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Cardinal Wolsey and Cambridge

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 April 2015

Susan Wabuda*
Associate Professor, Department of History, Fordham University, 441 East Fordham Road Bronx, New York 10458-5159, U.S.A. Email:


Cardinal Thomas Wolsey has seldom been associated with the University of Cambridge. But in a little-known episode, he was invited to follow John Fisher as chancellor of the University of Cambridge in 1514. Although Wolsey declined, his willingness to protect Cambridge’s evangelicals, even after he burned Martin Luther’s books in 1521, has been an overlooked phase in the history of the university and in the Reformation in England.

Research Article
© Trustees of the Catholic Record Society 2015. Published by Cambridge University Press 

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The author wishes to express her thanks to the members of the staff of the British Library, the Cambridge University Library and the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. Fordham University’s Faculty Fellowship, granted for the Fall 2014 semester, made the writing of this paper possible.


1 Leader, Damien Riehl, A History of the University of Cambridge, 4 vols, The University to 1546 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 1: 263–319Google Scholar.

2 Dowling, Maria, Fisher of Men: A Life of John Fisher, 1469–1535 (Basingstoke: Macmillan,1999), 919 CrossRefGoogle Scholar, 26–7 49–52, 85–7; Leader,1: 272 (Fisher and Jesus College), 281–4, 292; Wabuda, Susan, Preaching During the English Reformation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 2223 Google Scholar, 62–3, 118, 163–5 and ‘Receiving the King: Henry VIII at Cambridge’, in Henry VIII and the Court: Art, Politics and Performance, eds. Thomas Betteridge and Suzannah Lipscomb (Farnham: Ashgate, 2013), 163–78. Fisher’s oration on the occasion of the king’s visit has been printed in The life of Dr. John Fisher, Bp. of Rochester in the reign of King Henry VIII, ed. John Lewis, 2 vols (London, 1855), 2: 263–272. For the king’s bequest: The Will of King Henry VII (London, 1775), 27–9.

3 Underwood, Malcolm, ‘John Fisher and the Promotion of Learning’, in Humanism, Reform, and the Reformation: The Career of Bishop John Fisher, eds. Brendan Bradshaw and Eamon Duffy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 2546 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Gwyn, Peter, The King’s Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of Thomas Wolsey (London: Barrie and Jenkins, 1990), 342345 Google Scholar; Leader, 1: 272–90.

4 Cambridge University Library (hereafter CUL), University Archives (hereafter UA) Grace Book B, p. 238, printed in Grace Book B Part I: Containing the Proctors’ Account and Other Records of The University of Cambridge for the Years 1488–1511, ed. Mary Bateson, Cambridge Antiquarian Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1903), 222. The requirements that Erasmus was to satisfy in order to proceed to his degree: Grace Book Γ: Containing the Records of the University of Cambridge for the Years 1501–1542, ed. William George Searle, Cambridge Antiquarian Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1908), 46. Ultimately Erasmus received his doctorate from the University of Turin.

5 Rex, Richard, ‘Lady Margaret Beaufort and Her Professorship, 1502–1559’, in Lady Margaret Beaufort and Her Professorships of Divinity at Cambridge 1502 to 1649, eds, Patrick Collinson, Richard Rex and Graham Stanton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003)Google Scholar, 19-56; Leader, 1: 291–7, 311–12, 314.

6 Orationes Richardi Croci duae (Paris, 1520), sig. b3v. See also Jonathan Woolfson’s entry for Wakefield in The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (hereafter ODNB); and Basil Hall, ‘The Trilingual College of San Ildefonso and the Making of the Complutensian Polyglot Bible’, in The Church and Academic Learning, Studies in Church History 4, ed. G. J. Cuming (Leiden: Brill, 1969), 114–146.

7 Allen, P. S., ‘Alcalá: a Spanish Collegium Trilingue’ in Erasmus: Lectures and Wayfaring Sketches, ed, P. S Allen (Oxford: Clarendon, 1934), 180184 Google Scholar; Hall, , ‘The Trilingual College of San Ildefonso’, 114146 Google Scholar; Rummel, Erika, Jiménez de Cisneros: On the Threshold of Spain’s Golden Age, Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 212 (Tempe, Arizona: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 1999), 5365 Google Scholar. For additional information, I am grateful to Louie Dean Valencia García.

8 See Fisher’s oration, printed in Lewis, Life of Fisher, 2: 267, 270; Croke, Orationes duae, sigs. a5v-a6r.

9 For Fisher’s commission, see the entry calendared in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII (hereafter LP), ed. J. S. Brewer et al., vol. 1 (London, 1862), no. 1083 (5). For Fisher’s invitation for Erasmus to accompany him to Rome, see: Desiderius Erasmus, Opvs Epistolarvm Des. Erasmi Roterodami, ed. P. S. Allen, 12 vols (Oxford: Clarendon, 1906), 1: nos. 252–5. Relieved, Erasmus made his famous pilgrimage to Walsingham with Aldrich in May 1512.

