Wolsey was a cardinal and statesman, Henry VIII's lord chancellor and one of the last churchmen to play a dominant role in English political life.
Thomas Wolsey was born in Ipswich, Suffolk, around 1475. His father, who is thought to have been a butcher, provided a good education and he went on to Magdalen College, Oxford. Wosley was ordained in around 1498. He became chaplain to the archbishop of Canterbury and later chaplain to Henry VII, who employed him on diplomatic missions.
Wolsey made a name for himself as an efficient administrator, both for the Crown and the church. When Henry VIII became king in 1509, Wolsey's rapid rise began. In 1514, he was created archbishop of York and a year later the pope made him a cardinal. Soon afterwards the king appointed him lord chancellor.
From 1515 to 1529, Wolsey's rule was undisputed. Henry VIII delegated more and more state business to him, including near-complete control of England's foreign policy. Wolsey's finest hour was arranging the Field of the Cloth of Gold, the Tudor equivalent of a summit meeting, which he devised for Henry to meet the Francis I, King of France.
Wolsey used his great wealth to indulge his passion for building - at his London home, York Place in Whitehall, and at Hampton Court, 20 miles south west of London. He also founded Cardinal College at Oxford (later King's College, and now Christ Church), but his haughtiness and grand style of living made him increasingly unpopular.
Henry desperately wanted a son and argued that his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, with whom he had a daughter, was not lawful. He asked Wolsey to use his influence in Rome to get a papal annulment of Henry's marriage so that he could remarry.
Wolsey was unable to accomplish this, partly because Catherine's nephew, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, dominated the pope at the time. Wolsey was widely disliked, particularly among those around Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII's prospective new bride. Wolsey's failure to arrange an annulment for Henry was quickly followed by his downfall.
Wolsey was arrested near York in November 1530 and accused of treason. He died on 29 November of the same year at Leicester on his journey south to face trial.
This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.