The continuation of the Tudor monarchy under Henry VIII

The problems Henry VIII faced when he inherited the throne of England in 1509. The reasons for the rise of Thomas Wolsey.

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The new King: the personality of Henry VIII

Henry came to the throne of England a young, ambitious Renaissance prince of 17 years old. In 1502 Arthur his brother died making him the heir, however his father had not fully prepared him for kingship. He had not been sent to Ludlow Castle to learn the arts of government. Henry VII died, overworked, worn out by the cares of the state, and prematurely aged after several years of declining health.

The reign was marked by the marriage to Catherine of Aragon, the declaration of war against France and the abolition of the Counsel Learned in the law (removal of Empson and Dudley). Henry VII insisted that Catherine of Aragon stayed in England after 1502, because he needed to retain the Anglo-Spanish connection through relations between himself and Ferdinand. In 1504 the Pope issued a decree giving papal dispensation. Catherine was an ambitious victim, the dishonourable treatment from her father-in-law was to her advantage because she wanted to become Queen of England, so much so that in 1506 she was the official Spanish ambassador.

The inherited Counsel had served a hard working and cautious king. Henry VIII was ambitious, young and desired glory which made relations between the King and his Counsel difficult.

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The new reign: personnal monarchy in action

This relationship was strained by Henry's grandmother, Lady Margaret Beaufort who took a personal dislike to Thomas Wolsey, a man who would play a key role in the pro-war policy after 1512. Henry was looking for an outlet from the affairs of the state, so he was impressed by Wolsey's enormous capacity for hard work and unparalled organisational skills. The tensions soon became public and the anti-war and pro-war factions divided the Counsel.

The court and the Privy Chamber

The privy served a different function under Henry VIII, although the change was only apparent from 1518. He relied on minions and emulated the French court, gradually the Gentlemen of the Privy chamber took over the Chamber. It was a prestigious part of the royal household. By 1529 the royal finances had been split into two between the two. The Privy chamber gained access to the royal signature, known as the sign manual.

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The rise of Thomas Wolsey to 1515

After the death of Margaret de Beaufort he secured several court positions including royal almoner and registrar of the Order of the Garter. In 1510 he was appointed to the counsel. He had been appointed by his current patron Richard Fox, who recognised the younger churchman's abilities to serve the church. At this stage he was to keep Fox informed of the actions of the pro-war faction. It became clear in 1512 that Henry was serious about his plans for war, Surrey's pro-war faction had won the argument. Wolsey switched allegiance and supported the war, he had to serve the King. His administrative skills were required to manage the vast military and naval supplies needed to figh against France. Wolsey was able to consolidate the power because his patrons (Fox and Warham) retired to their church appointments. Charles Brandon (married Mary Tudor secretly which enraged the king), Thomas Howard (failed to resist Wolsey's rise to dominance) and Edward Stafford (despised Wolsey, was executed after Wolsey persuaded the King he was guilty of treason) those were his other opponents. In 1515 Wolsey was the King's "chief minister". He would hold this unofficial post, unquestioned until 1525. Erasmus recognised Wolsey as a great patron of arts and learning. He found the funds to establish a college at Oxford for 500 students each year, he had an insatiable desire to accrue and flaunt personnal wealth (Hampton Court, York place...). Hampton court became the physical manifestation of Wolsey's political influence.

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Th relationship between King and Minister

The traditional interpretation is that Wolsey tried to rule as King while he was not, he had enormous power through his religious authority as Archbishop of Rome and Cardinal legate. He was also Lord Chancellor, assuming great personal power, determining English foreign policy and dominated the court of Star Chamber.

The revisionist interpretation is that Wolsey followed instructions. He had to follow policies that reflected the King's will. Wolsey desired peace but was forced to declare war to please the King. Henry was a young man in the years that Wolsey held political power. John Guy stressed his view that the King regarded Wolsey as a wise friend.


The weakness in Wolsey's authority, that became apparent after 1525 was that the king was not aware or approved everything his minister did. By 1525, Wolsey struggled to manage the King's foreign relations and financial solvency, then policies started to go wrong.

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