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Cardinal Thomas Wolsey ( 1471 - 1530 )  Category ( Religious_Leaders_Figures ) [suggest a correction]
 

Cardinal Thomas WolseyOften correctly identified as the power behind the throne of England's King Henry VIII, Thomas Wolsey first served as chaplain to Henry's father, King Henry VII. When the younger Henry came to the throne as a young man more interested in music and chasing women, he began to delegate more and more duties; and hence, power, to Wolsey. Wolsey was quite happy to accept such responsibility.

While Wolsey was born to parents of the merchant class, his father was a successful butcher, innkeeper, and cattle dealer. He did well enough to send his son to Oxford, where Thomas earned a B.A. in 1488, followed by an M.A. three years later. In 1498 he was ordained priest, and two years later he was presented the rectory of Limington by the Marquess of Dorset, who was well-connected at court and with the Tudors. At around the same time he was named chaplain to Henry Dean, Archbishop of Canterbury. A few years later he was introduced to Henry VII, and quickly appointed his chaplain.

During this time Wolsey served more in an administrative and diplomatic capacity, and often journeyed to Scotland and Flanders in service to the king. By the time Henry VIII came to the throne, Wolsey was already well-placed and connected at home and abroad. He was interested in political intrigue and increasing the King's power as well as his own.

To that end he attempted to involve Henry in joining the Holy League against France, encouraging the king to depose Louis XII and crown himself King of France. By this time Henry had for all intents and purposes relinquished power to Wolsey, yet he remained unaware of Wolsey's controlling influence. When Henry's marriage/divorce crisis began in the mid 1520s, Henry eagerly turned to Wolsey to sort out the divorce from Queen Catherine of Aragon so that Henry could wed Anne Boleyn.

Wolsey strongly advised against such actions, but Henry insisted. Wolsey put his considerable influence at risk in order to bring about the king's wishes. When Wolsey went abroad to seek French and Papal approval, he was rebuffed, and so his reputation was harmed in two ways -- both from outside England and from within -- as Henry began to question Wolsey's loyalty. Anne Boleyn contributed to the latter significantly and took many opportunities to criticize Wolsey. Having not met with royal expectations, both Henry and Anne were furious at Wolsey. He was stripped of the office of Lord Chancellor and required to return the Great Seal, perhaps the most powerful tool he wielded. Terrified he would be arrested and executed; Wolsey signed over almost all of his property to the king, and retired to a small house in Surrey.

Still threatened by the ire of Henry and Anne's supporters, Wolsey became desperate, begging the king for mercy, and the king wrote to assure him of royal protection. This put Wolsey's mind at ease for the moment. The king's protection was one matter; a woman scorned (Anne Boleyn) was quite another. She continued to lobby for his arrest on the charge of treachery. Finally he was arrested on a charge of high treason. On his way to London his already frail health failed him, and he died at Leicester Abbey.


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