Thomas Wolsey, son of Robert Wolsey and Joan Daundy Wolsey, was born in about 1471. His father was a Yeoman farmer but his mother was a member of the wealthy and influential Daundy family." (1) His father ran a tavern in Ipswich before he started trading as a butcher and cattle dealer in 1473. It is believed his mother's brother, Edmund Daundy, a successful merchant, paid for his education. He graduated with a BA from Oxford University in 1486. (2)
Wolsey worked as a bursar before becoming a priest in March 1498. Roger Lockyer has pointed out:" For an ambitious and talented boy, not born into the upper ranks of late medieval society, the Church was the only possible opening, and Wolsey soon entered it." (3)
Thomas Wolsey was appointed dean of divinity in Magdalen College before he was assigned to Lydd, Kent, in 1501. Seeking a higher position than parish priest, Wolsey entered the household of Henry Deane, archbishop of Canterbury, as one of his chaplains. Deane died on 15th February 1503 and for the next four years he worked for Sir Richard Nanfan, treasurer of Calais. In 1507 Wolsey became associated with Richard Foxe, bishop of Winchester. On his recommendation he was sent as an envoy to the Emperor Maximilian in Flanders. (4)
In March 1508 he was sent to Edinburgh. He saw James IV on 2nd April but his mission was unsuccessful, as was his embassy to the Low Countries in October to negotiate the marriage of Henry VII to Margaret of Austria. In February 1509 Henry rewarded him with the deanship of Lincoln Cathedral. About this time Wolsey began a relationship with a woman called Joan Lark. "Their relationship, along with the two children born of it, did much to fuel the accusations of lechery and fornication so widely levelled at him." (5)
Wolsey's main sponsor, Richard Foxe, recommended him to Henry VIII. As a result he became the king's almoner in November 1509. It is suggested that Wolsey "fascinated the young king, who shirked business, but admired brilliance, energy and wit." (6) Peter Ackroyd points out that Wolsey was a generation younger than the old bishops of the council. "Here was a man whom the young king could take into his confidence, and upon whom he could rely. Wolsey rose at four in the morning, and could work for twelve hours at a stretch without intermission... When he had finished his labours he heard Mass and then ate a light supper before retiring." (7)
George Cavendish claims that Wolsey soon gained the appreciation of the young monarch as he was the "most earnest and readiest in all the council to advance the king's only will and pleasure". According to Cavendish "Wolsey gained the favour of Henry VIII because the other counsellors tried to persuade Henry to preside at Council meetings, as his father had done, and Wolsey encouraged him to go hunting and enjoy himself while Wolsey governed the country for him. Cavendish. added that whereas the other ministers advised Henry to do what they thought he ought to do, Wolsey found out what Henry wanted to do, and then advised him to do it." (8)
Wolsey's rise to power upset Thomas Ruthall and Henry's other leading counsellors who found themselves ignored after the rise of Wolsey. He also came into conflict with leading nobles such as Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk and Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk. John Guy has claimed that Wolsey was helped by the fact that he had no guiding political principles. "He was flexible and opportunist; he thought in European terms and on the grand scale; and he was the consummate politician.... Wolsey interfered constantly in the affairs of the nobility, leading gentry, and citizens of London, and demanded the attendance of many of them at Court. (9)
Under Henry VII, England had avoided continental war. His son, by contrast, longed for war against France. This policy was very unpopular with members of the Royal Council, including Thomas More, who "thought it wisdom to sit still and let them alone" and advised peace against the hazard and cost of war. Wolsey supported Henry and suggested that he joined the Holy League with Pope Julius II and his father-in-law, Ferdinand of Spain, so that they might with papal approval attack France. The alliance was agreed on 13th November 1511 and war was declared the following month. (10)
The plan was for English soldiers to arrive in south-west France. A fleet of eighteen warships were prepared to take 15,000 men to Europe. These men would link up with the Spanish army trying to take Navarre from the French and capture the valuable province of Guyenne. The troops arrived on 7th June 1512, but Ferdinand had to intention of keeping his side of the bargain and the two armies did not join up together. As Roger Lockyer pointed out: "He (Ferdinand) planned to use the English troops merely as a screen behind which his own men could complete the conquest of Navarre, and he had no interest in helping Henry fulfil his grandiose ambitions." (11)
The men were forced to camp in open fields in extremely hot weather while waiting to be called into battle. No tents, or provisions, had been prepared for them. Dysentery caused many casualties and there was talk of mutiny. Henry reluctantly ordered his troops to return to England in October 1512 without accomplishing anything against the enemy. The daughter of Emperor Maximilian said "Englishmen have so long abstained from war they lack experience from disuse." (12)
The following year England sent another large army to France with Henry VIII himself in command. Wolsey was in charge of the preparations and was effectively quartermaster-general of the army. He organized the fleet, and made provisions for 25,000 men to sail to France under the banner of the king. On 30th June, 1513, Henry crossed the channel with a bodyguard of 300 men and a retinue of 115 priests and singers of the chapel. Henry first victory came on 16th August when he defeated a French force near Thérouanne. (13)
Henry remained in the rear with his bodyguards. "His great and ornate bed was transported along the route eastward, and was set up each night within a pavilion made from cloth of gold. The king had eleven tents, connected one with another; one for his cook, and one for his kitchen. He was escorted, wherever he walked or rode, by fourteen young boys in coats of gold. The bells on his horse were made of gold. The most elaborate of the royal tents was decorated with golden ducats and golden florins. He was intent on displaying his magnificence as well as his valour." (14)
Charles Brandon, High Marshal of the army, led a successful assault on Tournai. When handed the keys of the city, Henry passed them to Brandon, who led his troops in to occupy it. Soon afterwards Henry granted him the outlying castle of Mortain. He was also granted the title of the Duke of Suffolk. (15) Despite the fiasco of the first expedition Henry had demonstrated that his kingdom was once again a power to be reckoned with.
