Bishop of Lincoln , England (1514) Administrator of Bath and Wells , England (1518–1523) Administrator of Durham , England (1523–1530) Administrator of Winchester , England (1529–1530)
ALMA MATER Magdalen College, Oxford
THOMAS WOLSEY (c. March 1473 – 29 November 1530; sometimes spelled
Woolsey or Wulcy) was an English churchman , statesman and a cardinal
of the Roman
The highest political position Wolsey attained was Lord Chancellor , the King's chief adviser (formally, as his successor and disciple Thomas Cromwell was not). In that position, he enjoyed great freedom and was often depicted as an alter rex (other king). After failing to negotiate an annulment of Henry's marriage to Catherine of Aragon , Wolsey fell out of favour and was stripped of his government titles. He retreated to York to fulfill his ecclesiastical duties as Archbishop of York, a position he nominally held, but had neglected during his years in government. He was recalled to London to answer to charges of treason—a common charge used by Henry against ministers who fell out of favour—but died en route of natural causes.
* 1 Early life
* 1.1 Rise to prominence
* 2 Foreign policy
* 2.1 War with France
Field of the Cloth of Gold
* 3 Domestic achievements
* 3.1 Taxation * 3.2 Justice * 3.3 Church reforms * 3.4 Relationships * 3.5 Failures with the Church
* 4 Downfall and death * 5 Mistress and issue * 6 Fictional portrayals * 7 Memorials * 8 Other * 9 Arms * 10 Notes * 11 References * 12 Further reading * 13 External links
Thomas Wolsey was born about 1473, the son of Robert Wolsey of
Wolsey benefitted from Henry VII's introduction of measures to curb the power of the nobility - the king was willing to favour those from more humble backgrounds. Henry VII appointed Wolsey royal chaplain . In this position Wolsey served as secretary to Richard Foxe , who recognized Wolsey's innate ability and dedication and appreciated his industry and willingness to take on tedious tasks. Thomas Wolsey's remarkable rise to power from humble origins testifies to his intelligence, administrative ability, industriousness, ambition for power, and rapport with the King. In April 1508, Wolsey was sent to Scotland to discuss with King James IV rumours of the renewal of the auld alliance .
Wolsey's rise coincided with the accession in April 1509 of Henry VIII, whose character, policies and attitude to diplomacy differed significantly from those of his father. In 1509 Henry appointed Wolsey to the post of Almoner, a position that gave him a seat on the Privy Council and gave him an opportunity for greater prominence and for establishing a personal rapport with the King. A factor in Wolsey's rise was the young Henry VIII's relative lack of interest in the details of government during his early years.
RISE TO PROMINENCE
The primary counsellors whom Henry VIII inherited from his father were Richard Foxe (c. 1448–1528, Bishop of Winchester 1501–1528) and William Warham (c. 1450–1532, Archbishop of Canterbury 1503–1532). These were cautious and conservative, advising the King to act as a careful administrator like his father. Henry soon appointed to his Privy Council individuals more sympathetic to his own views and inclinations. Until 1511, Wolsey was adamantly anti-war. However, when the King expressed his enthusiasm for an invasion of France, Wolsey adapted his views to those of the King and gave persuasive speeches to the Privy Council in favour of war. Warham and Foxe, who failed to share the King's enthusiasm for the French war which started in 1512, fell from power (1515/1516) and Wolsey took over as the King's most trusted advisor and administrator. In 1515, Warham resigned as Lord Chancellor , probably under pressure from the King and from Wolsey, and Henry appointed Wolsey in his place.
Wolsey made careful moves to destroy or neutralise the influence of
other courtiers. He helped cause the fall of Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke
of Buckingham , in 1521; and in 1527 he prosecuted Henry's close
friend William Compton and Henry's ex-mistress Anne Stafford, Countess
of Huntingdon , through the ecclesiastical courts for adultery. In the
case of Charles Brandon, Duke of
Wolsey's rise to a position of great secular power paralleled his increased responsibilities in the Church. He became a Canon of Windsor in 1511. In 1514 he was made Bishop of Lincoln , and then Archbishop of York in the same year. Pope Leo X made him a cardinal in 1515, with the titular church of St Cecilia in Trastevere . Following the success of his campaign in France and the peace negotiations that followed, Wolsey's ecclesiastical career advanced further: in 1523 he became additionally Bishop of Durham , a post with wide political powers and for that reason known as Prince-Bishop of Durham.
"Cardinal Woolsey" (an archaic spelling ) by an unknown artist c.1520. Detail from an oil on panel in the National Portrait Gallery , London.
