Henry was a Master of Delegation
Henry may have been intelligent and accomplished. However, he found the business of ruling a bore. Instead, he preferred to decide the policy- and then leave it for others to implement, while he enjoyed himself with âgentlemanly pursuits’. To that end, the King chose those councilors who best supported his ambitions- rather than the good of his realm.
The first of those appointments was the former royal chaplain Thomas Wolsey. Wolsey had used his position to build up a collection of church and official posts, giving him a virtual monopoly on government. By 1515, he was so indispensable to the King that Henry elevated him to Lord Chancellor. Henry told Wolsey what he wanted- and Wolsey made it happen. And so the pattern was set for the more significant part of the King’s reign, In 1529, Thomas More took over from Wolsey, followed by Thomas Cromwell in 1534. After this, the Privy Council shared the responsibility of doing Henrys’ bidding.
Henry may have been setting policy. However, often the âbest man for the job’ could affect policy itself. Thomas Cromwell may well have ended the problem of Henrys’ âGreat Matter’ by providing him with the legal grounds for his divorce from Katherine of Aragon. However, in the course of this, he instigated the break from Rome by manipulating Henry’s belief in himself as Gods’ representative on earth. It was this manipulation which led to the Act of Restraint in Appeals in 1533, and Henry’s adoption of the title Supreme Head of the Church. It also led to the religious schism that divided the country for decades.
However, if a minister was unable to fulfill the King’s wishes, they would swiftly fall from grace- and find themselves without more than a job. Wolsey was unpopular with parliament long before Henry sacked him in 1529, stripping him of his assets. The Cardinal would probably have been executed for treason if he had not died of illness at Leicester Abbey in 1530. Thomas More lasted until May 1532 when he resigned over the Supremacy- and subsequently found himself executed for high treason.
Even Cromwell fell from grace over the King’s ill-fated marriage to Anne of Cleves. He was arrested and stripped of Office on June 10, 1540, and was beheaded on July 28 that year. Cromwell was the one Chancellor whose loss Henry admitted regretting. The French ambassador, in a letter written in July 1541 stated Henry was now lamenting putting to death “the most faithful servant he ever had.”