More on the role of cardinals

Cardinal WolseyMore on the role of cardinals: After the Pope, the highest-ranking Catholic priests are Cardinals, and in England, under Henry VIII, one of his most important statesmen was a cardinal — Cardinal Wolsey.

Thomas Wolsey (?1472-1530) was the son of a butcher from Ipswich who, from 1509, became Henry VIII's closest adviser and eventually rose to be Lord Chancellor. For nearly twenty years, Wolsey and Henry decided on all aspects of policy and Wolsey thus gained greater power than any other minister of his age.

Wolsey fell from grace in 1529, largely because he had failed to find a means of annulling Henry's marriage to Katherine of Aragon so that he could marry Anne Boleyn. He was arrested on charges of working for a foreign power – i.e. the Papacy in Rome – and was arrested but died before he could be brought to trial.

Although there had been a movement throughout Europe for some considerable time to reform the Catholic Church (see Religious / philosophical context > The Reformation), Henry himself had been a loyal follower of Catholicism and had written a book defending it, for which the Pope awarded him the tile ‘Fidei Defensor' — Defender of the Faith.

Ironically, in view of later events, the initials F.D. are still to be found alongside the head of British monarchs on coins to this day.

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