Cardinal Wolsey as Monarch in England

The Adviser of Henry VIII

Henry VIII took the throne in 1509, replacing an immensely successful and popular Henry VII. Henry VII left his son with a full treasury and a large percentage of satisfied Englishmen as well as nobles. Henry VIII, however, did not share in his father’s success and ability to lead. The younger Henry was only 18 when he took the throne, and he was more interested in holding large events and hunting during the day while spending his nights being entertained in his court, a reflection of his athletic demeanor. Henry VIII had little inclination to participate in governmental action, and this was left largely to his councilors.
Cardinal Wolsey, a church cleric, was the principal adviser to Henry VIII and gained his trust with government affairs quickly. He served almost literally as the head of the government until he was tried for treason in 1529 after losing favor with the king. Wolsey himself was never popular, especially among the English nobles and aristocracy. Wolsey did, however, hold tremendous favor with the one man who mattered, Henry VIII, until he was unable to get the Catholic Church in Rome to allow Henry VIII to divorce Catherine of Aragon, whom he married as he took the throne in 1509 when he was only 18.

Wolsey was the son of a butcher, and he became a priest in 1498. He served diplomatically to Scotland and France under Henry VII in 1507, and he came highly recommended to Henry VIII, who gave him trust despite the image Wolsey had of being corrupt. Wolsey was seen as a hard worker to many, however, and he proved himself to Henry when he helped to plan Henry’s invasion of France, including the enlistment and equipping of 30,000 men for battle. He negotiated the peace treaty after the war in 1514, allowing Henry’s sister to marry French King Louis XII as well as having Louis paying annual tribute to Henry.

It was the war with France that ascended Cardinal Wolsey in England. He became the bishop of Tournai despite the pope’s objection after the English captured the Belgian city, where he himself grew powerful until the English Reformation. Wolsey then became the archbishop of York in England in 1514, and it was a little after a year later in 1515 that he was elected to be a cardinal. Here, Wolsey had pull (and success) as a juror in England. He prosecuted many corrupt officials and often helped private citizens in cases against their landlords. Wolsey established a permanent committee to hear the cases of poor Englishmen.

As the chief adviser to one of the most prominent English kings who lived lavishly, Wolsey often tried to emulate this material wealth. This wealth was often seen by others as evidence of Wolsey’s corruption, as the cardinal’s own home was one of great magnitude. His home was so large that he often entertained the king and his ambassadors within his own court, such as the French ambassadors in 1527. The evidence of Wolsey’s high involvement in the English government was seen through his building projects, which were far larger than that of Henry VIII. However, the domestic area was not the only one where Wolsey excelled, as he was also successful in the foreign realm.

Wolsey did have a certain lust for power, but much of the aggressive action taken by England was only King Henry VIII’s bidding. After the successor of Louis XII began to march in Switzerland, Wolsey quickly helped to have diplomatic talks again with France. In 1518 the Treaty of London was signed, signaling the first time in history that London would be the commercial and political center of Europe, with Henry VIII at the center. Wolsey and Henry VIII, both opportunists hungering for power, looked at Europe in 1519 and wanted to gain more power, even if it was through war. If war was to take place, which it did in the 1520s, it had to go through France and the Holy Roman Empire, headed by Francis I and Charles V, respectively.