Henry VIII - Press Archive - Was portrayal of Wolsey a cardinal sin?
East Anglian Daily Times
14 Oct 2003
Was portrayal of Wolsey a cardinal sin?
A NEW depiction of Thomas Wolsey shows Henry VIII's adviser as a
Machiavellian manipulator whose machinations led to his own downfall.
So was this famous son of Ipswich a hero or villain? TV editor LYNNE
MORTIMER looks at the evidence.
IT is, by all accounts, an unusual Henry VIII that reigns in the latest ITV1
drama about the six-times-married monarch.
Ray Winston, with an accent that seems to have ascended to the throne by
way of Walthamstow, looks the part of Bluff King Hal, but it is the first time
we have heard him talk about wanting to be wiv Anne Boleyn and dropping
aitches like there was a 25-letter alphabet
The King's accent certainly singled him out from the rest of England's
aristocracy who, unlike Henry, had clearly not skipped their childhood
It was a strange way of talking for a king who, though he may have been
thuggish in his political dealings, was a cultured man - he is famously
credited as the composer of Greensleeves.
But it is an interesting portrayal - and equally interesting is David Suchet's
Wolsey, twice referred to as nothing, but a butcher's son in the first episode
of this two-parter on Sunday night.
An honoured citizen of Suffolk's county town, Wolsey is remembered with
gratitude as the man who, had he managed to survive a few more years
of Henry's reign, would have put Ipswich on the map with a college to
rival those in the great university cities of England.
But building had barely begun when he fell from favour over the King's
desire to offload his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, for the more
beguiling and fecund Anne Boleyn.
Today, Wolsey's Gate, a ramshackle edifice on a ring road behind the docks,
is all that remains of the great man's philanthropy. Supported by
scaffolding poles, it seems as rickety as the Cardinal's reputation.
Cardinal Park, the Wolsey Theatre and the Wolsey Art Gallery are named in
tribute to him. But are we right to revere him?
Thomas Wolsey was born in the parish of St Nicholas, Ipswich, in about 1475,
reputedly the son of a butcher.
He went to Oxford University and then became a priest. He was appointed
royal chaplain and, in 1509, when Henry came to the throne he was at the
King's side, a trusted confidant.
Wolsey rose rapidly through the ranks of the Catholic Church to become the
pope's representative in England and, Henry's Lord Chancellor - it is probably
fair to say he was the power behind the throne.
He was also incredibly wealthy and his opulence was legendary. In terms
of his authority, few would dare to discuss a matter of state with the
king before broaching it with Wolsey.
He founded Christchurch College at Oxford, but observes one commentator,
his greed, arrogance and insatiable lust for power outweighed his many
Wolsey fell from grace when he was unable to gain the Pope's approval for
the annulment of the King's marriage to Catherine of Aragon. After forsaking
his possessions, he retired to his archbishopric of York.
Summoned to London to answer a charge of treason, Wolsey died on the
way in November 1530.
During the early years of Henry VIII's reign, Cardinal Wolsey shaped England's
policy abroad and was the leading figure in both church and state at home.
Wolsey held this power for more than 10 years and historians have dubbed
him the proudest prelate that ever breathed.
Yet Wolsey was a great man. He certainly achieved more than any other
ordinary man in the 16th Century.
He worked his way up, enduring the snobbery of the Court to become chief
adviser to the one of the most important monarchs in our history.
Remarkable today, it was even more remarkable in the 1500s.
If he was Machiavellian, he lived in brutal times - you had to stay one step
ahead of the game.
Kindness and sensitivity were not among the attributes listed on the CVs of
the ruling classes.
Ipswich historian Peter Underwood believes the television portrayal does
Wolsey a disservice.
It shows him as very servile, a Uriah Heep-like character. In fact, Wolsey
was a very clever man, with a quick mind, who learned very fast, he said.
He was exceptionally clever at a time when there were people who were
every bit as determined to succeed as we have today.
Wolsey was as ambitious and ruthless as the king himself. That is why they
got on so well for so many years. Wolsey's failure in the end was part of the
Mr Underwood said the portrayal of Wolsey's as a lowly butcher's son was
His father was much more than a butcher, he was one of the leading people
in the town. That's how Wolsey gained a classical education in Ipswich,
which led to him gaining his university degree at about the age of 16, he
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