Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Foundations of The Anglican Church XLIV--The Rise and Fall of Thomas Wolsey II

Cardinal Wolsey's Coat of Arms
can still be seen above gateways
at Hampton Court
By the time that Henry had decided on seeking an annulment of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon, Wolsey was running the English government single-handedly.  Henry had entrusted everything to him.  This is not to say that Wolsey was setting policy—he was always very careful to follow royal policy though he could often persuade the King to follow a particular course of action as in the instance of when the King’s sister, Mary, the Dowager Queen of France,  in 1515 married Charles Brandon Duke of Suffolk, without Henry’s permission.  (Keep this marriage in mind as it will have complications a little later in our story when a Protestant grand-daughter of Mary and Brandon claims the throne against the Catholic heir.)  Henry wanted to imprison the couple, and even considered executing Brandon (to marry an heir to the throne without permission of the monarch was an act of treason), but Wolsey talked Henry into forgiving the couple.  Mary was always Henry’s favorite sister and Wolsey’s healing the breach worked greatly to his advantage and Mary always remembered him as an ally.  When Henry would try to annul his marriage to Katherine, however, in favor of Anne Boleyn, Mary was strongly opposed.  She was a friend of Katherine’s and an enemy of Anne’s.
Wolsey too was an enemy of Anne.  Wolsey had been responsible for ending her romance with Henry Percy.  Some claim that Wolsey was only pimping for the King in breaking up the romance.  Others think he was working with the Boleyn family who had—before they saw the possibility of snagging the King—a more advantageous marriage in mind for the young lady.  Wolsey may have wanted to see Anne married to remove her as a threat to Katherine as he preferred the Spanish alliance over a French one.  But when Henry was determined for an annulment, Wolsey set about his work, promising the king it would be no problem.
And it should not have been a problem except for the complications caused by the relationship between Pope Clement VII Medici and Katherine’s nephew, the Emperor Charles V.   Whether from fear of Charles’ army that had sacked Rome in 1527 or in hopes of a Medici-Hapsburg alliance that would restore the Medici to Florence, Clement was determined to prevent the annulment.  After sending Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggio to England to “hear” the case along with Wolsey, Clement recalled the Cardinal in 1529 and said the case would be resolved in Rome. In other words, it would not happen.
This was Anne’s chance to attack Wolsey.  To paraphrase an episode of The Big Bang Theory, Anne was pushy and Henry was whipped.  Wolsey was finished.  Anne drew Henry’s attention to the Wolsey’s lavish residences in London—York Place and, upriver outside the city, Hampton Court.  Where did Wolsey get the resources, she wondered, to build such marvelous palaces.  Why did the King’s servant live even more grandly than did the King?  In 1529 Henry dismissed Wolsey as Lord Chancellor, replacing him with Sir Thomas More.  Hampton Court and York Place were confiscated.  Wolsey was particularly disturbed about signing over York Place as it was not his—it belonged to him only because he was Archbishop of York; it belonged not to him personally but to the Archbishopric.  Nevertheless, Henry got what Henry wanted; or what pushy Anne wanted.  York Place was renamed Whitehall, and would become the principle royal residence for the next 168 years.  (It was destroyed by fire in 1698.)  Hampton Court became the King’s favorite residence and it too would remain a royal palace throughout the Stuart period.  It is not to be missed if you go to London today.
Wolsey was forced to retire to his see in York—which he had not yet visited though he had been Archbishop there for fifteen years.  In 1530 he was arrested for treason—Henry sent Henry Percy—Anne’s old boyfriend—to arrest him in Yorkshire.  On his way south to London he stopped at Leicester Abbey, an Augustinian foundation where he told the Abbot and canons, “I have come to lay my bones among you.”  And so he did, taking ill and dying there on November 29, 1530.  His final words were allegedly: If I had served my God as diligently as I have served my King, he would not have given me over in my grey hairs.”
Prior to becoming a bishop, Wolsey had been in long term monogamous relationship with Joan Larke who bore him two children, both of whom survived to adulthood.  As his advancement drew more attention to himself, he arranged a marriage for Joan and provided her a handsome dowry.  The King built a home for the couple, though given Wolsey’s running the government, Henry may not have been aware of it. 
In the end, Wolsey had been a most industrious servant to the King and was treated quite shabbily but then that is the fate of those who step on people on their way up and who must suffer the consequences of how others treat them on their fall from power.  Henry and his daughter Elizabeth would each be served by several great ministers who took the day to day affairs of government into their hands.  The difference is that Henry didn’t watch closely what these ministers did while Elizabeth was assiduous in her attention to government.  Despite the impression Catholic historians give, Henry was a great King—and I will give reasons for that over several postings to come—but Elizabeth is undoubtedly the best monarch England would ever have.  That is ironic given Henry’s fears that a woman could not rule England, but then Mary—his daughter by Katherine of Aragon and his first heir—would prove his point and be a disaster on the English throne.  But all that is a ways down the road yet. 

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