Monday, 10 March 2014

The Structure of Government: The Role of Wolsey

Wolsey was born in Ipswich in about 1475 and believed to be the son of a butcher. In 1497 he was ordained as a priest and later became a chaplain to Henry VII. He was trusted enough to be sent on diplomatic missions which gained him contacts abroad. Wolsey's rise to power was a combination of luck and skill. He was able and ambitious. 

In 1509 he became Royal Almoner and atomically became part of the royal council. Royal Almoner meant he was responsible for charitable giving; Henry regarded him as the ‘fixer’.

Wolsey had a set of useful skills:
-Brilliant organiser. For example, he organised supplies and equipment for Henry’s war against France in 1513.
-Had an excellent eye for detail
-He was witty, cultured and excellent company – far from a dry minister (these were common under Henry VII and Henry VIII had his father’s advisors Empsom and Dudley executed) 

Henry was young and inexperienced and disliked mundane tasks such as paper work and his advisor was more than prepared to take the burden of administration and bureaucratic tasks. Wolsey worked exceptionally hard over 1512-13. For example, he organised the expeditionary forces to France and ensured the logistics of this complex campaign ran smoothly. As Wolsey was exceptionally skilled and dedicated, it was inevitable that he would cross paths with other key political figures. Throughout 1512 and 13 Wolsey was ruthless in side-lining anyone who tried to disrupt his plans or objectives. 

Church Preferment
-After successful war in France in 1513 he was made bishop of captured town of Tournai. He later sold the bishopric for 12,000 livres.
-In 1514 he was also made Archbishop of York after the death of the incumbent, Archbishop Bainbridge in Rome
-In 1515 he was made Cardinal

-In 1518 he was made a Papal Legate, effectively the head of the Church of the England with the authority to Remit Sims, demand tribute from church leaders such as bishops, and criticise clergy. This was in addition to appointing others to church offices, reforming monasteries and absolving those excommunicated. Also Appoint to Benefices (Wolsey now had the authority, through Rome, to make clerical appointments in England. 

Role in Government (Wolsey also attained high offices in government)
-In 1515 Wolsey became Lord Chancellor and his supporter Lord Thomas Rothall became Lord Privy Seal. Both of these offices controlled the seals that authenticated royal orders. This made Wolsey the second most powerful personage in England.
-As Lord Chancellor he was effectively head of the government. He was the King’s chief advisor and controlled considerable patronage.

Wolsey’s maintenance of power as Henry’s chief for fifteen years was based upon three key principles:
-Political relationship with Henry: after the perceived success of the French invasion Henry trusted Wolsey unequivocally. Traditional historians see Wolsey as the alter rex. This interpretation implies that Wolsey held real power at court and that Henry had a passive role within government. This view has been challenged by recent historians who argue that the relationship was more one of political partnership. Henry may have given Wolsey more space in his early years as he was interested in hunting and feasting but the King still made final decisions. In fact, the King and Wolsey did not always see eye to eye some disagreements include:
-In 1522 when Wolsey proposed a surprise attack on the French navy but Henry thought the plan foolhardy
-In 1528 the two men fell out involving the appointment of an abbess to the nunnery at Wilton in Wiltshire. Wolsey ignored Henry’s instruction regarding who should get the post and was forced to make a grovelling apology to his master.
-Wealth: Wolsey had an enormous amount of wealth which served as a source of awe and envy. However, it cause some resentment among the nobles as he was of low birth. David Starkey described Wolsey’s magnificent court as quasi-court. Wolsey’s court had 500 men, nearly the same as Henry’s. Foreign envoys were treated to magnificent banquets and celebrations. He had the largest disposable income in England and was probably ten times richer than his closest political rival. His income came from: bishoprics such as Tournai, Bath and Wells, Durham, Winchester. Wolsey also became the abbot of St Albans in 1525, which was the richest monastery in England. Also a large amount came from the fees that Wolsey charged in his ecclesiastical courts as well as monetary gifts that he received from clients and patrons. 
-Ruthlessness: Polydore Vergil was allegedly imprisoned on Wolsey's command. Wolsey was also reportedly played a part in the execution of the Duke of Buckingham. Most evidence suggests that Wolsey did consult other nobles on the important matters of the day and did not deliberately octracise  political opponents. Yet what frustrated others was that policy had clearly been decided between Henry and Wolsey before being presented to the council.