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Wolsey Essay

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#1 Sasha

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Posted 07 December 2007 - 12:27 PM

I have an essay to write about Cardinal Wolsey

"In what ways did Cardinal Wolsey contribute to the problems facing the Church in the years 1517-1529?"

I have done quite a lot of research, but most of it is on Wolsey's relationship with the King, and there is only alittle about what he did for the Church

The view I've got is that Wolsey may have been pro-humanist, but his reforms didn't actually do much....

I'm not sure if this is right or not, do you have any suggestions?


#2 MrJohnDClare

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Posted 07 December 2007 - 09:29 PM

Hmmm - it's years since I did anything about this

Some ideas in the wikipedia article:

Many historians see Wolsey’s handling of the Church as his greatest failure. Wolsey epitomized all that was corrupt and inefficient about the Church in that era. Wolsey is often seen as a hypocrite, condemning the debauchery of corrupt clergymen, yet himself partaking in the crimes of pluralism, absenteeism (he was archbishop of York, yet only visited the city in 1529), simony (even when appointed, bishops and abbots could not take up their posts unless they had been “confirmed” by Wolsey, at a price), ostentatious display of wealth, sexual relations, nepotism, and the ordination of minors (the latter three illustrated through the premature rise to power of his own illegitimate son).

Wolsey effectively used his position in the church for his own ends, awarding bishoprics to those he sought to keep loyal to the crown, as illustrated by the appointment of Cardinal Campeggio to the see of Salisbury in 1524, as a means of securing Campeggio’s role as papal curia for England. This is an example of Wolsey extorting the money from these bishoprics, which were bequeathed to foreigners, without their knowing it. Wolsey's depravity made it easier for reformists to condemn the Church and win the public over to the Lutheran ideology. Being Papal Legate for England, Wolsey had a duty to uphold the moral values which the pope promoted, but he was seen as a poor figurehead for their faith.

Wolsey’s greatest fault in supervising the Church was his belief in absolute supremacy. As papal legate he considered himself to be the uncontested head of the Church in England, and he sought to consolidate this power by reducing the number of bishops and populating the remaining bishoprics with bishops loyal to him. His dictatorial attitude caused cataclysmic problems once he was removed from power, leaving the Church in England without the flawed leader upon which it had become so dependent.

Wolsey was criticized, particularly by his successor Thomas More, for failing to stamp out Lutheran heresy during the 1520s. Despite threatening heretics with reproof and forcing them to recant, Wolsey did not resort to prison sentences and execution. Consequently, Lutheran ideology spread around the country, paving the way for Reformation. Although, Wolsey certainly did not wish the Catholic Church in England to be destroyed, his misplaced belief in his own power and supremacy made this more likely.

Other ideas:
1. Encyclopaedia Britannica says that 'His unpopularity contributed, upon his downfall, to the anticlerical reaction that was a factor in the English Reformation', e.g.:
a. His extravagence and love of display may have annoyed the Protestants who criticsed the extravgence of the Catholic Church.
b. Wolsey held multiple benefices: Canon of Windsor, Bishop of Lincoln, Archbishop of York, a cardinal in 1515, Prince-Bishop of Durham - another of the campaign points of the Protestants.
c. He was certainly accused of subverting the needs of Britain to those of Rome (perhaps unfairly) - which will have annoyed the Erastians, and exacerbated anti-Rome feeling which had been growing since Praemunire.
d. He was a priest, but he had a comnmon-law wife - again, playing into Protestant hands about married priests
2. His position of total pre-eminence in the English Church meant that, when he did fall, the Church was left without a leader of charisma or ability, which made it easy prey for Henry VIII.
3. (Above all???) his failure to secure a divorce - due in part to his hostility with Campeggio - led to HenryVIII's secession from Rome.
4. And he also did a couple of things towards the reformation. Wolsey hated Proetstantism, but he culd see the corruption in the Church. Unfortunately, he did too little to stop it, and merely opned the floodgates' - establishing the principle of reform, whilst leaving the absuses:
a. In 1524 and 1527 he used his powers as papal legate to dissolve 30 'decayed' monasteries, including abbeys in Oxford and Ipswich (he used the income to found a grammar school in Ipswich and Cardinal's College in Oxford) - thus initiating the ideas behind the dissolution of the monasteries.
b. In 1528, he began to limit the 'benefit of clergy' (the freedom of clergymen from criminal charges), again, beginning the process of the Erastian Reformation in England.

Added afetr initial post:
Having had a night to mull this over, I suspect you may also need to start off your essay by defining just exactly what you feel the 'problems facing the English Church' were - only then can you really begin to explore what you see as Wolsey's contribution to them.

#3 Sasha

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Posted 14 December 2007 - 11:38 PM

oh wow thanks so much!!!!

#4 Mr. D. Bryant

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Posted 09 October 2011 - 01:08 PM

I realise that it's a bit late for the original enquirer, but as this is my field I felt that an update was in order.

A very good place to look for AS and A2 information on the Tudors is www.tudors.org, a website of the historian John Guy designed to help students. For example, thios essay on Wolsey's domestic policy includes some information on Wolsey and the Church.

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