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Wolsey Bridge

On the south side of the ancient passage leading from the street to the churchyard of St. Nicholas, was formerly situated the commodious house of Thomas Wolsey, a substantial butcher and grazier, of the town of Ipswich, in the sixteenth century.

This Thomas Wolsey was one of those persons with whom the acquisition of wealth appears to be the sole purpose of existence. It was his boast "that he had thrice trebled the patrimony he had derived from his father," from whom he had inherited his flourishing business, besides some personal property. Acting in direct contradiction to that injunction of the royal psalmist, "If riches increase, set not your heart upon them," his very soul appeared to dwell in his money bags, his well attended shambles, or the pleasant lowland pastures where the numerous flocks and herds grazed, the profits on which he calculated would so materially improve his store. He made no show, no figure among his fellow townsmen; never exchanging his long blue linen gown, leathern girdle, and coarse brown hose, for any other apparel, except on a Sunday, when he wore a plain substantial suit of sad coloured cloth, garnished with silver buttons, and the polished steel and huge sheath knife, which he usually wore at his side, were exchanged for a silver hiked dagger and an antique rosary and crucifix. Satisfied with the conviction that he was one of the wealthiest tradesmen in Ipswich, he saw no reason for exciting the envy of the poor or the ill will of the rich, by any outward demonstrations of the fact, but continued to live in the same snug plain manner to which he had been accustomed in his early days, making it the chief desire of his heart that his only son, Thomas, should tread in his steps, and succeed him in his prosperous and well established business, with the same economical habits and an equally laudable care for the main chance.

The maternal pride of his wife, Joan, who was the decendant of a family that could boast of gentle blood, prompted the secret hope that the ready wit and studious habits, together with the clerkly skill and learned lore which the boy had already acquired at the grammar school, might qualify him for something better than the greasy craft of a butcher, and perhaps one day elevate him to the situation of port reeve or town clerk. But for the boy himself, his youthful ambition pointed at higher marks than the golden speculations of trade, or the attainment of lucrative offices and civic honours in his native town. From the first moment he entered the grammar school, and took his place on the lowest seat there, he determined to occupy the highest, and to this, in an almost incredible brief period of time, he had rapidly ascended; and, though only just entering his twelfth year, he was now the head boy in the school, and in the opinion of his unlearned father, "knew more than was good for him."

As soon, indeed, as his son Thomas had learned to write a "fair clerkly hand, to cast accounts, and construe a page in the Breviary," he considered his education complete, and was desirous of saving the expense of keeping him longer at school; but here he was overruled by his more liberal minded wife, Joan, who, out of the savings of her own privy purse, paid the quarterly sum of eight-pence to the master of the school, for the further instruction of her hopeful boy, Thomas, whose abilities she regarded as little less than miraculous. Persons better qualified than the good wife, Joan Wolsey, to judge of the natural talents and precocious acquirements of her son, had also spoken in high terms of his progress in the learned languages, and predicted great things of him. These were personages of no less importance than the head master of the Ipswich grammar school, and the parish priest of St. Nicholas, the latter of whom was a frequent visitor at the hospitable messuage of master Thomas Wolsey the elder, on the ostensible business of chopping Latin with young Thomas, and correcting his Greek exercises for him ; but no doubt the spiced tankards of flowing ale, and the smoking beefsteaks, cut from the very choicest part of the ox, and temptingly cooked by the well-skilled hands of that accomplished housewife, Joan Wolsey, to reward him for his good report of her darling boy's proficiency, had some influence in drawing Father Boniface thither so often.

The bishop of the diocess himself had condescended to bestow unqualified praise on the graceful and eloquent manner in which, when he visited the school, young Wolsey had delivered the complimentary Latin oration on that occasion. The good natured prelate had even condescended to pat his curly head on the conclusion of the address, and to say, Spoken like a cardinal, my little man!

From that moment young Wolsey had made up his mind as to his future destiny. It was to no purpose that his father tried the alternate eloquence of entreating, reasoning, promises, and threats, to detach him from his engrossing studies, and induce him to turn his attention to the lucrative business of a butcher and grazier. The idea of such servilely earned pelf was revolting to the excited imaginanation of the youthful student, whose mind was full of classic imagery, and intent on the attainment of academic honours, the steps by which he projected to ascend to the more elevated objects of his ambition.

The church was, in those days, the only avenue through which talented persons of obscure birth might hope to arrive at greatness, and young Wolsey replied to all his father's exordiums urging him to attend to the cattle market, the slaughter house, or the shambles, by announcing his intention of becoming an ecclesiastic.

The flush of anger with which this unwelcome declaration had clouded the brow of the elder Wolsey was perfectly perceptible when he returned home after the fatigues of the day to take his evening meal, which his wife, Joan, was busily engaged preparing for him over the fire with her own hands. I knew how it would turn out all along of your folly, mistress, in keeping the boy loitering away his time and learning all manner of evil habits at the grammar school, when he ought to have been bound apprentice to me, and learning our honest craft for the last two years, muttered the malcontent butcher, throwing himself into his large arm chair, lined with sheepskins.

What a coil the woman keeps up with her frying-pan, continued he, peevishly, on perceiving that the discreet Joan appeared disposed to drown the ebullitions of his wrath in the hissing and bubbling of the fat in her pan, as she artfully redoubled her assiduity in shaking it over the blazing hearth.

Why Joan, pursued he, one cannot hear oneself speak for the noise you make.

The noise is all of your own making, I trow, master, replied Joan, continuing to stir her hissing sputtering pan briskly as she spoke.

I say, leave off that frizzling with the fat in that odious pan, vociferated he.

So I will, master, if you wish to have burnt collops for your supper to night, replied Joan, meekly.

"I don't care whether I have any supper at all," replied the butcher, testily; "I am vexed, mistress."

Good lack! what should happen to vex you, master? responded his wife. I am sure the world always seems to wag the way you'd have it go; but losses and crosses in business will chance, even to the most prosperous, at times. Is one of your fat beasts dead?


Some of your sheep been stolen?