WAR WITH FRANCE
The war against France in 1512–14 was the most significant
opportunity for Wolsey to demonstrate his talents in the foreign
policy arena. A convenient justification for going to war came in 1511
in the form of a plea for help from
Pope Julius II
The first campaign against France was not a success, partly due to
the unreliability of the alliance with Ferdinand. Henry learned from
the mistakes of the campaign and in 1513, still with papal support,
launched a joint attack on France with Maximilian, successfully
capturing two French cities and causing the French to retreat.
Wolsey's ability to keep a large number of troops supplied and
equipped for the duration of the war was a major factor in its
success. Wolsey also had a key role in negotiating the Anglo-French
treaty of 1514, which secured a temporary peace between the two
nations. Under this treaty, the French king,
Meanwhile, a turnover of rulers in Europe threatened to diminish England’s influence. Peace with France in 1514 had been a true achievement for Wolsey and the King. With Henry’s sister, Mary, married to the French King, Louis XII, an alliance was formed, but Louis was not in good health. Less than three months later, Louis died and was replaced by the young and ambitious Francis I .
Queen Mary had allegedly secured a promise from Henry that if Louis
died, she could marry whomever she pleased. On Louis' death, she
secretly married Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of
The death of King Ferdinand of Spain , the father-in-law of Henry
VIII, and England's closest ally, in 1516 was a further blow.
Ferdinand was succeeded by Charles V , who immediately proposed peace
with France. On the death of
Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor
Wolsey, however, managed to assert English influence through another
means. In 1517,
Pope Leo X sought peace in Europe to form a crusade
FIELD OF THE CLOTH OF GOLD
Another of his diplomatic triumphs was the Field of the Cloth of Gold , in 1520. Wolsey organised much of this grandiose meeting between Francis I of France and Henry VIII , accompanied by some five thousand followers. Though it seemed to open the door to peaceful negotiations with France, if that was the direction the King wished to go, it was also a chance for a lavish display of English wealth and power before the rest of Europe. With both France and Spain vying for England’s allegiance, Wolsey could choose the ally that better suited his policies. Wolsey chose Charles mainly because England's economy would suffer from the loss of the lucrative cloth trade industry between England and the Netherlands had France been chosen instead.
Under Wolsey's guidance, the chief nations of Europe sought to outlaw war forever among Christian nations. Garret Mattingly studied the causes of wars in that era, finding that treaties of nonaggression such as this one could never be stronger than the armies of their sponsors. When those forces were about equal, these treaties typically widened the conflict. That is, diplomacy could sometimes postpone war, but could not prevent wars based on irreconcilable interests and ambitions. What was lacking, Mattingly concludes, was a neutral power whose judgements were generally accepted either by impartial justice or by overwhelming force.
ALLIANCE WITH SPAIN
The Treaty of London is often regarded as Wolsey's finest moment, but it was abandoned within a year. Wolsey developed links with Charles in 1520 at the Field of the Cloth of Gold. Later at the Calais Conference (1521) Wolsey signed the Secret Treaty of Bruges (1521) with Charles, stating that they would join Spain in a war against France if France refused to sign the peace treaty; ignoring the Anglo-French treaty of 1518. Wolsey's relationship with Rome was also ambivalent. Despite his links to the papacy, Wolsey was strictly Henry's servant. Though the Treaty of London was an elaboration on Pope Leo's ambitions for European peace, it was seen in Rome as a vain attempt by England to assert her influence over Europe and steal some papal thunder. Furthermore, Wolsey's peace initiatives prevented a crusade to the Holy Land , which was the catalyst for the Pope's desire for European peace.
Though the English gain from the wars of 1522–23 was minimal, their
contribution certainly aided Charles in his defeat of the French,
particularly in 1525 at the
Battle of Pavia
The closeness between England and Rome can be seen in the formulation
League of Cognac
The final blow to this policy came in 1529, when the French made peace with Charles. Meanwhile, the French also continued to honour the " Auld Alliance " with Scotland, stirring up hostility on England's border. With peace between France and the Emperor, there was no one to free the Pope from Charles, who had effectively held Clement VII captive since the Sack of Rome in 1527. Therefore, there was little hope of securing Henry an annulment from his marriage to Charles’ aunt, Catherine of Aragon . Since 1527, Wolsey’s foreign policy had been dominated by his attempts to secure an annulment for his master, and, by 1529, none of his endeavours had succeeded.
Henry's marriage to Catherine of Aragon had produced no sons who survived infancy; the Wars of the Roses were still within living memory, leading to the fear of a power struggle after Henry's death. Henry felt the people would only accept a male king, and not his daughter Mary. Henry believed God had cursed him for the sin of marrying the widow of his elder brother. He also believed that the papal dispensation for his marriage to Catherine was invalid because it was based upon the claim that Catherine was still a virgin after her first husband's death. Henry argued that Catherine's claim was not credible, and thus, the original papal dispensation must be withdrawn and their marriage annulled. Henry's motivation has been attributed to his determination to have a son and heir, and to his desire for Anne Boleyn , one of his wife's maids-of-honour . Catherine had no further pregnancies after 1519; Henry began annulment proceedings in 1527.