However, the cost of the war was enormous. It is estimated that most of the wealth he inherited from his father had been used to finance the two expeditions to France. Wolsey persuaded Parliament to grant a tax upon every adult male, but this proved of course unpopular and difficult to collect. It now became clear that England could not afford to wage war on equal terms with the larger powers of Europe. The French king had three times as many subjects, and also triple the resources. The Spanish king possessed six times as many subjects, and five times the revenue. "Henry's ambition and appetite for glory outstripped his strength." (16)
In August 1514, King Louis XII of France agreed to peace terms. This included his willingness to marry Henry's sister Mary Tudor. Henry hoped that Mary would have a son and therefore create the possibility of uniting the two kingdoms. Mary was eighteen and Louis was fifty-two. Antonia Fraser has pointed out: "Queens were not expected to be great beauties... it was more often a subject of surprised comment if they were... Mary was lovely, fair-haired, oval faced." (17) A French observer described her as "a nymph from heaven" and "one of the most beautiful young women in the world". (18) One diplomat reported that it was shocking that "so fair a lady" should marry "so feeble, old and pocky a man". (19) It is not recorded what Mary thought of the proposed marriage but her biographer claims she was "apparently a dutiful and obedient sister, prepared to serve the political purposes of a brother for whom she had a genuine affection and respect". (20)
Princess Mary left England for France on 2nd October, 1514. She was accompanied by a retinue of nearly 100 English ladies-in-waiting. After a stormy crossing, during which one ship was wrecked, an extremely seasick princess was literally carried ashore near Boulogne the following day. The couple were married on 9th October. Mary Boleyn and Anne Boleyn were among the six young girls permitted to remain at the French court by the king after he dismissed all Mary's other English attendants the day after the wedding. According to Alison Plowden, the "excitement and physical strain of the wedding and its attendant festivities proved altogether too much for the frail elderly Louis XIII" who died on 1st January, 1515. (21) It was reported in France that he was "danced to death" by his "energetic young" wife. (22)
Henry richly rewarded Thomas Wolsey for his part in the victory over France. On 15th September 1514, he was appointed as Archbishop of Canterbury. Henry also made him his Lord Chancellor. Wolsey now had all the powers of a modern prime minister, with the controls of a regular Parliament. The following year Pope Leo X made him a cardinal at the King's request. This promotion resulted in the creation of many enemies. Polydore Vergil represented him as "singing, laughing, dancing and playing with the young courtiers". George Cavendish claims that Wolsey's success was based on his recognition that Henry disliked routine work, and describes him as "putting the King in comfort that he shall not need to spare any time of his pleasure for any business that should necessary happen in the Council as long as he being there". (23)
John Guy, the author of Tudor England (1986) points out that on 2nd May 1516 Wolsey unveiled his new law-enforcement plan. He points out that during this period Wolsey was active in reforming the legal system: "He aimed to provide impartial justice in the ordinary courts of common law, irrespective of a litigant's social status... Wolsey proclaimed the notion that the people should have justice as a right." Wolsey's critics claim that he "offered justice to the poor partly to strike back at those among the rich who were his political opponents." (24)
During the reign of Henry VIII people living in London complained about the large number of foreigners living in the city. John Lincoln, a second-hand dealer, persuaded Dr. Beal, the vicar of St Mary's Church in Spitalfields, to preach against the foreigners in his sermon in Easter week of 1517. Beal agreed and to a great congregation in the fields outside the city he "denounced the aliens who stole Englishmen's livelihoods and seduced their wives and daughters; he said that even birds expelled interlopers from their nests, and that men were entitled to fight for their country against foreigners." (25)
Sebastian Giustinian, the Venetian ambassador in England, reported: "After Easter, a certain preacher, at the instigation of a citizen of London, preached as usual in the fields, where the whole city was in the habit of assembling with the magistrates. He abused the strangers in the town, and their manners and customs, alleging that they not only deprived the English of their industry and of the profits arising there from, but dishonored their dwellings by taking their wives and daughters. With this exasperating language and much more besides, he so irritated the populace that they threatened to cut the strangers to pieces and sack their houses on the first of May." (26)
Edward Hall, a twenty year old student, wrote: "The multitude of strangers was so great about London that the poor English could get any living... The foreigners... were so proud that they disdained, mocked, and oppressed the Englishmen, which was the beginning of the grudge... The Genoans, Frenchmen, and other strangers said and boasted themselves to be in such favour with the king and his council that they set naught by the rulers of the city... How miserably the common artificers lived, and scarcely could get any work to find them, their wives, and children, for there were such a number of artificers strangers that took away all the living in manner." (27)
On 28th April 1517 John Lincoln posted a bill upon one of the doors of St Paul's Cathedral, complaining that "the foreigners" were given too much favour by the king and council. It claimed that "the foreigners" had "bought wools to the undoing of Englishmen". Sebastian Giustinian, went to see Cardinal Wolsey about his concerns. He sent for London's mayor and told him that "your young and riotous people will rise and distress the strangers". (28)
