18 October 1529 – Cardinal Wolsey surrenders the Great Seal
Posted By Claire on October 18, 2017
On this day in history, 18th October 1529, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey surrendered the Great Seal of his Lord Chancellorship following the writ of praemunire being filed against him on the 9th October 1529.
Jean du Bellay, the French ambassador, recorded this in a letter to Anne, Duke of Montmorency, written on 22nd October:
“On Tuesday the great seal was taken from him, and an inventory was made of his goods, and commands were issued to every one who had been in his service these 20 years to render an account of all that they have touched. This they have found difficult, because, not a sixth part being found of what was expected, they are well assured to have many “tours de corde.” He was also ordered to reply before the King or Parliament, and thinking, what is quite true, that the Bishops had already chosen judges after their own liking for the said Parliament, he preferred to put himself in the mercy of the King; of which nevertheless he hoped less than nothing, being used with such severity that, in addition to the loss of all his goods and honors, he expects to be perpetually imprisoned, and that neither the King nor Parliament will ever revoke his sentence. The points of which he is accused are robberies and exactions, but these would not be mortal offences. They say at Amiens he agreed to admit the duke of Ferrara into the League, without the knowledge of the King; that he delivered to Francis a bond under his hand without authority; that he made intimation of war to the Emperor, &c. The least of these things, they say, will cost his head; and I fully believe that if Francis and Madame do not help him in all diligence, he is in great danger. He would like Francis and Madame to send a gentleman hither in all diligence, by whom they would represent what you wrote on the 16th, without specifying further, or giving the least intimation that it was at his request, otherwise it will be immediate death to him. He begs Francis, for the mercy of God, thus to protect him from the fury of his enemies, who would bring his old age to the most shameful and miserable end. For my part, though I have no business to meddle further, or to give my advice, I will say little, knowing that where affection and pity reign the judgment is apt to be biassed. The duke of Norfolk was (is made ?) chief of the Council, &c.”
George Cavendish, Wolsey’s gentleman usher, recorded the event in his biography of the Cardinal:
“The next day he tarried at home, expecting the coming of the Dukes of Suffolk and Norfolk, [who] came not that day; but the next day they came thither unto him; to whom they declared how the king’s pleasure was that he should
surrender and deliver up the great seal into their hands, and to depart simplily unto Asher [Esher], a house situate nigh Hampton Court, belonging to the Bishoprick of Winchester. My lord understanding their message, demanded of them what commission they had to give him any such commandment? who answered him again, that they, were sufficient commissioners in that behalf, having the king’s commandment by his mouth so to do. “Yet,” quoth he, “that is not sufficient for me, without farther commandment of the king’s pleasure; for the great seal of England was delivered me by the king’s own person, to enjoy during my life, with the ministration of the office and high room of chancellorship, of England: for my surety whereof, I have the king’s letters patent to show.” Which matter was greatly debated between the dukes and him with many stout words between them; whose words and checks he took in patience for the time: in so much that the dukes were fain to depart again without their purpose at that present; and returned again unto Windsor to the king: and what report they made I cannot tell; howbeit, the next day they came again from the king, bringing with them the king’s letters. After the receipt and reading of the same by my lord, which was done with much reverence, he delivered unto them the great seal, contented to obey the king’s high commandment; and seeing that the king’s pleasure was to take his house, with the contents, was well pleased simply to depart to Asher, taking nothing but only some provision for his house.
And after long talk between the dukes and him, they departed, with the great seal of England, to Windsor, unto the king. Then went my Lord Cardinal and called all officers in every office in his house before him, to take account
of ail such stuff as they had in charge […]”
Cavendish then goes on to give detail of the inventory that was done before Wolsey’s departure. You can read this in Cavendish’s work at https://archive.org/stream/lifecardinalwol01presgoog#page/n225/mode/2up, p. 182 onwards.
