The Church gave opportunities to men of talent, and Wolsey quickly rose through the ranks from parish priest to Bishop of Lincoln.
In 1514 Wolsey was made Archbishop of York, and in 1515 a cardinal.
Wolsey’s rapid promotion has been attributed to his great energy and steadfast loyalty to King Henry VIII.
Wolsey was Henry’s key diplomat abroad, and as Lord Chancellor (a position he held from 1515) Wolsey was also the lead minister for English domestic matters.
Wolsey’s usher and then biographer George Cavendish wrote:
“The King…called him more near unto him and esteemed him so highly that his estimation and favour put all other councillors out of their accustomed favour that they were in before.”
Desperate for a male heir, the king was determined to divorce his wife Katherine and to marry Anne Boleyn, a young woman he’d met at the royal court.
Wolsey was tasked with securing papal permission for Henry’s divorce. When these efforts repeatedly failed, Wolsey was made a scapegoat.
In 1529, Wolsey was dismissed from all his offices, bar the archbishopric of York. He died just over a year later in November 1530.
The portrait of Wolsey displayed in this exhibition is from c.1520, and shows Wolsey in his sumptuous red Cardinal robes and hat. In his left hand he is holding a scroll. The painting was commissioned by the nobleman Ralph Sheldon to be hung in his Warwickshire home.
The Year 1520