"Mayhap then, some customer, whom you have suffered to run up a long score, is either dead or bankrupt?"

Worse than that, mistress.

"I prythee, good Thomas, let me hear the truth at once," exclaimed the startled Joan, upsetting the frying-pan into the fire in her alarm. The misfortune must be great that hath befallen you, if it be reckoned by you worse than the loss of money.

Why, mistress, do not you reckon the perverse inclinations of one's own flesh and blood a more serious calamity than the loss of substance?

Ay, master; but that is a trial we have never had the sorrow of knowing; since our only son, Thomas, albeit I say it who ought not, is the most dutiful, diligent, and loving lad, that ever blessed a parent's heart, said the fond mother, melting into tears of tenderness as she spoke.

"Hold thy peace, dame," cried the indignant husband, darting a look of angry reproach on the offending youth, who had been comfortably reposing himself on an oaken settee by the fire side, reading Virgil's Eneid by the light of the blazing embers, during the whole of the discussion, without concerning himself about any thing, save to preserve the beloved volume from being sprayed by the fat which the frying pan, in falling, had scattered in all directions. That lad, on whom you bestow such foolish commendations," pursued old Wolsey; "that lad, whatever might have been his former virtuous inclinations, hath now disappointed all my hopes, for he hath turned an errant scape-grace, and refuseth to become a butcher, though the shambles he would inherit from me are the largest, the most commodious, and best frequented with ready-penny customers, of any on the market hill. Moreover, it is a business in which his grandfather got money, and I, following in his good steps, with still better success, have become I scorn to boast, but the truth may be spoken without blame one of the wealthiest tradesmen in the borough.

Then the less need, my master, of enforcing such a clever lad as our Thomas to follow a craft which is so unsuitable for a scholar, observed Joan.

There, groaned the butcher, was the folly of making him one, which hath been the means of teaching him to slight the main chance, and to turn his head with pagan poesies or monkish lore. Would you believe it, mistress Joan,—he hath had the audacity to profess his desire of becoming a student at the university of Oxenford?

And why should he not, master Wolsey, since he promiseth to become a learned clerk? asked the proud mother.

To what purpose should he go thither? said the father.

Marry, master, to increase his learning, and to put him in the way of becoming a great man, responded mistress Joan.

A great man, forsooth! echoed her husband, contemptuously; who ever heard of a butcher's son becoming a person of distinction?

I have heard, Sir, said young Wolsey, closing his book eagerly, I have heard of a destitute swineherd becoming a pope.

Indeed! ejaculated his father, with an air of incredulity.

Yes, Sir, it was Nicholas Brekespeare, afterwards Pope Adrian the fourth, the only Englishman who ever filled the papal chair, but perhaps not the last whom learning, combined with persevering enterprize, may conduct to that eminence.

Ho! ho! ho!" cried the butcher, bursting into a loud laugh; I wist not of the high mark at which your ambition aimeth, son Thomas! Well, if enabling you to become a servitor in Magdalen College will advance your holiness one step towards the possession of St. Peter's keys, I will not withhold my assistance and my blessing, though much I doubt whether it will carry thee into the Vatican, or whatever you call it, of which you and father Boniface are always talking.

And what if it do not carry him quite so far, master, interposed Joan, didst thou never hear of the proverb, He who reacheth after a gown of cloth of gold shall scarcely fail of getting one of the sleeves?

Ay, mother, cried young Wolsey; and when I am a cardinal, my father will thank you for the parable.

Ah! if I ever live to see that day, son Thomas! observed the butcher.

Why should you doubt it, master? asked mistress Joan.

Because, wife, it is easy to talk of dignities and honours, but to obtain them would be attended with difficulties, which I doubt our simple son, Thomas, will find insurmountable.

I shall, at least, lose nothing in making the attempt, observed young Wolsey.

There is your mistake, boy; you will lose something very considerable, replied his father.

Dear father, what can that be for which the learning I shall acquire will not make ample amends?

The most flourishing butchery in Ipswich, simpleton! which, if once lost through your inconsiderate folly, you may study till doomsday, and acquire all the learning in popedom and heathenesse into the bargain, without being able to re-establish it in its present prosperity, returned the mortified father, with a groan.

A smile, which the younger Wolsey strove in vain to repress, played over his features at these words.

Ay, scorn and slight the substantial good that is within your reach for the sake of the vain shadow which is beyond your power to obtain, Thomas Wolsey, said his father, with great bitterness.

My dear father, you know little of the powers of the human mind, or of the mighty things which its energies, when once roused, and directed towards one object, may effect.

I tell you, Thomas, that the end which you propose is impossible.

Sir, replied young Wolsey, I have blotted that word out of my dictionary.

I like your spirit, young man, said his father, albeit, it savoureth a little of presumption.

That remains to be proved, said his son, and I am quite ready that my earnestness should be tried by any test you may be inclined to demand.

I shall hold you to your word, replied his father, and condition, that if you take up your bachelor's degree within four years of your entering Magdalen College, then shall you proceed in the course of life on which you are so determinately bent; but if you fail in doing this, then shall you return to my house, and submit your future destiny to my disposal.

If I take it not up within two years of my entering the college, barring accidents of sickness or death, then strip me of the learned stole of a clerk of Oxenford, and chain me to your girdle as a butcher's slave for life, replied the youth with a heightened colour.

Thou hast pledged thyself to that which thou canst not perform, son Thomas, replied his father. Who ever heard of a boy of fourteen taking up a bachelor's degree of Oxenford?

Thou shalt hear of one, anon, mine honoured father, said young Wolsey.

I will engage that thy mother shall have the finest baron of beef in my shambles to roast for dinner on the day on which I hear that news, rejoined his father.

See that you keep my father to his promise, mother, said the youth, for I shall travel night and day, in hopes of being the first to communicate the intelligence, or at any rate, to arrive in time to comein for a slice of the beef while it be hot.