10 The inventory of 24 November 1513 appeared at the beginning of a manuscript that was ordinarily dedicated to the wills proved in the Vice Chancellor’s Court. CUL, UA, VC. Probate Wills I, fol. 1r.

11 Leader, 1: 272–5, 285.

12 Hall, ‘The Trilingual College of San Ildefonso’, 116-18; Rummel, , Threshold, 6162 Google Scholar.

13 Cooper, Charles Henry, Annals of Cambridge, 5 vols (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1842)Google Scholar,1: 296. Gwyn did not discuss in King’s Cardinal Cambridge’s approach to Wolsey in 1514, but the episode was briefly referred to by Christopher N. L. Brooke in ‘The University Chancellor,’ Humanism, Reform, and the Reformation, 47–66 at 58–9.

14 Gwyn, , King’s Cardinal, 12 Google Scholar, 19; Cardinal Wolsey: Church, State and Art, eds S.J. Gunn and P.G. Lindley, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991). See also Sybil M. Jack’s entry for Wolsey in the ODNB.

15 Grace Book B Part II: Containing the Accounts of the Proctors of the University of Cambridge, 1511–1544, ed. Mary Bateson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1905), 26, 30; Cooper, Annals of Cambridge, 1: 296.

16 Grace Book B II, p. 36. See also A Collection of Letters, Statutes, and Other Documents from the MS Library of Corpus Christi College Cambridge, ed. John Lamb (London, 1838), 10–11.

17 See the tributes to Fisher and Lady Margaret in Croke’s Orationes duae, sigs., a2r-a2v, a4v-a5v, c5r, d2v-d3v.

18 Brooke, , ‘University Chancellor’, 5859 Google Scholar and Fisher’s Itinerary in the same volume, Appendix 2; also, Leader, 1: 285.

19 Grace Book B II, 110, 119.

20 Croke, Orationes duae, a3r-a4r, b3r.

21 Gwyn, , King’s Cardinal, 33 Google Scholar, 56–7, 102–4, 312–13. John Guy, ‘Wolsey and the Tudor Polity’, in Cardinal Wolsey, 54–75. In the introduction to their volume, Gunn and Lindley note that astounding though his income was, Wolsey had less than Cisneros or some of the other great archbishops on the continent, Cardinal Wolsey 6.

22 For Wolsey’s visit to Suffolk one year, a dozen bucks were killed, probably to feed his retinue. See the Framlingham Park Game Roll, kept by Richard Chambyr for 1515–1519, printed in Cummings, John, The Hound and the Hawk: The Art of Medieval Hunting (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1988)Google Scholar, appendix 2: 260–5; Wabuda, ‘Receiving the King’, 168–9.

23 Grace Book B II, p. 116. See also Mary Bateson’s helpful comments in her introduction Proctors’ Account and Other Records, ix–xi.

24 Hilary Wayment, ‘Wolsey and Stained Glass’, in Cardinal Wolsey, 116–130.

25 Gwyn, , King’s Cardinal, 345346 Google Scholar.

26 Grace Book B II, 82–3.

27 Ibid. The university’s usual supplier was Thomas Marshall, and the price of wine was around 4d. per quart. See Minns, Ellis H., ‘A Cambridge Vintner’s Accounts, c. 1511’, Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society, 34 (1934): 5058 Google Scholar. For payments to the Lady Margaret Professors of Divinity (whose income was derived from property administered by Westminster Abbey), see Rex, ‘Professorship’, 32–4, especially n. 26.

28 Grace Book B II, 53 (for the French queen in 1516–17), for Queen Katherine,76, 83, 88–89. Regular modest gifts to the bishop of Ely were also recorded.

29 Wabuda, , ‘Receiving the King’,163–178Google Scholar.

30 Bullock, Henry, Oratio . . . ad Thomā Cardinalem . . . Archiepiscopum Eboracensem & Angliæ supremum Cancellarium (Cambridge: Jan Siberch, February 1521)Google Scholar, RSTC 4082.

31 Rowe’s address has been printed by Lamb, Documents, 9–10; Norton, F. J., ‘The Library of Bryan Rowe, Vice-Provost of King’s College (d. 1521)’, Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society, vol. 2 (1958), 339–351Google Scholar. Melchisedech: Psalm 109. 4. Croke, Orationes duae, sig. b3r.

