George Cavendish (writer)

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George Cavendish (1497 – c. 1562) was an English writer, best known as the biographer of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. [1] His Thomas Wolsey, Late Cardinall, his Lyffe and Deathe is described by the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography as the "most important single contemporary source for Wolsey's life" which also offers a "detailed picture of early sixteenth-century court life and of political events in the 1520s, particularly the divorce proceedings against Catherine of Aragon. [2]

Thomas Wolsey 16th-century Archbishop of York, Chancellor of England, and cardinal

Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Archbishop of York, Lord Chancellor of England, was an English bishop, statesman and a cardinal of the Catholic Church. When Henry VIII became King of England in 1509, Wolsey became the King's almoner. Wolsey's affairs prospered, and by 1514 he had become the controlling figure in virtually all matters of state and extremely powerful within the Church, as Archbishop of York, a cleric in England junior only to the Archbishop of Canterbury. His appointment in 1515 as a cardinal by Pope Leo X gave him precedence over all other English clerics.

Catherine of Aragon first wife of Henry VIII of England

Catherine of Aragon was Queen of England from June 1509 until May 1533 as the first wife of King Henry VIII; she was previously Princess of Wales as the wife of Henry's elder brother Arthur.



Cavendish was born in 1497, [1] the elder son of Thomas Cavendish (d. 1524), who was a senior financial official, the "clerk of the pipe", in the Court of Exchequer, and his wife, Alice Smith of Padbrook Hall, Suffolk. [3] He was the great-grandson of Sir John Cavendish from whom the Dukes of Devonshire and the Dukes of Newcastle inherited the family name of Cavendish. George was an English courtier and author and the brother of William Cavendish, the second husband of Bess of Hardwick. He was probably born at his father's manor of Cavendish, in Suffolk. [3] Later the family resided in London, in the parish of St Albans, Wood Street, where Thomas Cavendish died in 1524. [3] Around this time Cavendish married Margery Kemp, of Spains Hall, an heiress, and the niece of Sir Thomas More. [3]

Exchequer of Pleas

The Exchequer of Pleas or Court of Exchequer was a court that dealt with matters of equity, a set of legal principles based on natural law and common law in England and Wales. Originally part of the curia regis, or King's Council, the Exchequer of Pleas split from the curia during the 1190s, to sit as an independent, central court. The Court of Chancery's reputation for tardiness and expense resulted in much of its business transferring to the Exchequer. The Exchequer and Chancery, with similar jurisdictions, drew closer together over the years, until an argument was made during the 19th century that having two seemingly identical courts was unnecessary. As a result, the Exchequer lost its equity jurisdiction. With the Judicature Acts, the Exchequer was formally dissolved as a judicial body by an Order in Council of 16 December 1880.

Sir John Cavendish was an English judge and politician from Cavendish, Suffolk, England. He and the village gave the name Cavendish to the aristocratic families of the Dukedoms of Devonshire, Newcastle and Portland.

House of Cavendish British noble family

The House of Cavendish is a British noble house. The Cavendish family has been one of the richest and most influential aristocratic families in England since the 16th century, and has been rivalled in political influence perhaps only by the Marquesses of Salisbury and the Earls of Derby. They are descended from Sir John Cavendish of Cavendish in the county of Suffolk, and their numerous peerages included the Dukedom of Devonshire, the Dukedom of Newcastle, the Barony of Waterpark. and the Barony of Chesham. The head of the family is Peregrine Cavendish, 12th Duke of Devonshire, whose seat is Chatsworth House, one of the grandest private homes in the world.


Probably aided by his father's position at the exchequer, in about 1522 Cavendish entered the service of Cardinal Wolsey as gentleman-usher, and stayed in his service until Wolsey's death in 1530. [1] [3] His position required him personally to attend the Cardinal at all times, as well as responsibilities for the lavish entertainments that Wolsey enjoyed. [1] During this time Cavendish was often separated from his wife, children and estates. [3] Cavendish also knew Anne Boleyn when she was first a 'debutante' at Henry VIII's court in 1522. He was adamant that she remained a virgin until her marriage, despite Catholic rumours to the contrary. However, although he attested to her sexual morals, he never forgave her for her hatred of Cardinal Wolsey or her animosity towards the Pope.

Anne Boleyn Second wife of Henry VIII of England

Anne Boleyn was Queen of England from 1533 to 1536 as the second wife of King Henry VIII. Henry's marriage to her, and her execution by beheading, made her a key figure in the political and religious upheaval that was the start of the English Reformation. Anne was the daughter of Thomas Boleyn, 1st Earl of Wiltshire, and his wife, Lady Elizabeth Howard, and was educated in the Netherlands and France, largely as a maid of honour to Queen Claude of France. Anne returned to England in early 1522, to marry her Irish cousin James Butler, 9th Earl of Ormond; the marriage plans were broken off, and instead she secured a post at court as maid of honour to Henry VIII's wife, Catherine of Aragon.

