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A Wicked Deed

'How could we have been so foolish as to imagine that we had left murder and intrigue back in Cambridge?'

It is Spring 1353, and Matthew Bartholomew is a reluctant member of the deputation of scholars, priests and students making its way to the village of Grundisburgh. As fine weather lures hordes of outlaws onto the hazardous roads, riding the short distance into Suffolk remains a treacherous exercise. But the lord's gift of the parish church to their Cambridge college is an event to justify such dangers.

But when the benefactor begins to unduly rush the deed to legalise the transfer, Bartholomew sense that rural Suffolk is not the tranquil retreat he had been led to believe. And when Michaelhouse's student-priest is found murdered in the church which was to become his living, Bartholomew realises he and his party are threatened by dark forces abroad in the village. Compelled to investigate, he descends into a nightmarish world of superstition, conflict and heresy from which the tainted find no return...

Susanna Gregory writes:

It was common practice in medieval times for donations of the livings of churches to be made to colleages like Michaelhouse. A Wicked Deed is a fictional account of what happened in 1353, when the scholars of Michaelhouse were given a church in Suffolk. Matthew Bartholomew and Brother Michael, with some of their colleagues, travel to Suffolk in order to make sure all goes according to plan. They soon discover that Suffolk is every bit as dangerous as Cambridge.

The following is the historical note taken from the back of A Wicked Deed, putting the book in its historical context, and outlining the people who really existed and the events that actually took place.

Historical Note

On 6 May 1353 a licence was granted to Michaelhouse to appropriate the living of the Church of Our Lady at Grundisburgh. The final advowson was granted on 1 June 1353 by Walter Wauncy, and a copy of the document is in the Muniments Room at Trinity College, Cambridge, Michaelhouse's successor. By this time, Michaelhouse held four other advowsons - Cheadle in Staffordshire, Tittleshall in Norfolk, Barrington near Cambridge, and, of course, St Michael's church in Cambridge.

Records show that Wauncy's term of office as rector came to an end in 1353, and he was replaced by a man called John de Horsey, who remained until 1361. It is likely that Horsey was a Michaelhouse man, and that the College was practising its newly acquired rights by appointing a vicar of its own choosing to Grundisburgh. Wauncy, meanwhile, was associated with several court cases in Suffolk, one of which involved a manor at Wyverston near Stowmarket.

The reason the advowson was granted is not known, although they were popular ways of making friends and influencing people in medieval times. Whoever had the living of a parish church was entitled to collect the tithes - and Grundisburgh was a large village with a number of freemen who would be eligible to pay - and was permitted to donate two thirds of the revenue to the charity of his choice. Such a charity might well include a College, so the advowson would allow Michaelhouse to provide "jobs for the boys" as well as making a handsome profit. The living of Grundisburgh remained in Michaelhouse's hands until Henry VIII incorporated Michaelhouse into his new foundation of Trinity College.

In 1353, the Tuddenham family were lords of the manor, probably living in Wergen Hall, which is thought to have stood on or near the site of the present Grundisburgh Hall. There was a second manor in the village, possibly centring on a house called Bast's. A document of 1339 records that a Robert Tuddenham, aged 12, was Thomas Tuddenham's heir, although it is not known who, if either, survived the plague.

In the neighbouring villages, several documents just pre-dating the Black Death say that Roland Deblunville was lord of the manor in Burgh, while the knight Sir John Bardolf was lord of the manor of Clopton. A man called Robert Grosnold lived in Otley during the 14th century, although his dates are uncertain. One of the manors at Otley was called Nether Hall.

Stories and legends in this part of Suffolk abound. The Benedictine monks of St Edmundsbury Abbey did acquire the bones of St Botolph from a chapel thought to have been located in Grundisburgh in the 11th century (one manuscript gives a date of 1095, although it probably occurred earlier than this), and there is a story that a golden calf was buried by the villagers near the site of the chapel for safe keeping. Legend also has it that the calf is still there. Unfortunately, St Botolph's relics were cremated by a devastating fire that swept through the monastery in 1465.

There is also a story that a mysterious white dog called the Padfoot is occasionally seen in the village, as a prelude to a great personal disaster. It is said that the last person to have seen the ghostly hound was an American airman during World War II, the night before his plane was shot down. Rings made from coffin handles were also believed to prevent cramps, while setting the ninth pea in a pod on a lintel was supposed to secure a husband for unmarried village maidens.

Many villages were abandoned after the Black Death, and there are references to a nearby settlement called Barchester in some documents, although no trace of it survives today. Others, such as Coates in Lincolnshire and Thorpe-in-the-Glebe in Nottinghamshire survive as lumps and bumps in fields, known to archaeologists as DMVs (deserted medieval villages).

There was an inn called the Half Moon in Grundisburgh, which was still selling beer in the early 20th century, but is now a private house, while the Dog - a pleasant and welcoming place - thought to be named after the spectral hound (although the current inn sign portrays a beagle), still looks across the attractive green to the church. There is no record that either of these taverns existed before the 17th century, but a village of Grundisburgh's size and importance would have had at least one.

The church at Grundisburgh has been largely rebuilt since the 14th century, and has been provided with a startling 18th-century red-brick tower. However, the 14th century wall painting of St Margaret still looks down from the chancel wall, and the piscina dates from Bartholomew's time. The church looks over a village green that is thought to date from when a charter was granted for a Tuesday Market and a Pentecost week fair in 1285. A stream still trickles through the middle of it, although there are footbridges provided for those not wishing to brave the fords. It is a peaceful village with friendly inhabitants. Whether scholars from Michaelhouse ever visited in 1353, to secure the advowson for their College, is not known, but there is no reason to suppose they did not.

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