We urgently need your help to raise £2.5 million and reunite the Wolsey Angels, four Renaissance sculptures that were owned by two of the most powerful men in Tudor history.
These striking bronze figures were designed to adorn the corners of a magnificent tomb for Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, pre-eminent statesman and King Henry VIII’s closest advisor. Wolsey’s tomb, however, was never completed. In a tumultuous period, the angels were then seized by Henry VIII, sold during the Civil War, separated and eventually lost.In Apollo Magazine Hilary Mantel says that "the recovery of Wolsey’s angels is one of those miracles that historians pray for; something that seems irrevocably lost has been there all the time".
To explain this miracle, we have to run through a little history.
Thomas Wolsey, as Henry VIII's most important adviser, wielded enormous power. He planned a magnificent tomb for himself at Windsor, but in 1529 he fell from favour over his opposition to the annulment of Henry's marriage to Catherine of Aragon.
Summoned from Yorkshire to London to be tried for treason, he arrived at Leicester Abbey announcing "Father abbot, I am come to lay my weary bones among you." And there Wolsey and died and was buried.
This blog visited the abbey ruins a few summers ago.
You can see the black sarcophagus Wolsey intended for himself in the crypt of St Paul's as it was used to bury Admiral Nelson. But the angels that were supposed to guard the corners were long believed lost.
Back to the Victoria and Albert Museum site for the story of their rediscovery:
After Wolsey’s death, the angels and other parts of his tomb were seized by Henry VIII, who employed Benedetto to complete his own tomb on an even grander scale. However, Henry VIII did not live to see his tomb finished, either. His children failed to honour their intentions to subsequently complete it, and the angels were never united with the other elements of the tomb.
Elizabeth I moved the parts of Henry VIII’s incomplete tomb to St George’s Chapel in Windsor in 1565. ...
During the Civil War most of the tomb’s components were lost and the angels remained undiscovered until recently. Two of them appeared at an auction in a Sotheby’s sale in 1994, unillustrated and simply referred to in the catalogue as a pair of large bronze angels in the Renaissance style. Nothing was known at this stage of their original provenance. The angels were eventually attributed to Benedetto’s tomb for Wolsey by Italian art historian Francesco Caglioti.
In 2008, the other two angels were discovered at Harrowden Hall, a country house in Northamptonshire. It later came to light that all four sculptures had stood above the posts of Harrowden Hall’s entrance gates.It is a remarkable discovery and I hope the money will be raised to keep the Wolsey Angels in Britain.
Back in Leicester, having found Richard III, there are those who would now like to find the bones of Cardinal Wolsey. In February 2013 the Labour councillor Ross Willmott (who indirectly put me on to this story) supported the idea.
And it would be wrong to end without paying tribute to Terry Scott and his portrayal of the Cardinal in Carry On Henry.