Giustinian went to see Henry VIII at Richmond Palace on 29th April to tell him that he heard rumours that the "people would rise and kill the foreigners on May Day". Henry promised that all foreigners would be protected. Cardinal Wolsey ordered the Lord Mayor and the city officers to enforce a curfew on the eve of May Day, when large crowds always assembled and trouble sometimes occurred. (29)
Sir Thomas More, the Under-Sheriff of London and his men, patrolled the streets that night. Some young apprentices broke the curfew and when an officer tried to arrest one of them, a riot broke out. More's men charged the rioters with their staves. This only made them more angry and soon afterwards a large crowd of young people were attacking foreigners and burning the houses of Venetian, French, Italian, Flemish and German merchants. (30)
Edward Hall reported that "diverse young men of the city assaulted the aliens as they passed by the streets, and some were stricken and some were buffeted, and some thrown into the canal... Then suddenly was a common secret rumour, and no man could tell how it began, then on May Day next the city would rebel and slay all aliens, in so much as diverse strangers fled out of the city." (31)
It was reported that rioters ran through the city with "clubs and weapons... throwing stones, bricks, bats, hot water, shoes and boots, and sacking the houses of many foreigners". It is estimated that 2,000 Londoners sacked the houses of foreign merchants. This became known as the Evil May Day Riots. It was claimed that women were partly to blame for this riot. The government announced that "no women should come together to babble and talk, but all men should keep their wives in their houses". (32)
The rioting continued all night and on the morning and afternoon of May Day. According to Jasper Ridley: "The hated Frenchmen were the chief target of the rioters. Several were assaulted in the street. The French ambassador escaped, when his house was attacked, by hiding in a church steeple... The London watch was quite incapable of dealing with the rioters. The Constable of the Tower opened fire on them with his cannon, but only shot a few rounds and did no damage." (33)
That afternoon, Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey, brought 1,300 soldiers into the city and mass arrests began to take place. The first batch of 279 people were brought before the courts later that day. Edward Hall described the prisoners as "some men, some lads, some children of thirteen years... there was a great mourning of fathers and friends for their children and kinsfolk." (34) Charles Wriothesley claimed that eleven men were executed. (35) Hall thought it was thirteen but Sebastian Giustinian said it was twenty and Francesco Chieregato thought it was as high as sixty. Those executed suffered the penalty of being "hanged, drawn and quartered".
John Lincoln was tried separately on 6th May. He was found guilty and executed. The public was shocked by the way Henry VIII had dealt with the rioters. Jasper Ridley points out: "For the first time since he became King, Henry risked his popularity with the people by his severe repression of the anti-foreign rioters of Evil May Day. The resentment felt against the foreigners; the sympathy for the young apprentices; the grief of the parents when their boys of thirteen were executed; the feeling that in many cases the more innocent had been punished while the more guilty escaped; and the tales, which Hall reported, of the brutality of the Earl of Surrey's soldiers who suppressed the disorders, all aroused great sympathy of the rioters." (36)
Sebastian Giustinian commented that he was shocked that so many young boys were executed when no one had been killed by the rioters. (37) David Starkey has argued that this illustrated the fact that Henry was "far more sympathetic to foreigners than the common folk". (38) Others have suggested that it was very important for Henry "to show the foreign merchants that they could safely come to London and carry on their business there; and, even more important, he would not tolerate anarchy in his realm, or any defiance of his royal authority and laws." (39)
According to Edward Hall the rest of the captured rioters, with halters around their necks, were brought to Westminster Hall in the presence of Henry VIII. He sat on his throne, from where he condemned them all to death. Cardinal Thomas Wolsey then fell on his knees and begged the king to show compassion while the prisoners themselves called out "Mercy, Mercy!" Eventually the king relented and granted them pardon. At which point they cast off their halters and "jumped for joy". (40)
However, Francesco Chieregato, the representative of Pope Leo X in Henry's court, reported that Catherine of Aragon was responsible for this act of compassion: "Our most serene and most compassionate queen, with tears in her eyes and on her bended knees, obtained their pardon from His Majesty, the act of grace being performed with great ceremony." (41)
Sharon L. Jansen has pointed out that Garrett Mattingly, the author of Catherine of Aragon (1941) and Jack Scarisbrick, the author of Henry VIII (1968) have suggested this story is true: "Chieregato's seems to be the only report that Queen Catherine secured the pardons... Nevertheless, the story that Catherine sought the pardon, interceding on her knees for the prisoners, has proven irresistible to historians." (42)
John Edward Bowle, takes the view that it was Cardinal Thomas Wolsey who got the men pardoned. (43) Bowle relies on information from George Cavendish, a close friend of Wolsey and the author of The Life and Death of Cardinal Wolsey (1558). Cavendish claims that it was a shrewd political move as Wolsey dealt with the symptoms, not the cause, and the king doubtless got more credit with his people than the cardinal. (44)
Wolsey decided, with the king, to reinforce the procedures of the law by means of a body known as the Star Chamber (the roof of the chamber was studded with stars). In the Star Chamber the Lord Chancellor could question and punish, in particular, the nobility. He punished lords for maintaining too many retainers, and knights for the bad treatment of tenants. He investigated cases of perjury and forgery. Wolsey also regulated prices and food supplies, on the assumption that scarcity might provoke riots. He made it clear that one of the main objectives of the Star Chamber was to punish public disorder.
