Biography of Cardinal Wolsey

Portrait of Cardinal Wolsey

Cardinal Wolsey was a statesman during the reign of King Henry the Eighth.

When and Where was he Born?

1475, Ipswich, Suffolk.

Family Background:

Cardinal Thomas Wolsey was the son of a butcher and cattle dealer. (Wolsey himself spelt the surname Wulcy).


Magdalen College, Oxford. (Graduated at 15).

Timeline of Cardinal Wolsey:

1497: He is elected a Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford.

1498: Wolsey is ordained as a priest at Marlborough by the Bishop of Salisbury. He becomes one of the domestic chaplains to the Archbishop of Canterbury where his administrative skills were soon noticed. On the Archbishop’s death he serves Sir Richard Nanfan who introduces him to King Henry the Seventh.

1507: He becomes Chaplain to King Henry the Seventh and is favoured by Bishop Fox the Lord Privy Seal.

1508: He goes on a diplomatic mission to Scotland.

1509: He is created Almoner to the new King Henry the Eighth in November.

1511: Wolsey signs documents under the seal of a Royal Councillor.

1513: He crosses to Calais on 30th June with the King and returns to England in October.

1514: Wolsey is created Bishop of Lincoln by a Papal Bull in February and created Archbishop of York in September. He starts the building of Hampton Court Palace during December.

1515: On 15th November he is made a Cardinal and the ceremony in Westminster Abbey is held on the 18th November. He is created Lord Chancellor and by now he is almost single handedly in control of English foreign policy.

1518: He becomes Papal Legate in May.

1521: Wolsey presides over the burning of Lutheran books in the courtyard of St. Paul’s Cathedral. In August he attends the Calais Conference and then the Bruges Conference. He is created Abbott of St. Albans on 17th December.

1523: He goes to Parliament to ask for £800,000 on 29th April. He is given the Bishopric of Durham on 30th April.

1525: Wolsey gives the King permanent accommodation at Hampton Court Palace.

Hampton Court Palace
Hampton Court Palace, Surrey which was originally built 
for Wolsey before being transferred to the Crown (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1526: He presides over the burning of more Lutheran books at St Paul’s Cathedral and protests against the Lutheran doctrines of Robert Barnes and some of the Hanseatic merchants.

1527: The King begins talk of a divorce from his Queen Catherine of Aragon during April. The first legatine trial about Henry’s marital status is held in May. King Henry is informally separated from Catherine on 22nd June. Wolsey goes on a diplomatic mission to Amiens in France during July.

1528: The divorce is tried in England on 13th April. The Pope promises not to interfere during July.

1529: Anne Boleyn turns against Cardinal Wolsey. In June Cardinal Campeggio stalls the trial on the divorce until October. Wolsey is indicted for Praemunire offences. On 17th October he is forced to surrender the Great Seal of Office and on 19th October his fall is announced in the Star Chamber. His presidency of that body moves jointly to the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk.

1530: Wolsey is sent North as punishment. He is arrested at Cawood near York on 4th November and moves on to Leicester Abbey.

When and Where Did he Die?

29th November 1530, Leicester, Leicestershire, England. He died of natural causes before he could be executed however there is some dspeculation as to whether his death was hastened by poison.

Age at Death:



Never married.

Site of Grave:

The Lady Chapel, Leicester Abbey, Leicester.

Places of Interest:


Leicester Abbey.


Christchurch College, Oxford founded by Wolsey.


Hampton Court Palace, East Molesey.