The important object being now accomplished of obtaining the consent of the elder Wolsey to his son's entering the university of Oxford, the lad commenced his journey on the following day for that ancient seat of learning. He was on foot, for the sturdy butcher, his father, though well able to send him thither on a stout pack-horse, attended by one of his own men, was determined to afford no facilities for an enterprize to which he had so little relish.

The loving care of mistress Joan Wolsey had supplied the youthful candidate for scarlet stockings and cardinal's hat with a few silver groats for his expenses on the road, and a needful stock of linen and other necessaries, which he carried in a leathern wallet over his shoulder at the end of a stout oaken staff; but that which young Wolsey considered more precious than either money or apparel, was a letter of recommendation from the head master of the Ipswich grammar school to the master of Magdalen College.

This credential obtained for its lonely and friendless bearer that attention which his juvenile appearance, diminutive stature, and his coarse and travel-soiled attire, would most probably have failed of attracting. Having passed his examination with great credit to himself, he was admitted as a servitor of Magdalen College. In this novel situation young Wolsey had some difficulties, and not a few hardships and privations to contend with; but these, when weighed against the mighty object which engrossed all his thoughts, were as dust in the balance, and the only effect they had was to increase his persevering diligence. At the end of the first term he had made a progress which astonished his masters and fellow students. Before the two years had expired within which the lad had pledged himself to take up a degree, an attempt which his father, with reason, judged unattainable by reason of his tender age, the good-wife Joan Wolsey, in great haste, entered the shambles, where her husband was preparing to put an uncommonly fine baron of beef into the basket of a nobleman's servant, and laying hands upon it, exclaimed, Why, Thomas Wolsey, what are you about to do with that meat?

To send it to the house of my lord, according to order, to be sure, mistress, replied the butcher, with a look of surprise.

And it had been ordered by King Henry himself, he should not have it to-day, said mistress Joan.

Is your wife delirit, master Wolsey? asked the servant.

One would suppose so by her wild words, said the astonished butcher, who knew not what to think of the behaviour of his usually discreet spouse.

If I be, master, it is with joy, replied Joan Wolsey; but the truth is, I came hither to claim the finest baron of beef in the shambles, which you said I should roast for dinner on the day on which you heard the news of our son, Thomas Wolsey, taking up a bachelor's degree at Oxenford.

And who brought you the intelligence, mistress? demanded her husband.

A joyful messenger, my good man, for it was the boy himself, (blessings on him !) dressed in his bachelor's gown, and bearing the certificate of his admission as a fellow of Magdalen College.

Humphrey! cried the delighted father, turning to his head man, take that baron of beef home to my house, and help thy mistress to spit it, and put it down to the fire, that my boy bachelor may dine off the best joint in my shambles; and do you, master Ralph, added he, turning to his lordship's servant, make my duty to my lord, and ask him if he will be pleased to put up with rump or ribs to-day, since the baron of beef, for which his housekeeper hath sent, was bespoken nearly two years before his order came, and my good dame hath come to claim my pledge in earnest.

Which my lord is too strict an observer of his own word to wish you to forfeit on his account, I am sure, master Wolsey, said Ralph; and when I explain the pleasant cause for which you have made bold to disappoint his lordship of his favourite dish to-day, he, who is himself a scholar and a patron of learning withal, will hold you excused.

This day being a holiday, the head master of the Ipswich grammar school, several of young Wolsey's chosen friends among the scholars, and the good-humoured curate of St. Nicholas, were invited to partake of the baron of beef which the young bachelor had so honourably earned, and which mistress Joan Wolsey cooked in her most approved style, to the great satisfaction of her husband and the guests.

This was one of the long vacations, but no season of idleness to young Wolsey, whose unremitting application to study impaired his appetite, and rendered him languid and feverish, which his anxious mother perceived, and feeling some alarm lest his incessant mental toil might injure his naturally feeble constitution, she communicated her uneasiness to her husband, and asked him if he could not contrive some little pleasant employment for him, which would have the effect of diverting him for a few days from his sedentary occupations.

Ay, ay, dame, replied old Wolsey, I have a choice bit of pastime for the boy; he shall go with Humphrey and Peter and Miles to buy beeves off the Southwold and Reydon commons and marshes.

That would do well enough, master, if the lad were any judge of cattle, which I fear, with all his college learning, he is not, responded mistress Joan.

You may well say that, mistress, rejoined the butcher, for though he hath been born, bred, and nourished in the midst of such matters, and he is observant enough in other things, yet I would answer for it, he knoweth not the difference between a fat beast and a lean one, a Scot or a home-bred, yea, scarcely between a long horn or a short; and were I to send him on this business of mine without my shrewd foreman, Humphrey, to instruct his ignorance and detect the knavery of the sellers, he would bring me home pretty bargains of beasts against the Easter festivals. Why these fat monks of Reydon, who are far better skilled in grazing for the Ipswich and Yarmouth markets than in their church Latin, would be sure to palm their old worn-out mortuary cows upon him for fine young heifers, and make him pay the price of three-year-old steers for their broken-down yoke oxen that had ploughed the convent lands for the last ten years. But, as I said before, Humphrey shall go with him, who is used to their tricks of old, and will bid them half their asking price at a word, which our Thomas would be ashamed of doing to men of their cloth were he left to himelf, so he shall only have the pleasant part of the business, to wit, listening to the chaffering, and paying down the money when the price is agreed upon by those who are wiser in such matters than himself.

And how do you propose for him to perform the journey, master, for the places whereof you speak are many miles distant? said Joan.

Under forty miles, wife, which will be no great stretch for Miles and Peter (who are to drive the cattle) to walk; as for Thomas, he shall ride my grey mare, and Humphrey can take the black nag, and give Miles and Peter a lift behind him by turns, which will ease their legs, and make it a pleasant journey for them all. Ah! that part of Suffolk is a fine grazing country to travel through. I am sure I shall envy Thomas the prospect of so many herds and flocks as he will see on those upland meads and salt marshes; but he will think more of chopping Latin with the monks of Blitheborough, and looking over their old musty books and records, which could never give a hungry man his dinner, than of all the sensible sights he might see by the way.

