Unit 2: Wolsey

  • Created by: elyornais
  • Created on: 10-04-15 14:25


  • Served as Henry's chief minister for 15 years.
  • His court was very lavish and his wealth was greater than the king's.
  • Gained his first degree from Oxford at the age of 15.
  • Became Chaplain for Henry VII in 1507.
  • Stood out as an efficient administrator.
  • 1509- became Royal Almoner (made him a member of the royal council)
  • Henry was young, politically inexperienced and more interested in sporting pursuits.
  • Wolsey could get things done quickly and efficiently.
  • 1514- became bishop of Tournai and Lincoln, later made Archbishop of York.
  • September 1515- became Cardinal.
  • Later that year he became Lord Chancellor.
  • 1518- appointed Legate a Latere.
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Rise to power


  • Been the right man at the right time.
  • Henry was tired of the inner council made up by his father's men.
  • Wolsey was willing to carry out everyday paperwork of state and carry out mundane duties.


  • He was an opportunist- could adapt his views and ideas to fit those of the king. (like the war with France, readying troops and supplies.)
  • He was a skillful political operator.

Maintaining power in 1515-1529

  • Political relationship with Henry
  • Wealth
  • Ruthlessness
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Political relationship with Henry

  • Henry trusted Wolsey after the successful french invasion of 1513.
  • Some historians view Wolsey as the Alter Rex- suggests that he held real power at court and resigns Henry to a passive role in government.
  • Some argue that the relationship was one of political partnership.
  • King always made final decision on key issues.
  • Major decisions concerning foreign policy or important domestic affairs couldn't be made independently by the king's Cardinal.

Examples of disagreements:

  • 1522- Wolsey proposed a surprise attack on the French navy but Henry thought the plan foolhardy.
  • 1528- Fell out over the issue of appointing an abbess to the nunnery at Wilton in Wiltshire. Wolsey ignored Henry's instructions regarding who should get the post and was forced to make a grovelling apology.
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  • Furthered his political power and created awe and envy among other courtiers. His court was magnificent.
  • Wolsey used the trappings of political success to make himself the most important man in the country.
  • His household numbered 500 (same as king's).
  • Foreign envoys treated with banquets and celebrations.
  • Largest disposable income in England which came from multiple bishoprics(York, Tournai, Bath, Wells, Durhum, Winchester.) and fees that he charged in his ecclesiastical courts and monetary gifts he recieved from clients and patrons.
  • He was Abbot of St Albans (1525) - the richest monestery in England.
  • Built Hampton Court and established Cardinal college, Oxford.
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  • Polydore Vergil supposedly imprisoned on Wolsey's command in 1515 for failing to gain papal approval for his appointment as a Cardinal.
  • Rumoured to have a part in the execution of the Duke of Buckingham 1521.
  • Servants such as Richard Pace sent abroad- other courtiers percieved this as ruthless alienation of political rivals. -but these were frustrated and jealous nobles.
  • Most evidence- Wolsey did consult other nobles on important matters and didn't deliberately exclude political opponents.
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Domestic Policy- Justice

  • Active in the Court of Chancery and Star Chamber.
  • Presided over many cases in person, centre of his legal activities lying in Star Chamber.
  • Anyone was able to bring their case befor him in Star Chamber and it dealt with over 120 cases a year, compared with 12 cases per year in Henry VII reign.
  • Promoted Civil law over Common law in Star Chamber. - More progressive and just, emphasis on natural justice rather on precedent.
  • Sometimes used courts to carry out personal vendettas against enemies; On entering his first benefice, he had been put in the stocks by Sir Amyas Paulet to teach him a lesson about humility and good grace. Wolsey used his position to get revenge. Sir Amyas Paulet 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.
  • Created resentment through work in Star Chamber among nobles who were targeted for abusing their privileges.
  • 1515- Earl of Northumberland sent to Fleet Prison.
  • His achievements did not last as there was an enormous backlog of cases to be heard in Star Chamber by 1529 and much of the administration was chaotic.
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  • Fencing off common land for profitable sheep rearing and thought to be responsible for rural depopulation and poverty.
  • 3 statutes against it had been passed before Wolsey was lord chancellor but had been largely ignored.
  • 1517- launched a national inquiry into enclosed land. Most brought to court were ordered to rebuild destroyed houses and return land.
  • Enclosure continued to take place and rural poverty continued to climb..
  • Furthered unpopularity with the ruling classes.
  • 1523- forced to accept all existing enclosures- not always able to exert power over the nobility.
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Domestic Policy- Finance

  • Greatest achievement- Replace traditional fifteenths and tenths with more accurate system- replaced fixed rates of fifteenths and tenths with flexible and realistic subsidy, based on the ability to pay.
  • Graduated rates of tax established that placed greater financial burden on the rich.
  • Subsidy and fifteenths and tenths existed together but Wolsey favoured the subsidy as it raised more money.
  • Between 1513 and 1516- subsidy raised £170,000 while f&t raised £90,000.
  • From 1513-1529 Wolsey raised:
  • £325,000 in parliamentary subsidies.
  • £118,000 from F&T.
  • Loans totalling £250,000
  • 1523-Wolsey demanded over £800,000 in taxation but he was forced to settle for much less.
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The Amicable Grant 1525

  • Feb 1525- French army had been annihilated at Battle of Pavia. -opportunity for Henry to invade France, as french king was held captive by Charles V. 
  • Coffers were empty so Wolsey demanded non-parliamentary tax, Amicable Grant.
  • Targeting Clergy and Laity but coming soon after forced loans and parliamentary tax, met with displeasure.
  • Refusal to pay and rebellion across Suffolk and East Anglia.
  • Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk tried to restore order.
  • Abandoned in May 1525 and no further taxation attempted.
  • Beginning of the end for Wolsey?
  • Henry denied any knowledge of the AG.
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