The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church

Biographical Dictionary
Pope Leo X (1513-1521)
Consistory of September 10, 1515 (II)

(5) 1. WOLSEY, Thomas (1471/1475-1530)

Birth. 1471/1475 (1), Ipswich, England. Son of Robert Wolsey and his wife Joan. His last name is also listed as Wulcy, Wuley, Vulcer and Volseo.

Education. Studied at the University of Oxford (master of arts when he was fifteen years old); elected fellow of Magdalen College, 1497; junior bursar of Magdalen College, 1498-1499; senior bursar, 1499-1500.

Priesthood. Ordained, March 10, 1498, church of St. Peter and Paul, Marlborough, by John Blythe, bishop of Salisbury. Rector of Limington, Somerset, October 1500. Domestic chaplain to Archbishop Henry Dean of Canterbury. At the death of the archbishop in 1503, he became chaplain to Sir Richard Nanfan, deputy lieutenant of Calais; Nanfan recommended Fr. Wolsey to King Henry VII of England; when Nanfan died in 1507, Fr. Wolsey became King Henry VII's chaplain; he was appointed dean of Lincoln by King Henry VII on February 2, 1509. Special envoy to the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I in Flanders. King Henry VIII of England named him royal almoner in November 1509; the post automatically made him a member of the Privy Council; the king increasingly delegated to him the affairs of state; the almoner organized the king's successful expedition against the French in 1513 and the triumph made them even closer. He was named successively dean of Hereford, before June 1509; occupied the post until December 1512; dean of York, 1513; and dean of St. Stephen's, Westminster. In 1510, he supplicated for the degrees of bachelor and doctor in divinity. On February 17, 1511, he was named canon of the chapter of Windsor and soon after registrar to the Order of the Garter. Fr. Wolsey had an illegitimate son and a daughter; the son, Thomas Wynter (2), was born of Joan Larke; and the daughter, Dorothy Wynter, of Joan Clansey; why he gave his children the surname Wynter is a mystery. He accompanied the king to France in June 1513. King Henry VIII asked the pope to name him bishop of Tournai but he never obtained possession of the see and eventually gave up his claim to the bishopric in exchange for an annual pension.

Episcopate. Elected bishop of Lincoln, February 6, 1514. Consecrated, March 26, 1514, Lambeth palace, London, by William Warham, archbishop of Canterbury, assisted by Richard Fitzjames, bishop of London; Richard Fox, bishop of Winchester; Richard Nykke, bishop of Norwich; Hugh Oldham, bishop of Exeter; Edmund Birkhead, bishop of Saint Asaph; and by Miles Sisley, bishop of Llandaff. Promoted to the metropolitan see of York, September 15, 1514. In 1514, he negotiated the peace with France and the marriage of Princess Mary, sister of King Henry VIII, to King Louis XII of France.

Cardinalate. Created cardinal priest in the consistory of September 10, 1515; received the red hat and the title of S. Cecilia, after September 10, 1515. Named lord chancellor of England, December 24, 1515. Administrator of the see of Bath and Wells, July 30, 1518 until March 26, 1523. Named legate a latere in England, 1518; he was given power even over the archbishop of Canterbury, primate of the church in England; he used his extraordinary power, both secular and ecclesiastical, to become the richest man after the king; he intended to reform the English church but his political and diplomatic activities took most of his time and he had little to dedicate to the ecclesiastical matters; he proposed some monastic reforms and suppressed about twenty-nine monasteries, mostly to secure their revenues and use them to found Cardinal's College at the University of Oxford. The cardinal's first priority was to make England the arbiter of power in Europe. The cardinal tried to make peace with France by promoting a European-wide peace treaty in 1518, the Treaty of London between Charles V, Maximilian I, Francis I, and Henry VIII; and by arranging meetings between Kings Henry VIII of England and François I of France, leading to the extravagant affair known as the The Field of Cloth of Gold, which took place on June 7; Emperor Charles V, also desirous to court English friendship, had arrived for a state visit in May 1520; at the same time, the cardinal negotiated the marriage of Princess Mary, daughter of King Henry, to the emperor, who proposed in the spring of 1521 to marry her; in May 1522, Emperor Charles arrived in England for the betrothal ceremony, and three days later England declared war on France; it was decided that England would go to war with France in 1523; the emperor left England and also declared war on France. Abbot commendatario of St. Albans, December 1521; because of the death of the pope, the bull was delayed until November 1522. In spite of Cardinal Wolsey's efforts, war broke out between France and the Empire in 1521; two years later, in 1523, the cardinal committed English troops against the French; to finance this campaign, he raised taxes, and this produced widespread resentment; in 1528 he sided with the French against the emperor but in August 1529 France and the empire made peace, and England found itself in diplomatic isolation. Did not participate in the conclave of 1521-1522, which elected Pope Adrian VI (3). Administrator of the see of Durham, March 26, 1523; occupied the post until February 21, 1530. Did not participate in the conclave of 1523, which elected Pope Clement VII (4). The cardinal extended the jurisdiction of the Star Chamber, which was the royal council acting as a court, and used it to impose King Henry's justice on lawless nobles. The conciliar committee that he established to hear suits involving the poor became the Court of Requests in 1529.

