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A Visitor to Sheffield Manor


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It was on Tuesday, November 8, 1530, that Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Archbishop of York, came to Sheffield Manor, and there was entertained in the kindest way for eighteen days by George, the fourth Earl of Shrewsbury. The visit will always live in the minds of people who know the history of our country, for Thomas Wolsey was a most remarkable man - perhaps the most remarkable man of his day in Europe - and when he reached Sheffield his romantic career was fast drawing to its close. He had come to the last scene but one of a tragic story.

We know quite well what happened during that visit so long ago to Sheffield Manor, because in Wolsey's little band of attendants was his gentleman-usher, George Cavendish, a most faithful and devoted servant, who, after Wolsey's death, retired to his home in Suffolk and wrote the Cardinal's Life. It was long thought that this Life of Wolsey was written by George Cavendish's brother, William Cavendish; but that was not so, and the man who showed that George Cavendish was the real writer of the celebrated Life - a quaint and touching book - was the Rev. Joseph Hunter, the author of the History of Hallamshire.

George Cavendish had entered the service of Cardinal Wolsey three or four years before the great man's downfall, and George introduced into public life his brother William Cavendish. William rapidly rose into favour, was enriched by Henry VIII, became the owner of Chatsworth, married "Bess of Hardwick" as her second husband, and was the ancestor of the Dukes of Devonshire and other noble families. But his brother George, who had made the first start in seeking the society of the wealthy and great, was so discouraged by what he had seen when he was in the service of Wolsey, that he lived a life of retirement ever afterwards as a quiet country gentleman. His Life of Wolsey was not printed for a hundred years, but it was circulated in manuscript, and it is quite evident that Shakespeare saw it before he wrote his play Henry VIII, and pictured the character and death of Wolsey.

We must take a glance at the life of this brilliant man, Thomas Wolsey. The son of a butcher and wool-merchant of Ipswich, Wolsey was sent to Oxford for his education, and graduated while he was quite a boy. He remained some years at Oxford teaching, and then, joining the Church, rose quickly to be chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Henry VII singled him out as a man of ability, and sent him abroad on several embassies. It is said that, having sent him on business to France, he saw him about the court three or four days later, and called to him to find fault with him for the delay in starting, but then found that he had already been to France, had completed the business satisfactorily, and had returned.

When Henry VIII became King he at once appointed Wolsey his almoner, and showered riches on him. He was made Bishop of several sees, Archbishop of York, and Lord Chancellor of England. The Church made him a Cardinal, and the Pope appointed him his Legate, or special representative, in England. His ability and power of work were such that he took practically the whole government into his hands on behalf of the King, and, besides, was the head of the Church and the head of the law as Lord Chancellor.

In foreign affairs he busied himself so cleverly that for a time it seemed as if he held the balance in Europe between the great Powers of that day, France and Spain. His aim was to preserve peace, and make Henry VIII a judge between the rival nations on the Continent. He did this as a personal service to the King, and to gratify Henry's love of mastery and display, rather than to benefit the country. His own ambition was to become Pope; but in this he failed, though he was twice a candidate for the position.

The foreign activities of Henry cost large sums, and these Wolsey tried to raise by irregular means. His idea was that "a man has a right to no more than the King's goodness thinks lit not to take from him," and acting on that supposition he demanded at one time that every one in England should make an estimate of all he was worth, and should at once give one-fifth of it to the King.

This the people refused to do; and at last he had to ask them to make contributions by their own good-will. These exactions made Wolsey extremely unpopular. He was blamed and not the King. He was regarded as an evil adviser, and a greedy spoiler of the people's goods. Never was a man hated more. The nobles hated him because he was of low birth, and had supplanted them in the King's favour. Besides, he was haughty, fond of show, and loved to humble their pride. The Church distrusted him, and the ordinary citizens blamed him for all public evils.

He lived in great state, and magnified his position in every way. Those who came to him with business or with requests were treated disdainfully. A letter, for example, has been preserved which was written by one of the chaplains of the fourth Earl of Shrewsbury, who was sent from Sheffield to the South of England to deliver a letter to Wolsey and bring back an answer. Thomas Allen was the name of the messenger, and he wrote to the Earl - "Please your lordship, upon Monday seven nights last past, I delivered your letter to my lord Cardinal at Guildford, whereas he commanded me to wait upon him to the Court. I followed him to the Court and there gave attendance, but could have no answer. Upon Friday last he came from thence to Hampton Court. The day after, I besought his Grace I might know his pleasure, but could have no answer then. Upon Monday last, as he walked in Hampton Court, I besought him I might know if he would command me any service. He was not pleased with me that I spake to him. He that shall be a suitor unto him may have no other business but to give attendance on his pleasure. When he walks in the park he will suffer no suitor to come nigh unto him, but commands him a way off as far as a man would shoot an arrow."

We can well understand how a man who acted in this way, after rising from a rather humble station in life - for it is on record that his father was fined at Ipswich for selling bad meat and using false weights - would be unpopular.

The fine palace at Hampton Court was built by him for his private residence, and also another palace - York House - on the Strand in London. Though Wolsey gave handsomely for educational purposes - the building of a Grammar School at Ipswich, and a great college at Oxford, first called Cardinal College, but now Christ Church - he took the money for this work from the wealth that was seized when certain monasteries were closed. He it was who began the suppression of the old abbeys and the confiscation of their lands by the King - a form of gathering in money which Henry afterwards used freely to replenish his own purse and to enrich his friends.