A “Memorandum of the surrender of the Great Seal” also appears in Letters and Papers:
“Memorandum of the surrender of the Great Seal by Cardinal Wolsey, on 17 Oct., to the dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, in his gallery at his house at Westminster, at 6 o’clock p.m., in the presence of Sir Wm. Fitzwilliam, John Tayler, and Stephen Gardiner. The same was delivered by Tayler to the King at Windsor, on the 20 Oct., by whom it was taken out and attached to certain documents, in the presence of Tayler and Gardiner, Hen. Norris, Thos. Heneage, Ralph Pexsall, clerk of the Crown, John Croke, John Judd, and Thos. Hall, of the Hanaper.”
The memorandum goes on to say that the Great Seal “was delivered by the King at East Greenwich to Sir Thos. More, in the presence of Hen. Norres and Chr. Hales, Attorney General, in the King’s privy chamber; and on the next day, Tuesday, 26 Oct., More took his oath as Chancellor in the Great Hall at Westminster, in presence of the dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, Th. marquis of Dorset, Hen. marquis of Exeter, John earl of Oxford, Hen. earl of Northumberland, Geo. earl of Shrewsbury, Ralph earl of Westmoreland, John bishop of Lincoln, Cuthbert bishop of London, John bishop of Bath and Wells, Sir Rob. Radclyf, viscount Fitzwater, Sir Tho. Boleyn, viscount Rocheforde, Sir Wm.Sandys, Lord and others.”
As you can see from this memorandum, Sir Thomas More succeeded Cardinal Wolsey as Lord Chancellor. It was a post he held until he resigned in May 1532.
Wolsey had been Lord Chancellor since 1515. His fall was a result of his failure to get the king and annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, his mishandling of negotiations with France and the rise in favour of his men like the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, and the Boleyn family. He was charged with praemunire on 9th October 1529 and on 22nd October 1529 he pleaded guilty to the charge and surrendered all of his property to the king. Wolsey did, however, manage to climb back into favour with the king in early 1530 but it didn’t last long. Wolsey was arrested in November 1529 but died on 29th November 1530 at Leicester Abbey, on his way to London to face charges of treason.
You can read all about Cardinal Wolsey’s rise, fall and death in my article The Death of Cardinal Wolsey.
Also on this day in history, 18th October 1541, fifty-two year old Margaret Tudor, sister of Henry VIII, former Queen of Scotland and mother of James V, died of a stroke at Methven Castle, Perthshire, Scotland. Click here to read more about her.
Notes and Sources
- Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 4, 1524-1530, 6018 and 6025.
- Cavendish, George (1825) The Life of Cardinal Wolsey, Volume I, ed. Samuel Weller Singer, Chiswick. Read online at https://archive.org/details/lifecardinalwol01presgoog
5 thoughts on “18 October 1529 – Cardinal Wolsey surrenders the Great Seal”
I’m not a big fan of Thomas Wolsey but he was a very capable and talented administrator. He did seem to cross the line a bit and make decisions on his own without the king’s input but I feel his decisions were for the benefit of the king.I am sorry his downfall was so sad and vindictive. If he were an employee today he would probably only be reprimanded. I am happy for him that he died before he reached London.
It was a sad end for a man who had for many years whilst the King was young practically ruled the country, he had been an invaluable servant and had tried so hard to please him, his failure to get the divorce was not his fault, Anne had it in for him and Henry was influenced by her, being a slave of passion, it was a very low moment for him when he surrendered the great seal, he had seen More fall from favour because of Henrys obsession and now it was happening to him, he must have been sick at heart as he prepared to make the journey to London, how are the mighty fallen, maybe it was a blessing he died before he reached the city, he knew the Boleyn faction would be gloating over him and he at least was spared the indignity of a trial and then the horror of execution, which I’m sure he would not have escaped.
Thomas Wolsey was possibly one of the most talented and brilliant people in English history. Yet he has a poor reputation, but why? Well his reputation has to have been tarnished because of his failure to achieve an annulment for Henry Viii and his first Queen, Katherine of Aragon. It also comes from this incident, the fact that he was accused of corruption and fraud and later treason by those who wanted him out of the way, Thomas Boleyn and the Dukes of Suffolk and Norfolk. He was accused of keeping money from the sale of monastic lands and benefices for his own projects and not giving the Treasury a cut. In other words, not paying his taxes and keeping money intended for the crown. Actually it was Thomas Cromwell who came up with part of the scheme to sell the land rights of dissolving monastic houses to religious guilds and using the money to fund his schools. Part of this money clearly should have gone to the King, but according to the records which Boleyn and others looked through it appeared that was not the case.