Cavendish was wholly devoted to Wolsey's interests, and also he saw in this appointment an opportunity to gratify his master-passion, a craving "to see and be acquainted with strangers, in especial with men in honour and authority." He was faithful to his master in disgrace, and showed the courage of the "loyal servitor." [3] It is plain that he enjoyed Wolsey's closest confidence to the end, for after the cardinal's death Cavendish was called before the privy council and closely examined as to Wolsey's latest acts and words. He gave his evidence so clearly and with so much natural dignity, that he won the applause of the hostile council, and the praise of being "a just and diligent servant." [3] He was not allowed to suffer in pocket by his fidelity to his master, but retired, as it would seem, a wealthy man to his estate of Glemsford, in West Suffolk, in 1530, [3] having refused the offer of a position as gentleman usher from Henry VIII. [1] He was only thirty years of age, but his appetite for being acquainted with strange acts and persons was apparently sated, for we do not hear of his engaging in any more adventures.

Glemsford village in United Kingdom

Glemsford is a village in the Babergh district in Suffolk, England, near the town of Sudbury. Glemsford is located near the River Glem and the River Stour also flows nearby. Glemsford is surrounded by arable farmland and is not far from historic Suffolk villages such as Lavenham and Long Melford.

Writings and influence

It is likely that Cavendish had taken down notes of Wolsey's conversation and movements, for many years passed before his biography was composed. [3] Between 1554 and 1558, he wrote it out in its final form. It was not, however, possible to publish it in the author's lifetime, but it was widely circulated in manuscript. [3] Evidently one of these manuscripts fell into the hands of William Shakespeare, for that poet made use of it in his Henry VIII , and Samuel Weller Singer even said that Shakespeare "merely put Cavendish's language into verse." [3]

William Shakespeare English playwright and poet

William Shakespeare was an English poet, playwright and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's greatest dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon". His extant works, including collaborations, consist of approximately 39 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, and a few other verses, some of uncertain authorship. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright.

<i>Henry VIII</i> (play) play by Shakespeare

Henry VIII is a collaborative history play, written by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher, based on the life of King Henry VIII of England. An alternative title, All Is True, is recorded in contemporary documents, the title Henry VIII not appearing until the play's publication in the First Folio of 1623. Stylistic evidence indicates that individual scenes were written by either Shakespeare or his collaborator and successor, John Fletcher. It is also somewhat characteristic of the late romances in its structure. It is noted for having more stage directions than any of Shakespeare's other plays.

Samuel Weller Singer 18th/19th-century English Shakespearean scholar

Samuel Weller Singer (1783–1858) was an English author and scholar on the work of William Shakespeare. He is also now remembered as a pioneer historian of card games.

Thomas Wolsey, Late Cardinall, his Lyffe and Deathe was first printed in 1641, in a garbled text, and under the title of The Negotiations of Thomas Wolsey. [3] The genuine text, from contemporary manuscripts, was published in 1810. [3] Singer published the first complete edition in 1825: The Life of Cardinal Wolsey, and Metrical Visions; from the original autograph manuscript. [3] The "metrical visions" were his tragic poems: laments in the voice of ill-fated contemporary figures like Lady Jane Grey. Until the 19th century it was believed that the book was the composition of George Cavendish's younger brother William, the founder of Chatsworth House, who also was attached to Wolsey. [3] Joseph Hunter proved this to be impossible, and definitely asserted the claim of George. [3] The latter is believed to have died at Glemsford before July 1562. [3]

Lady Jane Grey English noblewoman and de facto monarch of England

Lady Jane Grey, also known as Lady Jane Dudley and as "the Nine Days' Queen", was an English noblewoman and de facto Queen of England and Ireland from 10 July until 19 July 1553.

Chatsworth House stately home in Derbyshire, England

Chatsworth House is a stately home in Derbyshire, England, in the Derbyshire Dales 3.5 miles (5.6 km) northeast of Bakewell and 9 miles (14 km) west of Chesterfield. The seat of the Duke of Devonshire, it has been home to the Cavendish family since 1549.

The intrinsic value of Cavendish's Life of Cardinal Wolsey has long been perceived, for it is the sole authentic record of a multitude of events highly important in a particularly interesting section of the history of England. [3] Its importance as a product of biographical literature was first emphasised by Mandell Creighton, who insisted on the claim of Cavendish to be recognised as the earliest of the great English biographers, and an individual writer of charm and originality. [3] [4] He writes with simplicity and vividness, rarely yielding to the rhetoric which governed the ordinary prose of his age. [3]

Fictional portrayals

George Cavendish appears as a minor character in Hilary Mantel's novel Wolf Hall, a fictional biography of Thomas Cromwell. Cavendish is portrayed as a devoted servant who genuinely admires Wolsey; in the novel, Cromwell describes him as "a sensitive sort of man." [5]


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Pincombe, Mike (30 January 2012). "George Cavendish". In Garrett A. Sullivan, Jr.; Alan Stewart; Rebecca Lemon; Nicholas McDowell; Jennifer Richards (eds.). The Encyclopedia of English Renaissance Literature. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 158–59. ISBN   978-1-4051-9449-5.
  2. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 George Cavendish in Encyclopædia Britannica (1911), 11th Edition, Vol. 5, pp. 579–80
  4. Mandell Creighton (1888). Cardinal Wolsey. Macmillan. p. 209.
  5. Mantel, Hilary. Wolf Hall. 2009.

This article incorporates text from the public domain 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica.

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