The Adventures of the Rector of Puttenham – Episode 3

1521: Christopher Urswick is coming to the end of his life and looks back on what he has achieved...

I really have lived quite a life. Who would have thought that, when I was made Rector of Puttenham in 1483, it was to be the start of such an amazing period of my life. I mixed with the great and the good and was involved in world changing events. I really feel badly about Puttenham:, the title of Rector gave me the status I needed at the time but I never gave much back. But when I visited the village last year for a meeting of past rectors, it seemed as well kept as ever and the Church just as impressive. I even met Sir George Puttenham who has done so much to provide investment for the Church; he showed me some of the improvements that have been made recently and was so proud of the family’s ‘Hind’s Head’ crest on one of the stained glass windows.

I guess the most exciting experience of my life was being part of Henry Tudor’s accession to the throne, particularly being there at the battle of Bosworth. But in many ways that was just the start. I didn’t stay long as Master of Kings Hall and was given various promotions, becoming Dean of York in 1488. Margaret and Henry seemed eternally grateful for everything I did to support them, particularly negotiating the king’s marriage to Elizabeth of York, who became Queen Elizabeth after marrying Henry in 1486.

This was not the only deal I was asked to negotiate. My reputation continued to grow after Henry became King; I was made envoy to the Pope and, much more dangerously, was sent back to Henry’s old haunt of Brittany to try to negotiate a peace deal with the Duke . But they refused to even talk and I was in much danger as they tried to intercept my retinue on the way home.

Less dangerous but just as important was the mission to negotiate the potential marriage between Prince Arthur, Henry’s eldest son and Catherine of Aragon, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, rulers of Spain. Now of course Catherine is married to our much revered king, Henry VIII, but at that time she was regarded as the ideal bride for Arthur. This was a strange mission in many ways because, at that time in 1488, Arthur was three years old and Catherine two. But I did the deal and our alliance with Spain was secured.

Sadly my deal was to end in tragedy. They married in 1501 at the age of 15 but Arthur– a lovely boy, sensible and stable, quite a contrast to his younger brother – died of tuberculosis a year later. Thus it was his brother Henry who took over as king when his father died in 1509 and he also took over the lovely Catherine when they were married in the same year. So my deal with Ferdinand and Isabella was done twice over but I think both sets of parents would have preferred only the first choice.

The accession of Henry VIII was really the end of my period of influence on the big stage. I was disappointed that Lady Margaret did not invite me to her court; she was very much the power behind the throne during those early years; after all young Henry was only 18 when he became king. But I was pleased and honoured to be made executor of her estate when she died four years later; it was however humiliating when Henry made it clear at her funeral that he didn’t know or care who I was.

But I’m comfortably off, now living in Hackney, and enjoying contact with some wise and powerful friends; I became very close to the famous philosopher Erasmus when he came over here from Holland to study at Oxford. It is also particularly good to have got to know Thomas More because he keeps me in touch with all the gossip at the court of the King. He is quite a famous figure now, after his book ‘Utopia’ was published in 1516, and this seems to have helped him gain favour with Henry. Soon after he became a counsellor to the King and was made a Privy Counsellor in 1518.

Much of the gossip concerns that other Thomas, Cardinal Wolsey, the grown up version of the impudent young man who made such an impression on me all those years ago in Puttenham. I knew he was no ordinary boy. More has told me how clever Wolsey has been, realising that Henry was more interested in sports, hunting and women when he took the throne. Henry needed someone to act as advisor and to take on all the difficult tasks that he rejected and Wolsey inserted himself cleverly. Now Wolsey seems almost to run the government single handed and More sees a lot of him, often acting as liaison between Wolsey and the King. Apparently there is a lot of tension around the King’s relationship with Catherine and her failure to produce an heir; Henry is even talking about ways of ending the marriage. I see trouble ahead and the two Thomas’s will be in the thick of it.

But I will not be alive to see it all happen. My time is nearly over. I have been privileged to be so near the seat of power and to have seen the beginning of the reign of the House of Tudor. Perhaps it’s a good thing that I will never see where the behaviour of this impetuous King is going to lead us.

Christopher Urswick died aged 74 on the 15th March 1521 and was buried in St Augustine’s Church Hackney, which he was helping to rebuild at the time. The Rector of Puttenham at the time, Roger Tolons, paid a special tribute to Urswick at the service at Puttenham Church the following Sunday. ‘He was our most famous rector’ was his comment.

This judgment still stands today.

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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