Not much is known of the life of George Cavendish. He was born in 1500, the elder son of Thomas Cavendish, clerk of the exchequer. He went to Cambridge University but left without taking a degree. Soon after his father died in 1524, Cavendish married Margery, the daughter of William Kemp and niece of Sir Thomas More. Around 1522, he entered the service of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey as his gentleman usher. He accompanied the cardinal on his various missions to the Continent. During Henry VIII’s successful campaign against France, Cavendish was made the king’s lieutenant general. He served Wolsey faithfully until the cardinal’s death of dysentery at Leicester in 1530. King Henry offered to take Cavendish in his service because of the loyalty he had shown after Wolsey’s death by helping the king to recover approximately 1,500 pounds that the cardinal had secured for him. The king rewarded Cavendish by giving him six of Wolsey’s best cart horses with a cart to carry his possessions, ten pounds to cover back wages, and twenty additional pounds. Cavendish thereupon returned to his home at Glemsford in Suffolk, where he led a quiet life.
Around 1554, he set to work writing The Life and Death of Cardinal Wolsey; he completed it in 1558. Writing after the restoration of Catholicism during the reign of Mary Tudor, he hoped to expunge both Catholic accusations that held Wolsey responsible for the divorce of Henry VIII and the consequent Reformation and Protestant claims that he had died a terrified, unrepentant suicide. Employing the de casibus tradition of John Lydgate, the structure of a morality play, historical details from Edward Hall’s Chronicle (1542), and the author’s memory, the work is considered important as an early political biography replacing the hagiographic paradigm and as an eyewitness account of a powerful man engaged in important historical events.
Completed after the accession of Queen Elizabeth I, The Life and Death of Cardinal Wolsey was not printed until 1641. In 1558, Cavendish granted his manor of Cavendish Overhill to his son, William, a London mercer, for forty pounds a year. His grandson sold it in 1569. Cavendish also wrote poems, which were published as Metrical Visions. They are written in the style of John Skelton and represent the lamentations of fallen favorites bewailing their errors and the vicissitudes of Fortune—the same theme on which Cavendish ends The Life and Death of Cardinal Wolsey. Cavendish died in either 1561 or 1562; no exact date of his death was recorded.
Anderson, Judith H. “Cavendish:...
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