Thomas Wolsey

The rise of Thomas Wolsey

·         Son of a butcher

·         Won a scholarship to Oxford

·         He gained a patronage at court under Bishop Fox

·         Promoted to royal almoner – distributing left over food from the palace kitchen to the poor

·         1512 – King entrusted Wolsey with the organisation of the following years expedition to France

·         Expedition was successful, and Wolsey was drawn into peace negotiations which followed

·         By 1514 Henry was referring all major business to Wolsey

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Wolsey's titles

1513 – Became Dean of York and Bishop of Tournai

1514 – Made Bishop of Lincoln and then Archbishop of York

1515 – Made Cardinal by Pope Leo X; also became Lord Chancellor in Henry’s government when William Warham resigned

1518 – Appointed Papal Legate by Leo X

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How popular was Wolsey by 1529?

·         Proud and ostentatious

·         Alter rex (‘other king’)

·         Arrogant and vindictive

·         Flattered and manipulated Henry

·         Network of informants to intimidate anyone he saw as a rival

·         Nobility could not stand Wolsey

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Law Reforms


·         Presided over many cases in person

·         Promoted civil law over common law in the court of the star chamber

·         Pursuit of justice for all

·         Carry out personal vendettas against enemies

·         Sir Amyas had to wait in daily attendance at Wolsey’s court for 5 years under threat of confiscation of all his property if he left London


·         Enormous backlog of cases to be heard in star chamber by 1529

·         He used the existing machinery of the law to carry out his work and failed to carry out long lasting constitutional reform

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Agricultural Reforms


·         Launched a national inquiry into enclosed land

·         Many of those brought to court were ordered to rebuild houses and return land to arable farming


·         Enclosure continued to take place

·         Rural poverty continued to climb

·         His action furthered his unpopularity with ruling classes

·         In 1523, Wolsey was forced to accept all existing enclosures

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Financial Reforms


·         Ensured that Henry could buy or build whatever he wanted, and that England would not collapse under the strain

·         Introduced changes to the way in which the Tudor government raised taxes

·         Replaced the old system of fifteenths and tenths with a new, more direct system of taxation

·         Raised loans for Henry between 1515-1529 of £250,000 and managed to get additional subsidies from parliament over the same period amounting to £118,000

·         Demanded that Parliament raise a further £800,000 to pay for Henry’s ongoing war

·         Amicable grant in 1525 – try and raise a new tax without parliamentary support

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Financial Reforms


·         Changes to taxes – rich began paying more to the crown and the poor less

·         Between 1513 and 1526 – raised £170,000 from the new tax system

·         Between 1513 and 1529 – raised £350,000

·         Henry saw his income rise

·         Raised loans – managed to get additional subsidies from parliament between 1515 – 1529 amounting to £118,000

·         Significant setbacks in 1523

·         Came no where near to collecting £800,000 for Henry’s ongoing wars with France and Scotland (less than £300,000)

·         Amicable grant – South East of England, Suffolk and Norfolk, thousands rose in rebellion

·         Forced to back down

·         Amicable grant was cancelled in May 1525

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Church Reforms


·         Priests lacked education, many had mistresses and Bishops and Archbishops were amongst the richest lords in England

·         Priests given responsibility for several parishes

·         English priests would be forced to behave in a more godly manner

·         By 1529 Wolsey had closed 30 of the most poorly performing monasteries and also planned to create 13 new bishoprics

·         Wolsey was as much as ten times richer than any English noble

·         Wolsey was responsible for running the English government, legal system and much of its church

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Church Reforms


·         Issues with priests were out of Wolsey’s hands

·         Wolsey did manage to close 30 of the most poorly performing monasteries

·         Plan to create 13 new bishoprics never happened

Council was held but they were not interested in any of Wolsey’s reforms

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