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To what extent did Wolsey seek to reform the church

Although Wolsey did have a reputation for being rapacious and was accused of selfish egoism, some historians did say that “Wolsey himself, for all his private vices, was an energetic reformer, who tried to produce better trained and better disciplined parish clergy.” He was ambitious and did sometimes come up with plans to reform the church. Wolsey’s sudden successions of ecclesiastical titles were accompanied alongside his secular achievements. In 1513, Wolsey was made Bishop of Tournai, in 1514 Bishop of Lincoln and in 1515 the Archbishop of York. All of these bishoprics gave Wolsey a lot of wealth, which also gave him, power. Being the Archbishop of York was very significant to Wolsey as it meant he was the second most senior person in the Church of England.However, Wolsey was not satisfied with being second best and he was able to persuade the Pope to make him Cardinal in 1515. Although this outranked all churchmen except the Pope, Wolsey did not have control of the Church as a whole and was therefore not satisfied, as he had not outranked Archbishop Warham of Canterbury completely. Another campaign therefore took place in trying to make Wolsey Papal legate. He succeeded in securing his Papal legate in 1518 and his ecclesiastical career reached a pinnacle when in 1524, his powers were confirmed for life. This undoubtedly put Wolsey above Warham and he had achieved his objective of surpassing all- he was now the most senior churchman in England.In 1519 he announced that he wanted to help reform the clergy which was just one of his plans to overhaul both church and state which he dangled in front of Henry when he was dealing with political enemies at court in that year, but his plans came to little, he lessened its allegiance to Rome and weakened it past hope of recovery. The cardinal was aware of the ‘New Learning and of its impact and he was also aware of the demands for reforming clerical life and church because of the reformers such as Erasmus and John Colet. Many historians have long believed that ‘if one thing can be said of the English people early in the sixteenth century it is that they thought little of priests.’They also believe that, even without the divorce, the Church in England would have experienced some form of reformation, due to widespread anti-clericalism. Wolsey knew that the clergy were widely despised and that the top, Archbishops and Bishops were disliked for their wealth and ostentation, particularly by the nobility, but it didn’t affect him, after all he was never seen without fine clothes and expensive jewellery and had several homes – Hampton Court being his prominent residence. This was in sharp contrast to the example set by Christ in the New Testament. They were also seen as being guilty of pluralism and therefore non-residence as they were constantly moving between their dioceses.In 1515, as Henrys chief master he also had to deal with parliament and its worries over church affairs. London was extremely anti-clerical and this was demonstrated when a London merchant Richard Hunne had been accused of heresy after a quarrel with his parish priest over a mortuary payment, and was then found dead in the local bishop’s prison. Also in 1512 Act of Parliament had cut back the issue of benefit of clergy, but it was due for renewal in 1515.Wolsey managed to avoid this, but only because he knelt before Henry at Baynard’s Castle in November 1515 to reassure the king that clerical privileges were no threat to royal power over the church. Henry got what he wanted which was the right to continue to tax the clergy and to control church patronage. In 1515 Henry didn’t really have any interest in asserting control of the church yet. Wolsey was in control of the church by 1518 in England because of his power as a papal legate, which he had obtained from the pope that year and was conferred on him for life in 1524. He had the power to reform both the regular and the secular clergy, but he did little. He had plans to reform the lax discipline of the friars and the monks to reform the hierarchy of the church.The last plan would have meant the creation of 13 new bishoprics out of monastic foundations, then the English dioceses would have reflected the population distribution of Tudor England and not that of an earlier age. Wolsey also did not visit dioceses and his own observation for wealth allowed criticism and propaganda against the church. Wolsey also dissolved 30 religious houses and used the money raised to build colleges at Oxford and in his hometown of Ipswich, between 1524 and 1529. Christ’s college still survives today. He had ambitious plans for his foundations and the advancements of learning, but their proposed endowments were still in his hands at his fall, and so were seized by the crown. Many historians believed that because he built colleges and monuments, he did it to “enhance his own empty glory” and not to promote learning.Wolsey himself was also not a good example of clerical discipline and spirituality, despite him having religious sincerity and him having genuine religious beliefs. He made a good living out of the church not just because he was a prince of the church and received a large income from it, but it was the scale of Wolsey’s offices which astounded his contemporaries and made him the personification of absenteeism and pluralism, so condemned by religious reformers and lay critics of the church. Wolsey also held other wealthy bishoprics at the same time, such as Durham and Winchester. He was also Abbot of St Albans, which was one of the wealthiest abbeys in England, and made other clergy pay him fees for permission to carry out their duties. As legate he was interested in everything that could bring him money from probate matters to appointments at all levels of the church. Overall he derived a large income and much of it was spent on conspicuous consumption and building works at Hampton court in particular.He was allowed to control the church by both the Pope and the King and many people believe that this weakened the church in England and made it easy for Henry and Cromwell to nationalise it in the 1530s, which not true as the senior clergy, led by the aged Archbishop Warham until his death in 1532, put a respectable resistance to Henrys claims to the head of the church in the early years of the break from Rome. Wolsey himself, was more of Henry’s creature, as his rather abject submission to the king after his fall from power in 1529 indicated. After 1529, when Wolsey was removed from power Henry was able to unleash his beliefs and, eventually, secure what he believed was rightfully his, total control of the English people and the church.There are different ideas as to why Wolsey seeked to reform, but I think that most of it was to do with reputation and power, even though he was a strong catholic. He was an extremely dedicated and ardent administrator who held various important positions in Henrys government and in the Roman Catholic Church in England. His pluralism led to him having difficulty in fulfilling all of his ambitions due to a lack of time but he was obviously a good enough manager of secular and ecclesiastical affairs to be able to stay as England’s second most powerful man for 15 years, which due to Henry’s fickle nature was a particularly arduous task. He was particularly criticised for his poor management of the Church as he was in a very rare situation in terms of ecclesiastical power and was in one of the best positions to reform the Church.Wolsey was corrupt and used his position to increase his personal wealth. One cannot though say that Wolsey did not have any good intentions in terms of his administration of the Church as he did have plans for its reform but they were never implemented due to various reasons including his lack of time to dedicate to them due to his pluralism. Some cynical critics of him though state that he only issued plans in order to make it seem as though he wanted to improve the efficiency of the Church but in fact had no intention to do this, there is no significant evidence that indicates this is correct.He kept bishoprics vacant and took the income from them and he also forced some clergyman to pay him a tribute including the Archbishop of Canterbury William Warham. In summary he did not run the Church in an efficient method but instead to increase his personal wealth and he blackened the image of what is supposed to be a divine institution. As well as being a corrupt administrator of the Church he did not implement many reforms he promised although he was in an excellent position to be able to implement them and his positive achievements are relatively minor.

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