Thomas Wolsey (c. March 1473 – 29 November 1530; sometimes
spelled Woolsey or Wulcy) was an English churchman, statesman and a
cardinal of the Catholic Church. When
Henry VIII became King of
England in 1509, Wolsey became the King's almoner. Wolsey's affairs
prospered, and by 1514 he had become the controlling figure in
virtually all matters of state and extremely powerful within the
Church, as Archbishop of York, a cleric in England junior only to the
Archbishop of Canterbury. His appointment in 1515 as a cardinal by
Pope Leo X
Pope Leo X gave him precedence over all other English clerics.
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 on the way from natural causes.
1 Early life
1.1 Rise to prominence
2 Foreign policy
2.1 War with France
2.2 Papal legate
2.3 Field of the Cloth of Gold
2.4 Alliance with Spain
2.5 The Annulment
3 Domestic achievements
3.3 Church reforms
3.5 Failures with the Church
4 Downfall and death
5 Mistress and issue
6 Fictional portrayals
12 Further reading
13 External links
Thomas Wolsey was born about 1473, the son of Robert Wolsey of Ipswich
and his wife Joan Daundy. Widespread traditions identify his father
as a butcher. Wolsey attended
Ipswich School and Magdalen College
School before studying theology at Magdalen College, Oxford. On 10
March 1498 he was ordained as a priest in Marlborough, Wiltshire
and remained in Oxford, first as the Master of Magdalen College
School, before quickly being appointed the dean of divinity. Between
1500 and 1509 he held a living as rector of St Mary's church,
Limington, in Somerset. In 1502, he became a chaplain to Henry
Deane, archbishop of Canterbury, who died the following year. He
was then taken into the household of Sir Richard Nanfan, who made
Wolsey executor of his estate. After Nanfan's death in 1507, Wolsey
entered the service of King Henry VII.
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
Banner of the arms of Cardinal Wolsey as Archbishop of York, impaling
his personal arms (viewer's right) with the arms of his office as
Archbishop of York
Archbishop of York (viewer's left)
The primary counsellors whom
Henry VIII inherited from his father were
Richard Foxe (c. 1448–1528,
Bishop of Winchester
Bishop of Winchester 1501–1528) and
William Warham (c. 1450–1532,
Archbishop of Canterbury
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
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 Suffolk, Wolsey adopted a different
strategy, attempting to win Charles' favour by his actions after the
Duke secretly married Henry's sister Mary Tudor, Queen of France, much
to the King's displeasure. Wolsey advised the King not to execute the
newlyweds, but to embrace them; whether this was through care for the
couple or on account of the threat they represented for his own safety
is unclear. The bride, as both sister to Henry and Dowager Queen of
France, had high royal status that could potential mean a threat to
Wolsey should she so choose.
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
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,
War with France
The war against France in 1512–1514 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, who was beginning
to feel threatened by France. England formed an alliance with the
Pope, Ferdinand V of Spain, and Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor
Louis XII of France.
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, Louis XII, would marry
Henry's young sister, Mary. In addition England was able to keep the
captured city of
Tournai and to secure an increase in the annual
pension paid by France.
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 Suffolk, with Francis
I's assistance, which prevented another marriage alliance. As Mary was
the only princess Henry could use to secure marriage alliances, this
was a bitter blow. Wolsey then proposed an alliance with Spain and the
Holy Roman Empire
Holy Roman Empire against France.
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, in 1519, Charles was
elected in his stead; thus Charles ruled a substantial portion of
Europe and English influence became limited on the continent.
Wolsey, however, managed to assert English influence through another
means. In 1517,
Pope Leo X
Pope Leo X sought peace in Europe to form a crusade
against the Ottoman Empire. In 1518 Wolsey was made
Papal Legate in
England, enabling him to work for the Pope's desire for peace by
organising the Treaty of London. The Treaty showed Wolsey as the
arbiter of Europe, organising a massive peace summit involving twenty
nations. This put England at the forefront of European diplomacy and
drew her out of isolation, making her a desirable ally. This is well
illustrated by the Anglo-French treaty signed two days afterwards. It
was partly this peace treaty that caused conflict between France and
Spain. In 1519, when Charles V ascended to the throne of the Holy
Roman Emperor, Francis I, the King of France, was infuriated. He had
invested enormous sums in bribing the electorate to elect him as
emperor, and thus, he used the Treaty of London as a justification for
the Habsburg-Valois conflict. Wolsey appeared to act as mediator
between the two powers, both of whom were vying for England’s
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
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
Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggio, who represented the Pope at the Treaty of
London, was kept waiting for many months in Calais before being
allowed to cross the Channel and join the festivities in London;
thereby, Wolsey was asserting his independence of Rome. An alternative
hypothesis is that Campeggio was kept waiting until Wolsey received
his legacy, thus asserting Wolsey's attachment to Rome.
