‘Domestic policy under Wolsey was a failure’. How far do you agree with this assessment? Wolsey was Henry VIII’s chief minister for 15 years and it’s fair to say that historians have, in general, been disappointed with his lack of achievement in the area of domestic affairs. Most argue that he devoted far too much of his time to foreign policy in order to establish, and then further boost his own personal power and increase his income, implying that more of his time should have been allocated to reforming social and economic policy and using his vast intelligence to improve the way government operated in England at the time. However there was very little contemporary discontent with the way the country was being run in the first place. So perhaps these expectations are anachronistically minded as the vast majority expected very little from the government; Rather than radical change in the systems of government they expected a maintaining of law and order along with an upholding of the power the Crown and Church held. Domestic achievements were never going to influence the status and prestige of England nearly as much as foreign politics, and as long as Henry craved foreign glory it was to be Wolsey’s focus. On the other hand though, certain efficiency in tax collection was needed to fund the adventurous foreign policies Wolsey needed to impose and of course stability in government was needed for diplomatic success. Not to mention the character of the man himself, he was unlikely to not want involvement in all political matters in government, whether foreign or otherwise. This natural zealous could go down as the reason for one of Wolsey’s key failing [in domestic policy] in that he took on far too much in terms of cases in the Court of the Star Chamber and failed to finish plans for reform. And so to the assessment; ‘Domestic policy under Wolsey was a failure’, when considering how far we agree with this statement it must first be considered, obviously, what a failure in these terms is; As mentioned, there was little contemporary disappointment that Wolsey did not do more in terms of reformation and so this lack of the normal Wolsey excellence alone cannot be considered a failure. However it would be entirely inaccurate to say that because of this Wolsey’s failures in domestic policy were none existent because in fact they very much were existent, from a lack of success long lasting in the regulations regarding enclosures to arguably weakening the English Church there are weaknesses and failures. Yet, there are positives to be taken throughout also, for example Wolsey’s obvious craving of a fairer justice system is evident even when concluding he may have manipulated the legal system for his own purposes. Failure can be interpreted in different ways and one must be careful not judge situations anachronistically when assessing failure. Wolsey’s circumstance must also be taken into account when assessing the validity of this claim. Wolsey knew that his power and influence lay with Henry, he was not likely to be pleased if Wolsey was ploughing all his time and effort into reforming the way the country was run if it meant no time was set aside for plans of military prestige, and so Wolsey was performing a juggling act with the juggling balls- to continue the metaphor- being Henry’s wants, and hence his own power, and an entirely successful domestic policy. One must allow for some mishaps in domestic policy when it’s considered how unimportant it was compared to other things. Justice and Legal reform
Wolsey’s largest success and one of his major failing lie in this area of Domestic policy. Wolsey has been commended by historians for his attempts at bringing about a fairer justice system in England, from 1515 onwards in his role as Lord Chancellor he was active in both the Court of Chancery and the Star Chamber and devoted a considerable amount of time and attention to this aspect of his working life and indeed presided over...
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