Life of Cardinal Wolsey, The

Chettle, Henry (1601)Property "Documentary Source" (as page type) with input value "{{{documentarySources}}}" contains invalid characters or is incomplete and therefore can cause unexpected results during a query or annotation process.Property "Paratext" (as page type) with input value "{{{paratexts}}}" contains invalid characters or is incomplete and therefore can cause unexpected results during a query or annotation process.Property "Contributor" (as page type) with input value "{{{contributors}}}" contains invalid characters or is incomplete and therefore can cause unexpected results during a query or annotation process.Property "Partnering Institution" (as page type) with input value "{{{partneringInstitutions}}}" contains invalid characters or is incomplete and therefore can cause unexpected results during a query or annotation process.

Historical Records

For records relating to the "prequel" play, see the entry for "The Rising of Cardinal Wolsey".

Payments to Playwrights (Henslowe's Diary)

F. 87v (Greg, I.138)

Lent vnto Samwell Rowlye 1601 to paye
vnto harye [S] chettell for writtinge the Boocke
of carnalle wolseye lyfe the 5 of June some of . . . . . . . . . . . . xxs

F. 91v (Greg, I.143)

Layd owt at the a poyntment of my sonne & the
company vnto harey cheattell for the altrynge of
the booke of carnowlle wollsey the 28 of June 1601
the some of . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xxs
Lent vnto Robart shawe the <t> 4 of Julye
1601 to paye vnto harey cheattell for the
Boocke of carnowlle wollsey in fulle pay
ment the some of . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xxxxs

F. 91v (Greg, I.144)

Lent vnto the company the 17 of July
1601 to geue vnto hary chettell for the Boock
of the carnawlle wollsey to paye vnto mr
Bromffelld the some of . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xxs

F. 93 (Greg, I.147)

Lent vnto Robart shawe the 18 of aguste
1601 to paye vnto harey chettell for his
Boocke for carnowlle wollsey the some of . . . . . . . . . . . . xxs

Henslowe's payments to playwrights regarding the two "Cardinal Wolsey" plays have been the cause of some confusion. The division of records between the two plays' respective entries follows the analysis of Greg and Wiggins; however, a summary table of payments relating to both plays is offered below for ease of comparison:

  • 5 June 1601: Chettle, for "Cardinal Wolsey Life," 20s.
  • 28 June 1601: Chettle, for the altering of "Cardinal Wolsey," 20s.
  • 4 July 1601: Chettle, for "Cardinal Wolsey" (in full payment), 40s.
  • 17 July 1601: Chettle, for "Cardinal Wolsey" (to pay unto Mr Bromfield), 20s.
  • 18 August 1601: Chettle, for "Cardinal Wolsey," 20s.
  • 24 August 1601: Chettle, for "The First Part of Cardinal Wolsey," 20s.
  • 10 October 1601: Chettle, Munday, and Drayton, for "The Rising of Cardinal Wolsey," 40s.
  • 6 November 1601: Chettle, for "The Rising of Cardinal Wolsey," 10s.
  • 9 November 1601: Munday and Chettle, for "The Rising of Cardinal Wolsey," 10s.
  • 12 November 1601: Munday, Chettle, Drayton, and Smith, for "The First Part of Cardinal Wolsey" (in full payment), £3.
  • 15 May 1602: Chettle, for the mending of "The First Part of Cardinal Wolsey," 20s.

Payments for Apparel (Henslowe's Diary)

F. 92v (Greg, I.146)

Lent vnto Robart shawe the 7 of aguste 1601
to bye diuers tayne cottes thinges for the playe of
carnowle wollsey the some of . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xxxs
Lent the same tymes vnto the littell tayller for the
same playe of carnowlle wollsey some of . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . vijs
Bowght of mr stonne mercer the 10 of aguste
1601 ij pylle velluet of carnadyn at xxs yrd
& sattenes at xijs & tafeties at xijs & vjd
wch J layd owt for the company some is
for the playe of carnawll wollsey . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xxjll
Layd owt more for the playe of carnowlle
wollsey for tynsell & tyffeney & lynynge
& other thinges the same tyme dd vnto Jewby
the some of . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . iijll xs
pd vnto the copere lace man for whit copere
sylluer lace the same tyme the some of . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . vs vjd
Lent vnto Robart shawe the 11 aguste to
bye cottees for the play of carnowlle
wollsey the some of . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xxs
Layd owt at the apoyntment of the company
the 13 of agust 1601 for ij tayllers billes &
wm whittes bill after the playe of
carnowells wollsey the some of . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . viijll 4s
pd vnto the tyer man the 14 of aguste 1601
for mony wch he layd owt to bye teffeny
for the playe of carnowlle wollsey some of . . . . . . . . . . xiiijd

