How successful was Wolsey as Lord Chancellor?
Wolsey marked some of Henry’s most significant renaissance style achievements, including the prestige boosting Treaty of London. Notable for his origins as being of ‘low birth’, Wolsey quickly rose through the ranks to become one of Henry’s most favoured individuals- even to the extent of being viewed by some as the ‘alter-rex’, the secondary ruler in Henry’s reign. Rising to the position of Lord Chancellor, Wolsey enacted numerous policies, including the King’s ambitious foreign policy, rebuilding England’s financial stability, as well as the reform of the justice system.
Foreign policy is arguably one of Wolsey’s biggest successes under his role of Lord Chancellor; despite the numerous challenges faced by England’s failing finances Wolsey emerged as the driving force behind Henry’s ambitions. Early invasions of France included the Battle of the Spurs, gaining England some land in France as well as granting Henry limited prestige on the international front, one of the first English victories. While warfare was not a continued success, it is important to note that Wolsey was extremely successful in his attempts; the limited financial capacity of England did not deter him from raising numerous taxations, including one Parliamentary taxation grant, despite the fact that it was used for a relatively unpopular war. Wolsey was also the face of England in the Treaty of London negotiation, which saw England being placed into the position as an ‘arbiter of peace’ across Europe, fulfilling Henry’s ambitious intentions of placing the country into the forefront of international affairs. Taking into account England’s financial status, it is possible to see that Wolsey was extremely efficient and successful in his role as Lord Chancellor, and the Field of the Cloth of Gold proved to show England’s newly improved financial capacity under the guidance of Wolsey. Some historians describe Wolsey as an ‘alter-rex’, and it is possible to see the reasons for doing so; as the Lord Chancellor it was Wolsey who was often tasked with carrying out the King’s wishes, and from the successes in foreign policy it was clear that Wolsey had made the best out of a dire situation. However, the dire situation eventually proved to also be his undoing, and the move towards a French alliance and the Amicable Grant proved to be a failure, marking his departure from successes in foreign policy. Therefore, Wolsey was relatively successful as Lord Chancellor in his role residing over Henry’s ambitious foreign policy.