Colin Crosby Heritage Tours

Colin's Little Known Facts: Cardinal Wolsey and Leicester

Cardinal Wolsey, the famous Tudor churchman and politician, has an inescapable connection with Leicester - he died and was buried there.

Thomas Wolsey was born in Ipswich in 1472, the son of a butcher. He was educated at Magdalen College in Oxford, and became a Fellow in 1497.

He was ordained at Marlborough, and was appointed Chaplain to Henry Deane, Archbishop of Canterbury in 1501.

He then had a meteoric rise to power, becoming a Cardinal in 1515, and was appointed by Henry VIII as his Lord Chancellor. His church appointments included Abbot of St. Albans, Bishop of Lincoln, Bishop of Bath and Wells, Bishop of Durham and Bishop of Winchester, eventually becoming Archbishop of York.

The magnificent Christ Church – college and cathedral – at Oxford were planned by Wolsey as Cardinal College. Hampton Court Palace was built for him, although it was later taken over by the King.

Wolsey’s downfall stemmed from his inability to convince the Pope to annul Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon, who had been his brother Arthur’s widow. Her crime was to fail to present Henry with any sons.

He was called to London in 1530, and would undoubtedly have been executed, although he was clearly ill. However, his route took him to the sumptuous Leicester Abbey – as a Cardinal, he would have been aware of the locations of these rich foundations.

At Leicester Abbey, he died, and was buried there, close to the River Soar. The lovely Abbey Park covers the site today, the Abbey having fallen at the Dissolution, together with a memorial. Unfortunately, the exact site of his remains is unknown.

An intriguing piece of Leicester folklore maintains that, if you tread on and kill a spider, the ghost of Cardinal Wolsey will rise from his grave.