Wolsey made many enemies by the firmness with which he enforced the law, particularly against the magnates. He also punished unpopular sheriffs. Justices of the Peace were forced to attend where they would be criticised for their performances. "Wolsey liked to pose as the champion of the poor and helpless against their social superiors, which in many ways he was. But in the Star Chamber... he was also concerned to settle private scores, and his victims were quick to complain." (45)
Wolsey announced that he wanted to receive complaints about wrongdoing from private individuals and gave open access to star chamber. Wolsey attracted far too much business to star chamber and the court's machinery became clogged with civil actions. He was therefore forced to establish a temporary series of overflow tribunals to relieve the pressure on star chamber. (46)
It has been claimed that for several years Cardinal Wolsey was he most powerful man in the land apart from Henry VIII. According to Geoffrey Moorhouse Wolsey was the effective ruler of England, directing all domestic policies and conducting the nation's foreign affairs. "Arrogant by nature, he was also greedy for emoluments of one sort and another, a lucrative Church appointment here, the acquisition of property there. He built palaces, including Hampton Court, and in these he entertained extravagantly with an entourage which far outnumbered that of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who would attend royal pageants with seventy servants, whereas Wolsey always turned up with 300 or more." (47)
Thomas Wolsey status as papal legate gave him additional power to reform the English Church. He began in the spring of 1519 by sending "visitors" to various monasteries in order to record the conditions and habits of the monks. The reports suggested that various levels of disorder and abuse were taking place. Wolsey punished the principal offenders and sent out strict regulations and statutes to guide future conduct.
Wolsey was of course breaking his own guidelines. When he was a young priest he became the father of two illegitimate children. This "did much to fuel the accusations of lechery and fornication so widely levelled at him". He acknowledged and provided for the children, the son, Thomas Wynter, was appointed archdeacon of Suffolk and his daughter, Dorothy, became a nun at Shaftesbury. (48)
Thomas Wolsey also became extremely rich by collecting ecclesiastical posts. "He was in succession bishop of Bath and Wells, bishop of Durham and bishop of Winchester; these were held in tandem with the archbishopic of York, and in 1521 he obtained the richest abbey of the land in St Albans... Wolsey was without doubt the richest man in England - richer even then the king, whose income was curtailed by large responsibilities - but he always argued that his own magnificence helped to sustain the power of the Church". (49) As well as building up a large art collection the style and size of his household, seemed to be an attempt to rival Henry VIII and foreign envoys described Wolsey as a "second king". (50)
Wolsey suggested to Henry VIII that he might want to distinguish himself from other European princess by showing himself to be erudite as well as a supporter of the Roman Catholic Church. With the help of Wolsey and Thomas More, Henry composed a reply to Martin Luther entitled In Defence of the Seven Sacraments. (51) Pope Leo X was delighted with the document and in 1521 he granted him the title, Defender of the Faith. Luther responded by denouncing Henry as the "king of lies" and a "damnable and rotten worm". As Peter Ackroyd has pointed out: "Henry was never warmly disposed towards Lutherism and, in most respects, remained an orthodox Catholic." (52)
Thomas Wolsey decided in 1525 to establish Cardinal College (now Christ Church) in Oxford. In order to pay for this he dissolved twenty-nine monasteries on the grounds that they were greedy and uncaring landlords. It was also claimed that the monks had been corrupted by the wealth obtained from renting their land. The college was built on the land owned by the Priory of St Frideswide. (53) Wolsey selected a young lawyer, Thomas Cromwell, to arrange the selling the lands and goods owned by the monasteries. (54)
Roger Lockyer, the author of Tudor and Stuart Britain (1985) has pointed out: "Wolsey was a great prince of the Church in a tradition so alien to modern assumptions that it is difficult to comprehend him. Yet he was not without his virtues. He promoted education, and made his household a place where men of intelligence and ability learned how to serve the state. He was also tolerant, preferring to burn heretical books rather than the heretics themselves; and although he rose to power by royal favour he was not unworthy of it, for he had an enormous capacity for work, and knew how to win men." (55)
Henry Percy worked for Thomas Wolsey and another member of staff, George Cavendish observed his relationship with Anne Boleyn. (56) According to Cavendish, Percy took advantage when Wolsey was away: "Lord Percy would then resort for his pastime into the Queen's maidens, being at the last more conversant with Mistress Anne Boleyn than with any other; so that there grew such a secret love between them that at length they were insured together, intending to marry." (57)
Cavendish claims that it was on the orders of Henry VIII in 1522 that Wolsey who brought their relationship to an end. Percy was sent back home and Boleyn was expelled from court. She was so angry that "she smoked" red-hot with rage. (58) However, Alison Plowden, the author of Tudor Women (2002), thinks there is another explanation: "A less romantic but more plausible explanation is that the Cardinal had simply acted to prevent two thoughtless young people from upsetting the plans of their elders and betters. Wolsey and the Earl of Northumberland between them had no difficulty in reducing Lord Percy to an apologetic pulp, but Anne showed her furious disappointment so plainly that she was sent home in disgrace. (59)
