After the wonderful reception to his last guest post (about the execution of Jane Grey – you can read it here), I have invited back David Field for another of his takes! David is a writer of historical fiction who is coming out with six Tudor-era novels this year (for you mystery lovers, he already has a great series – the Esther and Jack Enright Mysteries). Hope you enjoy – and there are more details about him following the post…
Two Leicester Graves – Two Eras of History
Today marks the sixth anniversary of the re-interment, in Leicester Cathedral, of the mortal remains of Richard III. The Archbishop of Canterbury officiated, and in keeping with the pomp and ceremony appropriate to the occasion the congregation was studded with dignitaries, obscure relatives of the last Yorkist monarch, and stars of the entertainment world, including two famous actors who had portrayed him in recent film dramas of his life. A right royal send-off for the much-maligned loser of the Battle of Bosworth whose body had been thrown unceremoniously into a grave at the former Greyfriars Priory, and had spent the past half century under a Council car park.
But down the road in what is now Abbey Park lie the remains of a man who arguably did far more for England than Richard ever did. No-one knows precisely where, since his grave in the former Leicester Abbey was lost to history when – ironically – the Abbey itself was dissolved by a process that the man himself had begun, and had been eagerly pursued by his former Secretary Thomas Cromwell, at the urging of Henry VIII, the king who had been loyally and assiduously served by the man whose final resting place was about to become forever lost.
There’s a memorial plinth there now, but the actual remains will probably never be discovered, because they belong to a man who was not royal – and therefore not deserving of a pompous memorial service under the full glare of television lights – and who died in obscurity on his way to the Tower, hounded to his death by an ungrateful Henry VIII who had relied upon him for sound counsel from the day that, as a clueless and pleasure-loving boy approaching his 18th birthday, he became King of England. The man buried somewhere in the remains of the Abbey was Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Papal Legate, Archbishop of York, and Lord Chancellor of England, and he was a victim of a rigid class system that he himself helped to destroy.
Born the son of a somewhat disreputable Ipswich butcher, Tom Wulcy became the prototype of the new age that was dawning. Until Richard of Gloucester got his come-uppance at Bosworth, England was governed by bands of robber barons with fancy titles. When Henry Tudor came to the throne, he was anxious to break the power of the old noble families, and he abolished ‘maintenance’ and ‘livery’ – the keeping of private armies. But he needed men to assist in the running of the nation, and he had learned from humble officials such as his mother’s Comptroller of Accounts Reynard Bray that the most talented public servants are not necessarily the highest born. He therefore began a policy of appointment by merit, and they didn’t come any more talented than Tom Wulcy, a graduate of Oxford at the age of 15, and a man who combined a prodigious intellect with boundless energy and ambition. He would be followed in turn by the son of a Putney blacksmith and alehouse keeper, Thomas Cromwell, who became Wolsey’s Secretary once the former Ipswich schoolboy reached high office at breakneck speed.
But such elevation of the lowly born was anathema to those who felt entitled to rule the nation by the simple qualification of birth, and Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, was the most resentful of all. He put paid to Wolsey, and then became embroiled in a lifelong feud with an outraged Cromwell that did neither of them any good. But the mold had been broken, and henceforth England would be governed by men of ability and selfless dedication – William Cecil being a prime example during the reign of Elizabeth 1st.
Thomas Wolsey was no candidate for sainthood. Apart from the fact that he had a mistress and two children while officially celibate, he was proud, vainglorious and ostentatiously wealthy. The Dissolution of the Monasteries that he began had nothing to do with a burning desire to reform the Church – instead, the sale proceeds went into his personal coffers. But he did not deserve his fate – harassed into his grave by a frustrated and confused Henry VIII who was prepared to listen to the poison poured into his ear by Norfolk and his niece Anne Boleyn. On his way back south in the custody of the Constable of the Tower of London, sick in body and mind, trembling in the face of a meticulously invented false charge of treason, Wolsey stopped to rest at Leicester Abbey, where he announced to its head ‘Father Abbott, I am come hither to leave my bones among you’. Rumours remain that he committed suicide as he finally accepted that he was finished, and his final reflection on the life that he was about to end is well recorded in his observation that ‘If I had served God as diligently as I have done the King, he would not have given me over in my grey hairs.’
He would never know what he had achieved as the flag bearer of a new wave of public servants, whose qualifications for high office lay in their ability rather than in their genes. The English public service had been transformed through the example of one man, and he deserves far more than a memorial plinth when others arguably less worthy of national kudos receive adulation more befitting the latest Internet sensation.
About David Field
David was born and educated in Nottingham, England, and even as a school student he loved to combine English with History. This former hobby became a new career when he retired after fifty years as a lawyer, and took to writing historical novels on a fulltime basis. By then he had emigrated to Australia, where he now lives with his wife on the borders of New South Wales and Queensland.
David has written a series of six novels set in the Tudor period, all of which will be published by Sapere Books during 2019, and which between them cover the entire era, from the early life and accession of Henry Tudor right through to the final days of Elizabeth 1st. The second in the series, ‘The King’s Commoner’, brings alive the life and times of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey.
If you like my posts, you’ll love my books! The Path to Somerset came out on August 24 – have you ordered your copy yet? Click on the photo to be taken to Amazon.Com: