A Faithful Servant: the Ambition and Power of Thomas Wolsey

During the beginning of Henry VIII reign, the young and inexperienced new king was content with letting his father’s advisers continue to govern the realm from the security of the council. As Henry wasn’t interested in the responsibilities, namely regarding the political aspects and hard work that went into being the king, he let most of the trials and tribulations fall upon these selected councilmen, until one minister came to dominate over the rest. The Archbishop of York, Thomas, Cardinal Wolsey (1473-1530) seemed to take over when the members of Henry’s council began to retire or die off.
This rise to power that the cardinal was experiencing, as well as his new found friendship with the king eventually lead to his very dramatic fall from grace due to the actions regarding the King’s Great Matter not suiting his position with the church. The Great Cardinal came from very humble beginnings in comparison to some of his counterparts. A son of a butcher and cattle dealer from Ipswich Suffolk, Wolsey secured a spot at Oxford on a poor boy’s scholarship. It was there that the young Wolsey decided to devote his life to God and joined the church.
Due to his striking intelligence and organizational skills, Thomas moved up in ranks of the church rather quickly, starting as a chaplain with the archbishop of Canterbury, and then beginning the reign as royal almoner to King Henry VII. This newfound position gave Wolsey a seat on the Privy Council, which gave him an opportunity to show his driving ambition for power and his industrious nature to the king. When Henry VII succeeded his father in 1509, Wolsey continued his life at court and quickly outgrew his position as royal almoner.

After very successful military campaigns in France, which garnered Henry the glory of defeating a powerful opponent as well as French land lead 1512-1514, the faithful servant was rewarded with leading these successful escapades with the title of Archbishop of York in 1514, as a way of Henry showing his gratitude and during the following year he was awarded with the prestigious cardinal’s hat by the pope. The gratitude’s that Henry bestowed upon Wolsey were numerous, which in turn made him one of the most hated men to hold any sort of high office in England.
This hatred of Wolsey sprung from the fact that Wolsey, being a churchman was supposed to lead a relatively simple lifestyle. This however was not the case and Wolsey was quickly given the title of a notorious pluralist, which is that, he usually held more than one ecclesiastical position at once. Due to his friendship with the king, Wolsey was awarded the title of dean of Lincoln in 1509, then bishop of Lincoln in 1514, which coincided with his rise to archbishop of York. As was previously stated, Wolsey was given the title of Cardinal in 1515, and then in 1518 he was also granted the titles of abbot of St.
Albans and bishop of Bath. Wolsey’s good fortunes continued still when, in 1524, he exchanged the title of bishop of Bath for the wealthier see of Durham; and then finally gave up Durham for bishop of Winchester. Wolsey held many of these positions while maintaining his status of Archbishop of York, this favoritism that was being clearly showed by the king towards Wolsey made him many enemies. Holding many of these titles, show many historians the ambition that Wolsey had with his king, however he also had much ambition regarding his church standings.
From 1518 onwards, Wolsey held the position of the pope’s personal representative, or legate, in the realm of England. However, it should be noted that the legate to the pope had an even higher ambition in that Wolsey wanted to be pope himself. During 1519 Despite having numerous enemies within Henry’s court, Wolsey retained the confidence and good graces of the king, until Henry decided to solicit an annulment to his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, so that he could marry the ambitious Anne Boleyn.
To achieve the divorce, Henry looked to Wolsey once again, expecting the Great Cardinal to use his pull on Rome as well as with those powerful in England to gain the outcome that Henry expected. Bibliography Primary Sources “Act in Restraint of Appeals (24 Hen. VIII, c 12, 1533). ” In Sources and Debates in English History, 1485-1714. Eds. Newton Key and Robert Bucholz. 2d. ed. Chichester: Riley-Blackwell, 2009. P. 41. “Articles against Cardinal Wolsey, signed by the Lords (December 1, 1529). ” In Sources and Debates in English History, 1485-1714. Pp. 39-40 Cardinal Wolsey’s Report to Henry VIII on Proceedings in Star Chamber (ca. 1518). ” In Sources and Debates in English History, 1485-1714. Pp. 37. “John Skelton, “Why Come Ye Not to Court? ” (written 1522, pub. 1568). ” In Sources and Debates in English History, 1485-1714. Pp. 38-39 “Venetian Ambassador Sebastian Giustiniani’s Report on Cardinal Wolsey (September 10, 1519). ” In Sources and Debates in English History, 1485-1714. Pp. 37-38 Secondary Sources Bulcholz, Robert, and Newton Key. Early Modern England, 1485-1714. 2d ed. Chicester: Wiley- Blackwell, 2009.

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