Wolsey was a man of much promise. Born a butchers son in Ipswich in either 1472 or 1473, he had an undisputedly low say in the running of the country. He rose through the ranks of the English church, and excelled himself until the King, Henry VIII, appointed him Lord Chancellor in 1515. When in this positioned, he promised great amounts of modification to the Church, the people and the foreign policy. Not all of this was achieved though, and some would say that Wolsey achieved little. He did not. Wolsey made many promises, because he tried to impress people, and most importantly, Henry. He made so many promises because he wanted to keep his position in power, and the way to keep this was to promise people he would do things for them, even though he may have eventually not got round to doing them. Maybe Wolsey was greedy? Maybe he wanted to be King, but Henry just stood in his way? We do not know precisely why Wolsey promised so much; we can only assume that it was to keep his power.
Wolsey had a programme for reformation of the government. He disliked anybody that came close to the King and threatened his position, and tried to get rid of them in a clever way, for example, the minions. Wolsey, when in his privy chamber, would have the Great Seal of England – a sign of total control – brought out to him by his men, on a cushion. He made a big deal of his power, and liked to display it, especially in front of nobles and the government. This is because he had the power to do as he wished with them, as long as Henry VIII had no disapproval of it. He would then be brought his Cardinal’s hat – a sign of power and status in political and religious terms – and would be escorted to Westminster Hall by noblemen and gentry. He struck fear in the hearts of many people, he had the power to control them; if they betrayed or opposed him, then he would have them killed.
Wolsey was in the centre of Government, and could control, or at least have a major influence on, finance, administration and justice. Although Wolsey was in the centre of the government, he made effort to never forget that Henry was his direct superior, and therefore he had to do things for him, not just go about daily business by himself in Westminster Hall. He had to keep in regular contact with Henry, he didn’t want it to seem like he ran the country. John Skelton’s poem ‘Why come ye not to court?’ almost summed up Wolsey’s control whilst the King was out of town. Wolsey almost ran the country, and his Hampton Court seemed like a rival to the King’s court. Although Wolsey often contacted Henry about domestic policies, Henry did not take much of an interest, unlike his father, and often let Wolsey take complete charge of the situation.
An important part in the Courts, was the Chamber and Privy Chamber; the King’s royal chambers. The men that worked here surrounded Henry VIII, and were of general closeness to him. This meant that they could have had much influence over him, especially the Groom of the Stool. He had 100% access to the King, and was very much disliked by Wolsey, as he saw him as a challenger. These men were nicknamed ‘the minions’ in 1517, and in 1518, Wolsey sent in Richard Pace, a spy, to be in attendance with the minions, and later on in that year, Wolsey expelled the minions from the Court, once again securing his position. They were a ‘bad influence’ on the King, which meant they were a threat to Wolsey, and as we know, Wolsey hated anybody who even remotely threatened his position.
Wolsey was quick to show his programme for the reformation of the government, which caught Henry’s interests. This programme saw middle-aged men put into the positions that the minions once held, and Wolsey soon dropped the programme of reformation, as his objectives had been met. This was an example of Wolsey making great plans, but failing miserably in achieving them all. After this, Henry began to readmit the minions, and in 1520, were renamed ‘the Gentlemen of the Privy’. He now had to work harder to expel them from influencing the King, and between 1521 and 1525, we used many of them as ambassadors abroad, and to take command of military and naval schemes in France. Wolsey had been very clever, and achieved greatly in this aspect; he had sent the ‘Gentlemen’ into the war, where they would undoubtedly be killed. This helped to maintain his influence once again on the King, and was no example of ‘all talk and no action’, because he had dismissed rivals to his influence.
Wolsey’s second plan of reform came in 1526, in the form of the Eltham Ordinances. Here, he reduced the number of Gentlemen in the Privy Chamber by half; from 12 down to 6, halving their influence. He removed the Groom of the Stool, William Crompton, and replaced him with somebody who would not challenge his influence, Henry Norris. This was apparently helping the economy, especially as the recent war with France had been so expensive. He also introduced the Council Attendant on the King, made up of 20 councillors, and used the small print of the Ordinances to implement the Councillors powers elsewhere. He had now achieved the almighty challenge of separating the King from influences, thus maintaining his power. He revelled in the King’s favour, and had almost abolished the fighting in Courts that had taken place before Wolsey cam to power.
Wolsey always held rivalry with the nobles, and it goes without saying that he made any enemies in his position in power. Wolsey had gotten into power because he could meet Henry’s demands. There were nobles on the council, who could stop Wolsey from doing things to impress the king, for example, they knew that Henry VIII had a war-like tendency, and thus encouraged it. War would undoubtedly damage Wolsey’s influence, due to his policy of trying to keep peace. He could not simply get rid of them, because he needed them. Henry had depended on them as war leaders in 1511 and 1514, and used them again in 1522 in the war with France. Wolsey had to achieve a means of acceptance to the noble’s presence on the Council, and had to find a way to use them to his advantage. He achieved this when he realised that he could use them to control regions of the country. For example, he had to cooperate with Lord Dacre and the Earl of Northumberland, to keep effective control. Again, this was a clever plan by Wolsey, they were kept out of direct influence with Henry, and Wolsey could maintain his position at Henry’s side. The nobles didn’t like Wolsey at all, and it can be said that they resented him, because of his low origin, and massive rise to power.
