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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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.
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.