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Cardinal Wolsey

Cardinal Wolsey



Cardinal WolseyWolsey is the most prominent English example of vaulting ambition that o'erleaps itself and falls on the other side. His words of bitter penitence have been, by the aid of Shakespeare's genius, deeply impressed on the mind of all who speak his native tongue.


Thomas Wolsey was born at Ipswich in the year 1471. His parentage was obscure but it has not been proved that his father followed the occupation of a butcher, as the Cardinals enemies in after years asserted. Wolsey obtained an excellent education, and had a brilliant reputation as a student at Magdalen College, Oxford University, from which scat of learning he graduated when only fifteen years of age. From this fact he was called the Boy Bachelor." Though he must have worked bard during his college career, he seems to have had some share in the dissipation of the day, and it is said that for some petty fault he was once subjected to the penal discipline of the stocks.


His first preferment, after he had taken orders, was that of Limington, a living in the gift of the Marquis of Dorset, whose two sons had been Wolsey's pupils. The turning point in his career appears to have been his appointment as one of the chaplains of Henry VII. His abilities were thus brought to the royal notice, and on his successful accomplishment of a delicate diplomatic mission to the Emperor Maximilian in Flanders, he obtained, as a reward for his zeal, the rich Deanery of Lincoln in 1508. Yet it is not easy to determine the reason of the extraordinary influence which he exercised over Henry VIII. in the early years of his reign. His scholarship aided ill the composition of the king's celebrated Latin "Defense of the Seven Sacraments, against Luther; but he appears to have been a favorite long before this service. He was placed in the infiuential position of the king's almoner through the recommendation of Richard Fox, Bishop of Winchester, who is said to have advanced Wolsey for the purpose of counteracting his rival Surrey.


When once the gay young Henry VIII. had learned to seek counsel of Wolsey, it is easy to believe that his magnificent nations, his scholarship, his knowledge of life, and his accommodating morality, would please such a monarch. Preferment flowed in upon him. In 1514 he was made Bishop of Lincoln, and was then in possession of lucrative livings in both England and France. Afterwards he was created Archbishop of York and Chancellor of England. In 1515, by the influence of Queen Katharine, he was made Cardinal, and next year legate a latere," a commission which virtually made him Pope in England. With his cardinalate he received the" honor of the hat," or right to wear his hat in the king's presence, a privilege usually conferred only on members of royal families.


The splendor of the prelate now rivalled that of the king. His train numbered eight hundred; his silken robes sparkled with gold; he permitted his Cardinal's hat to be laid nowhere in the royal chapel but on the high altar; and when he became Papal Legate, he caused the first nobles of England to serve him on feast-days with towel and water. His fostering care of learning and literature gained, however, for him the applause of the wise.


The vast influence which he exercised at the powerful court of England made his friendship an object not only to private seekers of preferment, but to the principal European powers. Wolsey aspired to the Popedom when Charles V. and Francis I. were competing with each other to succeed Maximilian as Emperor of Germany. Hence each of them sought to secure the aid of Wolsey, by outbidding his rival in prospects of assistance towards the cardinal's great object, while he, on his part, had the too difficult part of making up his mind where to throw his influence, and of acting for one party with as little prejudice as possible to his influence with the other. Much to his mortification he lost the great object which would have given him a securer foundation for power than he had in England, and he ever treated the Emperor Charles V. as one who had deceived him. His enmity to the emperor inclined him to sanction the divorce of Henry VIII. from Katharine of Aragon; but his duty to the Church prevented him from being the king's champion through the whole transaction. Wolsey did not know what to do. The Pope, awed by the Emperor, dared not grant Henry's demand; and Wolsey dared not oppose the Pope. To his own ruin the Cardinal acted a double part. Openly he seemed to urge on the divorce; secretly he delayed it in obedience to the Pope. At length a court was opened in London to try the case. Wolsey and the Italian Cardinal, Campeggio, sat as judges. No decision was made; and after the court had sat for almost two months, an order from the Pope transferred it to Rome.


This delay raised Henry's anger against Wolsey. The great seal, the badge of the Chancellor's office, was taken from him and given to Sir Thomas More. His palace-York Place, afterwards Whitehall-was seized with all its rich plate and furniture. Compelled to retire to Yorkshire, he survived his disgrace about a year. Then, being arrested by the Earl of Northumberland for high treason, he was on his way probably to a scaffold in London, when he was attacked with dysentery. He sought refuge in the Abbey of Leicester with the mournful words, "Father Abbot, I am come to lay my bones among you." He died thereon the 28th of November, 1530. Almost bis last words were, "Had I but served God as diligently as I have served the king, He would not have given me over in my gray hairs. But this is the just reward that I must receive for my diligent pains and study, not regarding my service to God, but only to my prince.




