1307 and all that: Puttenham in the Register of Bishop Henry Woodlock

My fourth and final post for Puttenham Church Week (now ticking towards being a fortnight – maybe next time around I should avoid any embarrassment by calling the next instalment a Surrey Medieval … Spectacular?) takes us to the early years of the 14th century, and a series of documentary records detailing a rather parlous situation so far as the living of Puttenham was concerned. The source of this testimony is the Registrum Henrici Woodlock, i.e. the Register of Henry Woodlock, Bishop of Winchester between 1305-1316, edited by A. W. Goodman and published as two volumes in 1940 and 1941. The various register entries reveal a lot about the workings of the later medieval diocese, as well as about the connection between Puttenham church and that of nearby Shalford, which possibly tells us something about the origins of the former, and the early statuses of both.

I picked up the two volumes of the Registrum Henrici Woodlock at this year’s Leeds International Medieval Congress. They’re not the sort of books I’d invest in standardly (though as it happens, the second time in as many years that I’ve bought an edition of a Bishop of Winchester’s register at the Congress and proceeded to write a blog post off the back of it), but a quick consultation of the index revealed that they had entries pertaining to the year, 1307, in which I knew there to have been a rapid succession of rectors at Puttenham (for reasons that’ll become clear very shortly). What I hadn’t appreciated sufficiently up to that point – and which was thus reflected in my list of medieval rectors of Puttenham I put together and uploaded last summer – was the actual sequence of events as documented in Woodlock’s register. In my defence, I’m not the first to have misinterpreted the testimony (the unattributed list of rectors at the back of the 1969 church guide being a case in point), and so to set the story straight, allow me to take you through the various entries and piece together the events of what in some ways must have been a tumultuous few months.

The first register entry is dated 19th May 1307, and its preamble states that its purpose was to order the dean of Guildford (decano de Guldeford) to hold a sworn inquiry as to the health of the rector of Puttenham (DE INFIRMITATE RECTORIS DE POUCHAM – an interesting spelling of the name, by the way). After the usual boilerplate of the opening address to the dean, the entry proceeds thus:

Ex quorumdum relacione recepimus quod magister Robertus rector ecclesie de Poucham iam tam graui corporis debilitate detinetur et morbo vt dicitur incurabili est percussus, quod coadiutore seu custode merito indiget hiis diebus; et ob hoc cupientes super hiis prout pontificali conuenit auctoritati effici certiores, vobis mandamus in virtute sancte obediencie firmiter iniungentes, quatinus super vita potencia et etate ac eciam quo morbo detineatur et quinque sensibus vtatur, et an de ipsius conualescencia speratur, et an curatoris seu custodis ministerio siue adiutorio indigeat, per viros expertos fidedignos et iuratos omni suspicione carentes fideliter et diligenter inquirere studeatis. Et quid per inquisicionem huiusmodi inueneritis, nos distincte et aperte certificetis quam cicius commode poteritis [etc.] Prouiso modis omnibus quod dictus rector premuniatur legitime quod inquisicioni per vos faciende per se vel per alium intersit, si sibi videbitur expedire. In premissis omnibus fideliter peragendis vestram conscienciam coram Altissimo honeramus. Dat’ apud Esshere xiiij kal. Iunii anno Domini millesimo ccc’mo septimo et consecracionis nostre secundo. (Goodman 1940, 177)

“We receive word from certain people that master Robert, rector of the church of Puttenham, is now hindered by so grave a weakness of his body and is struck by disease that is said to be incurable, that he requires an assistant or custodian these days; and for this purpose, desiring to be made more certain on these things, it is agreed by episcopal warrant, joining steadfastly in virtue of holy obedience we commission you, that you dedicate yourself faithfully and carefully to investigate about his life, ability and age and also if the disease is being resisted and the five senses being used, and whether his convalescence is anticipated, and whether a curator or guardian is required for ministry or support, by means of men expert, trustworthy and having been vowed to be lacking all suspicion. And what you will find by such inquiry, lucid and frank you will inform us as quickly as you are conveniently able to [etc.] It is foreseen that the said rector is legitimately protected by all means that the inquiry made by you personally or through another party, if they see fit. In all tasks we honour that your conscience is pierced honestly in the presence of the Highest. Given at Esher 14th day before the kalends of June in the year of the Lord 1307, the second of our consecration.”

It’s traditional for me every time I offer my own translation of a Medieval Latin text to offer an apology for the many mistakes it contains, and this time around is no different. Nevertheless, I reckon I’ve got more than the gist of what the above signifies. By whatever channels, reports had reached Bishop Woodlock about the serious ill health of the incumbent rector of Puttenham, Robert. The parish lay within the deanery of Guildford, so it was devolved to its dean to ascertain (logically via parishioners and other ministers in the locality) the level of Robert’s illness and inability to perform the duties of his office, what assistance he may require personally and pastorally as a result, and report back to the Bishop.