George Cavendish has argued that Henry VIII was "casting amorous eyes" in Anne Boleyn's direction as early as 1523. The historian, Alison Weir, suggests that this is likely to have been true: "Cavendish's information was probably correct; he was an eyewitness of the events of the period who was often taken into Wolsey's confidence, and Wolsey, of course, knew nearly all his master's secrets and made it his business to learn about the private intrigues of the court." (60)
Cavendish was highly critical of Anne Boleyn and claimed that she promoted Protestantism. He quotes her as saying "I was the author why the laws were made". However, he does admit that she was "a very good wit". (61) Cavendish also suggests that she had never forgotten the role played by Wolsey in bringing her relationship with Henry Percy to an end. Cavendish believes that she used her influence to turn Henry VIII against his master. (62) Wolsey told Cavendish she was "the night Crow" and "called continually upon the King in his ear, with such a vehemency" she was irresistible. (63)
Henry VIII had several mistresses. However, in 1526 he began a relationship with Anne Boleyn, a maid of honour to Catherine of Aragon. She was a good musician and a talented singer. She was also extremely intelligent and her time in the French court provided her with a great deal of interesting conversation. Anne was according to contemporary sources not a conventional beauty. One member of Henry's court wrote that Anne was "not one of the handsomest women in the world" she had a "swarthy complexion, long neck, wide mouth, bosom not much raised, and in fact had nothing but the king's great appetite, and her eyes, which are black and beautiful and take great effect".
Boleyn's biographer, Eric William Ives, has claimed: "Her complexion was sallow and she was noted only for her magnificent dark hair, her expressive eyes, and her elegant neck.... The reason why she was such a sensation was not looks but personality and education. Having been brought up in the two leading courts in Europe she had a continental polish which was unique in the provincial court of Henry VIII. She could sing, play instruments, and dance and she led female fashion." One member of court claimed that "no one would ever have taken her to be English by her manners, but a native-born Frenchwoman". (64)
Henry VIII seemed to find her very entertaining and was often seen dancing with her. Hilary Mantel has pointed out: "We don't know exactly when he fell for Anne Boleyn. Her sister Mary had already been his mistress. Perhaps Henry simply didn't have much imagination. The court's erotic life seems knotted, intertwined, almost incestuous; the same faces, the same limbs and organs in different combinations. The king did not have many affairs, or many that we know about. He recognised only one illegitimate child. He valued discretion, deniability. His mistresses, whoever they were, faded back into private life. But the pattern broke with Anne Boleyn." (65)
For several years Henry had been planning to divorce Catherine of Aragon. Now he knew who he wanted to marry - Anne. At the age of thirty-six he fell deeply in love with a woman some sixteen years his junior. (66) Henry wrote Anne a series of passionate love letters. In 1526 he told her: "Seeing I cannot be present in person with you, I send you the nearest thing to that possible, that is, my picture set in bracelets ... wishing myself in their place, when it shall please you." Soon afterwards he wrote during a hunting exhibition: "I send you this letter begging you to give me an account of the state you are in... I send you by this bearer a buck killed late last night by my hand, hoping, when you eat it, you will think of the hunter." (67)
Philippa Jones has suggested in Elizabeth: Virgin Queen? (2010) that refusing to become his mistress was part of Anne's strategy to become Henry's wife: "Anne frequently commented in her letters to the King that although her heart and soul were his to enjoy, her body would never be. By refusing to become Henry's mistress, Anne caught and retained his interest. Henry might find casual sexual gratification with others, but it was Anne that he truly wanted." (68) Historians have suggested that Anne was trying to persuade Henry to marry her: "Henry found her not easily tamed, for it is clear that she had the strength of will to withhold her favours until she was sure of being made his queen... All the same it must remain somewhat surprising that sexual passion should have turned a conservative, easy-going, politically cautious ruler into a revolutionary, head-strong, almost reckless tyrant. Nothing else, however, will account for the facts." (69)
Anne's biographer, Eric William Ives, has argued: "At first, however, Henry had no thought of marriage. He saw Anne as someone to replace her sister, Mary (wife of one of the privy chamber staff, William Carey), who had just ceased to be the royal mistress. Certainly the physical side of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon was already over and, with no male heir, Henry decided by the spring of 1527 that he had never validly been married and that his first marriage must be annulled.... However, Anne continued to refuse his advances, and the king realized that by marrying her he could kill two birds with one stone, possess Anne and gain a new wife." (70)
