A biography of the powerful Cardinal who became Henry VIII's chief advisor.
Thomas, Cardinal Wolsey
BY DAVID ROSS, EDITOR
Butcher or not, his father Robert could afford to send Thomas to be educated at Oxford University, where he was granted his degree at the tender age of only 15, a feat which earned him the sobriquet "the boy bachelor". In 1497 Wolsey was voted a full fellow (roughly equivalent to a modern professor) at Magdalen College. Shortly thereafter he was appointed master of the school there.
In 1498 he was ordained a priest of Marlborough (Wiltshire) under the patronage of the Bishop of Salisbury. More patronage was to earn him his second church post; the Marquis of Dorset, whose sons he taught at Magdalen, granted him the rectorship of Limington, Somerset, in 1500. A host of other benefices followed. In this Wolsey was following the accepted practice of his day, where many churchmen were official holders of numerous church positions, including rectorships of places they seldom if ever saw in person.
One of Wolsey's mounting number of church posts was as official chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Henry Dean. When Dean died in 1503, Wolsey became chaplain to Sir Richard Nanfan. It was this post that catapulted him to national power. Sir Richard noted his chaplain's genius for administration, and empowered Wolsey to handle his financial affairs. He went so far as to present Wolsey to King Henry VII.
Wolsey's greatest contributions came as Master of the Rolls, in which post he initiated reforms which greatly eased the beaurocratic functioning of the court administration. During this time Wolsey also acquired a bewildering number of church posts, including Dean of Lincoln, and prebend of Hereford Cathedral.
He added the Bishopric of Lincoln in 1514, and the following year was named Archbishop (later Cardinal) of York. On December 24, 1515 he reached the zenith of his power when he was named Lord Chancellor of England. His power was so great, and his influence over Henry's policies so great that Wolsey was in some ways more king than the king himself!
At this juncture Henry's personal life intervened. The king wished to rid himself of his queen, Katherine of Aragon, in order to marry Anne Boleyn. Katherine had been a thorn in Wolsey's side, favouring alliance with her nephew Charles, the Holy Roman Emperor, over Wolsey's policies in favour of the French. So Wolsey did what he could to help the king. He had Katherine's marriage declared invalid in his legatine court, hoping that the pope would then feel obliged to officially annul the marriage. Henry then sent Wolsey to persuade the French king to bring pressure to bear on the pope.
Contents © David Ross and Britain Express
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