I enter the Village of Puttenham with a certain sense of guilt. I’ve been the Rector for two years and this is only the third time I have been here. And the reason for my visit is to hand over to my successor, Master Thomas Chauntre. This is because I have at last been given the promotion that my efforts deserve; I am honoured to have been made Master of Kings Hall Cambridge.
It is a measure of the reputation that I have established these last two years that many of the villagers are outside their houses, apparently waiting to see me. Another sign of my status is the fact that Bishop Russell himself has decided to attend the handover. It’s amazing what being on the winning side can do for your reputation.
The curate meets me outside the Rectory and welcomes me in. The Bishop is already there and greets me warmly, as does the curate. I’m pleased that no-one tells the truth of my stay as Rector of Puttenham, that I have contributed very little. But I have a feeling that this is the way that the curate and his fellow priest, have liked it; they are the sole masters of the Church and, to a large extent, the village.
I see that the young lad I noticed two years ago is still there and, quite surprisingly, invited to lunch with all of us in the Rectory. I am intrigued that he is still around and is apparently seen as having some status. I ask him to remind me of his name.
‘Thomas Wolsey’ he responds confidently, and when I enquire of his connection to Puttenham, he replies:
‘I am studying at Magdalen College, Oxford, sir and I always come to Puttenham during my vacations. The curate is a family friend.’
He then has the impertinence to change the subject and start questioning me.
‘Do you mind if I ask you about your role in the accession of King Henry sir. I would love to hear what really happened.’
‘I’m sure you would young man but these are state secrets and you should know better than to ask.’
I leave Wolsey to contemplate his impudence and decide to take a breath of fresh air and walk outside. The village looks as impressive as it did two years ago when I first came here. Tidy, well maintained and the many surrounding trees, with the leaves just beginning to turn, look beautiful in the Autumn sun. I think back to everything that has happened during these last two years, since Margaret first sent me to France to talk to Henry.
In the first year after that meeting with Margaret, her husband and John Morton, I seemed to spend all my time travelling between Yorkshire and Flanders, I made four trips alone in 1484, taking messages back and forth, agreeing the terms of Henry’s marriage to Elizabeth of York. Henry was initially reluctant and I had to convince him that Elizabeth was sincere and that the marriage would improve his claim to the throne.
My relationship with Henry improved as time went on and I was honoured when he made me his chaplain and confessor. He was so grateful for the warnings I gave him of the danger he was in, because of the machinations of Pierre Landois, the Duke of Brittany’s chief minister; Landois was seeking to capture and imprison Henry on the instigation of King Richard. I was with Henry on his secret journey to England when we narrowly escaped capture by Landois’ men on the borders of Brittany.
Even more dangerous but exciting was being with Henry and his men when we landed at Milford Haven, moved onto Shrewsbury and finally to Bosworth where Henry won the right to rule England in that final battle. As a man of God, I did not take part but I was able to see most of the fighting from Henry’s quarters; I remember the excitement as the news came through that King Richard was no more. That same evening we all celebrated a great victory and knelt down to recognise our new king Henry VII.
I have not only been recognised by the appointment to Cambridge; I have also been awarded a prebend that will provide me with financial security for life. It certainly was my lucky day when I was picked as a favourite of Margaret Beaufort. And of course she and her husband are now among the most powerful people in the land, having achieved their aim of securing the throne for their son.
As I return to Puttenham Rectory, I think to myself that life is pretty good. Both the King and his powerful mother seem to regard me as the great negotiator and have made it clear that I will be top of the list when new challenges arise. I can’t wait.
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.