How successful was Wolsey as Lord Chancellor? Essay Sample
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Wolsey marked some of Henry’s most significant renaissance style achievements, including the prestige boosting Treaty of London. Notable for his origins as being of ‘low birth’, Wolsey quickly rose through the ranks to become one of Henry’s most favoured individuals- even to the extent of being viewed by some as the ‘alter-rex’, the secondary ruler in Henry’s reign. Rising to the position of Lord Chancellor, Wolsey enacted numerous policies, including the King’s ambitious foreign policy, rebuilding England’s financial stability, as well as the reform of the justice system.
Foreign policy is arguably one of Wolsey’s biggest successes under his role of Lord Chancellor; despite the numerous challenges faced by England’s failing finances Wolsey emerged as the driving force behind Henry’s ambitions. Early invasions of France included the Battle of the Spurs, gaining England some land in France as well as granting Henry limited prestige on the international front, one of the first English victories. While warfare was not a continued success, it is important to note that Wolsey was extremely successful in his attempts; the limited financial capacity of England did not deter him from raising numerous taxations, including one Parliamentary taxation grant, despite the fact that it was used for a relatively unpopular war. Wolsey was also the face of England in the Treaty of London negotiation, which saw England being placed into the position as an ‘arbiter of peace’ across Europe, fulfilling Henry’s ambitious intentions of placing the country into the forefront of international affairs.
Taking into account England’s financial status, it is possible to see that Wolsey was extremely efficient and successful in his role as Lord Chancellor, and the Field of the Cloth of Gold proved to show England’s newly improved financial capacity under the guidance of Wolsey. Some historians describe Wolsey as an ‘alter-rex’, and it is possible to see the reasons for doing so; as the Lord Chancellor it was Wolsey who was often tasked with carrying out the King’s wishes, and from the successes in foreign policy it was clear that Wolsey had made the best out of a dire situation. However, the dire situation eventually proved to also be his undoing, and the move towards a French alliance and the Amicable Grant proved to be a failure, marking his departure from successes in foreign policy. Therefore, Wolsey was relatively successful as Lord Chancellor in his role residing over Henry’s ambitious foreign policy.
With foresight on the limited resources available to carry out Henry’s ambitious policies, Wolsey sought to improve the financial situati
on England found itself in. The former king Henry VII had left a large treasury to his son, but this
Wolsey continued to take further measures, and upon assembling Parliament Wolsey did make an achievement; £200,000 was granted for the war against France, although significantly less than he had originally hoped. Another mark of his success was the use of forced loans, netting the royal treasury another £350,000, rebuilding much of the treasury that had been spent. Measures to cut spending were also enacted, including the expulsion of the minions, the reduction of the Gentleman of the Bedchamber as well as laying off 2000 royal servants proved to be a successful cost-cutting measure. While Wolsey’s success was hampered by the failures of the Amicable Grant which failed to provide any monetary support, overall Wolsey was extremely successful in managing royal finances, eventually creating a budget surplus of £107,000, and the fact that the king required more than this was not under the control of Wolsey – the monetary wealth Wolsey had gained for the treasury in this relatively short period of time was significant, and rather it was Henry who hamper ed the success.
The justice system was another area that Wolsey attempted to reform. Wolsey was successful in a limited extent when it came to reforms, notably involving himself in the daily operations of both the Court of Chancery and the Court of Star Chamber. This was especially true for numerous incidents where the poor could finally bring their cases forward, and Wolsey was generally seen as equitable in the fact that he had no legal training; judgements were decided mainly on Wolsey’s own perceptions of what was justified. Notable reforms include Wolsey’s attempts to limit the ability to create enclosures, and the creation of a commission to investigate against land owners accused of unfairly enclosing land for themselves.
However, his successes are only to a limited extent; Wolsey’s reforms were not implemented permanently, and upon his fall from power the changes he implemented were largely ignored. Wolsey is also accused of using the justice system for his own personal vengeance, with notable cases including Amyas Paulet where Wolsey used the courts to prosecute and have revenge for past incidences. Overall, in this field Wolsey was only successful to a limited extent as Lord Chancellor, introducing limited reforms and involving himself as much as possible into the workings of the court system. However, his successes are hampered by the fact that Wolsey was somewhat unjust in using the courts to pursue his own personal interests, as well as the ultimate failure to secure any permanent reforms that would last even after his fall from power.
Wolsey’s role as Lord Chancellor resulted in him being placed into numerous positions of responsibility, much so to the point that some historians refer to him as the ‘alter rex’ of England, the real manager behind the scenes. Clearly Wolsey was relatively successful in his role, successfully negotiating foreign peace treaties and achieving a new level of prestige for England never seen before. Royal finances were also improved significantly, especially when taking into account that Henry’s numerous excursions in war were extremely expensive, and yet Wolsey was still able to maintain financial relative stability. While the justice system saw little permanent reform, it must be noted that Wolsey did make some steps towards greater justice, although hampered by his own personal vengeance. Despite this, Wolsey had been successful in the key issues of the time, and overall he was successful in his role as Lord Chancellor to a large extent.
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