Every one to his vocation, master, replied Joan Wolsey; yours it is to feed the bodies, and my Thomas's will be to nourish the minds of men with a more enduring food than that which you have it in your power to provide.

Gramercy, mistress! said the butcher, with a grin; one would think he had been feasting you on some of his improving diet, for you begin to discourse like a doctor.

The next day, by peep of dawn, the quartette set forth from St. Nicholas's passage on their expedition, on which no one reckoned more than young Wolsey, who, wearing his college cap and gown, the latter of which was tucked up round his waist, lest its long full skirts should impede his horsemanship, was mounted on his father's easy-pacing grey mare. For the convenience of riding he was accommodated with a pair of the old man's boots, which drew up far above his knees, and were wide enough to admit three pair of legs like the stripling's slender limbs. He rode cautiously at the head of the cavalcade, taking care to keep close to Humphrey, who jogged along very comfortably on the black nag, whose mettle, if ever it had possessed any, was tamed by the wear and tear of fifteen years of service in the butcher's cart.

Miles and Peter trudged steadily along with their quarter staffs in their hands, relying on their own excellent pedestrianism to reach the ultimate place of their destination almost as soon as the horsemen of the party, whose steeds they knew would be sorely jaded before they reached St. Peters, Wangford, where their master had directed them to crave lodging far the night of the monks of Clugni, who there occupied a cell dependent on the monastery Of Thetford, which also was the parent house of the cell at Reydon.

The two saucy knaves occasionally exchanged sly glances, and cracked dry jokes on the unsuitable array and cautious riding of the young Oxford student, their master's son, and the steady jog-trot of Humphrey, who rode quite at his ease on a soft sheepskin which supplied the place of a saddle, by being tightly buckled with a broad leathern strap under the belly of the black nag, whose quiet temper allowed her to be ridden safely without the aid of stirrups.

The sun rose brightly in a soft April sky by the time they reached Woodbridge. Young Wolsey had now become familiar with the paces of the grey mare, and the excitement of the exercise, the beauty of the morning, the invigorating freshness of the air, and lovely succession of new and agreeable objects, contributing to raise his spirits, he soon began to assume a little more of the cavalier, and occasionally used the whip and the spurs, in defiance of all Humphrey's prudential cautions. Nature had well qualified the youthful student, both in form and agility, to play the graceful horseman, and before they arrived at Wickham Market, the skill and boldness with which he managed his steed was a matter of surprise to the whole party. At this little town they stopped, and refreshed both men and beasts with a substantial breakfast, and then set forward on their journey with renewed spirits. Young Wolsey, who had a purpose of his own to answer, put his father's mare to her speed, and soon left the pedestrian Peter, and the hapless nag with its double burden, of Humphrey and Miles, far in the rear, regardless of their shouts of Fair play, master Thomas! fair play! and Alack, alack, Sir, have a care of master's mare!

But the stripling, who liked not the repeated hints which Humphrey had given him of the propriety and expediency, to say nothing of the kindness of giving poor Peter a lift behind him, now they were clear of the houses, was determined to ride forward, not wishing the bachelor's cap and gown to appear in such close fellowship with the butcher's blue and greasy buff of his father's men. Besides, he greatly desired, instead of keeping the jog-trot pace that suited their convenience, to gain an hour or two to spend with the monks of the Holyrood at Blitheborough, and to examine the antiquities, architecture, and localities of that ancient and interesting place, through which the route chalked out for him by his father lay; but the elder Wolsey had strictly charged Humphrey in his hearing, not to permit his young master to delay their journey, by wasting his time and theirs in prating Latin gibberish with the black locusts of Blitheborough (as he irreverently styled those worthy anchorites), especially as he did not want to deal with them for sheep, the last he had bought off their walks having proved a very poor bargain."

Now young Wolsey, when he heard this caution, secretly resolved to arrange matters so as to enjoy the conference with the monks without either infringing his father's directions, or being pestered with the company of his blue-frocked retainers. So, without allowing himself time to observe the pastoral Benhall, Kensale, or the picturesque village of Yoxford, which was then, as now, one of the prettiest in Suffolk, or even pausing to bestow more than the tribute of a passing glance of interest on Cockfield's Gothic Hall, at that period newly built, and rising proudly from its embowering woods, he prest his mare on, and though, as well as her, sorely wearied with the unwonted number of miles he had traversed, his youthful spirits carried him forward with unabated energy, till, on descending the last hill after crossing the extensive track of purple heath, known by the name of Blitheborough Sheep-walks, that most stately structure, the church of the Holy Trinity, rose before him, not in the dilapidated grandeur which even now strikes the eye of the eastward traveller with astonishment and delight, as, grey with the mantling lichens, and crumbling with the neglect and injuries of revolving centuries, it bursts upon his view, amidst surrounding desolation, but in all the magnificence of the monastic ages, untouched by time and unimpaired by accident, with the bright sunbeams playing and flashing on the many-coloured stains of its wide and lofty windows.

Young Wolsey checked his horse, and gazed upon this noble edifice with the enthusiasm natural to the future founder of colleges and gothic buildings; then slowly, and looking often backwards, he proceeded to the cell and chapel of the Holy Rood, which indeed was so contiguous to the spot that he was able still to enjoy a close view of the new church, as it was then called, while he partook of the good cheer which the hospitable fraternity produced for his refreshment, and to which the hungry stripling did ample justice. As the bells were chiming for vespers, monastic etiquette compelled him to accompany the monks to their pretty chapel, for which building the traveller would now look in vain, as its only relics are the crumbling group of broken gray arches, so thickly mantled with ivy and crowned with wild flowers, that form such an interesting feature in the landscape of the desolated village of Blitheburgh.

