29th November 1530 – Death of Cardinal Wolsey

Cardinal Thomas WolseyAt around 8am on the 29th November 1530, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey died at Leicester Abbey. He had left his home of Cawood Castle on the 6th November after the Earl of Northumberland and William Walsh had taken him into custody on the 4th November for high treason.

Wolsey travelled from Cawood to Pontefract and Doncaster and then to Sheffield Park, home of the Earl of Shrewsbury, on the 8th. Wolsey’s journey was then delayed due to the onset of dysentery and he did not leave Sheffield until the 24th, two days after the arrival of Sir William Kingston, Constable of the Tower of London, who had been sent to escort Wolsey to the Tower. Those of us who visited Sheffield Manor Lodge on The Executed Queens Tour this year were shown the ruins of Wolsey’s privy, where he was said to have suffered from dysentery!

On the 24th November, Wolsey was well enough to travel from Sheffield to Hardwick Hall and then on to Nottingham on the 25th. However, by the 26th, he had obviously gone down hill again and George Cavendish, his gentleman usher, records how on arrival at Leicester Abbey Wolsey said “Father abbott I ame come hether to leave my bones among you”. Wolsey never left Leicester. On the morning of the 29th November 1530 after making his last confession he said his famous words:-

“I se the matter ayenst me howe it is framed, But if I had served god as dyligently as I have don the kyng he wold not have geven me over in my grey heares”

and told Kingston to advise the King to act against the new Lutheran heresy before it took hold in England. Wolsey then lapsed into unconsciousness and the abbot performed the last rites. He died at around 8am and his body was then laid out in his pontifical robes for people to see before he was buried at the Abbey, where he still rests today.

Historian J J Scarisbrick writes of how Wolsey’s death en route to the Tower of London had “cheated his master of the final reckoning” and that is very true. Wolsey cheated the axeman, the King and the men who had conspired against him and, instead, died a peaceful death in a house of God. He was denied the black marble sarcophagus he’d commissioned from Benedetto da Rovezzano, this was taken by the King but never actually used and it is actually Lord Nelson who was laid to rest in that tomb in St Paul’s Cathedral after his death in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Click here to see a photo of this tomb in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral.

You can read more about Cardinal Thomas Wolsey in the following articles:-

Notes and Sources

  • ‘Wolsey, Thomas (1470/71–1530)’, Sybil M. Jack, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
  • The Life and Death of Cardinal Wolsey, George Cavendish
  • Henry VIII, J J Scarisbrick, p316

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11 thoughts on “29th November 1530 – Death of Cardinal Wolsey”
  1. This is quite interesting. I had not thought about the fact the he died in a house of God but that does seem comforting and important. I think there was much more to this man than the stereotype sychophant we usually think of. Thanks!

  2. I’m fairly new to “Tudor” history and began my interest after watching Showtimes “The Tudors”. fI’m very perplexed! How could the writers for the show take such liberty in telling the story of how Cardinal Wolsey died? Please correct me if I am wrong, but I think the show has Wolsey kill himself by slitting his own throat. Quite a difference from that I read here today!

    1. You’re right, they did have Wolsey slitting his throat, something Wolsey would never have considered as suicide was a mortal sin. Perhaps they though it was a bit more dramatic than dying of dysentery! They did take quite a few liberties!

    2. The Tudors rewrote much of the real history of the Tudors. They also changed the death of Henry’s son, Henry Fitzroy. In The Tudors he dies as a young boy. He actually lived long enough to marry (the Duke of Norfolk’s daughter) although my understanding is that they never actually lived as man and wife. There were quite a few other liberties taken, such as Henry’s weight. Henry gained a huge amount of weight the last years of his life, yet The Tudors never showed him as obese. I enjoyed The Tudors, but luckily I never truth from fiction and I have been a Tudor addict for over 35 years. Enjoy your “journey” through the history of the Tudors. I am still learning things. I recently read a great book on Lady Jane Grey. She was the granddaughter of Henry’s sister, Mary and her husband (and Henry’s great friend) Charles Brandon. The book was very factual and very interesting. If you have a chance to read it, I think you will enjoy it. Lady Jane Grey, Nine Day Queen of England by Faith Cook. I loved it.

  3. I’m excited for you, and you’re going to find that there are many disagreements with various historians about people in history. The Tudors were especially good at rewriting things their way, then there were the various biased ambassadors of the day. Soak it all in and have fun as I have all these years. I am still learning after close to 30 years of studying.

  4. After his death some of Wolsey’s enemies tried to spread a rumour that he had taken poison to avoid the shame of being tried for treason but nobody seems to have believed it.

    1. well i believe it. It’s pretty natural to want to do anything rather than have your head and neck butchered. The timing of his dysentery is awfully suspicious. Raging diarrhea could certainly be a sign that you’d taken something poisonous. ANd he could always beg god’s forgiveness as he lay there ailing, so i don’t buy the spiritual arguments. No human being would want to submit to the axe when there was another way — ANY other way out.

      1. Your eternal fate was more important than anything and I am sure that a Tudor person would have taken the axe over an eternity of hell fire any time. Suicide equalled hell, the damnation of your soul. Far better to suffer at the hands of an axeman for a short time.

  5. I think the words he said after his confession were probably the most truthful thing he ever spoke, and he meant them sincerly.
    He put his vocation second to his becoming a statesman, and suffered the consequences and realised this too late. A great shame, and I hope he has found peace. Whatever our individual views are of this man, we can’t deny him his interlect, cunning and determination…

  6. At first I thought Wolsey was not a real nice person,when really all the dirty work was mostly the Kings bidding. I felt really sad for him after he was banished from the court, the King really had a way of making everyone look guilty but he never did wrong.But Wolsey lived a pretty rich life and I happy that his head was’nt hacked off,like so many others.Really good read Claire !

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