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Wolsey Ruled Both the King and the Entire Kingdom

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Submitted By gemhawes
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Access the claim made by the Venetian ambassador in 1519 that Wolsey ruled both the king and the entire kingdom.

When the Venetian ambassador wrote about Henry Vlll in 1519, he said that the young king was very fond of “hunting”, “tennis” and riding. His description of the king suggests that the king seems much to busy playing sport and having fun to rule over the country, so that job is left up the Wolsey, so he would have had the most power in the country, even more than the king.

One of the ways Wolsey rose to power was through gaining the trust of the young inexperienced king. Because of this trust Wolsey knew that his position was secure as long as he continued to serve the king well, because the king needed his. Some historians even saw Wolsey as a Alter Rex or second king, this just shows how much power they believed Wolsey had over the king. From this you can infer that many thought that Wolsey had great power in the court, and even hold more power than the king himself. This can be visualised as Wolsey being the master and Henry puppet. This fits with view that the Venetian ambassador had. Although some historians are starting to question this view.

These historians argue that the king and Wolsey just has a political partnership as king and Cardinal, and no more. The king gave Wolsey more power in the early years of this reign when it seems that he was more interested in hunting and sport that running a country, but the king just like today’s monarch had the final say in all major decisions on key issues of state. Henry was happy to let Wolsey get on with the day to day running of the country, but any decisions to do with foreign policy or other domestic affairs had to go through the king to, this goes against how the Venetian ambassador views Wolsey’s and Henry’s relationship, although it is not clear if all these major decisions went through this process.

Henry and Wolsey were often seen to get on very well, this was for the sake of appearances with the court and country, but they often did not see eye to eye, as was expected for a political partnership that spanned for 15 years. Also it expected that Henry didn’t know, nor approve all the decisions that Wolsey made, such as; in 1522 when Wolsey proposed a surprise attack on the French and Henry disagreed, then in 1528 Wolsey ignored Henry’s instructions over a trivial fight between two men on who should get the post they both wanted. This shows how Henry still had a big say in affairs of state, but that Wolsey may have important decisions without the king knowing.

We can also see Henry’s independence of mind when fractions became apparent between Henry and Wolsey in 1525 and onwards. This was started by the Amicable Grant Crisis, were Wolsey wished to raised taxes, this ended in rebellion in Suffolk and East Anglia. This fraction was further widened by Wolsey’s failure to secure Henry an annulment for his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. He was then dismissed from his post as Cardinal. This shows Henry was ultimately in charge, because he had the confidence to get rid of him for not completing his wishes. This is against the Venetian ambassadors view.

Wolsey’s enormous wealth also drove his political power further and created a lot of envy among the other people within the court, as well as this he was also often seen as untouchable by some in the court because of this wealth and power that he had over the king. This may show that the king was willing to give up a lot of power to him to improve the wealth and appearance of the court to other countries.

Many people at the time within and out of Henry’s court thought Wolsey was very a very ruthless man, but it is now recognised that this account may have been very exaggerated, as many in the king’s court were jealous of his power he had over the country and wealth. From this we can infer that maybe the amount of power the king gave to Wolsey may have also been exaggerated just like his ruthlessness, to fuel this hatred of him, in an attempt to turn the king against him, so dismiss him.

Overall I think that although Wolsey helped run the country, the king has the final say in all major decisions, if he did not make Wolsey stick to this rule, then when decisions were made that he was unhappy or disagreed with he can only blame himself as he did not exercise his right as king. My view of Wolsey’s power is the opposite of that of the Venetian ambassador.

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