Henry VIII,the Reign
Wolsey's Deathbed Speech
In the accounts of the Treasurer of the Chamber for November 1529, there is an entry which reads as follows.
To Sir Wm. Kingiston,[Kingston] captain of the King's Guard, sent to the earl of Shrewsbury with divers of the Guard, for the conveyance of the cardinal of York to the Tower, 40/.
Financed accordingly, Sir William arrived at Sheffield Manor in Yorkshire on 22 November 1529 and relieved the Earl of Shrewsbury of his prisoner by taking Wolsey into his own custody.
On his way, south from York to London, Wolsey had spent the previous sixteen days with the earl and was, or became unwell. In spite of his plight however on 24 November, under guard, he arrived at Hardwick Hall in Nottinghamshire (not to be confused with the hall of the same name in Derbyshire built between 1590 and 1597).
The next day he was at Nottingham and on Saturday 26 November he arrived at Leicester Abbey.
His health continued to deteriorate, and in the early hours of 29 November his gentleman usher, George Cavendish, who was with him, memorised and later wrote down an account of Wolsey’s last hours and dying fear of the Lutherans.
George Cavendish’s Account
My Lord being very weak, and about four of the clock next morning I asked him how he did.
' Well,' quoth he, ' if I had any meat. I pray you give me some.'
' Sir,' quoth I, ' there is none ready.'
Then he said:
' You are much to blame ; you should always have meat for me in readiness, whensoever that my stomach serves me. I pray you get some ready for me, for I mean to make myself strong to-day, to the intent I may go to confession and make me ready for God.'
Quoth I, ' I will call up the cooks to prepare some meat, and also I will call Mr. Palmes, that he may discourse with you till your meat be ready.'
'With a good will,' quoth he.
And so I called Master Palmes, who rose and came to my Lord. Then I went and acquainted Master Kingston that my Lord was very sick, and not like to live.
'In good faith !' quoth Master Kingston, ' you are much to blame to make him believe he is sicker than he is.'
'Well, sir,' quoth I, 'you cannot but say I gave you warning, as I am bound to do.'
Upon which words he arose and came unto him ; but before he came my Lord Cardinal had eaten a spoonful or two of cullis made of chicken, and after that he was at his confession the space of an hour. And then Master Kingston came to him and bid him good morrow, and asked him how he did.
' Sir,' quoth he, ' I watch but God's pleasure to render up my poor soul to Him. I pray you have me heartily commended unto his royal Majesty, and beseech him on my behalf to call to his princely remembrance all matters that have been between us from the beginning, and the progress, and especially between good Queen Katherine and him, and then shall His Grace's conscience know whether I have offended him or not. He is a Prince of a most royal carriage, and hath a princely heart, and rather than he will miss or want any part of his will he will endanger the one-half of his kingdom.
' I do assure you I have often knelt before him, sometimes three hours together, to persuade him from his will and appetite, and could not prevail. And, Master Kingston, had I but served God as diligently as I have served the King, He would not have given me over in my gray hairs. But this is the just reward that I must receive for my diligent pains and study, not regarding my service to God, but only to my Prince. Therefore, let me advise you, if you be one of the Privy Council, as by your wisdom you are fit, take heed what you put in the King's head, for you can never put it out again.
'And I desire you further to request His Grace in God's name that he have a vigilant eye to suppress the hellish Lutherans, that they increase not through his great negligence, in such a sort as he be compelled to take up arms to subdue them, as the King of Bohemia was, whose commons being infected with Wickliff’s heresies, the King was forced to take that course.
' Let him consider the story of King Richard II., the second son of his progenitor, who lived in the time of Wickliff's seditions and heresies. Did not the commons, I pray you, in his time rise against the nobility and chief governors of this realm, and at the last some of them were put to death without justice or mercy; and under pretence of having all things in common, did they not fall to spoiling and robbing, and at last took the King's person and carried him about the city, making him obedient to their proclamations ?
'Did not also the traitorous heretic Sir John Oldcastle, Lord Cobham, pitch a field with heretics against Henry IV., where the King was in person, and fought against them, to whom God gave the victory.
'Alas ! if these be not plain precedents and sufficient persuasions to admonish a prince, then God will take away from us our prudent rulers, and leave us to the hands of our enemies. And then will ensue mischief, inconveniences, barrenness, and scarcity, for want of good orders in the Commonwealth, from which God of His tender mercy defend us!
'Master Kingston, farewell! I wish all things may have good success. My time draws on; I may not tarry with you. I pray you remember my words.'
Now the time began to draw near, and his tongue began to fail him ; his eyes were perfectly set in his head, and his sight failed him. Then we began to put him in mind of Christ's Passion, and caused the Yeomen of the Guard to stand by privately, to see him die, and bear witness of his words and his departure, who heard all his communications. And then presently the clock struck eight, at which time he gave up the ghost, and thus departed he this life, each of us looking on one another, supposing he prophesied of his departure.
We sent for the Abbot of the house to anoint him, who speedily came as he was ending his life, who said certain prayers before that the life was out of his body.
The Cardinal being departed, Master Kingston sent post to London one of the Guard. Then was Master Kingston and the Abbot in consultation about the funeral, which was solemnized the day after, for Master Kingston would not stay the return of the post.