Wolsey’s rise to power was for many reasons: his low social background drove him to succeed; his force of personality; his natural intelligence – the boy bachelor; his oratory skills and his understanding of the King. Wolsey was blessed with these gifts and with the trust of the King Wolsey had the potential to be great. Wolsey was in the position to do this, so why is his success in domestic administration such a debated matter? I feel his success depends on how and what we are judging his achievements on.
There was much pressure for reform within the church during Wolsey’s time in power. Bishops and Archbishops were criticised of nepotism, meaning uneducated and undeserving men were throughout the clergy. Priests were immoral, breaking their oath to celibacy and in some cases with their own daughter. The papacy was in turmoil and it was disrespected. Anticlericalism was becoming prevalent and Christian humanists were pushing for reform. They were trying to educate, translating the bible into different languages so people could read it and they were challenging Catholic ideas, like the pope’s behaviour and the role of the priest. With this pressure for reform Wolsey could have become a great figure in the Church and create successful reformer, but he did not take this opportunity even though historians such as Guy believed Wolsey was an opportunist and thrived off opportunities. Wolsey did not take this opportunity. This challenges whether Wolsey’s plans for reform in the church were serious or not.
Wolsey’s initial plans for reform were mainly repetitions of previous constitutions. One of these was the ‘Benedictine’ constitution; Wolsey simply reproduced this document with slight alterations as one of his reform plans. The ‘York Provinciale’ was another of his reforms which again was a set of constitutions selected from canons of his predecessors. Wolsey’s reform proposals were false and superficial, this view is supported by Guy. Who also thought that Wolsey used his reforms in the church as a smokescreen. He articulated his reform ideas to Henry so eloquently and Henry was fascinated by these reforms. Wolsey used this time to fix problems that had arisen. His reforms were a faï¿½ade for his vulnerabilities. We could say that Wolsey promised much with reform and delivered little. But we do not know whether Wolsey desired to achieve anything with his reforms or if he just used them to buy time and a distraction for his personal power issue and failures in other areas of domestic administration.
It is unfair to say that Wolsey refused clerical reform in the spirit of Christian humanism, even though unconsciously he did pave the way for Henry’s imperial authority over the church in the 1530’s. He did this by centralizing the power of the church and creating a ‘legatine despotism.’ So he had all the church’s power in his hands and when he fell from power he left a vulnerable and weak church society making Henry’s break from Rome easy. He did try to protect the church from Henry taking any clerical privileges by blocking him in any way he could. His stopping Henry and support of the pope would ultimately see him convicted of ‘praemunire’ in which he was being more loyal to the pope than to his King. He was also criticised of being a ‘pluralist’ controlling many bishoprics and not being there to operate them. As papal legate he could have brought reform to England but he was unsuccessful by not doing this. Wolsey did not act upon Christian humanist ideas, his reforms did not benefit him personally or the church and he supported the pope over his King getting him later accused of ‘praemunire’ and his fall from power. This all amount to conclude that Wolsey was unsuccessful in Church administration.
Wolsey was concerned about the influence of the minions in Henry’s court and the privy chamber and the influence they were having upon Henry. The Royal Court was mobile and Wolsey mainly was situated in ‘York Place’ and otherwise was tied up with work. As he was over laden with work trying to control domestic and foreign administration to please his King and stay in power. Wolsey could therefore not see the King as often as he would like to. So Wolsey wrote regular letters to the King and arranged a ‘Sunday audience’ where he could meet the King and they could discuss the activities of the week. Wolsey could not be as influential on the King as much as he wanted to. He knew the courtiers could and would influence Henry’s favour in opposition to Wolsey. Wolsey knowing how vulnerable and easily manipulated Henry was decided to undermine the courtiers and reduce the time they spent conversing with the King and in some cases remove them from the court completely. He did this by skilfully infiltrating the Privy Chamber.
He entered one of his own men into the Privy Chamber. This was Richard Pace, he was to observe the way the courtiers acted around the King and report back to Wolsey updating him about the situation. He found out that the courtiers acted slightly foolishly around the King. So Wolsey argued with the Kin that they broke Royal protocol by acting so foolishly around the King and that he should expel them from the court. Henry did as Wolsey advised and Wolsey decided to surround Henry with middle aged careerists from Government as this would tie in with his next plan and he trusted them. Wolsey needed to keep Henry occupied so he didn’t get bored. He decided to turn Henry into a government reformer and he articulated to Henry the reform of Government beautifully and Henry became a Government reformer, a more mature use of Henry’s time and this kept Henry busy, but only for a short time. But as soon as he had Henry busy he dropped the reform showing he only used reform as a smokescreen and that it was not genuine at all.
The courtiers were soon back in Henry’s court and Wolsey proposed that the courtiers should be used as ambassadors for England going off to France and other countries on diplomatic missions. This again removed them from the court for periods of time and Wolsey had the trust of the King. Wolsey needed money for Henry’s attack on France but there was no money, so he created the amicable grant to gain money. But this backfired and Wolsey was vulnerable, so Wolsey through up another smokescreen of reform. The Eltham ordinances in 1526 reduced the amount of courtiers in the privy chamber from 12 – 6 and he could replace his rivals in the chamber. He removed the current ‘groom of the stool’ – William Compton and put in the politically neutral Henry Norris. This was done in the name of economy and ultimately covered up the failure of the amicable grant with his smokescreen of reform. His reforms were for personal interest and hardly ever benefited England. Wolsey’s administration of Government was actually quite successful, he kept considerable control over the courtiers and although the reforms were not beneficial to the country they were a success for him personally as he stayed in power longer and still had the trust of Henry and the influence over Henry.