F. 93 (Greg, I.147)

Lent vnto the company the 20 of agust
1601 to bye a docters gowne for the play
of carnowlle wollsey the some of . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xs
dd to Radford
Lent vnto Robart shawe the 21 of aguste 1601
for velluet & mackynge of the docters
gowne in carnowlle wollsey the some of . . . . . . . . . . . . xxs

F. 105v (Greg, I.166)

Lent vnto Thomas [ ] downton the 18 of
maij to bye maskyngsewtes antycke for the 2 parte
of carnowlle wollsey the some of . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . iijll vs

F. 106 (Greg, I.167)

Lent vnto thomas downton the 27 of maij
1602 to by wm someres cotte & other thinges
for the 2 part of wollsey the some of . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . iijll
Lent vnto Thomas downton the 27 of maye
1602 to bye Rebatous & other thinges for the
2 part of carnowlle wollsey the some of . . . . . . . . . . . . xxvs
Lent vnto thomas downton the 2 of June 1602
to paye vnto the copere lace mane in fulle
payment for the lace for the 2 part of wollsey . . . . . . . . xxvjs

Payments, Miscellaneous (Henslowe's Diary)

F. 92v (Greg, I.146)

Lent vnto Robart shawe the 12 of aguste 1601
to bye diuers thinges for the playe of carnowlle
wollsey the some of . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xxs
Lent vnto the littell tayller the 12 of agust
to bye diuers thinges for the playe of
carnowlle wollsey at the apoyntment
of my sonne the some of . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xs

F. 93v (Greg, I.148)

Lent vnto the company the 3 of septmber 1601
to paye vnto the mr of the Revelles for licensynge
of [a]the [Bo] 3 parte of thome strowde & the Remaynder
of carnowlle wollsey . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xs

Correspondence of Richard Hadsor

25 July 1602. To Sir Robert Cecil.

Chettle's play is referred to in a letter written by Richard Hadsor to Sir Robert Cecil on 25 July 1602, in which Hadsor relays the appeal made by the current Earl of Kildare that the Queen recognize his title:

if the title should be denied vnto him ther are other men of good qualitie of his famely that would pretent title not onely to the honor but also to landes of great value wch fell to the Crowne in England and Ireland vpon the attainder of his grantfather, by the pollicy of Cardinall Wolsy as it [is] set forth and played nowe vpon the stadge in London, alledging that they haue an auncient title to the honor & landes of that howse befor the said attainder…
(Cecil Papers 94/70; cf. HMC Salisbury 12.248)

Hadsor, in this letter and in his later Discourse, was operating as a "legal representative in England" for the house of Kildare and took the opportunity to advance its interests (Hodgers 98).

Richard Hadsor's Discourse (1604)

Chettle's play is mentioned again by Hadsor in his Discourse concerning Ireland that he sent to King James (National Archives, SP 63/216, fols. 180r–181r). The Discourse was written in 1604 (McLaughlin 340). Again, the context is the Earl of Kildare's family history.

The Earle of Kildare (grandfather to the now Earle of Kildare) who married the marques Dorsett Gray his Daughter being Lo: Deputie of that Realme in K. Henry the 8th tyme, was called into England disgraced and attainted in Ireland after he dyed in prison in England, where he lyved a longe tyme, and his brothers and eldest sonne deprived of their lyves by the synister practizes of Cardynall Wolsey sett forth at lardge in the Irishe Chronicle, and of late acted publiquely vpon the Stage in London, in the Tragidie of the life & death of the said Wolsey to tedious to be reported to yor Ma:tie. By whch attainder the howse of Kildare loste landes of good value in England & Ireland.
(National Archives, SP 63/216, fol. 180v; based on McLaughlin 348, with emendations)

The editors of CSP Ireland proposed that this passage did not, in fact, refer to Chettle's play on the grounds that it "would hardly, at this date, be spoken of as 'of late acted publicly on the stage in London'" (Russell and Prendergast [cxi]); they preferred to believe it was evidence for an early composition date of Shakespeare and Fletcher's Henry VIII, a view repeated by McLaughlin (348). It seems they did not know about the 1602 letter.

Theatrical Provenance

Admiral's Men at the Fortune.

