Cardinal Wolsey – A Tudor Titan

four-wolsey-Angels2Cardinal Wolsey (1470 or 1471-1530) sadly ended his days being hounded by King Henry VIII and died in Leicester en route to London following his recall from York to be tried for treason. It hadn’t always been so as Wolsey had spent much of his life and good fortune entwined with the Tudors despite being born the son of a butcher in Ipswich.

Thomas Wolsey was clever and after attending Ipswich School he studied theology at Magdalen College, Oxford. Henry VII had made Wolsey Royal Chaplain, but when Henry VIII came to the throne in 1509, Wolsey’s intelligence, administrative competence and diplomatic skills began to be recognised and rewarded. He rose through the ranks, both ecclesiastical and secular, to become Archbishop of York in 1514, Cardinal in 1515 and Lord Chancellor of England from 1515 to 1529. And, he was passionate about the role of education creating the Cardinal’s College of Mary, Ipswich and Cardinal College, Oxford, although neither of which outlived him in their original form.

Charter-detail

Rampant griffin detail at the head of the Charter of Foundation of Cardinal College, Ipswich.

Despite all his accomplishments Wolsey ended his days in disgrace and was buried in ignominy in Leicester Abbey without a significant, grand monument to mark his burial.  In fact Wolsey had been overseeing arrangements for his eternal resting place including a design for a sarcophagus and accompanying sculptural adornments some six or so years before his death.

Wolseysangels450

Proposed arrangement for the tomb of Cardinal Wolsey as imagined by a Victorian Mr Somers Clarke, Architect to St Paul’s Cathedral in 1894.

By 1524 the sarcophagus had been made and the Florentine Renaissance sculptor, Benedetto da Rovezzano, was commissioned to create four bronze angels to complete the monument.

Wolseys-sarcophagus-used-for-Nelsons-tomb

Wolsey’s black touchstone sarcophagus eventually used for the monument to another national hero, Admiral Lord Nelson, and installed in St Paul’s Cathedral, London.

However, despite these exquisite Renaissance angels being sculpted and cast by 1529 a year before the Cardinal’s death, the full memorial tomb was never assembled and erected in its entirety as .   .   .   .   .

Four-Angels-Wolsey

The Wolsey Angels by Benedetto da Rovezzano. Bronze about 1 metre tall. 1524-29. Claimed by King Henry VIII on the Cardinal’s death, hidden, dispersed and lost until reunited again in 2008.

unfortunately for the Cardinal he dramatically and cataclysmically fell from the King’s favour following his failure to obtain a divorce from Pope Clement VII permitting Henry to escape his marriage to Katherine of Aragon.

Wolsey-Angel

One of the two Wolsey Angels found in 2008 mounted on gateposts at the entrance to Wellingborough Golf Club, Northamptonshire. They joined the other two which had surfaced at an auction in 1994 simply listed as ‘in the Renaissance style’. The pair were subsequently attributed by the Italian scholar Francesco Caglioti to be Wolsey Angels by Benedetto.

There may not be the grand tomb in Westminster Abbey for Cardinal Wolsey that he had envisaged, but there is an engaging tribute to Wolsey in his home town of Ipswich. It is a commemorative statue by David Annand that I hope Wolsey would have deeply appreciated as it depicts him not only as the Cardinal, but gesticulating, as if in full flow, educating the world (or at least the good folk of Ipswich as they stroll up St Peter’s Street).

Wolsey-Educator

Thomas Wolsey by David Annand. Bronze. 2011. The text running round the plinth reads ‘Thomas Wolsey born in Ipswich 1470 or 1471 died Leicester 1530 Cardinal Archbishop Chancellor and Teacher who believed that pleasure should mingle with study so that the child may think learning an amusement rather than a toil‘.

 

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About agnesashe

Artisan, blogger and passionate East Anglian working from home.
This entry was posted in Art History, Ipswich, Sculpture and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Cardinal Wolsey – A Tudor Titan

  1. margaret21 says:

    I’ve always found Wolsey a fascinating man about whom I can’t make up mind. But he didn’t deserve his end. Thanks so much for this history lesson. .

    • agnesashe says:

      Oh dear I wasn’t aiming at a lesson more a little trumpet blowing for a local hero!! There was a special Wolsey exhibition at Christchurch Mansion in Ipswich over the winter when the V&A loaned the four angels to the museum. They are very beautiful and if nothing else I think Wolsey’s commission left us some Renaissance gems.

  2. Fascinating insight! One of these days I will have another go at Hilary Mantel’s work. The first time around, I didn’t know enough about the period to understand what was going on. Wolsey was certainly a multi-faceted person, but the artworks are divine!

    • agnesashe says:

      Oh do have another go with them. They definitely get better the second or third or even fourth time!! I have them as audiobooks and both ‘Wolf Hall’ and ‘Bring up the Bodies’ are read exceptionally well. Mantel’s writing and Simon Slater’s and Simon Vance’s performances transport me to the Tudor court and with all its intrigues.

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