The dean of Guildford was quick to respond to the Bishop’s orders, for a matter of weeks later, the following mandate was issued regarding ‘Custody of the rector of Puttenham’ (CUSTODIA RECTORIS DE POTTENHAM):

Frater Henricus [etc.] dilecto filio Waltero de Shaldeford presbitero salutem [etc.]. Cum Robertus rector ecclesie de Pottenham nostre diocesis racione senectutis et debilitatis ad ea que cura sibi commissa requirit debite peragenda non sufficiat hiis diebus, prout per inquisicionem super hoc ad mandatum nostrum factam euidencius est compertum, vtilitati tamen dicte ecclesie et persone prospicere cupientes tibi dicte ecclesie et rectoris eiusdem tutelam siue custodiam concedimus per presentes, quousque dictam tutelam seu custodiam tibi per nos concessam duxerimus reuocandum; districcius iniungentes quod dicto rectori in omnibus que ipsum vel rectoriam predictam respiciunt coadiutor siue tutor existas diligens et fidelis. Et nichilominus sub pena excommunicacionis, quam exnunc te incurrere volumus, si per te vel alium auctoritate tua contra infrascripta quicquam fuerit attemptatum, tibi firmiter precipiendo mandamus quatinus bona ad rectorem et ecclesiam suam pertinencia in vsus ipsius ecclesie licitos et rectoris eiusdem iuxta sanctorum patrum statuta conuertere non omittas neque quocumque colore dicta bona in vsus illicitos conuertendo dilapidare presumas, attendens pro constanti quod super premissis coram Altissimo in districto iudicio conscienciam tuam volumus onerare. Raciocimium vero tue administracionis bonorum predictorum cum nobis placuerit reddendi iuxta iuris exigenciam in hac parte resuramus. Dat’ apud Knoel vij kal. Iulii anno Domini millesimo ccc’mo septimo, consecrationis nostre tercio. (Goodman 1940, 188)

“Brother Henry [etc.] greetings to the esteemed brother Walter of Shalford, priest [etc.]. With Robert rector of the church of Puttenham of our diocese by reasons of old age and debilitation having been committed to those for the care he himself requires that is not supplied these days duly is to be accomplished, just as it is more evidently verified through the inquiry about this made to our command, for expediency however wishing to look out for the said church and parson we concede to you guardianship or custody of the said church and the rector of the same through those present, for how long the said guardianship or custody which it is to be recalled we shall have guided by our permission; more strictly, uniting because of the said rector, they consider that you appear carefully and faithfully as the assistant or guardian in all that he himself or the aforesaid rector needs. And nevertheless, under the penalty of excommunication, how we wish for you henceforth to undertake, whether by you or by another author anything shall be attempted against you the underwritten, it must be firmly perceived that we command you to turn over statutorily to what good extent the rector and his church is near to the holy father in the permitted custom of the church itself and rector of the same, you shall not neglect and not whithersoever shall you presume to squander the colour of the said good thing reversed in illicit uses, waiting for standing together because we wish to honour your conscience in busy judgement on tasks in the presence of the Highest. The reckoning verily will please us that your administration of the aforesaid good things which are to be returned according to the demand of the law, in this part we are reassured. Given at Knowle [Hampshire] on the seventh day before the kalends of July in the year of the Lord 1307, the third of our consecration.”

This second entry was a nightmare for me to translate, so I’m sure a lot of it is wildly off-beam. Even so, what emerges out of all the pleasantries is that Robert had been found to be not just sick, but elderly to boot. We have no independent attestation of Robert, so there is no way of knowing when exactly he was presented to the living, but the fact he is described as being of old age hints he may have been the incumbent for many years before 1307. Potentially, this also goes a long way to explaining his ill health. Walter was therefore enjoined – at pain of excommunication, no less! – to look after both Robert and his church (and by extension his parishioners) for the foreseeable future. It’s curious that no mention is made of the new holders of the advowson, the Hospital of St Mary without Bishopsgate on the edge of London. Surely they should have been looped into the process on some level? Perhaps the Bishop thought that engaging directly with first the dean of Guildford and subsequently Walter de Shalford was a more expedient response to the situation.

The name of Walter de Shalford may stand for more than just the place of his birth or with which he most significantly associated. Domesday Book reveals the manor of Redessolham (precursor to Puttenham, and probably roughly coterminous in area with the present parish) was attached to the much larger and more valuable manor of Bramley in the years prior to the Survey (perhaps in 1082: Morris 1975, Notes 5,3), and Puttenham seems to have been an important but remote member of the latter in later centuries (English and Turner 2004, 112). Bramley was attributed three unnamed churches in 1086: Blair (1991, 119) made a convincing case for these to be a mother church at Shalford and daughters at Wonersh and Hascombe. Subsequently, further subordinate foundations come into view at Bramley and Dunsfold. Could/Should we consider Puttenham church in the same bracket, that is having originated as a chapel of Shalford, with Walter therefore being a priest associated with the mother church? This will be an area of future research for me, but for the time being the following scraps of evidence support the idea of an early mother-daughter link between Shalford and Puttenham (previously posited in cartographical form by Blair 1991, 130 Figure 37).

