Cardinal Wolsey always maintained that he served Henry VIII to the highest levels. Wolsey’s fall was primarily due to his failure to get Henry the annulment to his marriage to Catherine of Aragon that would allow Henry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn. As the Pope’s most senior officer in England, Wolsey had seemingly made it clear to Henry that the required annulment was an easy requirement as he had the necessary contacts in Rome. When he failed to deliver, Henry decided that his chief minister was no longer required. Wolsey always believed that he had served Henry to the best of his ability as this statement, made in 1530 shortly before his death, indicates.


Ordered to report to London from his home in York, Wolsey died at Leicester in 1530. Just before he died he said the following that was heard by his gentleman usher George Cavendish:


“Well, well, Master Kingston”, quod he, “I see the matter against me how it is framed. But if I had served God as diligently as I have done the King, he would not have given me over in my grey hairs. Howbeit this is just reward that I must receive for my worldly diligence and pains that I have had to do him service, only to satisfy his vain pleasures, not regarding my godly duty. Wherefore I pray you with all my heart to have me most humbly commended unto his royal majesty, beseeching him in my behalf to call to his most gracious remembrance all matters proceeding between him and me from the beginning of the world unto this day, and the progress of the same. And most chiefly in the weighty matter yet depending (meaning the matter newly begun between him and good Queen Catherine) – then shall his conscience declare whether I have offended him or no. He is sure a prince of a royal courage, and hath a princely heart; and rather than he will either miss or want any part of his will or appetite, he will put the loss of one half of his realm in danger. For I assure you I have often kneeled before him in privy chamber on my knees the space of an hour or two to persuade him from his will and appetite; but I could never bring to pass to dissuade him therefrom. Therefore, Master Kingston, if it chance hereafter you to be one of his privy council (as for your wisdom and other qualities ye be meet so to be)  warn you to be well advised and assured what matter ye put in his head; for ye shall never pull it out again.”


How someone interprets “worldly diligence” is up to the individual. Wolsey was very diligent and successful in expanding his own power base and he was very diligent and successful in expanding his huge wealth. He also used his own position to put his own men in important government posts. However, he did little to modernise the machinery of government, which historians view as remaining at a feudal level in a developing nation. If Wolsey had been diligent, he might have tackled this issue in the same way that Thomas Cromwell did. Whereas Thomas Cromwell wanted highly able men in government to ensure the smooth running of the government, Wolsey preferred to see one man dominate the whole process. Whereas Cromwell appointed able men, Wolsey appointed his own men or those who could best afford to pay the highest price for appointments. It can be argued that if Wolsey had spent less time on himself (though this was a classic feature of someone who led a feudal government structure) and more time on government, he could refer to himself as being diligent. For the number of years that Wolsey worked for Henry VIII, he must have known that if he failed to deliver, he would be held to account. This statement above, if it is accurate, hints at a man who failed to take into account that possibly Wolsey had got himself into the position he found himself in. This failure to see that he may have been at fault was almost certainly the result of years of near total power. Travelling south from York, Wolsey must have known what his fate would be. At the very least, this would have been the confiscation of his wealth and property and it is widely known that Wolsey had got to love his lifestyle that involved lavish homes such as Hampton Court and York House alongside sumptuous banquets. However, Wolsey probably knew that he faced an accusation of treason, however trumped up that may have been, and that he faced execution. Unable to bear the thought of this, he died in Leicester in November 1530.

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