Wolsey needed money to subsidize Henry’s warlike ambitions and escapades. Old systems, like the ‘fifteenths and tenths’ were not bringing in enough money for the crown. Wolsey introduce the Act of Resumption to regain Royal lands that had been granted away, and hoped to make money from the land but again it didn’t make nearly a sufficient amount. So he introduced the Parliamentary Subsidy, his most successful invention in financial administration. This taxed you according to your wealth, as your wealth increased the more tax you paid. It was a success bringing in ï¿½300,000 for the Royal treasury. In 1522 war with France broke out and Wolsey needed money, so he demanded more money and this was resented but the money paid for this War.
Again in 1525 Henry wanted to invade France but the treasury was empty. Wolsey needed money, but did not want to become unpopular. Instead he produced the ‘amicable grant’ trying to appeal to the patriotic and generous side of people. But when he wanted more money on top of what they were already paying the taxpayers resisted and a rebellion began. Much of it centred around the wool town of Lavenham, were it was Bedlam as they refused to pay any more money. The King backed down on war and Wolsey humiliated made a public apology. This was a massive unexpected rebellion and the King’s confidence in Wolsey was shaken, as Wolsey’s rivals sharpened their knives. Murphy said that Wolsey’s very success in the Subsidy carried the seeds of Wolsey’s failure. I feel that Wolsey’s reforms were actually genuine and that he was trying to please his King he meant for them to work but they would benefit him if they did. Unfortunately they didn’t, Wolsey had the difficult job of funding Henry’s wars in Europe and he could not raise the money needed. Wolsey was unsuccessful in financial administration and his power was shaken as he lost trust and support from his King.
In 1516 Wolsey put forward his legal reform ideas. He wanted to provide fair, cheap and efficient justice. The centre piece of this reform was the court of the ‘Star Chamber,’ again it was not a new innovation, Wolsey only enhanced its powers by containing the Council and the Statutory tribunals. This gave the Star Chamber immense power and a political bite to become very successful. It challenged the abuse of power in legal systems in their own localities. ‘Robert Sheffield’ a Royal Councillor was imprisoned for being an accessory to felony a serious usually violent crime.
Wolsey encouraged poorer and private individuals to challenge high status men and used Robert Sheffield as an example. It was a success in the fact that the number of cases grew ten fold. From 12 cases a year under Henry II’s reign to 120 cases a year with Wolsey’s refurbished Star Chamber. But the Star Chamber was an overworked system and Wolsey needed something to overspill some cases onto. So Wolsey set up some temporary courts to take on some of the work. They were called the ‘Court of Requests.’ We could view that Wolsey used these Courts to keep the courtiers busy and away from Henry, this is a facetious view that Wolsey used this reform to keep the courtiers busy but this was probably true to an extent but I believe Wolsey’s reforms in Legal administration were very successful. G Elton who was not a fan of Wolsey said that Wolsey was a superb amateur in Government and supported his talents and reforms in legal administration. Wolsey was successful in legal administration and succeeded in providing fair, cheap and efficient justice replying to masses of cases successfully.
Wolsey tried to help the lower classes through campaigning against enclosures in hoping to stop the landlords controlling land and preventing access to land that wasn’t rightfully theirs. Wolsey launched an enquiry and then cases where launched against the landlords. But many did not win and Wolsey had to abandon this campaign because of other pressures. Also Wolsey tried to reform education. He closed down many houses of monks, nuns and canons to raise money to build colleges in Oxford and Ipswich. He set up these colleges and backed lectures and paid the salaries of leading philosophers at the colleges.
He did this as his love of education and I feel to gain support from the Christian Humanists. They based their morals on teaching people languages and by setting up these colleges Wolsey would hope to gain support from the Christian humanists. Wolsey was supported for his reform in education but greatly criticised for supposedly building monuments to himself, as the college was originally called ‘Cardinal’s College.’ Wolsey was successful in creating reform in education as he didn’t do a great deal we cannot really judge, but what he did create was a success. Although he failed to reform enclosures as he struggled to focus on his campaign due to more important pressure from other areas in domestic administration.
Many of Wolsey’s reforms were geared towards personal interest and not towards gain for England. Wolsey is self glorifying and was interested in taking care of himself; he wanted to stay in power as long as he could and he undermined people and used false reforms to stay there. On the other hand Wolsey has been treated harshly by history as he was only trying to stay in power and he did. I feel Wolsey, as chief minister to Henry VIII had a hard job, he had to put up with a warlike and very lavish King and as Cardinal and papal legate in a failing and challenged Religion did well to stay in power so long, and I feel this was his main aim. He did not achieve much in domestic administration and did not improve England as a country during his time in power, but he did stay in power for twenty years, which is a very long time. Wolsey may not have judged his success on how much he achieved but on how long he could stay at the top. Wolsey proposed much and delivered little, but was he concerned about this?