When the evening service was concluded, the friendly monks gratified their visitor with an interior view of the church of the Holy Trinity, and pointed out to him its rich carvings, screens, trellises, and magnificently sculptured and emblazoned roof, not forgetting to call his attention to the antique tombs which, as tradition reports, once covered the mortal remains of Annas, king of the East Angles, and Ferminius, his son, who were slain in a bloody battle with Penda, the pagan king of Mercia, which was fought in the adjacent marshes of Bulcamp, or Baldkemp. From the leads over the south aisle, they made him observe the fine sea view of Southwold, Walberswick, and the city of Dunwich, well known to him in ecclesiastic history as the ancient metropolitan city of the kingdom of the East Angles, where Saxon monarchs kept court in the olden time, and the bishop of the two counties held his see, till the resistless waves of the German Ocean committed such ravages as compelled the diocesan to remove his episcopal see to Thetford, and afterwards buried that time-honoured seat of learning and royalty (Dunwich), with its walls and brazen gates, its fifty-two churches and religious houses, together with its numerous streets and public buildings, beneath its raging waters.

With a sigh the young student turned from the contemplation of the melancholy wreck of ancient splendour, which the fallen city of the East Anglians presented even in the sixteenth century, when several churches and numerous vestiges of its former greatness still survived the storms of ages and the assaults of the hungry waves; but what would he have thought had he seen it as it now is, reduced to a few ruinous fishermen's huts, and of all its churches and religious houses, retaining only the roofless shell of one, in which divine service is no longer performed! Doubtless he would have applied the words of the lamentation pronounced by the prophet over the desolation of Tyre: Is this your joyous city, whose antiquity is of ancient date? Who hath taken this counsel against Tyre, the crowning city, whose merchants are princes, whose traffickers are the honourable of the earth?

Young Wolsey had been too deeply engaged in the contemplation of these interesting localities to embrace the opportunity of displaying his own learning to the friendly monks, who had treated him with the respect which his natural talents and early acquirements were well calculated to inspire, and pressingly invited him to sojourn with them during the rest of the evening, and pass the night in their dormitory; but the importunities of Humphrey (who, with Peter and Miles, had arrived while he was at vespers, and having refreshed themselves and the black nag, were now clamorous to proceed) prevailing over his desire of accepting an invitation so agreeable to his own inclinations, he took a loving farewell of the hospitable fraternity, promising to find some way of gratifying his wish of passing a few hours with them on his return. Then mounting the gray mare, he rode forward at a gentle pace with his weary and somewhat malcontent companions, who scrupled not to reproach him for the want of good fellowship he had displayed in deserting their company. Nor did Humphrey fail to exert the privilege of an old and trusted servant, by rating his young master soundly for having over heated the gray mare on a long journey, besides incurring much peril of accidents both to himself and that valuable animal, on account of his being an inexperienced rider, and quite unacquainted with the road. The young student, who was of course rather impatient of these rebukes, which he considered very derogatory to the dignity of a bachelor of Oxford to receive from butchers and cattle drovers, endeavoured to escape from them by a repetition of his offence, namely, outriding the party; but that was no longer in his power, for he had fairly knocked up the gray mare, so that she was unable to compete with the shabby nag on which Humphrey rode, and the only alternative left him, was to listen meekly, or to turn a deaf ear, to the reproaches that assailed him right and left, and amuse himself with his own reflections, or in contemplating the charms of the varied landscape before him, when, on ascending the gentle hill leading from Blitheburgh, he found himself among the rich woods and cowslipped meads of Henham, whose castellated hall, then the residence of the Brandons, rose in all its gothic grandeur over grove and vale, as the crowning object of the prospect, but was soon after hidden behind the intervening screen of deep embowering shades, which were then almost impervious to the light of day, and converted the advancing gloom of evening into early night. No sooner was the party involved in this security, than the offended trio, Humphrey, Miles, and Peter, united their chorus of grumbling at their detention at Blitheburgh, declaring that they were benighted, and should in all probability be robbed of the sum entrusted to them for the purchase of the cattle.

The welcome sound of the curfew bell of St. Peter's, Wangford, however, soon informed them that their apprehensions were groundless, and put them into better humour, by advertising them that they were not more than a mile distant from the place of their destination, and presently, after emerging from beneath the sombre shadows of Henham's oaken glades, they found themselves once more in day light, and in the immediate vicinity of the pretty village of Wangford, which, with its picturesque monastery and chapel of St. Peter's, crowning a gentle eminence, lay full before them.

The pastoral rivulet of the Wang, from which the name of this hamlet was derived, was soon forded by the weary travellers, who, proceeding to the little convent, obtained without difficulty food and shelter for the night. The next morning, as soon as matins were over, which service they of course considered themselves bound to attend, they set forward on their short journey to the neighbouring monastery of Reydon, which, as I said before, was a detached branch of the cell of St. Peter's, both dependencies on the monastery of Thetford.

Leaving its green bowery labyrinth of sylvan lanes, its antique hall and park, its aboriginal fores, and the gray spire of its venerable church, and all that was pleasing and attractive in the landscape of the Reydun, or the red hill (which its Saxon name signifies), to the left, Humphrey guided the party through a narrow, wet, and incommodious road, to a mean conventual building, situated at the most desolate extremity of the parish, among the salt marshes.

If Wolsey had expected to find learning, piety, or hospitality among this fraternity, he was certainly much disappointed; for a set of more illiterate and narrow-minded men than these Reydon monks were never congregated together. Far from expressing the least interest in the acquirements of their young guest, they received the intelligence of his proficiency in the learned languages with dismay, and appeared far better pleased with the conversation of Humphrey, Peter, and Miles, which indeed was more in unison with their tastes than that of the scholastic Wolsey, whom they entertained with long dissertations, not on the fathers or the classics, but on the most profitable breeds of cattle, and the most approved methods of fatting swine, in all which matters they were very fluent, and appeared to consider it passing strange that a butcher's son possessed so little knowledge on such interesting topics. They also discussed the best method of curing white bacon, as the fat of pickled pork is called in that part of Suffolk. On this delectable article Wolsey and his party had the felicity of supping that evening, which he afterwards declared was the dullest he ever spent in the whole course of his life.

The next morning, though the bells chimed for matins, the monks made no movement to enter the chapel, as THEIR matin service was confined to that ceremony; and when Wolsey expressed his surprise at such unorthodox neglect of the prescribed offices of holy church, they replied that it was neither a sabbath nor a festival, and their swine must be attended to.