There are 2 ideas of Wolsey and the Nobles’ relationship; the old idea, and the new idea. The old idea claims tat they both hated each other, and the new idea was that they tolerated each other, and got along. Some of the nobles still resented him, such as the Howard Family. The two did not have good relations, and they helped Wolsey’s fall from power in his final years, and so did the Duke of Suffolk. Wolsey tended not to attack the nobles, but the one case he did was Edward Stafford, the third Duke of Buckinghamshire, in 1519.
He had asked for the position of Constable of England, but Henry wanted to keep the position unfilled, and after an attack in the Star Chamber due to a servant wearing the colours of the Duke in Henry’s presence, the Duke was reported to have been complaining about the royal councillors. He has also done nothing to support at Court, and despised the minions. He did little work, and talked himself into the King and Wolsey’s disfavour, and when he asked for an army of men to visit the Lordship in Wales in 1521, he was refused because he could start a rebellion. He was summoned to Court and arrested later that year, tried for high treason and executed. But, all of this was ordered from Henry, so Wolsey had no personal aggression against the Duke. This was a one-off case, so it can be said that Wolsey achieved much in the way of relations with the nobles, although it wasn’t always perfect.
Wolsey came to have a reputation as a legal reformer, due to his massive energy and capacity for hard work. As historian Geoffrey Elton said of him in 1955, ‘Wolsey gloried in the majesty of a judge, and although he had no legal training that we know of he possessed a remarkable natural ability for the task.’ Because he was Lord Chancellor, and had to overlook the whole legal system, it only seems proper that he became a legal reformer. Wolsey was in the Courts almost every day, proving him a very ‘hands-on’ Chancellor, and his dedication to his job and to his King. His sittings as judge in the Court of Chancery only had a little impact, as he only made a few more cases than his predecessors, so not much achievement there.
He sat in his Court, the Star Chamber more often, and had a big effect there. In 1516, he wanted to improve the legal system, so that it worked more efficiently, and was both fairer and cheaper. But, was this just another false promise? He claimed he would make an enhanced Star Chamber, which he did do. It was to enforce the law, and give a fair delivery of justice. It was a success in terms of the cases it got; 120 cases a year instead of the old 12. It made a massive increase in efficiency, and a mammoth achievement for Wolsey. He perhaps made a mistake when he introduced impartial justice, meaning anybody could be tried in court, even nobles. To make things fair, he encouraged normal people to bring cases forward concerning the nobles. This seemed a mistake; he very much grew to be disliked by the nobles. Wolsey seemed to suffer from another case of talking more than making actions. The increased caseload overworked the Courts, and overflow tribunals had to be created. He hadn’t exactly totally reformed the legal system, as he had promised to do.
Although he legal reforming seemed a massive achievement, he had left false promises in completely reforming the system to a stable level.
Another kick at the nobles was Wolsey’s campaign against enclosure. Enclosure was the movement to kick people off of their land too rear sheep there instead. It would result in massive job loss, and unemployment, but his didn’t matter to the nobles, it was not their jobs that would be lost. Again, as with making the Courts fairer, and the introduced impartial justice, Wolsey again helped the poorer masses. Their farms would be taken over with enclosure, and the nobles would then rub their faces in it. He insisted that the laws of 1489, and 1514-15 against enclosure should be obeyed. A thorough investigation was taken out, finding people who had suffered from enclosure, and cases were created against over 260 landlords/corporations. Again, this angered the nobles. Many of the cases were won against the defenders, and Wolsey could be dubbed the ‘champion of the poor’. The nobles who had lost out struck back at Wolsey in 1523, and he decided that he would suspend the enclosure and social reform, in preparation for war. Basically, he made deals with the propertied classes to stop his anti-enclosure campaign if they paid him off. Again, he had made massive promises, but actually achieved little. He had received much money from this movement, which it could be said, was all the he wanted anyway.
He also helped the poor by maintaining the ‘just-price’. Here, he attacked some traders, accusing them of charging their customers too much. He also didn’t finish this either, doing little to follow up these condemnations. Maybe he had no time, or maybe he just didn’t anticipate the workload it would create for him, and just gave up.