When Cardinal Wolsey tried to force an "amicable loan" from the nobility in order to finance the war against France that the king wanted undertaken after the battle of Pavia of 1525 in which the emperor had taken prisoner the king of France, the nobles were so outraged that the king had to intervene and apologize for the cardinal; this episode increased the resentment and dislike of the nobility for the cardinal. Concerned because of the danger that victorious Emperor Charles presented for the entire continent, Cardinal Wolsey started a new approach toward France; when the emperor considered his betrothal to Princes Mary null and void in August 1525, the English king released him and signed a new treaty with France. In the summer of 1526, King François I of France offered himself as husband for Princess Mary; both the cardinal and the English king were pleased and enthusiastic; the marriage treaty, for either the French king or his second son, Henry, duke of Orléans, to marry Mary, was finalized in May 1527; King François soon became engaged to Eleanor, sister of Emperor Charles V, and then his second son was betrothed to Princess Mary; the new ties with France made King Henry feel that he no longer needed the goodwill of Spain and therefore, he felt free to seek the annulment of his marriage to Queen Catalina de Aragón, aunt of the emperor, and marry Anne Boleyn, hoping that she would produce a male heir to the English crown; this project was called the king's "great matter".

King Henry asked Cardinal Wolsey to help him obtain the annulment and the cardinal recommended not to pursue such action; the king was determined and claimed that he doubted the validity of his marriage to the widow of his dead brother, Prince Arthur. Cardinal Wolsey, in his capacity of papal legate, formed a secret ecclesiastical court for May 17, 1527; the king testified having doubts about his marriage and asked for judgment; on May 31, the court declared that it was not qualified to decide such a delicate and difficult issue. The Privy Council recommended that the king asked the pope for a decision on the annulment; Cardinal Wolsey recommended to be sent to France to try to convince the French king to use his influence to persuade the pope to extend the legate's authority to judge on the case; he went to France in July; while the cardinal was away, the Boleyns worked to undermine his authority with the king, suggesting that Cardinal Wolsey was in reality working to prevent the annulment; when the cardinal went back to England in September, having failed in his mission, King Henry was already not sure of his loyalty. At that time, Pope Clement was a prisoner of Emperor Charles V, after the sack of Rome. Queen Catalina was actively seeking to avoid the annulment and the declaration of her daughter, Princes Mary Tudor, as illegitimate. The emperor told the pope that he had to oppose the annulment or allow the case to be tried in England. When the English ambassadors of the king and the cardinal saw Pope Clement in Rome, he cordially refused to grant a dispensation for an annulment. Cardinal Wolsey, knowing the monarch's increasing displeasure with development of the "great matter" and his lack of confidence in him, tried by all means to make the pope revisit his decision. England and France declared war on the Emperor in January 1528. King Henry sent Edward Fox, doctor of divinity, and Stephen Gardiner, doctor of both civil and canon law, to Rome to try to convince the pope to grant Cardinal Wolsey the power to rule on the king's case. The following April, Pope Clement agreed to send to England Italian cardinal Lorenzo Campeggio, to try the case with Cardinal Wolsey, but did not agree to give either cardinal the power to pronounce sentence. Cardinal Campeggio arrived in England at the end of September 1528. The proceedings began the following October 22; Cardinal Campeggio's suggestion that the king reconcile with the queen angered the former; to pacify King Henry, the Italian cardinal showed the king a bull that authorized him to adjudicate on the case. The king kept asking Cardinal Wolsey to get the bull from Cardinal Campeggio, but the former did not succeed. Complicating the situation, Anne Boleyn continued trying to convince King Henry that Cardinal Wolsey was not really trying to obtain the annulment. Despite the English cardinal's assurances to the contrary, King Henry did not believe him and forced the cardinal to ask King François I to urge Pope Clement VII to grant the divorce. In early 1529 the pope got ill and because of that, the court did not convene until May 20 of that year. During that interval, Cardinal Wolsey had done his best to obtain the bull from Cardinal Campeggio; finally in June the Italian cardinal told Cardinal Wolsey that the pope had prohibited the use of the bull. In July, Pope Clement, pressured by Emperor Charles V, rescinded the commission to Cardinals Campeggio and Wolsey, and the legatine court formally closed. Anne blamed Wolsey for the failure of the process.

