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Thomas Wolsey’s fall from power

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    The most important reason for Wolsey’s fall from power was his failure to obtain a divorce. How far do you agree? Wolsey was a cardinal and statesman, Henry’s lord chancellor and most faithful servant, whom he was most reliant upon. 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 Cloth of Gold. Wolsey used his wealth to indulge his passion for building, his grand style of living made him increasingly unpopular. Wolsey’s failure to arrange an annulment for Henry was quickly followed by his downfall. In this essay I will look how far this was the main reason for his collapse from power. Wolsey’s fall corresponded with the fact that he could not get a divorce from the pope. 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.

    Only the Pope could dissolve marriages, nevertheless Wolsey was confident that such an outcome would be speedily achieved. At an early stage he assured him that there would be no difficulty in meeting his requirements., thus such annulments were relatively commonplace. In addition Wolsey was one of the most influential men in the Church and was owed favours by many of those who advised the Pope in matters. Both Henry and Wolsey believed this would be a quick and easy affair. Things did not go as planned. Catherine maintained that she was Henry’s legitimate wife and queen, and that she had come to him a virgin, meaning her marriage to Arthur was not consummated. The fact that she was both unwilling to accept what Henry was proposing and her popularity with the people meant that she posed a blockade to Henry’s wishes. There were those in England who supported Catherine’s viewpoint. One was the Bishop of Rochester, Bishop Fisher, who wrote seven books in support of Catherine and became her main defender in England. Catherine was not willing to let go easily as this meant her child Mary could be made illegitimate, she was also a strong Catholic and believed that she was supposed to be Queen of England. She refused to go to a convent and refused to go to the hearing in London, which is why she appealed in Rome, this gave her a stronger chance to win her case. Another strong reason was the fact that Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor and Catharine’ s nephew was holding the Pope hostage and had him under house arrest.

    Charles V had invaded Italy and therefore the Pope was in no position to agree a divorce (considering the family connections). In normal circumstances he may have gotten the divorce. When the final failure of Wolsey’s efforts to secure the divorce became apparent the king turned on his once faithful and most trusted servant. Henry felt let down and Wolsey was no longer useful. In addition Wolsey was becoming less successful as on the political front Charles V had taken Italy while Francis I had grown tired of the war and sought peace. In this he abandoned Italy to Charles, and they agreed on a Treaty at Cambrai which Henry effectively ignored. As a result Wolsey`s grand plan for conservative reform and England holding the balance of power in Europe fell. Henry seized the initiative from an absent Wolsey and so the relationship between them worsened. He stopped listening to Wolsey and turned to other advisers and suggestions like of Crammer and Cromwell. Also Anne’s relatives were promptly promoted to positions of power. Her father, Sir Thomas Boleyn was appointed Lord Privy Seal & Earl of Wiltshire; Her uncle, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, became Lord Treasurer. Along with Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, they ran the English government for a few years after 1529, although only Norfolk showed real ability (these were previously Wolsey’s roles) Wolsey’s fall was only a matter of time. Although his downfall was somewhat sudden, due to his great unpopularity amongst many people within England at the time, it does not appear as shocking as one might think.

    People such as Anne Boleyn campaigned to King Henry VIII anti-Wolsey propaganda and anti-Wolsey messages in an attempt to force Wolsey off the only source of power he had left to hold, influence over the king. This was similarly done, and accomplished, by the nobles and their envy of Wolsey’s power. E.g. Anne Boleyn and her faction suggested to the king that the cardinal was actively conspiring to delay a papal decision, this had a big impact on the king. Anne had a personal grudge against Wolsey and was clearly hoping for a pay back as Wolsey refused to let her marry Henry Percy in the years before. Her hatred of Cardinal Wolsey intensified as his attempts to annul Henry’s marriage to Catherine failed. Henry had been patient however Anne refused to become Henry’s mistress, which frustrated him and made him more aware that the passage of time was endangering his aspiration to leave a male heir. Wolsey was also widely disliked by others in the court e.g. Wolsey’s belief in his own power was bound to bring him into conflict with Parliament. The only time that Wolsey recognised its power was when a considerable sum of money had to be raised to pay for Henry’s foreign ventures. This happened in 1523 – but it only served to deepen his dislike of Parliament as it was capable of solving something that he could not. . The Eltham Ordinance of January 1526 aimed at regulating chaotic finances of the privy chamber was also an example of a failed reform. Faction at court was getting the better of him, and he found himself no longer being able to contain the nobles, as he had been hugely criticised. Wolsey also upset many of the people in court by his humble upbringing. In 1519, Wolsey announced that the conciliar Court of Star Chamber for the poor, which promised justice. This angered many of the nobles as it proved his power. They resented the rise to power of a low-born man, they made him seem power thirsty and intensely determined. Other factors throughout his reign – such as the disaster of the amicable grant – set the foundation for Wolsey’s downfall on the basis of overall dislike of his nature and actions, which in turn, influenced the easily manipulated mind of the King.

    The resistance which was so widespread and disruptive in the country that the demands of the Grant were dropped. Furthermore this made the king seem as weak in the eyes of other powers in Europe I believe that the failure to acquire the divorce is the main reason as in spite of having many enemies, Cardinal Wolsey retained Henry VIII’s confidence until Henry decided to seek an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Wolsey’s failure to secure the annulment is widely perceived to have directly caused his downfall and arrest. Ultimately, Anne Boleyn and her faction worsened the situation, since convinced Henry that Wolsey was deliberately slowing proceedings, and as a result, he was arrested in 1529, and the Pope decided the official decision should be made in Rome anyway. Even though he was desperately fighting and tried hard to be successful Henry could not see the quick results he wished for thus Wolsey failed to achieve his main objective. Henry was somewhat using Wolsey to do his work, as he clearly preferred to play jousting and enjoy himself. He was delighted to have someone carry out his wishes, but his failure to deliver resulted in the dissolution of that partnership. As he was promised the annulment would only be a matter of time he felt betrayed and let down. The king was angry and shocked that he was forced to take the matter into his own hands. Meanwhile others stepped in Wolsey’s shoes he was no longer needed, so could be disposed of. Overall I stick to my judgement in stating that the divorce was the primary reason for his downfall, while others contributed making it more rapid.

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