In 1305, the advowson of Puttenham was granted by Edward I to the Prior and Convent of the Hospital of St Mary without Bishopsgate, along with those of Shalford, Wonersh and Dunsfold. On 23rd March of the following year, the patrons presented Thomas Everard to the vicarage of Shalford, and among the associated rights and payments he was stipulated as not being entitled to in his new role were the ‘annual pensions of Wonersh, Puttenham and Dunsfold’ (annuas pensiones de Wogenhersshe Puttenham et Duntesfold: Goodman 1941, 719-21: partly translated in Manning and Bray 1809, 105). Finally, Manning and Bray highlighted ‘certain lands … belonging to and parcel of the Manor of Puttenham Priory or Bury’, apparently close to Perry Bridge, the ‘proprietors’ of which had been the Hospital of St Mary without Bishopsgate, suggesting the lands were formerly associated with the rectory of Puttenham, not the manor (Manning and Bray 1809, 99). None of the above is conclusive; each is suggestive at best. Perhaps the next piece of testimony that turns up will be more explicit.


I was scratching my head as to what image I could add to this post for to break up all the text, and then it came to me, several feet below street level on the edge of the City of London! On Halloween night I went on the special LAMAS Lates guided tour of the early fourteenth-century charnel house next door to Old Spitalfield Market, built as part of the Hospital of St Mary without Bishopsgate – only the late-medieval holder of the advowson of Puttenham, about which I had been writing earlier that day! Embarrassingly, I hadn’t put two and two together earlier and made the link between the charnel house (which I knew was attached to a hospital in Spitalfields) and the patron of Puttenham church (which I knew was situated outside Bishopsgate). An immensely interesting site and an immensely interesting visit, welcome relief from slogging my way through episcopal Latin in preparing this post!

Returning to Bishop Woodlock’s register, an entry of 22nd July 1307 repeats the text of a certificate to William Testa, collector of the first fruits tax. It lists the benefices within the diocese that had fallen vacant and their respective tax liabilities. Three churches are named and located; the second is ‘the church of Puttenham, deanery of Guildford, for 12 marks’ (ecclesia de Potenham decanatus de Guldeford ad xij marcas: Woodlock 1940, 204; also 336 for its recurrence in an entry of 2nd February 1309 serving broadly the same purpose but with a three-year scope). The conclusion to be drawn from the nature of these certificates is that Robert had died by the 22nd July, a matter of weeks, days indeed, after he was placed in the ward of Walter de Shalford.

The latter part of the summer of 1307 must have been a difficult time liturgically and pastorally for Puttenham parish. Walter de Shalford presumably continued as a stand-in of sorts until, on 23rd September 1307, ‘Henry le Sygher, ac[olyte], of Guldeford’ was presented to the benefice by the prior of the Hospital of St Mary without Bishopsgate, London, the first one it made as patron (Woodlock 1941, 725). This must have happened as part of an ordination service held on that day at Merton (Priory?), as a separate entry in Woodlock’s register records his presence, as ‘Henry of Guildford, rector of the church of Puttenham’ (Henricus de Guldeford rector ecclesie de Puttenham: Woodlock 1941, 797). Interestingly, his name occurs in a list of clergymen classified as subdeacons (Subdiaconi). Henry’s stock may have been rising rapidly in this period, as he is named (this time as ‘Henry Sigher [Henricus Sigher] rector of the church of Puttenham’) among the deacons (Diaconi) in attendance at an ordination service held in Southampton on 8th June 1308 (Woodlock 1941, 808). His ascent up the clerical ranks seems to have continued apace; at a further ordination service held at Farnham on 21st September 1308, he is recorded among the priests (presbiteri) in attendance (Henricus rector ecclesie de Pottenham: Woodlock 1941, 816).

There is a lot more to be said about Henry, and I said most of it in my talk on Friday. Perhaps I’ll share these tales in a post on Surrey Medieval one day (some of them are to be found in Bishop Woodlock’s register if you want to get ahead and find out about his appearances as a debtor), but I think it’s only right that today is all about poor Robert.


Blair, J., Early Medieval Surrey: Landholding, church and settlement before 1300 (Stroud and Guildford: Alan Sutton and Surrey Archaeological Society, 1991)

Dugmore, R., Puttenham Under the Hog’s Back (Chichester: Phillimore, 1972)

English, J., and D. Turner, ‘Medieval settlement in the Blackheath Hundred’ in Aspects of Archaeology & History in Surrey: towards a research framework for the county, ed. by J. Cotton, G. Crocker and A. Graham (Guildford: Surrey Archaeological Society, 2004), 103-118

Goodman, A. W. (ed.), Registrum Henrici Woodlock, Diocesis Wintoniensis A.D. 1305-1316, two volumes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1940-41)

Manning, O., and W. Bray, The History and Antiquities of the County of Surrey, volume 2 (London: John White, 1809)

Morris, J. (ed.), Domesday Book, 3: Surrey (Chichester: Phillimore, 1975)



About Robert J S Briggs

Back to being a part-time early medievalist; Surrey born, London based, been known to travel
This entry was posted in Church, Documents, Excuses, Latin, Puttenham, SMPCW, Winchester and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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