Review of how Guy sees the relationship between Henry VIII and Wolsey

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Review of how Guy sees the relationship between Henry VIII and Wolsey

Henry VIII was less part of his own policy than Edward IV or Henry VII. However it is wrong to claim that he was acting as a ‘absentee landlord’ (who delegated the affairs of state to others) or as a ‘mental dejective’ (who needed ministers to manage him). Like Elizabeth I, he was just uninterested in routine administration. However, he always had the decisive influence over key issues of policy but councillors could sway his decisions, unlike Elizabeth’s. However, Guy makes a point that he did not just follow councillor’s advice.

Henry chose to do as little writing as possible – finding it ‘both tedious and painful’ in his youth. There are, however, two turning points in the 1520’s. Firstly, in 1521, after a suggestion from Wolsey, he wrote a treatise in reply to Martin Luther’s ‘The Babylonian Captivity of the Church’. Titled ‘The Assertion of the 7 Sacraments’, it won him the title of the Defender of Faith’. It was a team effort in which Oxford and Cambridge theologians nominated by Wolsey assisted him. Wolsey and Thomas More were also involved in its writing. Secondly, in the summer of 1527, Henry seized an initiative from an absent Wolsey in soliciting support for and orchestrating the strategy that underpinned his first divorce campaign. He used arguments of interpretation of passages from the Hebrew text of the Old Testament. This undermined Wolsey’s position as papal legate and led towards the break with Rome.

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This was a disaster for Wolsey who had enjoyed considerable discretion in policies until then, although there had been limits (e.g. In 1515, after heated debate at Blackfrias, Wolsey was forced to submit Henry on his knees. This was a foretaste of later events.

Guy makes reference to the idea that Wolsey enjoyed a ‘prime-ministerial’ ascendancy’ for 14 years. However, he disagrees with this view. He claims that a prime minister has a settled constitutional position, while Wolsey only served at the king’s will and pleasure, that the prime minister was properly accountable to Parliament, while Wolsey was ...

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