Thursday, August 6, 2015

Tackling Tudor Thomases, One At a Time: Today's Thomas - Wolsey

In the 'Tackling Tudor Thomases, One At a Time' there will be three religious Thomases. 
Thomas Wolsey is todays, Thomases More and Cranmer will be along later.

In medieval England, a tradition began among landowning gentlemen and nobility was to use Son #1 as He Who Inherits, and Son #2 as He Who Enters Politics By Becoming a Clergyman. 
Cardinal Thomas Wolsey doesn't fit that formula as he was 'lowly born' but in the court of Henry VIII, anything was possible; even a non-nobleman Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church deftly removing the onerous responsibilities of running the country from the hands of its teen-aged king.

Thomas Wolsey, son of a butcher, decided the Church was his best chance to make something of himself - and by 1509 when Henry VIII ascended the throne, aged just-shy of eighteen, Thomas Wolsey, the royal chaplain, was there to help.
Wolsey took the day-to-day, mundane administrative tasks off young Henry's plate, giving the teen King more time to enjoy being sprung from the strict, no-fun policies of his now-dead father, Henry VII.


Now THIS is fun!  Not like all that boring king work. 
Henry leaned more and more on Wolsey as weeks, then months went by; after all, when the newcomer has only a rough scope of the size of his new job, to be told such-and-such was his responsibility but had been handled, the newcomer can relax and go jousting.
Months turned into years; by the time Henry VIII was twenty-four, he made Wolsey Lord Chancellor to reward him for not only taking on the pesky small administrative stuff but also for advising Henry on more and more serious matters of policy, laws and taxation.
The King, realizing more every day the responsibilities that came with the throne was growing to fill the shoes of being a king, and Wolsey was a valuable and knowledgeable resource.
See, I'm the one actually running the country. . . 
Problem was, during the time Henry utterly relied on Wolsey, Wolsey got used to the idea of running the country; he became arrogant and vindictive when other people at court crossed him. 
Wolsey also had a bit of hypocritical streak in him.
Although he was a member of the clergy, he very conveniently changed his morality to fit whatever Henry VIII needed it to be. 
If Henry needed adultery to be accepted, Wolsey looked the other way. 
If Henry's coffers needed topping off with a little cash-o-la, Wolsey had no problem ordering men to aggressively squeeze more money out of people who'd already paid their bit to the Crown for the year.
No problem.

Wolsey worked hard to keep a tight rein of control over who got close to the king, but he lacked that noble background which allowed access automatically (sort of)  by virtue of birth and place in society.
Again, no problem.
He just re-wrote the laws surrounding the running of the Royal Household, and, like members of Congress do here all the time, inserted what he was really after into the Ordnance he'd written. 
What he'd really wanted was to - you guessed it - cut down on the number of Gentlemen Ushers (royal BFF's) who made up the Privy Chamber (officially sanctioned royal BFF's) so that Wolsey better controlled EVERYTHING.

Then along came Anne Boleyn.
Talk about your game-changer.
Henry, in his mid-thirties, went all mid-life crisis in a big way.
Out with the old wife!
In with the trophy wife!
Good friend, and Church-connected Wolsey, make it happen!
Hmmm. . . . let's see; who's stronger-willed, me, or Wolsey? Trick question, lol, I'm the only one who counts! 
Except. . .except . . . except it was here that Wolsey made the judgment call that cost him everything.
Thinking Henry would have an Anne-fling, then be done with her, Wolsey delayed work on annulling Henry's existing marriage.
Anne refused to be Anne-the-fling and that put Wolsey, who'd done nothing to get rid of Henry's current wife, in a pretty pickle.

Eventually, in a series of legal moves that D-R-A-G-G-E-D on for Y-E-A-R-S, Henry lost faith in Wolsey; for good reason, but also because Henry's faith in anyone was a temporary proposition and to think otherwise was to kid yourself. 
Wolsey 'fell from favor.'
Imagine the beginning sequence from Mad Men except instead of an American businessman in a suit plummeting through the air, an English man of the Church dropping, his robes and rosaries and silly Church hat flying out all over the place - except at the bottom, everyone he knew was pointing at him, and lots of them were laughing.
That's what a fall from favor meant. 

Famously, Wolsey tangled with Anne Boleyn over other issues; imagine her fist-pump when Wolsey had to hand over all his properties - including that banging Hampton Court Palace - and Anne, her mother, the King and one other royal-BFF got to inspect the digs the very next day.

In time, Wolsey's enemies and his own mistakes caused him to get the 'please report with all haste to the Tower of London, where cold milk and warm chocolate-chip cookies await you - jk - you're gonna freeze in a dungeon awhile and then get your head sliced off, lol!' message. 

While dying of dysentery (look it up, but trust me, you don't want to know) on his way to the Tower might seem harsh, it was easier than facing judgment and sentencing from the now-grown king he'd mentored and worked for all those years. 
So Wolsey, no doubt reeling with shame and also from the speed of his downfall, cheated the headsman by dying on his own as he traveled to do as the King had ordered; get himself to the executioner's block.