Thomas Wolsey Biography

Thomas Wolsey
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Quick Facts

Birthday: 1473

Died At Age: 57

Sun Sign: Pisces

Born in: Ipswich

Famous as: Cardinal

Priests British Men


Spouse/Ex-: Joan Larke

children: Dorothy Clancey, Thomas Wynter

Died on: November 29, 1530

place of death: Leicester

Founder/Co-Founder: Christ Church, Oxford

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education: Ipswich School, Magdalen College School, Oxford, Magdalen College, Oxford, University of Oxford

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Who was Thomas Wolsey?

Thomas Wolsey was an English cardinal and statesman, who dominated King Henry VIII’s government from 1515 to 1529. Born in Ipswich to a butcher, Wolsey graduated from the prestigious Oxford University. At the age of 25, he was ordained a priest and became a chaplain to the archbishop of Canterbury. Later, he was appointed the royal chaplain by King Henry VII, who also employed him on diplomatic missions. Through his intellect and dedication, Wolsey made a name for himself as an efficient administrator and with the succession of King Henry VIII to the throne, his rapid rise to the power began. Within a span of few years, Wolsey was made the archbishop of York, then a Cardinal, and soon afterwards, the King appointed him as the Lord Chancellor of England. For the next decade, Wolsey's rule was undisputed and Henry VIII delegated more and more state business to him. The sudden downfall of Wolsey occurred following his failure to use his influence in getting Henry an annulment from the marriage. Henry wanted to part ways with the queen so that he could remarry and produce heir to the throne but Wolsey was unable to accomplish this and was therefore stripped of his position. Soon afterwards, he was also arrested on account of treason charges but he died on his way to London to face trial.
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Childhood & Early Life
Thomas Wolsey was born in March 1473 in Ipswich, Suffolk, England, to Robert Wolsey, a local butcher, and his wife Joan Daundy.
He received his early education from Ipswich School and Magdalen College School before attending Magdalen College, Oxford, where he studied theology. At the age of 15, he obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree.
In March 1498, he was ordained a priest in Marlborough, Wiltshire. Thereafter, he became the Master of Magdalen College School and was subsequently appointed the dean of divinity.
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Later Life
In 1502, he became a chaplain to Henry Deane, Archbishop of Canterbury. Upon Deane’s death the following year, Wolsey was appointed chaplain by Sir Richard Nanfan, the deputy of Calais. Through Nanfan, Wolsey was introduced to the court.
In 1507, when Nanfan died, King Henry VII appointed Wolsey as the royal chaplain. The following year, Henry VII employed Wolsey on several diplomatic missions to Scotland and the Netherlands. In 1509, shortly before the King’s death, Wolsey became the dean of Lincoln.
In 1509, Henry VIII inherited the throne and subsequently raised Wolsey to the post of Almoner. This position earned Wolsey a seat on the Privy Council and also earned him a chance to gain trust of the new King.
In 1513, after Wolsey successfully organized Henry’s expedition against the French, the ties between the two men further strengthened. The following year, after signing the Wolsey's treaty with France, England held the balance of power between France and the Hapsburgs.
With innate abilities and dedication, Wolsey rapidly acquired additional positions in the Church. On Henry’s recommendation, Wolsey was appointed the bishop of Lincoln in 1514 and the Archbishop of York later that year.
The following year, Wolsey rose to the position of cardinal and in December 1515, King Henry VIII chose him as the Lord Chancellor of England. In 1518, Wolsey was appointed the Papal Legate in England. Same year, he engineered the ‘Treaty of London’, a treaty of universal peace embracing the principal European states.
In 1520, Wolsey achieved a diplomatic victory when he organized a meeting between Henry VIII and Francis I of France on the ‘Field of the Cloth of Gold’, a tent city erected in Flanders. Though later, Wolsey sided with Emperor Charles V of Spain and signed ‘Treaty of Bruges’ (1521), confirming English support to Spain in case of war against France.
In 1525, after Charles V captured Francis I and abandoned England as an ally, Wolsey signed the ‘Treaty of the More’ with France to challenge Spain. But, in 1529, the French made peace with Charles and Wolsey faced a downfall.
By this time, King Henry VIII was filled with the desire for an annulment with his wife, Catherine of Aragon, aunt of Charles V. As there was no male heir to succeed Henry to the throne, he wished to be free and get married again.
But, Wolsey was unable to persuade Pope Clement VII, who was under dominance of Charles V, to grant Henry an annulment of his marriage to the Queen. In July 1529, when his final attempt to obtain the annulment collapsed, Wolsey was stripped of all his offices except York and was forced to leave London.
Later, Wolsey’s enemies within England led Henry into believing that Wolsey was conspiring to recover his position. Therefore, on his way to Yorkshire, Wolsey was arrested on charges of treason but died on his way to London.
Major Works
He undertook monastic reforms, in addition to securing the papal permission, to close several decayed monasteries, and used the revenues to establish a grammar school in Ipswich and Cardinal’s College at the University of Oxford.
Personal Life & Legacy
For almost a decade, Wolsey lived with a woman named Joan Larke without being married to her. Subsequently, he also fathered two children; a son, Thomas Wynter, and a daughter named Dorothy.
In 1529, while traveling to Yorkshire after being stripped of his position, Wolsey was framed of treason charges. Subsequently, he was ordered to reach London but he fell ill on the journey and died on November 29, 1530, at Leicester, at the age of 57.

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