Probable Genre(s)

History. The play is referred to as a "Tragidie" by Hadsor (see above).

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

Under construction.

References to the Play

Information welcome.

Critical Commentary


Malone (259n) interpreted the June 28 alteration payment as evidence that the play "was not written originally by Chettle."

Collier corrected Malone's assessment about authorship by noting the Diary's further payments to Chettle (189n). He also observed some notable features of the "Wolsey" payments. One was that the licensing payment is "rather singular," in that the play was "licensed piecemeal by the Master of the Revels; as if he had not seen the whole of it at once, but that the company was in such haste to bring it out that they had sent it to him in portions" (200n). The other, more general, is that that "few plays mentioned in the course of our volume illustrate more strongly […] the expense which companies of old did not hesitate to incur, in order that the characters might be splendidly dressed and caparisoned" (xxiv).


Gurr (185) considers the "Wolsey" plays "planned as pairs from the outset" as opposed to "plays with sequels that were probably afterthoughts to exploit the success of the first play." However, he later suggests that "the payment to Chettle on 28 June [1601] was to divide the original play into two" (259n).

Knutson ("Chettle," 58–59) cites the "Wolsey" plays in her observation that "Chettle worked on some of the biggest productions mounted by the Admiral's Men." With £38 spent on costumes, the "Life" was a significant investment for the company, and the fact that they commissioned a "sequel"—as well as further business with Chettle—serves as "ample evidence of his value as a professional."

"mr Bromffelld"

Greg (Diary, II.218): "Broomfield was a mercer apparently, and Chettle had for some reason probably pawned part of his MS. to him instead of bringing it to Henslowe, as he certainly did on another occasion also." The other occasion appears in a Diary entry dated 7 March 1603: "pd at the apoyntment of the company […] vnto mr bromflde for the playe wch hary chettell layd vnto hime to pane for xxs" (fol. 109v; Greg, I.174). (See also Chambers, ES 2.175; Jenkins 26.)

Wiggins (#1293) describes the 17 July 1601 payment as £1 "party to pay Chettle for the play-book […] and partly to pay Bromfield the mercer (which may have been a production expense, or unrelated to the play)."

Source Material

Kewes argues that Chettle would have drawn on Richard Stanyhurst's supplement to the Irish volume of Holinshed's Chronicles as a source for the Wolsey-Kildare altercation: "Stanyhurst's account is itself very theatrical, reproducing as it does Wolsey's charges against Kildare, the earl's spirited defense, and 'his exhortation to his sonne the lord Thomas.' […] Stanyhurst's anti-Wolsey and pro-Kildare bias was probably imported wholesale by Chettle into his dramatic version" (173-74).

Wiggins (#1293) proposes Thomas Storer's 1599 poem The Life and Death of Thomas Wolsey, Cardinal as the source on the grounds that it was the most recent account of its subject and that its tripartite organization into a tragic arc—"Wolseius aspirans," "Wolseius triumphans," and "Wolseius moriens"—informed the structure of the two plays, narratively supplemented by a chronicle history.

(See also "The Rising")

Connections with Other Henrican Histories

Some critics have noted the proximity of the "Wolsey" plays with the comparable works Thomas Lord Cromwell (first published 1602), When You See Me, You Know Me (1605), and Sir Thomas More (British Library, Harley MS 7368, original composition dated c. 1600).

Fleay (298) pointed to lines spoken by the Chorus at the beginning of Act 4 of Thomas, Lord Cromwell: "Pardon if we omit all VVolsayes life, / Because our play depends on Cromwelles death" (D3v). Fleay comments that this omission of Wolsey's biography from Cromwell may have been because it had so recently been treated by Chettle and his collaborators.

Schücking (52) extends Fleay's observation by arguing that this is the same reason Wolsey's life is conspicuously omitted from Sir Thomas More. "Nay, more, not even is he absent, but Sir Thomas More has in some cases taken his very historical place," such as in Wolsey's decisive role in quieting the Ill May Day riot or organizing the service of Emperor Maximilian under Henry VIII at Thérouanne. Schücking speculates that More's relationship with Wolsey must have been dealt with at length in the Admiral's "Wolsey" plays and that the "Wolsey theme had been worked out so fully that the interest in him with the public was supposed to be exhausted. That is also why names like Cromwell or Norfolk do not, as we must expect, appear in" Sir Thomas More. As Schücking notes, the connection between these "tres Thomae" is referred to in Cromwell itself, when Gardiner says:

O what a dangerous time is this we liue in,
Theres Thomas Wolsay, hees alreadie done,
And Thomas Moore, he followed after him:
Another Thomas yet there doth remaine… (F1v)

Acheson (250-55) thought that the Admiral's "Wolsey" plays incorporated scenes from Cromwell, which was originally written by Chapman and Munday, acquired by Burbage for Pembroke's Men, revised by Dekker for performance by the Chamberlain's Men, and later sold to Henslowe, whereupon its Wolsey scenes were extracted; the two "Wolsey" plays were then acquired by the King's Men, who incorporated the same Wolsey scenes into Henry VIII.