On Sunday, after dinner, as it drew toward night, he was conducted to Pomfret with five of his attendants only. At his departure, which had now got wind, a multitude of the country people assembled to testify their grief at his arrest, praying that" the foul fiend might catch" all those who had taken the cardinal from them. From the Abbey of Pomfret he proceeded next day to Doncaster, where he lodged with the Black Friars; the day after, to Sheffield Park, where he was received by the Earl and Countess of Shrewsbury with great affability. There he remained for eighteen days, and was treated by his host with great consideration and generosity. Once every day he was visited by the earl, who sought to comfort his unfortunate prisoner. But he resolutely repelled all the efforts that were made to console him, applying himself wholly to devotion, and renouncing all earthly pleasure. Though he was not more than fifty-nine years of age, his health and strength had been completely broken down by bis long and laborious occupations, and the incessant vexations to which he had been exposed since his disgrace.


The final and heaviest blow was reserved for his last moments. The reasons for his arrest had been studiously kept from him; but as upon all occasions when the king had resolved to strike he struck once and never wavered, so it was now. When Henry had abandoned himself to his resentment, he was home along its current with the blind impetuosity of fate. No doubt was allowed to enter his mind. No question of the wisdom or justice of his own determination, no feeling of pity, no sense of past services, however great, were allowed to arrest his hand. He had ordered Sir William Kingston, the keeper of the Tower, to proceed to Sheffield to receive the earl's prisoner, and bring him to the Tower. It required the greatest delicacy to break the dreadful news to the unhappy cardinal. For this purpose, the earl, who seems to have been unusually humane and considerate, hit upon the following expedient. During his conversations with Wolsey, when the latter pressed his apprehensions lest he should be condemned unheard, the earl either took, or pretended to take, an opportunity of writing to the king in Wolsey's behalf. Then, calling Cavendish to him, he said:


"My lord, your master, has often desired me to write to the king, that he might answer his accusers in the king's presence. have I done and this day have received letters from his grace, by Sir William Kingston, by which I perceive that the king holds the cardinal in very good estimation, and has sent for him by Sir William, who is now here, to come up and make his answer. But do you play the part of a wise man, and break the maner unto him warily for be is always so full of sorrow when he is in my company that I am afraid he will not take it quietly."


Cavendish proceeded to break the news. "I found him," be says, "sitting at the upper end of the gallery upon a trussing chest of his own, with his beads and staff in hand. In what news?" said he, seeing Cavendish come from the earl.


"Forsooth, sir," he replied, assuming the best appearance of cheerfulness he could master, though his voice sadly belied his words, "I bring you the best news that ever came to you in your life."


"I pray God it be so, said Wolsey. "What is it?" "Forsooth, sir," replied Cavendish, "my lord of Shrews· bury, perceiving now desirous you were to come before the king, has so exerted himself that the king has sent Master Kingston with twenty four of his guard to bring you into his presence.' ,


Master Kingston! Master Kingston" exclaimed the unhappy cardinal, musing for a time, as if to recollect himself, and then, clapping his hand on his thigh, he gave a deep sigh. Cavendish endeavored to cheer him. He urged the old arrangement that the king had no other intention by this act than to bring Wolsey into his presence, and had sent the can stable with a guard of honor out of consideration for Wolsey's high estate, and he had on reason, therefore, to mistrust his master's kindness. All his efforts were useless. The cardinal knew too well the king's temper to be deceived. He had not served him so long without being fully aware how implacable and immovable were his resentments.


"I perceive," he said, with very significant words, "more than you can imagine or call know. Experience of old has taught me."


It was the sentence of death, and he knew it full well; but his despondency and waning health anticipated the sword of the executioner, and disappointed the malice of his enemies. That night his disease increased rapidly he became very weak and was scarce able to move.


The next day he commenced his journey, and lodged at night, still very sick, at Hardwick Hall. The day after he rode to Notting him, his sickness and in6nnity increasing at every stage. On Saturday, No ... 'ember 26th, he rode his last stage to Leicester Abbey, "and by the way he waxed so sick that he was divers times likely to have fallen from his mule.