He played an important role in finance and the Parliament. It was thought that there was not enough money raised to cover finances for wars that would take place, so taxation had to be raised. Due to Henry’s expensive foreign policy, normal tax rates would cover the amount of money being spent, as the income of the Crown was normally just about enough to pay the parliament and government. Wolsey was in charge of finance, and thus had to play the role of tax man, a job that would make him very unpopular. He introduced the subsidy, a revolutionary way of taxing, and a great achievement for helping the poor, and once again annoying the nobles. This subsidy would mean that there was no fixed taxation amount; instead, tax was based on the amount of income, therefore, the higher the incomes that you recieve, the more tax you pay. Wolsey introduced an Act of Resumption in Parliament, in 1515. This would regain lands for the Crown, which had been given away in earlier years. This did little to please Henry, as there was not enough land to satisfy him. This Act seemed a failure, as it didn’t bring in the desired money. The subsidy was another good achievement for Wolsey; it brought in ï¿½300,000 for the Crown, enough money to finance the war with France.
Wolsey attempted to manage his first Parliament in 1515, which brought in many complaints about the church. He didn’t manage Parliament well, as there was much criticism of the church, which was an example of what was wrong with the church, and how reformation was needed. When the war with France broke out in 1522, more money was needed. Wolsey raised ï¿½250,000 by loans from the nobles, which were not given in good health. They were forced loans from the King, which were often not repaid. There was another Parliament in 1523, were Wolsey demanded 800,000 in extra taxes, so taxes had once again been increased drastically. He had been refused this further loan, which showed a false promise to the King, getting him the money he needed. He had made himself highly unpopular amongst many of the country’s people. Because he couldn’t ask Parliament for more money, when Henry decided to invade France, he decided to raise taxes based on the values of property and goods.
It was called the ‘amicable grant’, and called for people, as patriots, to pay to help their country in a time of need. Taxpayers could not handle anymore taxing, and could not pay any more than they already did. When the collectors came for the money, they were met with resistance. Wolsey couldn’t get the money from the masses, and had to accept voluntary donations. People came close to rebellions in London and Lavenham, and Henry VIII, whose war-like tendencies had caused this, forced Wolsey to apologise to the people. People that had been imprisoned had to have Wolsey pay off their expenses, which was a huge humiliation for Wolsey. The subsidy had begun with such success, but the amicable grant had failed his expectations. There were promises here, which just couldn’t be achieved. Wolsey had to accept the blame for this, and Henry called off the war with France; it was just too expensive. Wolsey’s rivals began to prepare themselves to succeed him, but he quickly introduced the Eltham Ordinances of 1526 as a sign of insecurity. Wolsey had achieved the best that he could have done, it was Henry who had created these near-rebellions, due to his hobby of spending money that he doesn’t have.
The Church was the last thing that Wolsey achieved in. He seeked to reform the Church, as well as the legal system, and government. This would have excelled him beyond belief if this reformation succeeded. He planned to reform the clergy, which soon failed, again showing that Wolsey was in some aspects, all talk and no action. There were worries about the Church brought up in the Parliament of 1515. A merchant of London had been accused of criticising the Catholic Church, over mortuary payment with a priest. He was found dead in a local Bishop’s prison.
This case turned people against the Church, and all that Wolsey stood for in the Church. It seemed as if Wolsey’s work in the Church was failing; he managed to avoid the renewal of the benefit of the clergy, and assured Henry that clerical privileges were no threat to royal power over the church. Due to his Papal Legacy, he was effectively in control of the Church by 1518, and when it came to reforming the regular and secular clergy, nothing was done. Another false promise was used here. By 1524, Wolsey had done some reforming in the Church, but not much, and it seemed that he may just be being greedy, by building new colleges etc. There is some doubt to whether Wolsey was just building monuments to show off his power, and it was certainly considered tat Wolsey may be more interested in building monuments to himself than promoting learning.
It is clear that he knew how to raise money from the Church, and show himself as a good cardinal, but there was criticism from religious reformers that he had so many offices and the way he seemed to personify absenteeism and pluralism. He had many positions in different churches; Archbishop of York, Abbott of St. Albans, and held bishoprics in Durham and Winchester. In St. Albans, he made clergy members pay to carry out their duties there. He showed interest in every thing that he could make money in, and managed a vast income. Much of it was spent on Hampton Court. He was effectively in control of the Church, by the Pope, and King, and there is claim that this weakened the Church.
Wolsey had achieved a vast income from the Church, due to being Papal Legate, although he had failed almost every reformation he promised to complete.
In conclusion, I have found that it cannot be doubted that Wolsey achieved massive amounts in his time in power, He had gone from being a simple butchers son, to rising in power to become the phantom King of England. He held the position of Cardinal in the Church, and worked as a legal reformer, church reformer, government reformer, and ‘champion of the poor’. He achieved many many things in his life, ntil his fall from power in 1529. Although he achieved so much, he did not seem to keep all of the promises he had made in his time. On many an occasion he had promised to do things, but never actually do them. Wolsey seemed to have a severe disorder in the way of actually taking action after he had claimed he would do things. We don’t know if this was just because Wolsey was lazy, greedy, or just too busy, but it cannot be said that he did not achieve more than his lifetimes work.