas Hille, the previous Rector whose resignation has made my appointment possible. I exchange letters with Master Hille and we agree to meet in Puttenham the following day.

As I enter the village of Puttenham, I am impressed with what I see. I have already made some enquiries and find that there are 15 registered taxpayers, quite a good number for a relatively small village. But it is the Church that impresses me most; I found from a list of past rectors that it dates back to the 12th century and that the Puttenham family have generously invested in its upkeep and expansion. Like many churches in Southern England, an impressive west tower has been created quite recently.

As arranged I meet Master Hille outside the Church. He tells me that he has resigned to take up a similar appointment at nearby St Albans and that he will be sorry no longer to be associated with Puttenham. He takes me inside the Church and I am even more impressed. There is a beautiful carved tie-beam roof over the nave in the West Tower, paintings on the walls and stained glass windows, all with pictures of various angels, saints and bishops. I think that maybe Puttenham isn’t such a bad rectorship after all.

I ask Master Hille about the likely time requirement here at Puttenham, taking into account my likely commitments to Margaret and Henry.

‘The curate and priest here are very independent’ says Hille, ‘I’ve been spending most of my time at Oxford University where I am studying new ideas in theology so I come down here about once a month if that’

I like what I hear. As Margaret promised, this is mainly a titular appointment to give me the status I need to represent Margaret and Henry in any assignments and negotiations that they may have for me. But I will make sure to visit Puttenham as regularly as possible; it seems a nice village and an exceptional church.

We go into the rectory where the resident priest and curate are waiting to meet me. They are sitting with a young lad who seems to be holding forth in a way that is quite inappropriate for such a young person. They break off from their discussion and Hille introduces me to them all.

The young lad comes forward confidently and is the first to shake my hand.

‘Hello sir’ he says, ‘pleased to meet you, my name is Thomas Wolsey’.

I decide that I will remember that name as no ordinary boy would have such self-confidence.

I return to the Court that same evening and, as I enter the gates, a messenger comes up to me, telling me that Lady Margaret wishes to see me.

As I enter her room, I see that John Morton is there with her husband Thomas Stanley, Earl of Derby.

Margaret wastes no time in getting to the point:

‘Ah Christopher, we all congratulate you on your new appointment. But we have a new assignment for you that requires a secret trip to Brittany. The King’s niece, Elizabeth of York, is on our side and, subject to terms we have agreed, is willing to commit to marrying Henry. The recent murder of her brothers, the two princes, in the Tower of London was the last straw. I want you to go over there and persuade Henry to agree to this; it will add much to our case for him taking the throne’.

Her husband speaks for the first time:

‘I also want you to warn Henry about the dangers he faces from the Duke of Brittany who is out to capture and confine him. He is doing this as a favour to Richard; they are thick as thieves.’

John Morton adds, ‘And you can also start him thinking about plans for coming back here when the time is right. We feel sure that Richard is losing support and that we can raise an army to defeat him.’

As I leave the conspirators and return to my own room, I wonder how much I am going to see of Puttenham and that wonderful Church. But I can sacrifice this for the opportunity to be a part of events that will change the future of the country.

Author’s note

Christopher Urswick was featured as a minor character in Shakespeare’s play Richard III, as a messenger between the Earl of Stanley and Henry Tudor.

Read all 3 episodes

This is the third in our series of imagined short stories, based on the lives of historical figures who have connections with Tring Rural Villages. Christopher Urswick was only Rector of Puttenham for two years but his time in that role was the start of his involvement in momentous events that changed the course of the history of Great Britain.

The facts assumed have come from various recognised sources of historical information on the Internet and, where these differ, the version that fits most closely to the storyline has been taken. In addition, Margaret Vincent’s superbly researched book on the History of Puttenham has provided excellent detail, both of the village and of the history of the time.

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