Thomas Wolsey

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Wolsey, Thomas

(wo͝ol`zē), 1473?–1530, English statesman and prelate, cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church.

Early Career

Educated at Magdalen College, Oxford, Wolsey served for a while as master of the Magdalen College school. He was ordained a priest in 1498. In 1507 he entered the service of Henry VIIHenry VII,
1457–1509, king of England (1485–1509) and founder of the Tudor dynasty. Claim to the Throne

Henry was the son of Edmund Tudor, earl of Richmond, who died before Henry was born, and Margaret Beaufort, a descendant of Edward III through John
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 as royal chaplain. Upon the accession of Henry VIIIHenry VIII,
1491–1547, king of England (1509–47), second son and successor of Henry VII. Early Life

In his youth he was educated in the new learning of the Renaissance and developed great skill in music and sports.
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 in 1509, Wolsey was appointed royal almoner and privy councilor. He successfully organized an army for the invasion of France in 1513, accompanied Henry on his campaign, and helped conclude the peace of 1514. In the same year he was made bishop of Lincoln and then archbishop of York. In 1515 he became a cardinal and lord chancellor of England, and in 1518 he was created papal legate.


From 1514 to 1529 Wolsey virtually controlled domestic and foreign policy for the young Henry VIII. In 1518 he engineered a treaty of universal peace embracing all the principal European states, which was meant to establish England as the mediator of European politics. This was followed by a dramatic display of amity between England and France on the Field of the Cloth of GoldField of the Cloth of Gold,
locality between Guines and Ardres, not far from Calais, in France, where in 1520 Henry VIII of England and Francis I of France met for the purpose of arranging an alliance.
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 (1520). After attempting (1521) unsuccessfully to avert war between France and the Holy Roman Empire, he allied England with Emperor Charles VCharles V,
1500–1558, Holy Roman emperor (1519–58) and, as Charles I, king of Spain (1516–56); son of Philip I and Joanna of Castile, grandson of Ferdinand II of Aragón, Isabella of Castile, Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, and Mary of Burgundy.
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 in 1522, but after Charles's defeat of the French at Pavia (1525), Wolsey again inclined his favor to France. His attempts to secure for England the role of arbiter in the Hapsburg-Valois rivalry finally failed when England became diplomatically isolated in 1529. The cardinal was twice a candidate for the papacy, but the thesis that his diplomacy was shaped largely by his ambition to become pope has been seriously questioned.

Internally, Wolsey centralized the administration and extended the jurisdiction of the conciliar courts, particularly the Star ChamberStar Chamber,
ancient meeting place of the king of England's councilors in the palace of Westminster in London, so called because of stars painted on the ceiling. The court of the Star Chamber developed from the judicial proceedings traditionally carried out by the king and his
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. However, his policy of raising money for England's wars by forced loans aroused considerable resentment. So too did his blatant ecclesiastical pluralism, enormous wealth, and lavish living. Wolsey's enemies at court, jealous of his power over the king, used the divorce of Katharine of AragónKatharine of Aragón,
1485–1536, first queen consort of Henry VIII of England; daughter of Ferdinand II of Aragón and Isabella of Castile. In 1501 she was married to Arthur, eldest son of Henry VII.
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 as a means to bring about his ruin. At Henry's urging, he procured from the pope permission to try the issue in England. He presided at the trial with Cardinal CampeggioCampeggio, Lorenzo
, 1472?–1539, Italian churchman and diplomat, cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. He was well known as a jurist before turning to the service of the church (c.1510) upon the death of his wife. He was made bishop in 1512 and cardinal the following year.
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, who delayed and temporized and finally adjourned the case to Rome. He incurred Henry's anger for this failure to secure a quick and favorable decision and the enmity of Anne BoleynBoleyn, Anne
, 1507?–1536, second queen consort of Henry VIII and mother of Elizabeth I. She was the daughter of Sir Thomas Boleyn, later earl of Wiltshire and Ormonde, and on her mother's side she was related to the Howard family.
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 for urging a French marriage on the king.

In Oct., 1529, he lost the chancellorship and all his honors and privileges except the archbishopric of York. He turned to his diocese, which he had never previously visited, and ruled it well for a few months. However, in Nov., 1530, he was arrested on false charges of treason and died at Leicester on his way to London.


The classic biography by G. Cavendish was first published in 1641. See also biographies by M. Creighton (1888), A. F. Pollard (1929, repr. 1966), and C. W. Ferguson (1958, repr. 1965).