When this interesting duty had been zealously performed by the fraternity, they proceded with their guests to the marshes where their cattle fed, where a long and animated discussion took place between Humphrey and the superior of the convent respecting the price, the merits, and defects of the beasts which Humphrey deemed most worthy of his attention, in which so much time was wasted that the dinner bell rung before they had settled the price of so much as one bullock.

At this meal they were again regaled with white bacon, which appeared a standing dish in this convent, for it was produced at supper, breakfast, and dinner; at the latter, indeed, there was the addition of a huge dish of hard dumplings, with which they devoured a quantity of pork dripping by way of sauce.

The morning had been fine but showery, in the afternoon a heavy rain set in, which rendered it impossible either to visit the cattle-marshes again, or to proceed homewards, which young Wolsey recommended his father's men to do, on the conviction of the impossibility of ever concluding a bargain with these frocked and cowled dealers in cattle and feeders of swine.

The rain, however, continued without intermission, and the malcontent student was compelled to remain where he was till the plague of water, as he called this unwelcome downpouring, should abate.

How to pass the weary interval with men whose minds and manners were so dissimilar to his own, he knew not. Books they had never a one except their breviaries, and their acquaintance with these was a doubtful matter to the young student, since no persuasions of his could induce them to perform vespers when the bells chimed for that service, although it was a wet afternoon on which nothing else could be done.

Whether to attribute this to their utter disrelish to any thing of a spiritual nature, or to their fear of betraying their ignorance in latin and other deficiencies to one whom they feared would detect their blunders, and perhaps report them to their superior at Thetford, Wolsey knew not, but he was so heartily weary of his sojourn among them, that nothing but the most pathetic remonstrances and earnest protestations on the part of Humphrey against such a measure, prevented him from retracing his steps to Blitheburgh, in spite of the rain, and remaining with the monks of Holy-Rood Chapel till his father's people had transacted their business with the conventual graziers of Reydon.

The following morning proving fine, they again proceeded to the marshes in the hope of striking a bargain which was at length concluded; but not till after a delay that appeared to the impatient Wolsey almost interminable, which time he employed, not in listening to the altercations of the buyer and sellers of the bullocks, but in strolling through the marshes, and making observations, till he obtained a view of Blitheburgh on the line of country that intervened, across which he persuaded himself a much shorter cut to that village might be made than by following the usual road through Wangford. Just as he had come to the resolution of attempting that route, the convent bell rang for dinner, and summoned him to a sixth meal of white bacon, of which the monks ate with as keen an appetite as if it had been the first time they ever partook of that savoury fare, of which Wolsey was by this time almost as weary as of the company of the founders of the entertainment.

The bullocks, twelve in number, were now driven into the convent yard, and Humphrey called upon his young master to pay down the price for which he and the monks had agreed, at the average sum of one pound ten shillings a head, which he pronounced an unconscionable sum with a sly wink of intelligence at the Oxford student, by which he gave the youth, who was about to take his words literally, to understand that he was well satisfied with the bargain. In fact, the Reydon monks, shrewed and exacting as they were, had met with more than their match in the calculating, experienced Humphrey, who, without making a boast of his wisdom in this way, knew how to judge of the weight of a living ox almost to an odd pound. Till the business was concluded, the money paid, and the receipt given, he had forborne to taste of the convent meed or ale, though both had been pressed upon him with an earnestness passing the bounds either of politeness or hospitality by the cunning monks, who hoped to overcome Humprey's cool clear judgment and caution, by means of the merry brown bowl; but now all fear of being overreached in his bargain in consequence of such an indulgence was at an end, Humphrey, malgre all his young master's expostulations, demanded the lately rejected beverage, of which he, with Miles and Peter drank pretty freely, though not so much as they would have done had the cloistered cattle-dealers been willing to produce more, which they were always sparing in doing after a bargain had been definitely struck.

The draughts which the trio had swallowed had had, however, the effect of putting them all into such good humour, that when Wolsey on mounting proposed to them his plan of changing the roundabout route though Wrangford, for a straight cut acroos the marshes to Blitheburgh, they offered no objection, for even the prudent Humphrey was desirous of adopting any expedient by which they might make up for the time they had lost in drinking the convent ale after the business was transacted.

The monks assured them the project was feasible, since the branch of the Blithe which separated Hentham and Reydon was fordable, and they would save a considerable distance by crossing the river, but their hospitality did not extend to the civility of sending one of their swineherds or goose-boys to point out the precise spot at which the attempt might be made without danger to passengers. The stream was much swollen in consequence of the late heavy rains; Humphrey and the drovers paused on the rushy bank, each prudently declining to be the first to try the ford. Wolsey, who was piqued at their doubts of his assurance that it was safe! perfectly safe! though he would rather have had one of the others show a demonstrable proof that there was no danger, urged his reluctant mare forward.

Hold, master Thomas, hold! for the love of St. Margaret of Rissmere, cried Humphrey, who was suddenly sobered by the sight of his young master's peril, and the recollection that the stream was deep and muddy.

Now this St. Margaret of Rissmere was a saint for whom Wolsey had neither love nor reverence, for she was the patroness of the unlearned monks of Reydon; so, without heeding the adjuration so pathetically addressed to him in her name, he boldly plunged into the dark and swollen waters of the dangerous ford. He was, as we have seen, an inexperienced rider on dry land, but a more skillful horseman than the stripling student would have found it a difficult matter to retain his seat and guide the terrified animal, who presently lost her footing, and began to kick in the muddy slippery ooze of which the bed of the Blithe and its dependent streams are composed, and which, having recently been violently disturbed by the heavy rains, was in a state of complete ferment and liquefaction.

Wolsey, though encumbered with his bachelors gown, which he had not this time taken the precautionary measure of tucking up and fastening to his girdle, courageously maintained his seat till the mare, exhausted with her violent efforts, sunk, and left him floating on the stream. He was an expert swimmer in the clear calm Orwell, or the pastoral Gipping, his native streams, but scarcely a fish that had been used to the fresh sparkling element of such rivers as these, could have steered its course in the dank vortex of brackish mud in which poor Wolsey was immersed.