Maxwell (99-108) noted that Munday and Chettle's involvement in "The Life of Cardinal Wolsey" play can be compared to their participation in Sir Thomas More, another story of Tudor downfall that may date from the same period. While rejecting Acheson's elaborate proposal, Maxwell speculated that the conjunction might be used to argue for Munday's involvement in Thomas Lord Cromwell.

Chillington, making an argument that Sir Thomas More was originally composed for performance by the Admiral's Men, proposes that "Chettle may have planned More as part of a series of plays he was developing to examine the underside of the Tudor experience," which would have included the "Wolsey" plays (460).

Kirwan elaborates further on the resonances between the "Wolsey" plays, More, and Cromwell: "The three [sic] plays are undeniably connected by subject matter, and the two extant plays share a focus on the rise and fall of a public figure that is also likely to have been shared by the lost plays on Wolsey" (91), which perhaps mirrored the tragic structure of the two parts of Tamburlaine (91n).

Wiggins (#1293) notes Will Somers appears as a character in Chettle's "Wolsey" plays and in Rowley's When You See Me, You Know Me, which also features a villainous Wolsey. Wiggins assumes that Rowley's "was not simply Cardinal Wolsey in print," although its use of "recycled material from the earlier play" cannot be ruled out. He also assumes (#1309) that an Elizabethan play about the Henrican court would not have represented Henry VIII himself, so the Admiral's Men may have found reason to restage the same historical moment after Queen Elizabeth's death.

For What It's Worth

Works Cited

Acheson, Arthur. Shakespeare, Chapman and Sir Thomas More: Providing a More Definite Basis for Biography and Criticism. New York: Edmond Byrne Hackett, 1931.
Chillington, Carol A. "Playwrights at Work: Henslowe's, Not Shakespeare's, Book of Sir Thomas More." ELR 10 (1980): 439–79.
Collier, J. Payne, ed. The Diary of Philip Henslowe. London, 1845.
Fleay, Frederick Gard. A Chronicle History of the Life and Work of William Shakespeare. London, 1886.
Gurr, Andrew. Shakespeare's Opposites: The Admiral's Company 1594–1625. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2009.
Hodgers, Don. "Richard Hadsor (c. 1570-1635), the Solicitor for Irish Causes and Crown Counsel for Irish Affairs." Journal of the County Louth Archaeological and Historical Society 26 (2005): 83–106.
Kewes, Paulina. "The Elizabethan History Play: A True Genre?" In A Companion to Shakespeare's Works. Volume II: The Histories. Ed. Richard Dutton and Jean E. Howard. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2003. 170–93.
Kirwan, Peter. Shakespeare and the Idea of Apocrypha: Negotiating the Boundaries of the Dramatic Canon. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2015.
Knutson, Roslyn L. "The Commercial Significance of the Payments for Playtexts in Henslowe's Diary, 1597–1603." Medieval & Renaissance Drama in England 5 (1991): 117–63.
Knutson, Roslyn L. "Henry Chettle, Workaday Playwright." Medieval & Renaissance Drama in England 30 (2017): 52–64.
Maxwell, Baldwin. Studies in the Shakespeare Apocrypha. New York: Columbia UP, 1956.
McLaughlin, Joseph. "Richard Hadsor's 'Discourse' on the Irish State, 1604." Irish Historical Studies 30 (1997): 337–53.
Russell, C. W. and John P. Prendergast, eds. Calendar of the State Papers Relating to Ireland, of the Reign of James I. 1606–1608. London, 1874.
S., W. The True Chronicle Historie of the whole life and death of Thomas Lord Comwell. London, 1602.
Schücking, Levin L. "Shakespeare and Sir Thomas More." RES 1 (1925): 40–59.
Wiley, Paul L. "Renaissance Exploitation of Cavendish's Life of Wolsey." Studies in Philology 43 (1946): 121–46.

Site created and maintained by Misha Teramura, University of Toronto; updated 9 June 2019.