Catherine, however, maintained that she had been a virgin when she
married King Henry. Because Catherine was opposed to the annulment and
a return to her previous status as Dowager Princess of Wales, the
annulment request became a matter of international diplomacy, with
Catherine's nephew, Charles V , pressuring the Pope to not annul his
Pope Clement VII
Wolsey appealed to the Pope for an annulment on three fronts. Firstly, he tried to convince the Pope that the original papal dispensation was void as the marriage clearly went against words in the Bible, in the book of Leviticus . Secondly, Wolsey objected to the original dispensation on technical grounds, and claimed it was incorrectly worded. (However, shortly afterwards, a correctly worded version was found in Spain.) Thirdly, Wolsey wanted the Pope to allow the final decision to be made in England, which of course, as papal legate, he would supervise.
In 1528 the Pope decided to allow two papal legates to decide the outcome in England: Wolsey and Cardinal Campeggio . Wolsey was confident of the decision. However, Campeggio took a long time to arrive, and when he finally did arrive he delayed proceedings so much, the case had to be suspended in July 1529, effectively sealing Wolsey's fate.
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During his fourteen years of chancellorship, Cardinal Wolsey had more power than any other Crown servant in English history. Professor Sara Nair James says that in 1515–1529 Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, "would be the most powerful man in England except, possibly, for the king." As long as he was in the King’s favour, Wolsey had a large amount of freedom within the domestic sphere, and had his hand in nearly every aspect of its ruling. For much of the time, Henry VIII had complete confidence in him, and as Henry's interests inclined more towards foreign policy, he was willing to give Wolsey a free hand in reforming the management of domestic affairs, for which Wolsey had grand plans. Historian John Guy explains Wolsey's methods: Only in the broadest respects was he taking independent decisions....It was Wolsey who almost invariably calculated the available options and ranked them for royal consideration; who established the parameters of each successive debate; who controlled the flow of official information; who selected the king's secretaries, middle-ranked officials, and JPs; and who promulgated decisions himself had largely shaped, if not strictly taken.
Operating with the firm support of the king, and with special powers over the church given by the Pope as legate, Wolsey dominated civic affairs, administration, the law, the church, and foreign-policy. He was amazingly energetic and far-reaching. In terms of achievements, he built a great fortune for himself, and was a major benefactor of arts, humanities and education. He projected numerous reforms, but in the end English government had not changed much. For all the promise, there was very little achievement of note. From the king's perspective, his greatest failure was an inability to get a divorce when Henry VIII needed a new wife to give him a son who would be the undisputed heir to the throne. Historians agree that Wolsey was a disappointment. In the end, he conspired with Henry's enemies, and died of natural causes before he could be beheaded.
Wolsey made significant changes to the taxation system, devising, with the treasurer of the Chamber, John Heron, the "Subsidy". This revolutionary form of tax was based upon accurate valuations of the taxpayer's wealth, where one shilling was taken per pound from the income. The old fixed tax of 15ths and 10ths had meant that those who earned very little money had to pay almost as much in tax as the wealthy. With the new income tax the poorer members of society paid much less. This more efficient form of taxation enabled Wolsey to raise enough money for the King's foreign expeditions, bringing in over £300,000. Wolsey was also able to raise considerable amounts of capital through other means, such as through "benevolences" and enforced loans from the nobility, which raised £200,000 in 1522.
As a legal administrator Wolsey reinvented the equity court, where
the verdict was decided by the judge on the principle of "fairness".
As an alternative to the Common Law courts, Wolsey re-established the
position of the prerogative courts of the
Star Chamber and the Court
of Chancery . The system in both courts concentrated on simple,
inexpensive cases, and promised impartial justice. He also established
Court of Requests
Wolsey also used his courts to tackle national controversies, such as
the pressing issue of enclosures . The countryside had been thrown
into discord by the entrepreneurial actions of landlords enclosing
areas of land and converting from arable farming to pastoral farming,
requiring fewer workers.
Wolsey used the Star Chamber to enforce his 1518 policy of Just Price, which attempted to regulate the price of meat in London and other major cities. Those found to be charging excessive amounts were prosecuted by the Chamber. After the bad harvest of 1527, Wolsey took the initiative of buying up surplus grain and selling it off cheaply to the needy. This act of generosity greatly eased disorder and became common practice after a disappointing harvest.
Although it would be difficult to find a better example of abuses in
the Church than the Cardinal himself, Wolsey appeared to make some
steps towards reform. In 1524 and 1527 he used his powers as papal
legate to dissolve thirty decayed monasteries where corruption had run
rife, including abbeys in
Wolsey died five years before Henry's dissolution of the monasteries began.