Peter and Miles stood aghast at the accident, uttering doleful cries for help, without venturing to make a single effort to save the almost exhausted youth. Humphrey, the faithful Humphrey, at the first alarm had dismounted from the nag, and was preparing to plunge into the stream to save his master's son, or perish in the attempt, when one of Sir Richard Brandon's wood-rangers, who had seen the accident and hastened to the spot, reached the end of the long pole he had been using in leaping the marsh ditches to the youth, by which assistance, the stream being narrow at that place, he was enabled, though not without some difficulty, to gain the opposite bank, from which, as soon as he had cleared his eyes and mouth of the salt, bitter, and unsavoury ooze he had been compelled to swallow, he called out in an accent of distress to Humphrey, Oh! Humphrey, Humphrey! what shall we say to my father about the gray mare?

St. Margaret of Rissmere take the mare! sobbed Humphrey, who appeared to consider the patroness of Reydon as somehow chargeable with their mishap; don't talk of her, my dear boy, when she had nearly been the death of you. Howsoever, master Thomas, you must never undertake to lead those who are wiser than yourself short cuts any more. I hope you have had enough of this precious ford, that was to take you such a near way to Blitheburgh."

Why so it will, you simple fellow, said Wolsey, laughing, and wiping the mud from his face, do not you see the beautiful church over those marshes almost at my elbow? I shall bestir myself to get there as fast as I can now I am over the water, that I may get dry clothes, a good supper, and some pleasant chat with the worthy monks of the Holy Rood, which will console me for the drenching I have got.

Alack, alack! master Thomas! what is to become of us and the bullocks? howled Miles and Peter from the opposite bank.

You may come over the river to me, an you like, responded Wolsey, from the other side.

We durst not do that for our lives, cried the trembling drovers.

Then turn yourselves and the bullocks about, and find the road to Wangford as well as ye can: Humphrey knows the country, and he will guide ye to Blitheburgh by that roundabout way, ye poltroons, unless ye choose to stay where ye are till I am a Cardinal, when it is my intention to build a bridge over this sweet stream, to prevent other travellers from incurring the peril which I have done, in endeavouring to ford such a bottomless abyss of mud.

We will not follow the young bachelor to Blitheburgh, where doubtless he met with agreeable entertainment, nor will the limits of our tale admit of our tracing the progressive steps by which he in the sequel attained to the eminence to which his ambition, even in childhood, prompted him to aspire. By keeping his attention constantly fixed on this object, he found it at last within his reach; but was he then contented? Let me answer this query with another:—When was the desire of human greatness ever satisfied? I refer the juvenile reader to the historical summary for further particulars of the career of this extraordinary man, who, when he had attained to the coveted rank of Cardinal, though he was burdened with the cares of the prime minister of England, which office he held during twenty years of Henry the Eighth's reign, was not forgetful of his promise of building a bridge over the stream which had so nearly proved fatal to himself. The name of the bridge, and the local tradition thereunto belonging, will long, I trust, exist to preserve the memory of an action of pure benevolence to future ages.

Historical Summary

Thomas Wolsey was the only son of Thomas and Joan Wolsey, and was born at Ipswich, in August, 1471. His father was a butcher and grazier. The house in which Wolsey was born is still shown, and is situated in the south side of the passage leading to St. Nicholas' churchyard; and in the ancient shambles, or butchery, which lately stood upon the Cornhill, at Ipswich, was a stall, or stand, with the initials of Wolsey's father carved thereon, and some other insignia which tradition points out as belonging to him. Wolsey's father, though a man of low trade, was in opulent circumstances, and connected with some of the most respectable families at Ipswich, either by descent or marriage. His will is preserved, wherein it appears that he left his lands to his wife Joan, and the rest of his wealth divided between his wife and son, reserving however a handsome bequest to the church of St. Nicholas and the poor of the parish.

There are floating traditions in Suffolk, which intimate that the butcher Wolsey was desirous that his son should follow his own trade, and in pursuance of this plan, he made him assist is driving the beasts he bought at various markets for sale and slaughter at Ipswich. In one of these expeditions he nearly lost his life, at a dangerous ford at Reydon. Over a branch of the river Blythe, when driving a number of bullocks which had been purchased from Reydon salt marshes and South wold common. It is further said, that he promised on the spot, "that if ever he became cardinal, he would build a bridge at that dangerous spot." Wolsey kept his word, and when he arrived at the high dignity his youthful ambition even then aimed at, he built a bridge at Reydon, which is to this day called Wolsey Bridge.

It is a singular thing, that although forced to join at times the inconsistent occupations of a drover and student, that Wolsey was admitted as a bachelor of arts at Magdalen College at the age of fourteen, from which extraordinary circumstance he was called the Boy Bachelor. It must be observed, that students were entered at the universities much earlier in former times than is usual at this era; but to take a degree at the age of fourteen, justly excited universal astonishment throughout the kingdom, in all men who were devoted to, or interested in, learning; and Wolsey was marked as a character likely to rise in the church, which was then the only path to high distinction. We must not forget to note here, that young Wolsey had been as promising at Ipswich school as he was as a student at Magdalen College; so says Lloyd, one of his biographers. The first step to his subsequent greatness in the state was his appointment to the situation of domestic chaplain to Henry the Seventh, a monarch who himself had received a conventual education, and was a discerning patron of learned men, knowing well how to appreciate them. There were, as matters stood in the middle ages, two roads in the church to great distinction: one was, for a leraned priest to practise great austerity and sanctity, so that he was considered a saint and revered by all men; and the other, to devote himself regularly to business as a statesman, and govern church and state as prime minister, which was done in England by whoever held the office of lord chancellor. The latter path was chosen by Wolsey, who had a particular inclination to a court life, and declared, that "if he could set one foot in the court, he would soon introduce his whole body."