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, where Charles' army
captured the French king, Francis I. Henry then felt there was a
realistic opportunity for him to seize the French crown, to which the
kings of England had long laid claim. Parliament, however, refused to
raise taxes. This led Wolsey to devise the Amicable Grant, which was
met with even more hostility, and ultimately led to his downfall. In
1525, after Charles had abandoned England as an ally, Wolsey began to
negotiate with France, and the
Treaty of the More was signed, during
Francis' captivity, with the Regent of France – his mother, Louise
The closeness between England and Rome can be seen in the formulation
League of Cognac
League of Cognac in 1526. Though England was not a part of it,
the League was organized in part by Wolsey with papal support.
Wolsey's plan was that the League of Cognac, composed of an alliance
between France and some Italian states, would challenge Charles'
League of Cambrai. This initiative was both a gesture of allegiance to
Rome and an answer to growing concerns about Charles V's dominance
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
Catherine of Aragon had produced no sons who
survived infancy; the
Wars of the Roses
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
Pope Clement VII was presented with a problem: he
could either anger Charles or else anger Henry. He delayed announcing
a decision for as long as possible; this infuriated Henry and Anne
Boleyn, who began to doubt Wolsey's loyalty to the Crown over the
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 instructions in the Bible,
found 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
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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 [the king] 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, with some
success in areas such as finance, taxation educational provision and
justice. However 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 man dogged by other men's failures
and his own ambition. In the end, abandoned by the king, his enemies
conspired against him and he died of natural causes before he could be
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
Court of Requests (although this court was only given this name
later on) for the poor, where no fees were required. Wolsey's legal
reforms were popular, and overflow courts were required to attend to
all the cases. Many powerful individuals who had felt themselves
invincible under the law found themselves convicted; for example, in
Earl of Northumberland
Earl of Northumberland was sent to
Fleet Prison and in 1516
Lord Abergavenny was accused of illegal retaining.
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
The Tudors valued stability, and this mass urban
migration represented a serious crisis. Wolsey conducted national
enquires in 1517, 1518 and 1527 into the presence of enclosures. In
the course of his administration he used the court of Chancery to
prosecute two hundred and sixty-four landowners, including peers,
bishops, knights, religious heads, and
Oxford colleges. Enclosures
were seen as directly linked to rural unemployment and depopulation,
vagrancy, food shortages and, accordingly, inflation. This pattern was
repeated with many of Wolsey's other initiatives, particularly his
quest to abolish enclosure. Despite spending significant time and
effort in investigating the state of the countryside and prosecuting
numerous offenders, Wolsey freely surrendered his policy during the
parliament of 1523 to ensure that Parliament passed his proposed taxes
for Henry's war in France. Enclosures remained a problem for many
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 monastic life had
virtually ceased in practice including monasteries in
Oxford. However, he then used the income to found a grammar school in
Ipswich (The King's School, Ipswich) and
Cardinal College in Oxford
(in 1532, after Wolsey's fall, college was refounded as King Henry
VIII's College by Henry VIII; it is now known as Christ Church). In
1528 he began to limit the benefit of clergy. He also attempted, as
legate to force reform on monastic orders like the Augustinian canons.
Wolsey died five years before Henry's dissolution of the monasteries
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
When mass riots broke out in East Anglia, which should have been under
the control of the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, Henry was quick to
denounce the Amicable Grant, and began to lose faith in his chief
minister. During the relatively peaceful period in England after the
War of the Roses, the population of the nation increased. With more
demand for food and no additional supply, prices increased. Landowners
were forced to enclose land and convert to pastoral farming, which
brought in more profit. Wolsey's quest against enclosure was fruitless
in terms of restoring the stability of the economy.
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 to
Catherine of Aragon, so that he could marry Anne Boleyn. Wolsey's
failure to secure the annulment directly caused his downfall and
It was rumoured that
Anne Boleyn and her faction convinced Henry that
Wolsey was deliberately slowing proceedings; as a result, he was
arrested in 1529, and the Pope decided that the official decision
should be made in Rome, not England.
In 1529 Wolsey was stripped of his government office and property,
including his magnificently expanded residence of Hampton Court, which
Henry took to replace the
Palace of Westminster
Palace of Westminster as his own main London
residence. However, Wolsey was permitted to remain Archbishop of York.
He travelled to Yorkshire for the first time in his career, but at
Cawood in North Yorkshire, he was accused of treason and ordered to
London by Henry Percy, 6th Earl of Northumberland. In great distress,
he set out for the capital with his personal chaplain, Edmund Bonner.
He fell ill on the journey, and died at
Leicester on 29 November 1530,
around the age of 57. Just before his death he reputedly spoke these
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
Benedetto da Rovezzano and Giovanni da
Maiano, but he was buried in
Leicester Abbey (now Abbey Park) without
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
Willesden and was tutored in his early years by Maurice Birchinshaw.