Catherine was in a difficult position. Now aged 44, she found it difficult to compete with Anne Boleyn. "Now her once slender figure was thickened with repeated child-bearing, and her lovely hair had darkened to a muddy brown, but visiting ambassadors still remarked on the excellence of her complexion. A dumpy little woman with a soft, sweet voice which had never lost its trace of foreign accent, and the imperturbable dignity which comes from generations of pride of caste, she faced the enemy armoured by an utter inward conviction of right and truth, and her own unbreakable will." (71)
It was suggested that Catherine should agree to annul the marriage. Alison Weir, the author of The Six Wives of Henry VIII (2007) believes that if she agreed to this measure Henry would have treated her well. "Yet time and again she had opposed him, seemingly blind to the very real dilemma he was in with regard to the succession, and when thwarted Henry could, and frequently did, became cruel." (72)
Alison Plowden argues that for Catherine it was impossible to accept the deal being put forward: "Henry's partisans have accused his first wife of spiritual arrogance, of bigotry and bloody-mindedness, and undoubtedly she was one of those uncomfortable people who would literally rather die than compromise over a moral issue. There's also no doubt that she was an uncommonly proud and stubborn woman. But to have yielded would have meant admitting to the world that she had lived all her married life in incestuous adultery, that she had been no more than 'the King's harlot', the Princess her daughter worth no more than any man's casually begotten bastard; and it would have meant seeing another woman occupying her place. The meekest of wives might well have jibbed at such self-sacrifice; for one of Catherine's background and temperament it was unthinkable." (73)
Henry sent a message to the Pope Clement VII arguing that his marriage to Catherine of Aragon had been invalid as she had previously been married to his brother Arthur. Henry relied on Thomas Wolsey to sort the situation out. Wolsey visited Pope Clement, who had fled to Orvieto to escape from King Charles V. Clement pleaded ignorance of canon law. One of Wolsey's ambassadors told him that the "whole of canon law was locked in the bosom of his Holiness". Pope Clement replied, "It may be so, but, alas, God has forgotten to give me the key to open it." (74)
On 13th April 1528, Pope Clement appointed Cardinal Wolsey and Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggi to examine all the facts and pass a verdict without possibility of appeal. (75) Wolsey wrote to Campeggi and pleaded with him to visit London to sort the matter out: "I hope all things shall be done according to the will of God, the desire of the king, the quiet of the kingdom, and to our honour." (76)
Campeggi eventually arrived in England on 8th October 1528. He informed Wolsey that he had been ordered by Pope Clement not to do anything that would encourage King Charles V of Spain to attack Rome. He therefore ordered Campeggi to do all in his power to reconcile Henry and Catherine. If this was not possible, he was to use delaying tactics. (77)
Campeggi visited Catherine of Aragon. She claimed that she had shared a bed on only seven occasions, and at no time had Prince Arthur "known" her. (78) She was therefore the legitimate wife of Henry VIII because at the time of their marriage she was "intact and uncorrupted". Campeggi suggested that she took a vow of "perpetual chastity" and enter a convent and submit to a divorce. She rejected this idea and said she intended to "live and die in the estate of matrimony, into which God had called her, and that she would always be of that opinion and never change it". Campeggi reported that "although she might be torn limb by limb" nothing would "compel her to alter this opinion." (79) However, she was "an obedient daughter of the Church" and she "would submit to the Pope's judgement in the matter and abide by his decision, whichever way it might go". (80)
According to a letter he sent to Pope Clement VII, Campeggi claims that Wolsey was "not in favour of the affair" but "dare not admit this openly, nor can he help to prevent it; on the contrary he has to hide his feelings and pretend to be eagerly pursuing when the king desires." Wolsey admitted to Campeggi "I have to satisfy the king, whatever the consequences. (81)
On 25th January, 1529, Jean du Bellay told King François I that "Cardinal Wolsey... is in grave difficulty, for the affair has gone so far that, if it do not take effect, the King his master will blame him for it, and terminally". Du Bellay also suggested that Anne Boleyn was plotting against Wolsey who was in dispute with Sir Thomas Cheney. He pointed out that Cheney "had given offence" to Wolsey "within the last few days, and, for that reason, had been expelled from the Court." However, "the young lady (Boleyn) has put Cheney in again." (82)
As David Starkey has pointed out: "Hitherto, whatever Anne may have thought about Wolsey in private, her public dealings with him had been correct, even warm. Now she had broken with him with deliberate, public ostentation. It can only have been because she had decided that his initiatives in Rome were doomed to failure... For the King, formally at least, was giving his full backing to his minister. Who would be proved right: the mistress or the minister? And where would that leave Henry?" (83)
Lorenzo Campeggi's biographer, T. F. Mayer, claims that Henry VIII tried to bribe him by promising him the bishopric of Durham, but he could not find a way of persuading Catherine to change her mind. (84) After several months of careful diplomatic negotiation a trial opened at Blackfriars on 18th June 1529 to prove the illegality of the marriage. It was presided over by Campeggi and Wolsey. Henry VIII ordered Catherine to choose the lawyers who would act as her counsel. He said she could pick from the best in the realm. She choose Archbishop William Warham and John Fisher, the Bishop of Rochester.
