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Thomas Wolsey was a Catholic Bishop who also became an English Statesman. Wolsey became the King’s almoner and later Lord Chancellor under King Henry VIII. He enjoyed such great freedom and power to control almost all matters of the state that he was called an alter rex or the “other king.”
See the fact file below for more information on Thomas Wolsey or alternatively, you can download our 27-page Thomas Wolsey worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
Early Life and Family
- He came from a modest family, being the son of a town butcher, Robert Wolsey, and his wife, Joan Daundy.
- However, his father provided him with a good education. After attending the Ipswich School and Magdalen College School, he studied theology at Magdalen College, Oxford, and was ordained on March 10, 1498.
- Five years later, he became a chaplain to Sir Richard Nanfan, deputy lieutenant of Calais. King Henry VII appointed Wolsey as Royal Chaplain in 1507 upon Sir Nanfan’s recommendation.
- Wolsey showed how dedicated, diligent, and willing to undertake tedious tasks he was. He was once sent to Scotland to discuss with King James IV the rumors about the renewal of the Auld Alliance.
- King Henry also gave him a seat on the Privy council in 1509. The King’s lack of interest in the details of the government in his early years allowed Wolsey to interfere with the affairs of the government as he had established a great rapport with the King.
Rise to Power
- When King Henry VII died, his son replaced him. His father’s most trusted counselors, Richard Foxe (Bishop of Winchester) and William Warham (Archbishop of Canterbury) advised him to be a cautious and conservative administrator like his father.
- Foxe, Warham, and Wolsey were all anti-war, but when King Henry expressed his interest in the French War in 1511, Wolsey gave a persuasive speech in the Privy Council based on the views of King Henry.
- Foxe and Warham fell from power and Wolsey became the most trusted advisor and became Lord Chancellor replacing Warham in 1515.
- King Henry VIII entrusted more state business to Wolsey, which included almost complete control of foreign policy. The Anglo-French war the highlight of Wolsey’s career.
- In 1511, he had allied with Pope Julius II, King Ferdinand V of Spain, and Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor, against King Louis XII of France. He justified his decision to go to war to answer France’s threats against Pope Julius II.
- Wolsey and his expeditionary force captured Tournai in 1513 C.E. His ability to provide supplies and equipment for a large number of English troops was critical for their success.
- The following year, he negotiated to have a peace deal with France to stop the wars. Part of the deal was for Henry’s sister Mary to marry King Louis XII of France.
- On August 30, 1525, the Treaty of More somehow renewed the excellent relationship between France and England. Wolsey brokered France to pay a substantial pension for England to give up some territorial claim on France. The agreement also avoided the isolation of England in Europe with all the other powers allied against England.
- Wolsey had also become instrumental in forming the Field of the Cloth of Gold, a spectacular show of pomp and pageantry where King Henry VIII and King Francis I of France strengthened the bond between the two countries.
- The two Kings tried to outshine the other with expensive tents and clothes, grand feasts, music, jousting, and games. No matter how glamorous and pleasing to the eye, the gathering proved pointless as it didn’t accomplish anything significant.
- As a trusted adviser, King Henry VIII asked Wolsey to use his influence in Rome and get a papal annulment for his marriage with Catherine of Aragon.
- The King wanted to have a son desperately and argued that his marriage to the Princess was unlawful as he only married her to continue the Spanish alliance. Catherine of Aragon was previously married to Henry VIII’s older brother as part of the Anglo-Spanish treaty of Medina del Campo.
- Wolsey personally saw the Pope in Rome to defend Henry’s case. The Pope sent Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggio to England to investigate. The Pope advised him to take his time and reconcile Henry VIII and his queen first.
- Pope Clement VII could not decide in favor of Henry VIII as he was entirely under the Spanish emperor’s power, who happened to be Catherine’s nephew. Additionally, the annulment should be handled very carefully as it could lead to an invasion of England by a foreign power
- Two Protestant clergymen, Thomas Cranmer and Thomas Cromwell create a convincing case that England’s King should not be subject to the Pope’s jurisdiction. Henry gave Cranmer the Archbishop of Canterbury, giving him the authority to divorce Henry from Catherine. Wolsey failed to do anything about the King’s annulment, which became the immediate cause of his fall from power.
- After his final attempt to obtain the annulment failed, Wolsey’s enemies emerged and turned the King against him. Anne Boleyn, the new queen, convinced the King that Wolsey deliberately slowed the proceedings.
- In 1529, Wolsey was removed from all his positions, except being an Archbishop of York. He was also charged with overstepping his legatine authority. He left London for York in April 1530.
- Believing the rumors that Wolsey was trying to regain his position by corresponding with the French court, Henry VIII accused him of treason and was arrested on November 4. However, he died in Leicester on November 29 on his way to face the King.
- Wolsey was able to amass wealth while being in power. One of the most notable pieces of wealth he had acquired is the Hampton Court which belonged to the Order of the Knights Hospitaller.
- He turned it into a magnificent country residence and called it Hampton Court Palace.
- After the King stripped Wolsey of his power, the former Chancellor handed the palace to his King.
- He was so astounded with its beauty that he decided to make it his official residence and brought his queen at the time, Anne Boleyn.
- Priests have a mandate to remain celibate regardless of their function or the character of work. However, this policy was not entirely accepted in England. Wolsey also ignored this and lived in a non-canonical marriage with Joan Larke of Yarmouth.
- They had one son and daughter, who both lived to adulthood. But when Wolsey was starting to rise in his position, Larke had become an embarrassment to him.
- He arranged her marriage to George Legh of Adlington and provided her dowry.
Thomas Wolsey Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle that includes everything you need to know about Thomas Wolsey across 32 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use worksheets that are perfect for teaching about Thomas Wolsey who was a Catholic Bishop who also became an English Statesman.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- Thomas Wolsey Facts
- Wolsey’s Life
- Wolsey’s Moment
- The Bishop’s Inquiry
- The Bishop’s Character
- Friends and Enemies
- The Bishop’s Duties
- Field of the Cloth of Gold
- The Bishop’s Fall
- Deserved or not Deserved
- Wolsey’s Wisdom
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