I believe Thomas Wolsey has been wrongly judged by history and most of the charges against him politically motivated. Thomas Boleyn hated him and the two Dukes appear to have had personal grudges as well. Wolsey was the man Henry Viii depended upon to rule for him while he played at being King and he was his main man and administration. He was also a war minister and he tried to unite the European powers in a prototype European Union of trade and peace. It didn’t work, but he never gave up hope. He was put in charge of finding a way to get an annulment but the political situation in Europe with France and Spain and Italy made it impossible. Wolsey was the papal nuncio in England with powers to rule and try the marriage of Henry and Katherine, but more was needed as Katherine resisted. A second representative was sent to hear the case, Cardinal Camppegio, from Pope Clement Vii in Rome. He was now to hear the case in a trial at Blackfriars with Cardinal Wolsey but he had a different agenda to the Cardinal. He was under secret orders to not allow the case to be decided in England and when Katherine agreed to refer her case to Rome, the case was lost.
The Papal representative tried to avoid the hearing by offering Katherine a way out, retirement in a religious house. He had every reason to hope she would agree, for she was now in her mid forties, had passed her child bearing age and was very pious. However, Katherine believed she was called to marriage and Queenship as a vocation, a holy calling. She held her marriage was not invalid and would defend it with every breath she took. She referred her cause to Rome. Now only the Roman Curia could decide, confirmed by the Pope and that meant Wolsey had failed his King in his most important charge of the annulment. His enemies now circled to bring him down.
Wolsey was lucky in that Henry at this point still had some regard for those who had served him well and his sentence of imprisonment was reduced to exile and a fine. He was allowed to retire to his diocese in York on a generous pension, but he was not allowed to remain in peace. Henry showed himself favourable to his old servant and the Boleyns and two Dukes became twitchy. Henry was shown more “evidence” of his deception and he was accused of treason . Mercifully he died on his way to his probable doom at Leicester Abbey in November 1530. Some people think Henry may not have actually gone all the way and had the thinking to pardon him, but we don’t know as the trial never took place.
However, we do know that by now Henry had begun the work to disentangle the Catholic Church in England from the Papal authority. Henry firstly forced the clergy to fully submit to the authority of himself and not the Pope and to denounce their oath to the Pope. Cardinal Wolsey was a member of Henry’s Government, he had a mighty hand in his affairs both temporal and against heresy, but he was also a churchman with recognised independent powers in church matters. At times in history these two roles were at odds, but normally their coexistence was guaranteed. However, Henry now saw allegiance to the Pope as contradictory to allegiance to himself. He would take steps to firstly give himself a limited title of Head of the Church, as long as it did not clash with the law of Christ, then to break with Rome and finally fully make himself Supreme Head of the Church in 1534. It has to be wondered if Thomas Wolsey could have survived such a move.
Thomas Wolsey also has a poor reputation of public relations because of the taxation he introduced to fund war in 1524, which was contradictory to common law and Magna Carta. The law which forbade its collection without Parliament and local government was introduced by Richard iii. It was also part of Magna Carta, something the ordinary people knew but which Wolsey ignored. The King couldn’t enforce it without violence and backed down on the advice of Norfolk and Suffolk. The thing is military scholars believe he was correct to introduce emergency taxation and proper war finance, regardless of it’s unpopular nature. However, Wolsey was not always so unpopular and was well known for his works of aid to the poor. He was well known for his collages for poor young boys and young men, his alm houses and even hospitals. People came to him as he could get stuff done. He was popular in York and thousands lined the roads to ask his blessing on his final journey. The man of drama is not the man of history.
I agree with every word. Well said.
Thanks. Very kind of you.