Richard Pace Rector of Barwick (1519)

Richard Pace Rector of Barwick (1519)

from The Barwicker No. 58

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Rev. Frederick Selincourt Colman, rector of Barwick 1899-1910, was a remarkable man (see 'The Barwicker ' No.40). During his incumbency here he was Chairman of the Parish Council and of the Board of Managers of the School. He began the parish magazine and involved himself in many other aspects of local life. His fine book 'The History of the Parish of Barwick-in-Elmet' is a fitting memorial. His painstaking and detailed historical research not only involved local sources but drew upon the documents in the Public Records Office in London. He acknowledges the help of several people, mostly local, but he mentions no assistance with the PRO records so we must assume that he studied them there himself, a major task which would involve much travelling.

Using these and other sources, some no longer available to us, he records details of many past rectors of Barwick. Some were men of great distinction who held important offices and Colman is able to tell us much about their lives. Unfortunately they did not spend much time here and their influence on Barwick was slight. Ironically men of lesser fame, who spent their days caring for their parishioners here, are less well recorded. One of the former famous men was Richard Pace and we include below Colman's account of the man and his work. We thank Richard Connell-Smith for his valued help in the translation.

"Richard Pace (1519) was by far the greatest man who has occupied this rectory, though his tenure was short, and he at the time busied in so great affairs, that he could have seen little, if anything, of Barwick.

Born about 1482 in or near Winchester, he was educated by Thomas Langton, Bishop of Winchester, who sent him to study in Padua, Ferrara and Bologna. He then entered Queen's College, Oxford. In 1509 he is found in the retinue of Archbishop Bainbridge, of York, at Rome where on 14 July 1514 his master was assassinated, and Pace, being very active at the time in trying to discover the assassin, attracted the notice of Pope Leo X who recommended him to Henry VIII. In the following year the King made him his secretary and for some years from this appointment his letters form a noteworthy portion of the State papers of the country.

Long before this, however, his abilities had been recognized. Erasmus writing from Venice, September 1508, to Lord Mountjoy, speaks of him as "a young man so accomplished in both literatures as to be able, by his genius alone, to throw a lustre upon all Britain, and of that purity and modesty of character as to be worthy of the favour of men like you."

He became the friend of Erasmus and of Sir Thomas More, and a great number of Erasmus' letters are addressed to him. Cardinal Wolsey knew of his ability and in the latter part of 1515 sent him with unlimited gold at his command to subsidize the Swiss with a view to inducing them to attack France. Pace's mission resulted in his imprisonment, during which he composed his treatise "de Fructu" (De fructu qui ex doctrina percipitur - The enjoyment to be derived from learning) where he styles himself "primarius secretarius" (principal secretary) to his sovereign.

Free to return to England the following year he was made Secretary of State, and in 1519 went to Germany on a diplomatic mission. He attended the King at the Field of the Cloth of Gold, was sent to Venice to support Wolsey's candidature for the papacy on the death of Leo X, and again when Adrian VI died. Shortly after, attacked by a mental disorder, his health failed and until his death in 1536 he took little part in the affairs of state. He is buried in the chancel of St. Dunstan's, Stepney.

There was some doubt whether Pace of this rectory was actually the scholar and diplomatist, but it was removed by the recent finding of the draft of his original presentation to this benefice at the Record Office. It is dated 4 February 1518/19, and describes him as "dilectum consiliarium nostrum magistrum Ricardum Pace secretarium nostrum" (our beloved counsellor Master Richard Pace, our secretary). He resigned a few months later.

In addition to the Deanery of St. Paul's, he was appointed to a great number of benefices and dignities. At different times he was Prebendary of South Muskham, Southwell; Prebendary of Bugthorpe, York; Archdeacon of Dorset; Treasurer of Lichfield; Archdeacon of Colchester; Prebendary of Exeter; Vicar of St Dunstan's, Stepney; Prebendary of Finsbury, London; Prebendary of Combe, Salisbury; and Dean of Exeter.

He may also have been Vicar of Llanwrig, Montgomeryshire, and Rector of Bangor, Flintshire. He was Dean of Salisbury for some years, and in April 1520, he became Reader in Greek at Cambridge. It is said to have been largely due to his representations that professorships of Greek were founded at Oxford and Cambridge."


Richard Pace came into close contact with many of the great men of the time. His was a very different life from that of the rector of a country parish. However, his master was assassinated. He was put in prison. He lived to see a friend, Sir Thomas More, executed for his beliefs and a patron, Cardinal Wolsey, only escaped the axe by dying on his way to his trial. Perhaps a peaceful life in Barwick rectory would have had its attractions after all.


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