" As the journey was necessarily impeded by these delays, Sir William and his prisoner did not reach Leicester until late at night; where, on his entering the gates, the abbot with fall his convent went out to meet him, with the light of many torches, and received him with great demonstrations of respect. "To whom my lord said: 'Father Abbot, I am come hither to leave my bones among you. '


" They then brought him on bis mule to the stairs foot of bis chamber, where Kingston took him by the arm and led him up, Immediately be went to his bed. On the Monday morning, "as I stood by his bedside," says Cavendish, "about eight of the clock, the windows being close shut, having lights burning upon the cupboard, I beheld him, as me seemed, drawing fast to his end. He, perceiving my shadow upon the wall by his bedside, asked who was; there; and inquiring what was the clock, 'Sir,' said Cavendish, 'it is past eight of the clock in the morning,' 'Eight of the clock, eight of the clock,' slowly repeated the dying man; 'nay, that cannot be, for by eight of the clock you must lose your master. My time draweth night


" But even in these last faltering moments he was not allowed to remain unmolested. The king had received information from Northumberland that by an account found in Cawood the cardinal had in his possession £1,500, of which no portion could be found. Anxious to obtain the money, the king's impatience could brook no delay, although the cardinal was now on his way to the Tower. He sent a special messenger to Kingston, commanding him to examine the cardinal, and discover where this money was deposited. The commission would have been immediately executed, but the weakness of the cardinal was so great, and increased so rapidly, that Kingston was obliged to put off the examination till the next day. The same night Wolsey was very sick, and swooned often, but rallied a little at four the next morning. About seven Kingston entered the room, intending to fulfill the king's command respecting the money. But seeing the feeble condition of the patient, he endeavored to encourage him with the usual topic, telling the cardinal he was sad and pensive from dread of that which he had no occasion to apprehend.


"Well, well, Master Kingston, " replied Wolsey, I see the matter against me, how it is framed hut if I had served God as diligently as I have served the king, .He would not have given me over in my gray hairs. Howbeit, this is the just reward that I trust receive for my worldly diligence and pains that I have had to do him service. Commend me to his majesty, beseeching him to call to his remembrance all that has passed between him and me to the present day, and most chiefly in his great matter; then shall his conscience declare whether I have offended him or no. He is a prince of royal courage, and hath a princely heart and rather than he will miss or want part of his appetite he will hazard the loss of one half of his kingdom. I assure you I have often knelled before him in his privy chamber, the space of an hour or two, to persuade him from his will and appetite, but I could never dissuade him." Then his words and his voice failed him. His eyes grew fixed. and glazed. Incontinently the clock struck eight, and he breathed his last. And calling to our remembrance," says Cavendish, I' his words the day before, bow he said that at eight of the clock we should lose our master, we stood looking upon each other, supposing he had prophesied of his departure.


" As the lieutenant of the Tower had now no further charge, and was anxious to be gone, the burial was fixed for the next day. The body was placed in a rude coffin of wood, with miter, cross and ring, and other archiepiscopal ornaments. He Jay in state until five o'clock in the afternoon, when he was carried down into the church, with great solemnity, by the abbot and convent, with many torches. Here the body rested all night in the Lady Chapel, watched by four men holding lights in their hands, while the convent chanted the old and solemn office for the dead. About four in the morning, while it was yet dark, they sang 2. mass. By six they bad laid him in his grave, on that cold and dreary November morning, unwept and unlamented by an, except by the very few who, for the glory of human nature, amid so much of baseness., greed, ingratitude and cruelty, remained loving and faithful to the last-E. C. BREWER.




In full·blown dignity, see Wolsey stand, Law in his voice, and fortune ill his hand: To him the church, the realm, their pow'rs consign, Through him the rays of regal bounty shine Turn'd by his nod, the stream of honor flows, His smile alone security bestows: Still to new heights his restless wishes tow'r, Claim leads to claim, and pow'r advances pow'r Till conquest an resisted ceas'd to please, And rights submitted left him none to seize: At length his sovereign frowns-the train of state Mark the keen glance, and watch the sign to hate. where'er he turns, be meets a stranger's eye, His suppliants scorn him, and bis followers fly; Now drops at once the pride of awful state, The golden canopy, the glitt'ring plate, The regal palace, the luxurious board, The liv'ried army, and the menial lord. With age, with cares, with maladies oppress'd, He seeks the refuge of monastic rest. Grief aids disease, remember'd folly stings, And his last sighs reproach the faith of kings. -DR. S. JOHNSON.


Cardinal Wolsey

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