Ipswich’s most famous son, Cardinal Wolsey, was honoured last week when a bronze statue of him was unveiled in the town centre. Located in Curson Plain, and close to Wolsey’s boyhood home, the statue shows him in a seated position with a book in one hand, the other held aloft, while peaking around from behind him is a cat. The Cardinal was apparently a cat-lover and had one at his side most of the time, even when attending formal meetings.
Thomas Wolsey was born in the town in 1471. His father was a successful local merchant, possibly a butcher, and wealthy enough to send his son to Oxford. Shortly after graduation he was asked to work for Henry VIII and the two men soon became good friends, so much so that in 1514 Henry appointed Wolsey his Lord Chancellor. He later became Archbishop of York, Bishop of Lincoln and Bishop of Durham, accruing sufficient wealth along the way to live a quite opulent life style, building grand homes for himself such as Hampton Palace Court.
In 1515, Pope Leo X made Wolsey a cardinal but it was a subsequent visit to the Vatican in 1524, by which point Pope Clement VII was the incumbent that proved to be the beginning of the end for Wolsey. He was there at Henry’s behest to request a divorce from Catherine of Aragon, but the pontiff refused, Henry took umbrage and later had Wolsey arrested for treason. Despite many attempts by Wolsey to regain Henry’s friendship he failed and died a broken man.
A wise and just statesman with a great interest in education his fall from grace prevented Wolsey from completing Ipswich college (only the gates of which remain today) that would have been the equal of public schools in Eton and Winchester.
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