Cardinal Thomas Wolsey Lord Chancellor Henry Viii - Facts, Life, Death

Research Topics Presentation Tips History Essays British History Tudor Life Henry VIII Wolsey, Thomas Cardinal

Thomas Wolsey was the son of an Ipswich butcher. He began his career as a minor cleric and rose to be archbishop of York in 1514. He became cardinal legate of all England and Lord Chancellor in 1515. In 1524, he was papal legate for life. Wolsey ran the business of government while Henry VIII enjoyed his life as King. Being chief chancellor, Wolsey answered only to the King. Wolsey had power over the entire Church of England from the Archbishop of Canterbury to the simple monk of a monastery.

Titles: Cardinal, Papal Legate, Bishop of Winchester, Archbishop of York, Abbot of St. Albans.

Rise to Power

Wolsey took charge of three sons of Thomas Grey, 1st marquees of Dorset. Thomas Grey presented Wolsey to the rectory of Limington in Somerset in 1500. In 1501, Wolsey became the chaplain to Archbishop Deane. In 1503, he became the chaplain to Sir Richard Nanfan, the deputy lieutenant of Calais. Nanfan recommended Wolsey to King Henry VII. Wolsey became the chaplain to Henry VII. After Henry VII died in 1509, Wolsey was appointed almoner to Henry VIII. By 1511, Wolsey was the most influential counselor of Henry VIII. He encouraged Henry to join the Pope in a campaign against France which turned out a failure. However, Wolsey arranged a perpetual peace treaty in 1514 which included the marriage of Henry's sister Mary Tudor to King Louis XII then 60 years old. Wolsey was awarded the archbishopric of York and the Bishoprics of Tournai and Lincoln. He was made a Cardinal in 1515 and appointed Lord Chancellor in Dec 1515. As Chancellor, Wolsey presided over public sessions in the star chamber that involved jurisdiction over semi criminal cases. He punished lords, knights and men of all sorts. This made him many enemies among the nobility. His jurisdiction also covered perjury, forgery, fraud, food prices and more. He helped enforce the law, restoring order and the authority of the central government. Wolsey was sympathetic to the poor.

Through diplomacy, Wolsey rose in the church to papal legate which he shared with Cardinal Campeggio in 1518. He was awarded his own commission in 1518. The appointment by the Pope, gave Wolsey authority over Archbishop Warham (archbishop of Canterbury) and the entire Church of England. It placed him directly under the Pope's authority. This made Wolsey all powerful. He answered only to the King in secular issues and only to the Pope.

The dream of Cardinal Wolsey was to build a college that was more magnificent than any other. The foundation of Christ Church was laid in 1525, but Wolsey fell from favor before it was completed. In 1532, it was renamed as King Henry VIII college which existed for 13 years. It was reinstated again in which the cathedral and college were joined.

Abuses of Power

Wolsey did little to reform the abuses of the Church. He did dissolve a few monastic houses and used the proceeds to finance his college at Oxford, Christ Church.

Hampton CourtWolsey gained riches from his positions and showed them off by dressing lavishly and entertaining extravagantly. Hampton court was said to be a finer palace than any the King had. Wolsey did not adhere to the Church's rule of Celibacy. His morals were lax. He fathered 2 children by his mistress. He was guilty of being a pluralist and an absentee. Wolsey never visited any of his dioceses. He held the see of York, the abbey of St. Albans and the bishoprics of Bath and Wells, Durham and Winchester. The abuses of Wolsey church powers help weaken papal power in England. Wolsey delegated most of his jurisdictions to others because he had become so engrossed by foreign affairs. He tried to persuade the King's allies to help get him (Wolsey) elected to Pope. Charles V promised to give his support twice but failed to do so.

Wolsey was a rich man. He had more wealth than the king. Wolsey residences were Hampton court and York Palace. Hampton Court took over 400 courtiers and servants to run.

Pope Clement VII was a prisoner of Charles V, Catharine of Aragon's nephew. Henry VIII wanted an annulment of his marriage to Catherine which he could only get through the Pope. To secure a divorce from the Pope, Wolsey had to free the Pope from Charles V. In August 1527, Wolsey concluded a French alliance which was unpopular. In 1528, Wolsey began a war with the Emperor Charles to free the Pope. The war was very unpopular. In 1529, the French were defeated in Italy. The Pope was forced to come to terms with Charles V. Campeggio was recalled without giving a decision on the annulment. This was the end of Wolsey's reign. The nobility hated him. The church did not support him. The people were heavily taxed due to his policies. So everyone was anxious to be rid of him. At this time, he was allowed to keep the archbishopric of York but he was to surrender all his other offices. He began secret correspondence with France and Rome to gain their support. Wolsey decided to visit his dioceses of York for the first time and called convocation thus alarming the King. On Nov. 4, 1530, Wolsey was arrested at Cawood. On the journey back to London, Wolsey being a sick man anyway, died at Leicester abbey on Nov 29. He is buried at Leicester abbey

Both the people and the clergy hated him. Cardinal Wolsey was the epitome of corruption. Wolsey had a bastard son who at 10 years old had many parishes, which collected monies from the people in the sum of 3 million a year. Henry protected Wolsey for years.

Wolsey was despised by the nobility because of his lowly birth. He was all powerful. He directed his interests towards diplomacy rather than reform. The height of his career was between 1515- 1527. Wolsey was strongly pro-French throughout most of his career which contributed to his unpopularity because France was England's traditional enemy. In 1516, he allied England with Spain when Charles Duke of Burgundy became King of Aragon and Castile. Spain's power controlled the Holy Roman Empire and the lowlands. Spain was very rich with the gold and silver from the New World. Charles was the nephew of Catherine of Aragon Henry's 1st wife. Charles V baited Wolsey with the prospect of becoming Pope. Charles troops sacked Rome and held the Pope prisoner. When Henry VIII sought an annulment from Catherine of Aragon, it was impossible to grant. The Pope refused to give Wolsey the power to annul Henry's marriage. Instead, he sent Cardinal Campeggio to England for the hearing with instructions to decide nothing so as not to provoke Charles the Emperor. The fact that Wolsey could not get the Pope to annul Henry's marriage to Catharine was his downfall. Over the years, Wolsey had acquired many enemies and they were ready to pounce. His chief enemies were the Howards, Buckingham and Anne Boleyn. Wolsey's enemies used the ancient Statute of Praemunare to destroy him. It outlawed direct papal jurisdiction in England. Wolsey's office of papal legate was a blatant violation. Wolsey a sick man, died before being arrested for treason

Wolsey's place was taken by 3 men, Sir Thomas More, Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk and Thomas Boleyn, Duke of Suffolk.

Cardinal Thomas Wolsey Facts

  • Born 1473
  • Died: 1530
  • Father was Robert Wolsey of Ipswich
  • Mother was Joan Wolsey
  • Educated at Magdalene College
  • Received his BA at age 15
  • Became master of Magdalene College
  • Ordained a Priest in 1598

see also Medieval Castles in England

for explanations of terms see Tudor England Government Policies