Named administrator of the see of Winchester, February 8, 1529; occupied the post until his death. In October 1529, Cardinal Wolsey was deprived of the chancellorship and required to return the great seal. Trying to avoid indictment, the cardinal gave the king most of his properties (5). The following month, the cardinal begged the king for mercy, and the latter, placated, placed the cardinal under his personal protection. Anne Boleyn was furious when on February 12, 1530, King Henry pardoned Cardinal Wolsey formally and confirmed him as archbishop of York. He left London for York in April 1530. The king was made to believe that the cardinal was conspiring to recover his position; he was arrested on November 4, 1530 in his house at Caewood, near York, on charges of treason for corresponding with the French court; he died at the end of the month while on his way to London to face the king.

Death. November 29, 1530, at 8 a.m., Leicester Abbey. As the body was being prepared for burial, it was found that he was wearing a hair shirt. Dressed in “all such vestments and ornaments as he was professed in when he was consecrated bishop and archbishop”, he was laid out in an open coffin in the Lady Chapel of the abbey. There he was surrounded by candles and men holding torches who guarded the body during the night while “the canons sang dirige and other devout orisons”. Mass was sung at four o’clock the next morning prior to burial in the abbey itself. In keeping with his practice of erecting magnificent buildings at Hampton Court, Westminster and Oxford, Cardinal Wolsey had planned a magnificent tomb at Windsor by Benedetto da Rovezzano and Giovanni da Maiano, but was ultimately buried in Leicester Abbey, presently Abbey Park, without any monument. With the abbey now lying in ruins, although it is known that he was interred in the Lady Chapel, the exact location of his tomb remains unknown to this day. However a cenotaph marks his memory in the area with the following wording:

OBIT A.D. 1530

A monument in his memory is also present among the ruins while another was unveiled in Ipswich in 2011.

-Baxter, Dudley. England's cardinals. With an appendix showing the reception of the sacred pallium by the archbishops of Canterbury and Westminster. London : Burns & Oates ; New York : Benzinger, 1903, pp. 43-47;
-Bellenger, Dominc Aidan and Stella Fletcher. Princes of the church. A history of the English cardinals. Phoenix Mill, Gloucestershire : Sutton Publishing Ltd., 2001, pp. 60-70;
-Belloc, Hilaire. Wolsey. Philadelphia ; London : J. B. Lipincott, 1930;
-Cardella, Lorenzo. Memorie storiche de' cardinali della Santa Romana Chiesa. Rome : Stamperia Pagliarini, 1793, V, 10-12;
-Cardinal Wolsey : church, state, and art. Edited by S.J. Gunn and P.G. Lindley. Cambridge ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 1991;
-Cavendish, George. The life and death of Cardinal Wolsey. Edited by Richard S. Sylvester. London ; New York : Published for the Early English Text Society by the Oxford University Press, 1959. (Early English Text Society no. 243). Formerly ascribed to the author's brother, Sir William Cavendish. First ed. published in 1641 under title: The negotiations of Thomas Wolsey;
-Cavendish, George. The life of Cardinal Wolsey. 2d ed. London : Harding and Lepard, 1817;
-Chacón, Alfonso. Vitæ, et res gestæ Pontificvm Romanorum et S. R. E. Cardinalivm ab initio nascentis Ecclesiæ vsque ad Vrbanvm VIII. Pont. Max. 2 volumes. Romae : Typis Vaticanis, 1630, II, col. 1408-1409;
-Creighton, Mandell. Cardinal Wolsey. London : Macmillan, 1906;
-Eubel, Conradus and Gulik, Guglielmus van. Hierarchia Catholica Medii et Recentioris Aevi, Münich : Sumptibus et Typis Librariae Regensbergianae, 1935; reprint, Padua : Il Messagero di S. Antonio, 1960, III, 14, 61, 62, 130, 189, 190, 225 and 335;
-Ferguson, Charles Wright. Naked to mine enemies; the life of Cardinal Wolsey. Boston : Little, Brown, 1958;
-Fletcher, Stella. Cardinal Wolsey : a life in Renaissance Europe. London : Continuum, 2009;
-Guy, John Alexander. The cardinal's court ; the impact of Thomas Wolsey in Star Chamber. Totowa, N.J. : Rowman and Littlefield, 1977;
-Gwyn, Peter. The king's cardinal : the rise and fall of Thomas Wolsey. London : Barrie & Jenkins, 1990;
-Harvey, Nancy Lenz. Thomas Cardinal Wolsey. New York, N.Y. : Macmillan ; London : Collier Macmillan, 1980;
-Howard, George. Wolsey, the cardinal, and his times; courtly, political, and ecclesiastical. London : Printed for Sherwood, Jones, 1824;
-Law, Ernest Philip Alphonse. England's first great war minister: how Wolsey made a new army and navy and organized the English expedition to Artois and Flanders in 1513. Port Washington, N.Y. : Kennikat Press, 1971. Reprint of the 1916 ed.;
-Pollard, Albert Frederick. Wolsey. Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, 1978. Reprint of the 1953 ed. published by Longmans, Green, London;
-Pollard, Albert Frederick. Wolsey; church and state in sixteenth-century England. Introduction to the Torchbook ed. by A. G. Dickens. 1st Harper Torchbook ed. New York : Harper & Row, 1966. (Harper torchbooks. The Academy library, TB1248Q). Originally published in 1929;
-Quinlan, John. Our English cardinals, including the English pope. Alcester ; Dublin : C. Goodliffe Neale, 1972, pp. 44-45;
-Ridley, Jasper Godwin. Statesman and saint : Cardinal Wolsey, Sir Thomas More, and the politics of Henry VIII. New York : Viking Press, 1983, c1982;
-Taunton, Ethelred Luke. Thomas Wolsey, legate and reformer. Port Washington, N.Y. : Kennikat Press, 1970. Reprint of the 1902 ed.;
-Two early Tudor lives: The life and death of Cardinal Wolsey, by George Cavendish [and] The life of Sir Thomas More, by William Roper. Edited by Richard S. Sylvester and Davis P. Harding. New Haven : Yale University Press, 1962;
-Williams, Neville. The Cardinal and the Secretary : Thomas Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell. New York : Macmillan, 1976.

