Assess the reasons for Wolsey's fall in 1529.

An essay plan for the above question.

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Set out the reasons you propose to discuss. Evaluate their relative importance and outline the judgement you intend to reach.

(a) Faction - gained Wolsey enemies who had the ear of the king and worked against him

(b) Failure of the divorce and the pro-French foreign policy - proved that Wolsey was not able to get whatever Henry wanted

(c) Failure of the Amicable Grant and taxation - failure of the Amicable Grant in 1525 caused a lack of money, led to failure of divorce

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  • Wolsey's highflying career from a noble upbringing (a butcher's son) gained him enemies at court, not least from the Boleyn faction (he broke up a betrothal between Anne and Henry Percy as well as failing to obtain a divorce) and the Aragon faction
  • faction was able to work against him as many of the nobles had the ear of the king, For example, in 1529 Charles Brandon exclaimed to the king "it was never merry in England whilst we had cardinals among us" (Cavendish)
  • Anne Boleyn could, and did, prevent Wolsey from even seeing the king by October 1529


  • although faction was able to manipulate the king and emphasise his negative feelings towards Wolsey
  • only able to work after the king's initial displeasure
  • certainly manipulated the king and hastened Wolsey's fall but did not initiate it
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Divorce and pro-French strategy

  • Wolsey was in favour whilst he was Henry's "meet instrument" (Cavendish) to do whatever he wanted
  • Henry wanted war with France; whilst he understood that the French alliance was necessary to secure a divorce he was not happy
  • the failure of the pro-French military strategy 1528-9 which did not culminate in a divorce proved that Wolsey could not get Henry all that he wanted


  • faction manipulated Henry's initial displeasure and made his fall far more serious
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Failure of the Amicable Grant and taxation

  • Wolsey's job was to get Henry VIII whatever he wanted; mainly this meant war with France and money for war
  • although he was able to raise £0.55 million 1522-9 this was not enough to keep up with Henry's vast amounts of spending on war, £922,000 in 1512-14
  • failure of the Amicable Grant in 1525 meant Henry did not have enough money to go to war - first instance of him failing to give the king what he wanted, ultimately led to his downfall


  • downfall was 4 years later, and they were not directly linked
  • failure of divorce was Wolsey's more important failure; had he been able to achieve it he would have been far more likely to stay in office
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Keep the conclusion succinct but coming to a definitive evaluation - do not sit on the fence!

  • main reason - he ceased to be the king's meet instrument. The failure of the divorce was the main reason for this although the Amicable Grant was another examples
  • faction helped to drive him out completely but ultimately it was not able to initiate the king's displeasure
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