18 Mar 2013

After Richard III, Leicester Wants Wolsey’s Remains Found

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Sampson Strong, Cardinal Wolsey, 1610, Christ Church College, Oxford.

The Telegraph reports that the successful search for Richard III’s remains is prompting the city fathers of Leicester to promote a search for another lost burial, that of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey.

Wolsey, a great builder, had arranged for himself a magnificent black sarcophagus in the crypt of St. Paul’s Cathedral, but his failure to procure Henry VIII the annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon led to Wolsey’s downfall, the confiscation of his properties, and finally to his arrest for treason. He was lucky enough to expire in Leicester of natural causes en route to London for his trial and inevitable execution. Wolsey was consequently buried in the same Leicester Abbey as Richard III, without a monument. The grand sarcophagus eventually went to a more worthy occupant: naval hero Lord Nelson.

City councillor Ross Willmott said: “The discovery of Richard III is wonderful news, yet there remains something of a mystery about what happened to Wolsey, who rivaled Henry VIII in wealth and power and was one of the most significant political figures of the era.

“Arguably, he is far more influential than Richard III. To discover his remains would help tell the story of another historic figure linked to the city.”

“There have been digs over the years to try to find him but they have not succeeded. I would like another go.

“It would bring more tourists to the city and further excite the interest in history and archeology that we are now seeing.”

The churchman, Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor, died at the town’s abbey, the ruins of which can be seen from the city centre, while travelling to London after being accused of treason when he failed to secure the annulment of the king’s marriage to his first wife Catherine of Aragon.

He served as royal chaplain to Henry VII, who seized the throne after Richard was killed at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.

It is likely he was buried with great ceremony at the abbey but historians think his tomb was destroyed later in Henry VIII’s reign, when abbeys were dissolved in the late 1530s after England’s split with the Catholic Church.

Attempt to locate Wolsey’s remains during digs in 1820 and again in the 1930s drew blanks.

However, Leicester Civic Society chairman Stuart Bailey said: “His bones may have been scattered and any remnants destroyed, but for years they said that about Richard III.

“I think it would be marvellous to have another look. It was a great fluke that Richard was found but we know Wolsey was buried in the Lady Chapel of the abbey church, which is not all that big.”

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