18 October 1529 – Cardinal Wolsey surrenders the Great Seal

Posted By 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