He later married and had children of his own. Dorothy was adopted by
John Clansey, and was in due course placed in Shaftesbury Nunnery,
which had a fine reputation as a "finishing school". Following the
dissolution of the monasteries (under Thomas Cromwell) she was awarded
a pension. Following his rapid promotion, Larke became a source of
embarrassment to Wolsey who arranged for her marriage to George Legh
of Adlington, in Cheshire, circa 1519. He himself provided the
Henry VIII had a mansion built for Legh at Cheshunt Great
Wolsey plays a major role in the early stages of the Autobiography of
Henry VIII by Margaret George.
Wolsey is the primary antagonist of William Shakespeare's Henry VIII,
which depicts him as an arrogant power-grabber. Henry Irving, Walter
John Gielgud were well known for their stage performances
of the role, and
Timothy West played him in the 1979 BBC Television
Shakespeare production of that play. Henry Irving's reading of
Wolsey's Farewell survives on a rare wax cylinder recording.
Wolsey is a minor but important character in Robert Bolt's play A Man
for All Seasons; he was played in the two film versions of the play by
Orson Welles (1966) and
John Gielgud (1988), respectively.
Wolsey was portrayed somewhat more sympathetically in the film Anne of
the Thousand Days (1969)—a performance that earned
Anthony Quayle an
Academy Award nomination.
Wolsey was played by
John Baskcomb in The Six Wives of Henry VIII
(1970) and by
John Bryans when this series was made into the film
Henry VIII and His Six Wives (1972).
David Suchet plays him in
Henry VIII with Ray Winstone.
Terry Scott portrayed a rather comical Wolsey in Carry On Henry
William Griffis played Wolsey in the Broadway musical Rex, which
Nicol Williamson as King Henry. (1976)
In the Showtime series
The Tudors (2007), he is portrayed by Sam
Neill. The cable TV production interprets his death as suicide by
cutthroat, covered up by the King and his chief minister Thomas
Cromwell out of residual affection for him.
He is one of the main characters in Hilary Mantel's novel Wolf Hall
(2009), played by
Paul Jesson in the RSC production and by Jonathan
Pryce in the television serial. He is portrayed through Thomas
Cromwell's eyes as a mentor and a loyal, if ruthless, statesman. A
desire to revenge Wolsey's downfall and ignominious death fuel many of
Cromwell's actions through the latter half of
Wolf Hall and its
sequel, Bring Up the Bodies, which was incorporated into the stage and
In the TVE series
Carlos, rey emperador (2015), he is portrayed by
Wolsey appears in The White Princess, STARZ, Season 1, Episode 8
(2017) played by Mark Edel-Hunt.
Before Wolsey was removed from power, he planned to make his home town
Ipswich a seat of learning. He built a substantial college, which
for two years, 1528–1530, was parent of the Queen Elizabeth School
Ipswich Grammar School, which today flourishes on another site. All
that remains of the Wolsey structure is the former waterside gate,
Francis Grose in his Antiquities, which can still be seen
on College Street.
In 1930 Wolsey was commemorated in
Ipswich with a substantial Pageant
Bronze statue of Cardinal
Thomas Wolsey in St Nicholas Street, Ipswich
He is far from forgotten in the town of Ipswich, an appeal having
been launched in October 2009 to erect a statue there as a permanent
commemoration. Arising from this project, a more-than-life-sized
bronze statue to Cardinal Wolsey, shown seated facing south towards St
Peter's Church (the former mediaeval Augustinian Priory Church of St
Peter and St Paul, which Wolsey annexed as the chapel of his College
of Ipswich), teaching from a book, with a familiar cat at his side,
was unveiled from beneath a covering flag on 29 June 2011 near the
site of the Wolsey home on St Nicholas Street, Ipswich. After a civic
procession from the Tower Church, the image, created by sculptor David
Annand, was dedicated by blessing in the name of the Holy Trinity by
the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, and launched in the civic
capacity by the Mayor of Ipswich, in the presence of a crowd of
A statue of Wolsey stands in Leicester's Abbey Park close to the site
of his burial. It was donated by the Wolsey hosiery company, a major
employer in the city and also named after the cardinal.
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.
Coat of arms
Coat of arms of Thomas Wolsey
Cardinal Wolsey's arms were granted to him by the College of Arms in
1525. They are now used by Christ Church, Oxford.
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
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
Suffolk native. The Cornish choughs,
or "beckets" as they are sometimes known, are a reference to Wolsey's
namesake, Thomas Becket. The red lion symbolises Wolsey's patron, Pope
Leo X, while the rose symbolises his king, Henry VIII.
