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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 686

Ferguson has written a detailed account of the life and era of Wolsey. The book was written not for a young adult audience but for the knowledgeable lay reader. Yet the young reader who is interested in the time period will be intrigued by the concept of a poor boy rising to power and bringing England to the center of the international stage in an extremely turbulent period in early modern European history.

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Ferguson was impressed with his subject and with his accomplishments and failures. An example is found in the author’s story of the preparation for the Field of Cloth of Gold meeting in 1520, which was to be between Henry VIII and Francis I, the French king, and to take place in the midst of much pomp and luxury. Both monarchs had committed the preparations to Wolsey, and he was determined to put on a show. He spared little expense in creating a rich and impressive setting for the meeting. Palaces, fountains, chapels, and many other items were either built or brought in to make the setting truly spectacular. Perhaps the most famous incident arising from the meeting was the wrestling match between the two kings, in which Henry VIII was thrown to the ground. Henry did not appreciate this result; while Wolsey had created the setting, he could not control the outcome.

Probably the most fascinating story in Naked to Mine Enemies deals with the fall of Wolsey. The event involves one of the most famous controversies of Henry VIII’s rule—the attempt to obtain an annulment from his wife, Catherine of Aragon. Henry VIII believed that he needed a legitimate male heir to succeed him on the throne in order to preserve his dynasty. His wife had provided him with one child, a daughter named Mary. Catherine had originally been married to Henry’s older brother, Arthur, who had died shortly after the marriage. Because it was against church procedures for a man to marry his brother’s widow, Henry had to secure special permission in order to marry Catherine. He came to believe, however, that this dispensation had been illegally granted and that his marriage had been cursed by God. Thus, Henry ordered Wolsey to obtain a release from this union.

Ferguson explains that Wolsey had little desire to attend to this matter, as he was involved in numerous other projects. In addition, he knew that an annulment of a marriage was the church’s business and that the final decision would have to be made in Rome. Wolsey attempted to persuade the king from this course of action, but failed. Realizing his position, he threw himself into the task so completely that he became identified with it. In the king’s eyes, Wolsey would also be identified with its failure.

While annulments were not rare, this one contained several tricky elements. Catherine, the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, was also the aunt of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor. During the course of events, Charles’ troops occupied Rome, and the pope was hampered in his freedom. This annulment would not be easy to obtain.

Ferguson describes in great detail how Wolsey sought to fulfill his king’s request. The first significant step was when Wolsey, using his legatine power, ordered Henry to come to his court in order to discuss the marriage and the possible annulment. This whole scene, though called by Wolsey, had been arranged by Henry. After much resistance, the pope, Clement VII, granted Wolsey the power to hear the case jointly with Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggio, whom Clement would send to England. Clement also promised not to revoke the right of the two Cardinals to try the case and issue a decision. Wolsey, however, worried about the proceedings and did everything he could to hasten them. Meanwhile, Henry kept demanding immediate results. Finally, after much debate, the decision was at hand. When Campeggio tried to suspend the court, Wolsey still had it within his power to make the decision to support his King. When he refused to do so, Ferguson claims, his power was doomed.

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Critical Context