Webgraphy. Biography by Edwin Burton, in English, The Catholic Encyclopedia; portrait, arms and biography, in English, Encyclopaedia Britannica; biography, in English, New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge; biography by Anthony H. Forres, in Spanish, Gran Eciclopedia Rialp; portraits and biography by Anniina Jokinen, in English, Luminarium; portraits, drawings and biography by Jorge H. Castelli, in English, Tudorplace; 1530, The Fall of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey by the Tudor chronicler Edward Hall, Tudor England, English History; his portrait by an unknown artist, ca. 1520, National Portrait Gallery, London, England; his engraving by Robert Sheppard, National Portrait Gallery, London, England; his image on mezzotint by John Faber, National Portrait Gallery, London, England; his portrait, Christ Church College, Oxford, England; his birthplace, Ipswich, England, Ed Broom,; plaque indicating his birthplace, Ipswich, England, Ed Broom,; plaque commemorating his priestly ordination, church of St. Peter & Paul, Marlborough, Duncan & Mandy Ball; his tomb, Abbey Park Leicestershire, England, Find a Grave; his arms,; his portrait by an unknown artist (1585-1596), Trinity College, University of Cambridge, The Public Catalogue Foundation, BBC; his portrait British (English) School, Colchester and Ipswich Museums Service, The Public Catalogue Foundation, BBC; his portrait, British (English) School, Corpus Christi College, University of Cambridge, The Public Catalogue Foundation, BBC; his portrait by an unknown artist, Royal College of Physicians, London, The Public Catalogue Foundation, BBC; his portrait by an unknown artist, Christ Church, University of Oxford, The Public Catalogue Foundation, BBC; his portrait by an unknown artist, Christ Church, University of Oxford, The Public Catalogue Foundation, BBC; his portrait British (English) School(ca. 1600), The National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty, The Public Catalogue Foundation, BBC; his portrait by Samsong Strong (attributed), Magdalen College, University of Oxford, The Public Catalogue Foundation, BBC; The King, the Cardinal-Legate, and the Field of Cloth of Gold by Glenn Richardson, Royal Studies Journal, 4 (2), pp. 141–160 (Abstract); "Much joy and favour to you; you are the King’s now": Cardinal Wolsey as a Domestic Patron by Simon Edward John Lambe, "Royal Studies Journal", 4 (2), pp. 161–176 (Abstract).

(1) There are discrepancies among the sources. The dates oscillate between 1471 and 1475. Knowing the exact date of his priestly ordination, March 10, 1498, it could be assumed that the latest date of his birth would be March 1475.
(2) For his son, before he was eighteen years old, he procured a deanery, four archdeaconries, five prebends and a chancellorship, and he sought to have him promoted to the bishopric of Durham.
(3) Cardinal Wolsey expected Emperor Charles to influence the vote for the papacy in his favor but instead, the emperor asked the cardinals to elect his old tutor, who became Pope Adrian VI; this frustrated Cardinal Wolsey.
(4) Cardinal Wolsey's ambitions to be elected to the pontificate were again frustrated when Emperor Charles asked the cardinals to elect Giulio de' Medici, who took the name Clement VII.
(5) Among the properties the cardinal gave the king was York Place, which was renovated, renamed Whitehall, and given to Anne Boleyn.

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