Review: Master Wolsey by Laura A. Dowers


1485. The world has changed.

Henry VII sits on England’s throne following his defeat of King Richard III at Bosworth Field.

Enter Thomas Wolsey, a young man with a great deal of brains and even greater ambition. Despite his reputation for brilliance at Magdalen College, Thomas cannot help feeling he deserves more than Oxford can offer and leaves to seek new challenges elsewhere.

Moving from master to master, Thomas moves higher up the social ladder with each job until finally, he is in reach of the highest master in the land: the King of England himself!

But Thomas has no idea how treacherous the Tudor Court can be. His swift rise from butcher’s son to man of influence creates enemies at court, chief among them the king’s mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort.

Thomas can only hope and pray fortune will stay on his side.

My Review

In this book, we follow the rise of Thomas Wolsey, butcher’s son, who is too brilliant to stay down, too ambitious to be held back, and too arrogant to keep his friends. Here is a man who is a hard worker, even taking on tasks above and beyond his own job description. He excels in everything he does, and expects to be noticed. If he ruffles a few feathers along the way, too bad for the injured parties:

‘Have I not earned this chance?’ Thomas burst out resentfully.
‘And have I not earned some loyalty?’ Mayhew shot back. ‘I have looked after you ever since you came to us as a boy. I saw your talent and I nurtured it. I have helped you to rise within the college, and now you abandon me.’
Thomas stepped up to Mayhew and took a deep breath. ‘I know I owe you a great deal, Master Mayhew, and I do thank you for it. But I do not owe you my life.’

This may sound reasonable, but Thomas is also abandoning Mayhew when the latter has been accused of wrongdoing and needs his support. Sorry! The man can fend for himself; Thomas has bigger fish to fry. This is only the beginning of his career but defines the path he has chosen to take. Even his own family doesn’t rate his attentions. Nonetheless, when he needs it, it seems that Thomas can summon up the ability to offer comfort—like any good churchman—and King Henry VII comes to value his talents. Once he meets and consoles the young Prince after his mother’s death, Thomas’s future fortune is made. Henry VIII finds him invaluable and Thomas feels secure. He forges ahead, regardless of the enemies he makes along the way. I used to think that Thomas Wolsey got a bad deal in the end, but if this depiction of his personality is true, I’m no longer so sure. You can admire the man, but it’s hard to approve of him.


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