Catherine of Aragon made a spirited defence of her position. George Cavendish was an eyewitness in the court. He quotes her saying: "Sir, I beseech you, for all the loves that hath been betrayed us, and for the love of God, let me have justice and right. Take of me some pity and compassion, for I am a poor woman and a stranger born out of your dominion. I have here no assured friend, and much less indifferent counsel. I flee to you as the head of justice within this realm. Alas, Sir, where have I offended you? Or what occasion have you of displeasure, that you intend to put me from you? I take God and all the world to witness that I have been to you a true, humble and obedient wife, ever conformable to your will and pleasure. I have been pleased and contented with all things wherein you had delight and dalliance. I never grudged a word or countenance, or showed a spark of discontent. I loved all those whom you loved only for your sake, whether I had cause or no, and whether they were my friends or enemies. This twenty years and more I have been your true wife, and by me you have had many children, though it hath pleased God to call them out of this world, which hath been no fault in me." (85)
The trial was adjourned by Campeggi on 30th July to allow Catherine's petition to reach Rome. With the encouragement of Anne Boleyn, Henry became convinced that Wolsey's loyalties lay with the Pope, not England, and in 1529 he was dismissed from office. (86) Wolsey blamed Anne for his situation and he called her "the night Crow" who was always in a position to "caw into the king's private ear". (87)
Wolsey's palaces and colleges were confiscated by the crown as a punishment for his offences, and he retired to his home in York. He began secretly negotiating with foreign powers in an attempt to get their support in persuading Henry to restore him to favour. His leading advisor, Thomas Cromwell, warned him that his enemies knew what he was doing. He was arrested and charged with high treason. (88)
Wolsey had been in poor health for several years. Portraits show that he was grossly overweight and his biographer, Sybil M. Jack, suggested he might have been suffering from diabetes. "Doctors knew at least some of the dietary measures which could help to control it. They also knew that failure to eat regularly was dangerous. Wolsey's refusal to eat after his arrest, and his subsequent dysentery and vomiting, are reported by the Venetian ambassador." (89)
Thomas Wolsey died on 29th November 1530 before he could be brought to trial.
Thomas Wolsey was a poor man's son, of Ipswich... he reigned a long season, ruling all things within the realm.
Thomas Wolsey's father, Robert Wolsey... was a Yeoman farmer in the Suffolk village of Sternfield... Robert Wolsey married Joan Daundy, a member of the wealthy and influential Daundy family.... Robert Wolsey saw a chance of making money, and rising in the world, by opening a butcher's shop in Ipswich... in 1466.
Wolsey's father ran a tavern in the parish of St Mary at the Elms, Ipswich, from 1464 at the latest. It is most probable that Thomas was born there in October 1472... Robert traded as a butcher from about that time... Wolsey received his early education at Ipswich and proceeded to Oxford, where he graduated BA in 1486 from Magdalen, aged only fifteen.
Wolsey had become very unpopular... with the nobility... and the King was ready to sacrifice him to save his own prestige, which had suffered from his heartless treatment of the Queen.
Thomas Wolsey... seems almost at once to have impressed the young king with his stamina and masterly of detail... He had the gift of affability as well of industry, and was infinitely resourceful; he did what the king wanted, and did it quickly... He was thirty-eight years old, and a generation younger than the old bishops of the council. Here was a man whom the young king could take into his confidence, and upon whom he could rely. Wolsey rose at four in the morning, and could work for twelve hours at a stretch without intermission... When he had finished his labours he heard Mass and then ate a light supper before retiring.
As almoner and member of the Council (1509), he fascinated the young king, who shirked business, but admired brilliance, energy and wit... He hunted and danced; he lived in fabulous splendor, a tireless politician and diplomat, in a blaze of ambition and pride... As Chancellor and Legate he was virtually to rule England for seventeen years.
One of the most prominent signatures attached to the petition was that of the man to whom Henry had chiefly entrusted his hopes, Thomas Wolsey, Cardinal Archbishop of York and Lord Chancellor of England. The son of a butcher from Ipswich, Wolsey's climb to authority had been spectacular from the moment he was appointed Henry VII's chaplain and by now he was the most powerful man in the land apart from the monarch himself, and even that at times could be regarded as scarcely more than nominal; although Henry always had the last say when his interest was engaged, between 1515 and 1529 Wolsey was the effective ruler of England, directing all domestic policies and conducting the nation's foreign affairs. Arrogant by nature, he was also greedy for emoluments of one sort and another, a lucrative Church appointment here, the acquisition of property there. He built palaces, including Hampton Court, and in these he entertained extravagantly with an entourage which far outnumbered that of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who would attend royal pageants with seventy servants, whereas Wolsey always turned up with 300 or more. Like many another priest he fathered children and saw to it that his son was promoted to one valuable benefice after another, despite the fact that he was not even old enough to be ordained. On the other hand, mindful of his own background, he had much sympathy for the poor in any struggle they had with the rich (who regarded him as an upstart) and he appointed commissions to look into the vexatious matter of enclosures; though it did little good, because it did not address the real problems of rural poverty, he had illegally created hedges and walls pulled down and open fields restored. His greatest achievement at home was to overhaul the legal system and provide it with a sound bedrock on which later reforms could be built.
Wolsey was a great prince of the Church in a tradition so alien to modern assumptions that it is difficult to comprehend him. Yet he was not without his virtues. He promoted education, and made his household a place where men of intelligence and ability learned how to serve the state. He was also tolerant, preferring to burn heretical books rather than the heretics themselves; and although he rose to power by royal favour he was not unworthy of it, for he had an enormous capacity for work, and knew how to win men.
The lasting enigma of Wolsey's personality may be a sign that the dilemma he faced over a choice of moral imperatives was never resolved. Hence the wide differences in subsequent assessment, variously presenting him as a warmonger, a peacemaker, and a statesman; a religious reformer and a worldling hampered by clerical garb; an impartial judge and a corrupt taker of bribes. Although archival research from the late nineteenth century onwards has brought new material to light which has made it possible to amend or amplify current understanding of the affairs, both national and international, in which Wolsey was involved, little new has been discovered to help resolve either the ambiguities of his aims or the truth about the character of a fundamentally secret man who claimed to be in all things merely the king's servant.
