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Foxe's Book of Martyrs -- 167. THOMAS WOLSEY



A brief discourse concerning the story and life of Thomas Wolsey, late cardinal of York, by way of digression; wherein is to be seen and noted the express image of the proud, vain glorious Church of Rome, how, far it differeth from the true church of Christ Jesus.

Although it be not greatly pertinent unto this our history, nor greatly requisite, in these so weighty matters, treating of Christ's holy martyrs, to discourse much of Thomas Wolsey, cardinal of York; notwithstanding, forasmuch as there be many, which, being carried away with a wrong opinion and estimation of that false glittering Church of Rome, do think that holiness to be in it, which indeed is not: to the intent, therefore, that the vain pomp and pride of that ambitious church, so far differing from all pure Christianity and godliness, more notoriously may appear to all men, and partly also to refresh the reader with some variety of matter, I thought compendiously to express the ridiculous and pompous qualities and demeanour of this aforesaid Thomas Wolsey, cardinal and legate of Rome, in whom alone the image and life of all other such-like followers and professors of the same church, may be seen and observed. For like as the Lacedemonians, in times past, were accustomed to show and demonstrate drunken men unto their children, to behold and look upon, that through the foulness of that vice they might inflame them the more to the study and desire of sobriety; even so it shall not be hurtful sometimes to set forth the examples which are not honest, that others might thereby gather the instructions of better and more upright dealing.

Wherefore thou shalt note here, good reader! in this history, with all judgment, the great difference of life and Christian conversation between this church and the other true humble martyrs and servants of God, whom they have and do yet persecute. And first, to begin with the first meeting and coming in of this cardinal, and his fellow cardinal, Campeius, to England; it was about the time when Pope Leo, intending to make war against the Turks, sent three legates together from Rome, whereof one went into Germany, another into France; Laurentius Campeius was appointed to come into England. When he was come to Calais, and that the cardinal of York had understanding thereof, he sent certain bishops and doctors, with as much speed as he could, to meet the legate, and to show him, that if he would have his embassage take effect, he should send in post to Rome, to have the said cardinal of York made legate, and to be joined with him in commission: which thing he much affected, misdoubting lest his authority thereby might perhaps be diminished through the coming of the legate, and therefore required to be joined with him in like degree of the embassage. Campeius, being a man light of belief, and suspecting no such matter, gave credit unto his words, and sent unto Rome with such speed, that within thirty days after, the bull was brought to Calais, wherein they were both equally joined in commission; during which time .the cardinal of York sent to the legate at Calais, red cloth to clothe his servants withal, which at their coming to Calais were but meanly apparelled.

When all things were ready, Campeius passed the seas and landed at Dover, and so kept on his journey toward London. At every good town as they passed, he was received with procession, accompanied with all the lords and gentlemen of Kent. And when he came to Blackheath, there met him the duke of Norfolk, with a great number of prelates, knights, and gentlemen, all richly apparelled; and in the way he was brought into a rich tent of cloth of gold, where he shifted himself into a cardinal's robe, furred with ermines; and so took his mule, riding toward London. Now mark the great humility in this church of the pope, and compare the same with the other church of the martyrs, and see which of them is more gospel-like.

This Campeius had eight mules of his own, laden with divers fardels and other preparation. The cardinal of York, thinking them not sufficient for his state, the night before he came to London, sent him twelve mules more, (with empty coffers,) covered with red, to furnish his carriage withal. The next day these twenty mules were led through the city, as though they had been laden with treasures, apparel, and other necessaries, to the great admiration of all men, that they should receive a legate as it were a god, with such and so great treasure and riches; for so the common people doth always judge and esteem the majesty of the clergy, by no other thing than by their outward shows and pomp. But in the midst of this great admiration, there happened a ridiculous spectacle, to the great derision of their pride and ambition: for as the mules passed through Cheapside, and the people were pressing about them to behold and gaze, (as the manner is,) it happened that one of the mules, breaking his collar that he was led in, ran upon the other mules, whereby it happened, that they, so running together, and their girths being loosed, overthrew divers of their burdens; and so there appeared the cardinal's gay treasure, not without great laughter and scorn of many, especially of boys and girls, whereof some gathered up pieces of meat, some, pieces of bread and roasted eggs; some found horseshoes and old boots, with such other baggage, crying out, "Behold! here is my lord cardinal's treasure." The muleteers, being therewithal greatly ashamed, gathered together their treasure again as well as they could, and went forward.

About three o'clock at afternoon, July the twenty-ninth, the cardinal himself was brought through the city, with great pomp and solemnity, unto Paul's church, where, when he had blessed all men with the bishop's blessing, as the manner is, he was guided forth unto the cardinal of York's house, where he was received by the said cardinal; and by him on the next day, being Sunday, was conducted unto the king, to fulfil his embassage against the Turk, which might have destroyed all Hungary in the meantime, whiles they were studying with what solemnity to furnish out their embassage.

When the cardinal of York was thus a legate, he set up a court, and called it the court of the legate, and proved testaments, and heard causes, to the great hinderance of all the bishops of the realm. He visited bishops, and all the clergy, exempt and not exempt; and under colour of reformation, he got much treasure, and nothing was reformed, but came to more mischief; for, by example of his pride, priests and all spiritual persons waxed so proud, that they wore velvet and silk, both in gowns, jackets, doublets, and shoes; kept open lechery; and so highly bore themselves, by reason of his authorities and faculties, that no man durst once reprove any thing in them, for fear to be called heretic, and then they would made him smoke, or bear a faggot; and the cardinal himself was so elated that he thought himself equal with the king; and when he had said mass, he made dukes and earls to serve him of wine, with assay taken, and to hold the bason at the lavatories.