32 Grace Book B II, 92–3.

33 For Rowe, see Norton, ‘The Library of Bryan Rowe’, 342–51 (especially no. 2). For Bilney, see Foxe, John, The ecclesiasticall history contaynyng the actes and monuments (London: John Daye, 1570)Google Scholar, RSTC 11223 (hereafter Foxe 1570), 1142–3, and John Foxe, Acts and Monuments, ed. George Townsend, 8 vols (London, 1843–9) (hereafter AM), 4: 633–6; see also Garrett Godfrey’s Accounts 1527–1533, eds. Elisabeth Leedham-Green, D. E. Rhodes and F. H. Stubbings, Cambridge Bibliographical Society Monograph, no. 12 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).

34 Desiderius Erasmus, Controversies: Apologia qua respondet invectivis Lei and Responsio ad Annotationes Lei, ed. Jane E. Phillips, trans. Erika Rummel, The Collected Works of Erasmus, vol. 72 (Toronto: Toronto University Press, 2006); Louis Bouyer, ‘Erasmus in Relation to the Medieval Biblical Tradition’, in The Vernacular Scriptures, The Cambridge History of the Bible: The West From the Fathers to the Reformation, ed. G. W. H. Lampe, 2 vols (Cambridge, 1969), 2: 492–505; Hall, ‘The Trilingual College of San Ildefonso’, 137 Google Scholar. For a defense of Erasmus, see Robert Wakefield, Syntagma de hebreorum codicũ incorruptione. Item eiusdem Oratio Oxonij habita, vnacum quibusdam alijs lectu ac annotatu non indignis (London: Wynkyn de Worde, [1530?]), RSTC 24946, sigs. F4v, H1r.

35 Guy Bedouelle, Lefèvre d'Étaples et l'Intelligence des Ecritures, Travaux d'humanisme et Renaissance series, 152 (Paris, 1976), 234–5.

36 Grace Book B II, 92–3.

37 Ibid. Wolsey’s mandate has been printed in David Wilkins, Concilia Magnae Britanniae et Hibernia, 4 vols (London, 1737), 3: 690–2. See also Gwyn, Wolsey, 483; Leader, 1: 254, 295-6, 314, 320–1.

38 Gwyn, , Wolsey, 483484 Google Scholar.

39 Croke, Orations duae, sigs. a5v-a6v.

40 John Newman, ‘Cardinal Wolsey’s Collegiate Foundations’, in Cardinal Wolsey, 103–115, and Gunn and Lindley’s introduction, 12.

41 Grace Book Γ, 221. Richard Cox and Matthew Parker were also invited to Oxford. Cox went. Parker, like Cranmer, remained in Cambridge. See Felicity Heal on Cox and David J. Crankshaw and Alexandra Gillespie for Parker in the ODNB.

42 Narratives of the Days of the Reformation, ed. John Gough Nichols, Printed for the Camden Society (1859), 240; Foxe 1570, 2033; also appearing in AM, 8: 4–5; Diarmaid MacCulloch, Thomas Cranmer: A Life (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996), 24.

43 Barnes, Robert, A supplicacion vnto the most gracyous prynce H. the viij ([London: John Byddell], 1534)Google Scholar RSTC 1471, 38, 44–46 (mitres); The Letters of Stephen Gardiner, ed. James Arthur Muller (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1933), no. 81 at 165–6.

44 British Library (BL), Harley MS 422, fols. 84r-88r, printed in Sermons and Remains of Hugh Latimer, ed. George Elwes Corrie, Parker Society (Cambridge, 1845) pp. xxvii-xxxi.

45 Barnes, , Supplicacion, 4446 Google Scholar.

46 BL, Harley MS 422, fols. 84r-88r: Latimer, Sermons and Remains, xxvii–xxxi.

47 See A. F. Leach’s account of the founding of Wolsey’s school in Victoria County History Suffolk, 2: 325–38.

48 BL, Cotton MS Titus B/1, fols. 281r–282r; LP, 4 (2), nos. 4778 and 4755); Narratives of the Days of the Reformation, 77: 32–5.

49 In February 1526, Fisher preached against Barnes, in Wolsey’s presence see Fisher, John, A sermon had at Paulis . . . vpōn quīnquagesom sonday (London, 1527)Google Scholar, RSTC 10892. Barnes knelt, and books were again burned. Foxe 1570, 1364–5, AM, 5: 418–19; Dowling, Fisher, 101–104.

50 Grace Book B II, 152.

51 BL, Harley MS 422, fols. 84r–88r: Latimer, Sermons and Remains, xxvii–xxxi.

52 Gunn and Lindley, ‘Introduction’, Cardinal Wolsey, 2; L. R. Gardiner, ‘Further News of Cardinal Wolsey’s End, November-December 1530’, Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, 57 (1984), 99–107.