Soon after his accession, Henry VIII appointed him (Thomas Wolsey) to be his almoner, and the autumn of 1511 he was made a member of the King's Council. He was far more energetic than the other counsellors, and in no time he was dominating the Council. In contrast to Foxe and Ruthall (Henry's two senior ministers), Wolsey was a very fast worker; and he was always ready to take a short cut instead of proceeding through the proper channels if this would help expedite business, even if it meant breaking the regulations... These qualities appealed to Henry....
According to George Cavendish... Wolsey gained the favour of Henry VIII because the other counsellors tried to persuade Henry to preside at Council meetings, as his father had done, and Wolsey encouraged him to go hunting and enjoy himself while Wolsey governed the country for him. Cavendish. added that whereas the other ministers advised Henry to do what they thought he ought to do, Wolsey found out what Henry wanted to do, and then advised him to do it...
Wolsey was just the minister that Henry required. He would carry out the duties of government very efficiently, and take the burden of state affairs off Henry's shoulders, while always informing Henry of what was happening and consulting with him, and always leaving the final decision to the King.
Cardinal Wolsey had a special gift of natural eloquence with a filed tongue to pronounce the same... He was therefore able... to persuade and allure all men to his purpose... The almoner ruled all them that before ruled him.
When the older councillors, bred under Henry VII, complained that his son was too wedded to pleasure and suggested that he attend Council meetings more regularly, Wolsey, to Henry VIII's delight, counselled the exact opposite. George Cavendish claimed Wolsey openly offered to relieve Henry of the weight of public affairs; it seems unlikely but Wolsey got his way by whatever means. Wolsey... had no guiding political principles. He was flexible and opportunist; he thought in European terms and on the grand scale; and he was the consummate politician.... Wolsey interfered constantly in the affairs of the nobility, leading gentry, and citizens of London, and demanded the attendance of many of them at Court...
It scarcely be denied that Wolsey's buildings, chapels, art collections, and projected tomb, as well as the style and size of his household, marked conscious attempts to rival Henry. Foreign envoys described Wolsey as a "second king" almost all of the time, and not simply when he was playing the diplomatic game as Henry's surrogate abroad...
What he started, he rarely completed; he worked in fits and starts, stimulated by the scent of political advantage rather than sustained concern that policy should be seen through. As lord chancellor he sought better law enforcement, justice for the poor, and the Crown's re-endowment through regular taxation, but he met with mixed success; in particular he defied accepted constitutional wisdom by attempting to levy taxation without parliamentary consent.
In England, moreover, papal power had come to mean the power of the Legate Thomas Wolsey who was hated not only by the nobles, the lawyers and the taxpayers, but by most of his own bishops. His wars and diplomacy, which had been expensive and inglorious, had almost all been either pro-papal or else intended to further his own designs on the papacy. Hatred of his power could and did slide easily into hatred for the Pope's. What the historian has to explain is not so much why there was a Reformation in England but why there was so little resistance to it; and in Wolsey it may well be thought that much of the explanation is to be found.
The affairs of Cardinal Wolsey are getting worse every day... the cause of this misunderstanding between the King and the Cardinal can be no other than the utter failure of the measures taken in order to bring about the divorce.
With the divorce case referred to Rome, there seemed little prospect of Henry securing a favourable judgement... It signalled Wolsey's fall from favour.... By October (1529), Wolsey had been charged with Praemunire - the illegal exercise of papal authority in England - in his role as legate. On the 22nd, having resigned the lord chancellorship to... Sir Thomas More, Wolsey acknowledged his offences and placed himself and his possessions in the King's hands.
The tug-of-war between Henry's inclination to mercy, purely out of motives of self-interest, and Anne's wish for revenge, tormented Wolsey with alternate hope and terror for over a year. On the very day he left York Place in November 1529 Henry had sent him a message of goodwill. No sooner had the Cardinal landed from his barge at Putney, been heaved by his footmen on to the waiting mule and started up the hill with his escort, than Sir Henry Norris came galloping towards them. He gave Wolsey a gold ring with a rich stone as a token from the King...
Overcome by emotion at this sudden, unexpected reversal of fortune, Wolsey leapt off his mule like a young man, threw himself on his knees in the mire, raised his hands for joy, then snatched off the velvet cap from his head, breaking the laces in his enthusiasm. But Wolsey's joy-was premature, for it was not the King's goodwill, it was Anne's vindictiveness that won. When Wolsey reached the palace of Esher, where he was to be allowed to spend the winter, a bleak sight awaited him.
The place was bare of even the most basic furniture. Wolsey, whose household had once boasted, for the use of guests alone, two hundred and forty-eight beds with silk sheets, found himself without any beds at all, without cups, plates and tablecloths. And although the King later restored some of his goods, the Cardinal's life at Esher was made a misery by petty acts of revenge - one day, a request for some of his prized tall yeomen; another, a command that the new gallery in which he took such pleasure should be dismantled and `sent to the King's palace at Westminster'. Wolsey knew who was responsible.