29th November 1530: Suicide, Illness or Divine Intervention?

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The death of Cardinal Wolsey

Cardinal Thomas Wolsey was, at one time, Henry VIII’s right hand man. He was the Pope’s representative in England, held a ridiculous amount of power and influence, and was the second richest man in the country next to the King, (Hampton Court Palace was actually commissioned by, and built for Wolsey – not Henry VIII, as most people believe). This dude was untouchable.

He died in 1530 after what can only be described as a ‘fucking nightmare’. Henry decided that Wolsey was to blame for everything that was going wrong with Henry’s love life, and that the only way to rectify this matter was to execute him. A common and predictable theme in Henry’s life.

It all started when Henry decided he had had enough of his wife of almost 24 years, and wanted to bin her off. He had found some bullshit clause in the bible which he reckoned made his marriage to Katherine of Aragon null and void in the eyes of God. The fact that Katherine had failed to give him a male heir, and that Henry was (almost)  wetting his end in the cock-tease Anne Boylen, had driven Henry’s desire to push for this annulment. His theory was that because Katherine had been married to his brother before him, the couple were doomed for failure and living in sin in the eyes of the Catholic church. Henry now needed Wolsey to pop and see the Pope and get an annulment.

Wolsey was rather stupidly confident that he could get this sorted so off he went. The Pope inevitably said something along the lines of ‘are you fucking mental? It’s not happening my friend’ (paraphrasing slightly), so Henry’s annulment was denied. Knowing what we know about Henry, you can just imagine how this went down. To cap it off Anne was now spouting a load of bollocks about Henry wasting the best of her youth by keeping her hanging on at the promise of marriage. Henry was not a happy chappy.

The problem was that the Pope was Wolsey’s boss, so Wolsey had to do as he was told, and the Pope was in turn told what to do by his boss, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V…Katherine’s nephew. There is no way that Charles was having it that a bell end like Henry was going to screw over his fab Aunt Katy and use Gods name as an excuse to do it. Wolsey could only do as he was told, and so sided with Katherine, Charles and the Pope. It was a bit of a rock and a hard place situation for the poor bloke.

wolsey  Anne now hated Wolsey, so decided that she would chip away at Henry in order to take matters into their own hands. Henry, who was now desperate to bend it up the manipulative genius that was Anne, was all about this and so decided that Wolsey was going down. How dare he fail to get the annulment and make him look a mug!

Henry had decided that because Wolsey could not secure the annulment, had cock-blocked him from Anne and had been a bit too chummy with Katherine, he should be accused of treason. Wolsey, who was now in York, was sent for. He was to come to London to explain why he couldn’t deliver the goods (and to ultimately be put to death).

At this time Wolsey had a new best pal, a bright young thing who went by the name of Thomas Cromwell. They were travelling together to London when Wolsey took ill. He rested in Leicester and it was quickly becoming apparent that he wouldn’t be able to continue the journey. Wolsey died of a bowel infection and was laid to rest in the Abbey at Leicester. Cromwell,  gutted at the death of his friend, still carried on to London to protest Wolsey’s innocence.

The curious thing about Wolsey’s death was that it happened just before he was obviously about to walk into a massive shit storm. If Wolsey had of made it to London he would have been greeted with accusations & public ridicule; his reputation pulled to shreds by the King’s concubine, a long stretch in the Tower and ultimately a humiliating and painful execution. In a lot of ways his death was conveniently well-timed. I don’t for one minute think that Wolsey would have committed suicide: he was devout Catholic after all. So was it illness, or something else all together? What if Wolsey’s death was the act of a kind friend  sparing the Cardinal his reputation at court, and preventing his public execution?

Before coming into Wolsey’s service, Cromwell was a mercenary who had travelled extensively, fought in wars and was ultimately a freaking genius. He was a lawyer and a badass, and exceptionally loyal to Wolsey. Its not implausible to think that he could’ve poisoned the Cardinal in order to maintain his innocence. By doing this he would also ensure the cardinal was comfortable in his remaining days and still able to get his affairs in order? Now I’m just speculating and there is pretty much no evidence for this, but a man like Cromwell was well-placed to protect his friend and take away the grief and worry the Cardinal would’ve undoubtedly had felt. It would also remove the need for suicide and bowel infections are synonymous with poisoning after all.

Whether it was illness or mercy that killed Wolsey, one thing remains for sure, Cromwell deeply missed the Cardinal and maintained his innocence for the rest of his life. Of course, it was Cromwell that later brought abut the downfall of Anne Boylen, and what happened to Henry in all of this? Well he just carried on being Henry.

 

If you fancy reading a bit more about Cromwell give this one a go: A Massive Fall Out

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