Furthermore, as he was sent ambassador to the emperor at Brussels, he had over with him the great seal of England; and was served with his servitors kneeling on their knees; and many noblemen of England waiting upon him, to the great admiration of all the Germans that beheld it: such was his monstrous pomp and pride.

This glorious cardinal, in his tragical doings, did exceed so far all measure of a good subject, that he became more like a prince than a priest; for although the king bare the sword, yet he bare the stroke, making (in a manner) the whole realm to bend at his beck, and to dance after his pipe. Such practices and fetches he had, that when he had well stored his own coffers, first he fetched the greatest part of the king's treasure out of the realm, in twelve great barrels full of gold and silver, to serve the pope's wars; and as his avaricious mind was never satisfied in getting, so his restless head was so busy, ruffling in public matters, that he never ceased before he had set both England, France, Flanders, Spain, and Italy, together by the ears.

Thus this legate, well following the steps of his master the pope, and both of them well declaring the nature of their religion, under the pretence of the church, practised great hypocrisy; and under the authority of the king he used great extortion, with excessive taxes and loans, and valuation of every man's substance, so pilling the commons and merchants, that every man complained, but no redress was had. Neither yet were the churchmen altogether free from the pill-axe and poll-axe, from the pilling and polling, I mean, of this cardinal, who, under his power legantine, gave by preventions all benefices belonging to spiritual persons; by which, hard it is to say, whether he purchased to himself more riches than hatred of the spiritualty. So far his licence stretched, that he had power to suppress divers abbeys, priories, and monasteries; and so did, taking from them all their goods, movables and unmovables, except it were a little pension, left only to the heads of certain houses. By the said power legantine he kept also general visitations through the realm, sending Doctor John Alein, his chaplain, riding in his gown of velvet, and with a great train, to visit all religious houses; whereat the Friars Observant much grudged, and would in no wise condescend thereunto: wherefore they were openly accursed at Paul's Cross, by Friar Forest, one of the same order; so that the cardinal at length prevailed both against them and all others. Against whom great disdain rose among the people, perceiving how, by visitations, making of abbots, probates of testaments, granting of faculties, licences, and other pollings in his courts legantine, he had made his treasure equal with the king's, and yet every year he sent great sums to Rome. And this was their daily talk against the cardinal.

Besides many other matters and grievances which stirred the hearts of the commons against the cardinal, this was one which much pinched them, for that the said cardinal had sent out certain strait commissions in the king's name, that every man should pay the sixth part of his goods. Whereupon there followed great muttering amongst the commons; in such sort that it had almost grown to some riotous commotion or tumult, especially in the parts of Suffolk, had not the dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, with wisdom and gentleness, stepped in and appeased the same.

Another thing that rubbed the stomachs of many, or rather which moved them to laugh at the cardinal, was this; to see his insolent presumption, so highly to take upon him, as the king's chief councillor, to set a reformation in the order of the king's household, making and establishing new ordinances in the same. He likewise made new officers in the house of the duke of Richmond, which was then newly begun. In like manner he ordained a council, and established another household for the Lady Mary, then being princess; so that all things were done by his consent, and by none other. All this, with much more, took he upon him, making the king believe, that all should be to his honour, and that he needed not to take any pains; insomuch that the charge of all things was committed unto him: whereat many men smiled, to see his great folly and presumption.

At this time, the cardinal gave the king the lease of the manor of Hampton Court, which he had of the lord of St. John's, and on which he had done great cost. Therefore the king again, of his gentle nature, licensed him to lie in his manor of Richmond; and so he lay there certain times. But when the common people, and especially such as were King Henry the Seventh's servants, saw the cardinal keep house in the royal manor of Richmond, which King Henry the Seventh so much esteemed, it was a marvel to hear how they grudged, saying, "See, a butcher's dog lies in the manor of Richmond! "These, with many other opprobrious words, were spoken against the cardinal, whose pride was so high, that he regarded nothing yet was he hated of all men.

And now, to express some part of the ruffling practices and busy intermeddlings of this cardinal in princes' wars, first, here is to be noted, that after long wars between England and France, 1524, (in the which wars King Henry, taking the emperor's part against Francis, the French king, had engaged with his money the duke of Bourbon, and a great part of the emperor's army, to invade and disturb certain parts of France,) it happened that the French king, coming with his army towards Milan at the siege of Pavia, was there taken by the duke of Bourbon, and the viceroy of Naples, and so led prisoner into Spain.

Where note by the way, that all this while the cardinal held with the emperor, hoping by him to be made pope; but when that would not be, he went clean from the emperor to the French king, as, the Lord willing, you shall hear.

Illustration -- Meeting of Henry and Francis

After this victory gotten, and the French king being taken prisoner, who remained in custody about a year and a half; at length, through great labour and solicitation, as well of others as especially of the cardinal and King Henry, an order was taken, and conditions propounded, between the French king and the emperor; among which other divers conditions, it was agreed, that they should resist the Turks, and oppress the Lutherans; and so was the king set at liberty, leaving behind him his two eldest sons for pledges. But shortly after he revoked his oath, being absolved by the bishop of Rome, and said that he was forced to swear, or else he should never have been delivered. This was A.D. 1526.


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