The first affair of state in which he was concerned, was a mission from Henry the Seventh to Maximilian, Emperor of Germany, who was then at Bruges. After receiving his instructions at the royal palace of Shene (now called Richmond), where the king then kept court, he set out on his errand. We must consider the state of the roads, and the delays of travelling at that time, which were so great that a journey from Ipswich to London took at least a week, and even in the memory of man, a day and night was spent on the road when travelling by a stage coach. Therefore, when Wolsey presented himself before Henry the Seventh at the end of three days, that monarch naturally supposed that his envoy had not yet set out, but had returned for fresh instructions, and he began to reproach him for his dilatoriness, when, to his astonishment, Wolsey declared that he had actually been at Bruges, and performed his mission successfully. Ay, answered the king, but upon farther deliberation, finding that something had been omitted in your instructions, I despatched a messenger after you with fuller powers. To which Wolsey replied, that he had indeed met the messenger on his return, and on communicating with him, found that he had anticipated the view that Henry had taken of the business, and performed his negociation with the emperor precisely according to Henry's second thoughts of the affair, so that there was no need of a second journey. Henry was highly pleased with his envoy's sagacity and promptitude, and with its favourable issue; he gave him public thanks, and declared him in council fit to be entrusted with the management of affairs of the utmost importance. He rewarded him with the deanery of Lincoln, and the prebends of Walton, Brindhold, and Stow; and to complete his good fortune, his graceful and eloquent relation of the particulars of his embassy before the council, attracted the notice of the Prince of Wales, afterwards Henry the Eighth, who grew from that time extremely fond of his company.

Such was his introduction as a statesman. From the first year of the reign of Henry the Eighth, 1509, till 1529, the butcher's son ruled England with absolute power, and at the same time with great ability. These twenty years was the happiest epoch of Henry's reign; for, after Wolsey's fall, the sovereign commenced a career of crime, and his people of misery. Wolsey filled the high offices of Grand Almoner, Archbishop of York, Lord Chancellor, Pope's Legate, and Cardinal. He carried personal splendour and state higher than any subject ever did before or since, and would most likely have died in possession of all these honours, had he not aimed at the highest then in the world, even at the Popedom; but his intrigues to reach this pinnacle of a churchman's ambition, lured him to such imprudent steps as caused the downfall of his mighty power, and a few weeks after he died of grief at Leicester Abbey.

The munificent public works executed by Wolsey, both as prime minister and from his own private revenue, are greater perhaps than any subject ever performed. He reendowed and reformed his own university of Oxford, with such magnificence, that he is almost considered as its founder, according to its present state. His love for his native county of Suffolk was great, and the college he built and endowed in his mother town of Ipswich, is a proof that he had the magnanimity not to be ashamed of his origin; but the rapacious tyrant, whose caprice caused his downfall, seized upon the revenues and destroyed the infant college, of which only one of the gateways remain. But perhaps the most extraordinary work in which this great man engaged, was, that he partly wrote and wholly revised, Lillye's grammar, a work of such use that it was in general use within the last century. Such was the love of this mighty statesman for learning, that he paused in his career of unbounded power and pomp to smooth the way to children for the attainment of knowledge: who, after such an example, need be ashamed of devoting their talents to writing children's books!

This sketch of Wolsey has not shown the dark side of his character, which was deformed with many faults, and some crimes. Shakspeare has summed up the account of both good and ill, with such skill that volumes cannot impress upon the youthful mind a more accurate comprehension of Wolsey's character, than that given in the dialogue between Catherine of Arragon, Henry the Eighth's divorced queen, and Griffith, her chamberlain.


Didst thou not tell me, Griffith, as thou led'st me, That the great child of honour, Cardinal Wolsey, Was dead? Prithee, good Griffith, tell me how he died.


Well, the voice goes, madam; For after the stout Earl Northumberland Arrested him at York, and brought him forward (As a man sore tainted), to his answer, He fell sick suddenly, and grew so ill, He could not sit his mule. At last, with easy roads, he came to Leicester, Lodg'd in the abbey; where the reverend abbot, With all his convent, honourably received him; To whom he gave these words,—" O, father abbot, An old man, broken with the storms of state, Is come to lay his weary hones among ye; Give him a little earth for charity!" So went to bed; where eagerly his sickness Pursu'd him still; and, three nights after this, About the hour of eight (which he himself Foretold should be his last), full of repentance, Continual meditations, tears, and sorrows, He gave his honours to the world again, His blessed part to heaven, and slept in peace.


So may he rest; his faults lie gently on him! Yet, thus far, Griffith, give me leave to speak him And yet with charity ;—He was a man Of an unbounded stomach, ever ranking Himself with princes; one, that by suggestion Tithed all the kingdom; simony was fair play; His own opinions were his law: I'the presence He would stay untruths; and be ever double, Both in his words and meaning: He was never, But where he meant to ruin, pitiful: His promises were then as be was, mighty; But his performance as he now is, nothing. Of his own body he was ill, and gave The clergy ill example.


Noble madam, Men's evil manners live in brass; their virtues We write in water. May it please your highness To hear me speak his good now?


Yes. good Griffith I were malicious else.


This cardinal, Though from an humble stock, undoubtedly Was fashioned to much honour. Fom his cradle He was a scholar, and a ripe and good one; Exceeding wise, fair spoken, and persuading: Lofty, and sour, to them who lov'd him not; But, to those men that sought him, sweet as summer. And though he were unsatisfied in getting (Which were a sin), yet in bestowing, madam, He was most princely: Ever witness for him Those twins of learning, which he raised in you, Ipswich and Oxford! one of which fell with him, Unwilling to outlive the good he did it; The other, though unfinished, yet so famous, So excellent in art, and still so rising, That Christendom shall ever speak his virtue. His overthrow heap'd happiness upon him; For then, and not till then, he felt himself, And found the blessedness of being little: And, to add greater honours to his age Than man could give him, he died, fearing God.


After my death I wish no other herald, No other speaker of my living actions, To keep my honour from corruption, But such an honest chronicler as Griffith. Whom I most hated living, thou hast made me, With thy religious truth and modesty, Now in his ashes honour. Peace be with him.