Wolsey's position in power relied solely on maintaining good relations with Henry. He grew increasingly suspicious of the "minions"—young, influential members of the Privy chamber —particularly after infiltrating one of his own men into the group. He attempted many times to disperse them from court, giving them jobs that took them to the Continent and far from the King. After the Amicable Grant failed, the minions began to undermine him once again. Consequently, Wolsey devised a grand plan of administrative reforms, incorporating the notorious Eltham Ordinances of 1526. This reduced the members of the Privy Council from twelve to six, removing Henry's friends such as Sir William Compton and Nicholas Carew .
One of Wolsey's greatest impediments was his lack of popularity amongst the nobles at court and in Parliament. Their dislikes and mistrusts partly stemmed from Wolsey's excessive demands for money in the form of the Subsidy or through Benevolences. They also resented the Act of Resumption of 1486, by which Henry VII had resumed possession of all lands granted by the crown since 1455. These lands had passed onto his heir, Henry VIII. Many nobles resented the rise to power of a low-born man, whilst others simply disliked that he monopolized the court and concealed information from the Privy Council.
When mass riots broke out in
East Anglia , which should have been
under the control of the Dukes of Norfolk and
The same can be said for Wolsey's legal reforms. By making justice accessible to all and encouraging more people to bring their cases to court, the system was ultimately abused. The courts became overloaded with incoherent, tenuous cases, which would have been far too expensive to have rambled on in the Common Law courts. Wolsey eventually ordered all minor cases out of the Star Chamber in 1528. The result of this venture was further resentment from the nobility and the gentry.
FAILURES WITH THE CHURCH
As well as his State duties, Wolsey simultaneously attempted to exert his influence over the Church in England. As cardinal and, from 1524, lifetime papal legate, Wolsey was continually vying for control over others in the Church. His principal rival was William Warham , the Archbishop of Canterbury , who made it more difficult for Wolsey to follow through with his plans for reform. Despite making promises to reform the bishoprics of England and Ireland, and, in 1519, encouraging monasteries to embark on a programme of reform, he did nothing to bring about these changes.
DOWNFALL AND DEATH
In spite of having many enemies, Cardinal Wolsey retained Henry VIII
's confidence until Henry decided to seek an annulment of his marriage
Catherine of Aragon , so that he could marry
It was rumoured that
In 1529 Wolsey was stripped of his government office and property,
including his magnificently expanded residence of
I see the matter against me how it is framed. But if I had served God as diligently as I have done the King, he would not have given me over in my grey hairs.
In keeping with his practice of erecting magnificent buildings at Hampton Court, Westminster and Oxford, Wolsey had planned a magnificent tomb at Windsor by Benedetto da Rovezzano and Giovanni da Maiano , but he was buried in Leicester Abbey (now Abbey Park ) without a monument. Henry VIII contemplated using the impressive black sarcophagus for himself, but Lord Nelson now lies in it, in the crypt of St. Paul\'s Cathedral . Henry often receives credit for artistic patronage that properly belongs to Wolsey.
MISTRESS AND ISSUE
Wolsey lived in a "non-canonical" marriage for around a decade with a
Joan Larke (born circa 1490) of Yarmouth , Norfolk. The
edict that priests, regardless of their functions or the character of
their work, should remain celibate had not been wholeheartedly
accepted in England. Wolsey subsequently had two children, both born
before he was made bishop. These were a son,
Thomas Wynter (born circa
1510) and a daughter, Dorothy (born circa 1512), both of whom lived
to adulthood. The son was sent to live with a family in
* Wolsey plays a major role in the early stages of the Autobiography
Henry VIII by
Margaret George .
* Wolsey is the primary antagonist of
* Before Wolsey was removed from power, he planned to make his home
* Cardinal Wolsey's bust was used in the 1980s above the London Transport roundel on London\'s buses in west and south-west London as the symbol of the Cardinal bus district, which was named after him and his residence at Hampton Court.
Notes Cardinal Wolsey's arms were granted to him by the College
of Arms in 1525. They are now used by Christ Church, Oxford.
Escutcheon Sable, on a cross engrailed argent a lion passant gules
between four leopards' faces azure; on a chief Or a rose gules barbed
vert and seeded or between two Cornish choughs proper Symbolism The
silver cross is derived from the arms of the Ufford Earls of Suffolk,
and the four leopards' faces from the de la Pole Earls and Dukes of
Suffolk, Wolsey being a
* ^ "Alastair Armstrong, Henry VIII: Authority, Nation and Religion
* ^ A B C
Thomas Wolsey (1471–1530), royal minister, archbishop of York,
and cardinal" by Sybil M. Jack in