Thomas Wolsey, the Late Cardinal

  • by George Cavendish
  • Narrated by David Thorn
  • 9 hrs and 5 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

This extraordinary “eye-witness” account of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey's rise and fall from power was written between 1554 and 1558 by his gentleman-usher, George Cavendish, who was privy to so much of the Cardinal's ambitious endeavors. However, Cavendish prudently waited a long time before chronicling his observations for fear of his life, as there were those who may have taken his memoirs the wrong way.
Cavendish describes in great detail the daily life of Wolsey, listing his huge household of servants to give a good idea of the magnitude of this larger-than-life man who outdid Henry VIII in lifestyle and riches, which was his undoing. Throughout the book, he records Wolsey's endless acquisitions of bishoprics—including the very rich monastery of St. Albans, even though he was never a monk—all to feather his already very wealthy nest. Cavendish also tells of Wolsey's scheme to put himself over and above the Archbishop of York, the senior prelate in England, later to be named Pope. Wolsey is eventually charged with treason but dies in Leicester, and it is said that had he not died, he would have been more than likely subject to a beheading.
Cavendish also delves into the lives of King Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, the infamous Duke of Norfolk, and other prominent figures of the Tudor period, all to bring the sixteenth century to vivid life.
This rare document, considered “the most important single source for our knowledge of Wolsey,” was edited for easy comprehension by Roger Lockyer, a former faculty member of Royal Holloway College, University of London, and an authority on the tumultuous Tudor period which was so pivotal in England's storied history.


What the Critics Say

“Thorn's accent and command of English of the 1500's allow him to take on the persona of the good and faithful Cavendish with particular ease and authenticity. This skillful handling allows what could be stilted and difficult to be natural sounding and entertaining.” (AudioFile)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Indispensable for study of the Tudors

Thomas Cavendish was, as he remarks frequently in this biography of Cardinal Wolsey, "Gentleman Usher" to the Cardinal, a top-level servant or steward for much of the Cardinal's career. It was a responsible position, as the Cardinal had hundreds, perhaps a thousand servants at the height of his wealth and power during the 1520s. Cavendish wrote his biography in the 1550s, some thirty years after the wild events of the Cardinal's involvement in the failed attempt to procure a divorce for King Henry VIII from Katherine of Aragon so he could marry Anne Boleyn. Although the Cardinal made himself one of the richest men in history through the decades of favor of King Henry, whom he relieved of the tedious business of ruling England, he fell from power all in the month of July 1529 when Wolsey failed to get the other papal legate to decide the divorce in the king's favor, and that Cardinal Campeggio called a summer "vacation" to the legal proceedings, the Pope in Rome abrogated the case to Rome instead of England, and demanded (through Katharine's machinations) that the king show up in Rome, eventually, to hear the case there before the Pope himself. Utterly fed up with the years of delay and these severe setbacks that his very well-paid Cardinal and Chancellor had not been able to prevent, the king entirely lost faith in Wolsey and Wolsey's many enemies at court immediately got him sent further and further away from the king, into the north.

Cavendish tells the whole Wolsey story, including Anne Boleyn's being procured by the Cardinal for the King by breaking an engagement she had made with a young courtier, through the death of the Cardinal in 1530 -- NOT suicide, by Cavendish's careful account, as they were worried about that as they proceeded south -- as Wolsey was arrested for treason and taken toward the Tower of London on the eve of his being enthroned as Archbishop of York in that city's cathedral. Cavendish is not clear, though he plainly knows, why Wolsey was arrested for treason at this point, November 4,1530. He knows things but carefully does not say them even thirty years later, and historians so depend on his account -- despite it being "history according to a gentleman usher" as academic historian Pollard sniffs -- that it is frustrating what he doesn't say on this matter of the final arrest.

But what Cavendish does say colors the 16th century for us with the splendor and power and arrogance of these infamous people. His descriptions are always lively as beautifully read by David Thorn: one believes one is hearing our gentleman usher himself. The mules, the falcons, the splendid clothes, the apothecaries, the amazing amounts of food, and Cavendish bustling around always worrying that everything go well and congratulating himself that he was in charge of producing the splendor, which of course he was. Listeners who have seen the TV series "Tudors" will recognized many, many scenes played out for you in that series exactly as Cavendish describes them, word for word. Other scenes were over-dramatized: when in doubt, believe Cavendish, because he was there, then.
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- Phebe

Good story; poor reader

What did you like best about Thomas Wolsey, the Late Cardinal? What did you like least?

A book written by someone there at the scene; excellent. Bit hard to follow some of the language, like listening to Shakespeare, but once you get used to it, good.

Who would you have cast as narrator instead of David Thorn?

Someone without a lisp.

Any additional comments?

This is a great read, but the person reading it was very hard to understand. I don't know if the reader had a lisp or was trying to sound old fashioned, but given the complexity of the language having someone who was clearly understandable would have been a great help.

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- Damien

Book Details

  • Release Date: 05-05-2010
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.