When Henry VIII, a coarse, bad man, who was faithful to nobody and cared for nothing except having his own way, wished to be divorced from his first wife, Catharine of Aragon, he expected Wolsey to persuade the Pope to agree to the divorce. Wolsey was ready to help at first, because he was not friendly to Spain, Catharine's country, and because lie hoped Henry might afterwards marry a French princess, for Wolsey's leaning was always to France rather than to Spain; but later it became clear that Henry meant to marry Anne Boleyn, a lady at the English Court, and Wolsey's judgment told him this was unwise. However, he did his best to bring about the divorce, but failed. He was bound to fail, for Catharine's nephew, Charles, King of Spain, was also Emperor of lands that now roughly correspond with Austria, had his troops in Italy, and. was by far the most powerful monarch in Europe, and the Pope could not offend him. Besides, the divorce was utterly wrong. The Pope appointed Wolsey and another Cardinal to try the case in England. They could not find a way of carrying out Henry's wishes, and so Wolsey lost the King's favour, and, besides, made enemies of the Lady Anne Boleyn and all her friends. From that moment he was doomed.

Charged with treason, he pleaded guilty. The ground on which the charge was made was peculiar. Indeed, under the circumstances, it was monstrous. He was charged with holding a court in England by order of a foreign ruler - the Pope; an act against the English law. But the Court had been held with Henry's knowledge, and by his wish, to give him relief. If it had done what he wished, it would have been regarded by Henry as right, and Wolsey would have been rewarded. As it did not end as he wished, Wolsey was accused of treason. So unpopular was he that the banks of the Thames were lined with thousands of people waiting to see him taken to the Tower. However, Henry did not send him there. He deprived him of all his riches till he was quite poor, and sent him to Winchester, of which he was Bishop, and later to York, where he was Archbishop.

Now came the only part of Wolsey's life that may be admired without reserve. Stripped of his wealth and power and state, he tried humbly to do his duty, and such was his natural ability and the charm of his manner, when he was no longer ambitiously plotting for the King's mastery and pleasure, that he won the good-will of the people wherever he went.

He could not, however, keep quite free from the plotting that had become part of his very nature, and, when he had been a short time in Yorkshire, it was found that he was holding communication secretly with the King of France. Whereupon, on November 6, 1530, he was arrested, and was brought southward for his trial, arriving two days later at Sheffield Manor, the people gathering by the roadside and saying, "God save your Grace," and lamenting his misfortune.

Here is part of George Cavendish's account of his arrival at Sheffield Manor. "When we came into the park of Sheffield, nigh to the Lodge, my Lord of Shrewsbury, with my Lady, and a train of gentlewomen, and all other his gentlemen and servants, stood without the gates to attend my Lord's coming. At whose alighting the Earl received him with much honour, and embraced my Lord, saying these words: 'My Lord,' quoth he, 'your Grace is most heartily welcome unto me, and I am glad to see you here in my poor lodge, and much more glad if ye had come after another sort.' 'Ah, my gentle Lord of Shrewsbury,' quoth my Lord, 'I heartily thank you, and I do rejoice that my chance is to come into the custody of so noble a person. And howsoever mine accusers have used their accusations against me, this I know, and before your Lordship and all the world I do protest, that my demeanour and proceeding have always been both just and loyal towards my sovereign and Liege Lord.' 'I doubt not,' quoth my Lord of Shrewsbury, 'of your truth, and therefore be of good cheer and fear not, for I will not receive you as a prisoner, but as the King's true and faithful subject. And here is my wife come to salute you,' whom my Lord kissed with his cap in his hand, bare-headed, and all the other gentlewomen, and took the Earl's servants by the hand, as well gentlemen as yeomen. This done, these two Lords went into the Lodge arm in arm."

While he was staying at Sheffield, Wolsey was taken seriously ill, and his condition was made worse by the arrival of the Lieutenant of the Tower with four and twenty guards to conduct him to London. Leaving Sheffield, he rode on the first day to Hardwick Hall; the next day to Nottingham, and on the third day to Leicester Abbey, where he said to the abbot as he entered, "Father Abbot, I am come hither to leave my bones among you." He was now so weak that he had to be carried upstairs.

It was on the day of his death that he said to Kingston, the Lieutenant of the Tower, who had called at the Abbey to see him and comfort him: "If I had served God so diligently as I have done the King, he would not have given me over in my grey hairs. Howbeit, this is the just reward that I must receive for my worldly diligence and pains that I had to do him service, only to satisfy his vain pleasure, not regarding my godly duty."

Wolsey was buried in Leicester Abbey, and George Cavendish having reported the death to the King, but not what Wolsey said, was asked what he wanted for himself. He replied, a cart and horse to take his goods, home to Suffolk; whereupon the King gave him six cart horses and a cart from Wolsey's stable, 5 marks for his expenses, 10 arrears of wages, and 20 as a present, and he retired into private life, a saddened man.


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Pictures for A Visitor to Sheffield Manor

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Cardinal Wolsey in State
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