^ "Alastair Armstrong, Henry VIII: Authority, Nation and Religion
^ a b c
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Thomas Wolsey (1473–1530), royal minister, archbishop of York, and
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^ Plaque #2710 on Open Plaques.
^ "Church of Saint Mary". Images of England. English Heritage.
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^ Williams p.26
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^ Macdougall, Norman, James IV, Tuckwell (1997), p.254: Letters of
James IV, Scottish History Society (1953) pp. xlii, 107–111
^ Williams, p. 26
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, "Henry VIII"; 2004
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, "William Warham"; 2004.
^ Sir Egerton Brydges (16 July 2007). Censura literaria: Containing
titles, abstracts, and opinions of old English books, with original
disquisitions, articles of biography, and other literary antiquities.
Printed for Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown. Retrieved 25 June
^ a b Scarisbrick,
Henry VIII pp 31-36.
^ J.D. Mackie, The Earlier Tudors, 1485–1558 (1952), pp. 271–77
^ Harris, Barbara (1989). "Power, Profit, and Passion: Mary Tudor,
Charles Brandon, and the Arranged Marriage in Early Tudor England".
Feminist Studies. 15: 59–88 – via JSTOR.
^ Gwyn, The King's Cardinal pp 58-103.
Henry VIII pp 74-80.
^ Mackie, Earlier Tudors pp 310-12.
^ Garret Mattingly, "An Early Nonaggression Pact," Journal of Modern
History, (1938) 10#1 pp 1–30 in JSTOR
^ G.W. Bernard, War, Taxation, and Rebellion in Early Tudor England:
Henry VIII, Wolsey, and the
Amicable Grant of 1525 (Palgrave
Henry VIII pp 140-62.
Henry VIII pp 149-59.
Henry VIII ch 7, 8.
^ Sara Nair James, "Cardinal Wolsey: The English Cardinal Italianate"
in Christopher Cobb, ed. (2009). Renaissance Papers 2008. Camden
House. p. 1. CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
^ John Guy, Tudor England (1988) p 87.
^ S. T. Bindoff, Tudor England (1950), p. 78.
^ J. D. Mackie, The Earlier Tudors 1485–1558 (1952), pp. 286–334.
^ "History Learning Site". History Learning Site. 30 March 2007.
Retrieved 14 May 2012.
^ Early Tudor Tombs by Edward Chaney
^ Matusiak, John (2014-09-01). Wolsey: The Life of King Henry VIII's
Cardinal. The History Press. ISBN 9780750957762.
^ a b Cardinal Wolsey: A Life in Renaissance Europe by Stella Fletcher
^ The Cardinal and the Secretary by Neville Williams
Oxford Dictionary National Biography, Thomas [Winter] Wynter.
^ Kilgarriff, Michael. "'HENRY IRVING and the PHONOGRAPH: BENNETT
MAXWELL'". Theirvingsociety.org.uk. Archived from the original on 8
March 2012. Retrieved 14 May 2012.
^ The Wolsey Statue appeal Archived 3 September 2011 at the Wayback
^ Ipswich, Evening Star, 30 June 2011. Wolsey's Gate
^ Crosby, Colin. "Cardinal Wolsey Statue (Leicester) - Colin Crosby
Heritage Tours". Colin Crosby Heritage Tours.
^ "London Transport - Local Bus Maps". eplates.info. Retrieved 26
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cardinal" by Sybil M. Jack in
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
Henry VIII and His Court by Neville Williams (1971).
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Anglo-Italian Cultural Relations since the Renaissance. Frank Cass
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Henry VIII, Wolsey & the
Amicable Grant of 1525 (1986). 164pp
Bernard, G. W. "The fall of Wolsey reconsidered." Journal of British
Studies 35.3 (1996): 277-310.
Cavendish, George. The Life and Death of Cardinal Wolsey, 1611.
(Cavendish was gentleman usher to Thomas Wolsey.)
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Wolsey. (2 vol 1958). online vol 1; online vol 2
Fletcher, Stella. Cardinal Wolsey: A Life in Renaissance Europe (2009)
Gunn, S. J. and P.G. Lindley. Cardinal Wolsey: Church, State & Art
Guy, John. Tudor England (1988) pp 80–115.
Gwyn, Peter. The King's Cardinal: The Rise and fall of Thomas Wolsey
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Bruges reconsidered." Historical Journal 23.4 (1980): 755-772.
Mackie, J. D. The Earlier Tudors, 1485–1558 (1952)
Pollard, A. F. Wolsey. (1929). online
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and the Politics of Henry VIII. Viking, 1983. online
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Thomas Wolsey and
Thomas Cromwell, 1975.
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Wilson, Derek (6 April 2002). In the Lion's Court: Power, Ambition,
and Sudden Death in the Reign of Henry VIII. St Martins Press.
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