Thomas Wolsey


Thomas Wolsey was born as a commoner, but rose to the highest level of both the church and secular government in England. During the first years of Henry VIII's reign, he had an enormous amount of power in the government and conducted both domestic and foreign affairs. As the son of a butcher, he rose to his position purely through intelligence, hard work, and discipline. He did not fall from power until Henry came under the influence of Anne Boleyn, and his failure to obtain an annulment for the king sealed his doom.

Wolsey showed great promise as a youth and attended Magdalen College at Oxford, where he excelled in his studies. He was ordained a priest, and served the Archbishop of Canterbury, who recommended him for service in the king's government. His great opportunity came with the accession of Henry VIII. Unlike his father, who was conservative in fiscal land foreign affairs, the new king was extravagant, but did not have the organizational abilities to oversee the kingdom himself. He therefore delegated a great deal of power to Wolsey, who competently ran the administration. In 1515 Wolsey was made Cardinal by the pope and also appointed Lord Chancellor of England. In this position he was the chief administrator of both the church and secular governments.

Although Wolsey did not personally favor the king's annulment, he would certainly have attained one, had he been able. During this time however, the Papacy was heavily influenced by Charles V, the most powerful monarch in Europe, and nephew of Catherine of Aragon. It was not in either the pope, nor the Cardinal's power at this time to grant an annulment. Wolsey was abruptly dismissed and died shortly thereafter.

Key events during the life of Thomas Cardinal Wolsey:

Thomas Wolsey born to a commoner
  Studied at Magdalen College, Oxford
Ordained a priest
  Served Cardinal Morton, the Archbishop of Canterbury
  Served Henry VII as Royal Chaplain
On Ascension of Henry VIII, appointed to his council.
Promoted to privy council.
Appointed, Bishop, Legate of England, and Lord Chancellor.
Field of the Cloth of Gold
Henry falls under influence of Boleyn, requests annulment of his marriage.
Wolsey dismissed for failure to obtain and annulment.
Death of Wolsey

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Great Cardinal  in  Stories From English History, Part Second  by  Alfred J. Church
Cardinal Wolsey  in  Famous Men of Modern Times  by  John H. Haaren
Henry VIII. and the Separation from Rome  in  The Story of England  by  Samuel B. Harding
Thomas Wolsey  in  Great Englishmen  by  M. B. Synge

Image Links

Henry VIII. and Cardinal Wolsey
 in  The Story of the English

Wolsey and Queen Catherine
 in Famous Men of Modern Times

Wolsey at Leicester
 in Famous Men of Modern Times

Henry sent Wolsey away from court.
 in Our Island Story

Wolsey's arrival at Leicester Abbey
 in The Tudors and the Stuarts

Short Biography
Henry VIII King of England famous for marrying and dispensing with six wives.
Thomas More Lord Chancellor under Henry VIII. Fired and later executed when he opposed Henry's divorce.
Anne Boleyn Second wife of Henry VIII. Executed when she fell from grace.
Henry VII Descendent of John of Gaunt (a Lancaster) who fought Richard the Usurper for the throne.
Bishop Fox Advisor to Henry VII, and Henry VIII and supporter of Wolsey.