Authors: George Cavendish

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English biographer

Author Works


The Life and Death of Cardinal Wolsey, wr. 1554-1558, pb. 1641 (originally published as The Negotiations of Thomas Wolsey, the Great Cardinall of England: Containing His Life and Death)


Metrical Visions, wr. 1552-1554, 1558, pb. 1825


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.{$I[AN]9810000608}{$I[A]Cavendish, George}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Cavendish, George}{$I[tim]1500;Cavendish, George}

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.

BibliographyAnderson, Judith H. “Cavendish: Patterns Without Meaning.” In Biographical Truth: The Representation of Historical Persons in Tudor-Stuart Writing. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1984. A formalist critical study that examines Cavendish’s symmetrical style and subtle psychological characterization of his subject.Cavendish, Edward, ed. Preface to Metrical Visions, by George Cavendish. Edited by A. S. G. Edwards. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1980. A helpful biographical preface.Crewe, Jonathan. “The Wolsey Paradigm?” Criticism 30 (Spring, 1988). Discusses Cavendish’s manipulation of Wolsey’s theatricality of power as both gentleman usher and biographer.Edwards, A. S. G. “The Text of George Cavendish’s Metrical Visions.” Analytical and Enumerative Bibliography 2 (1978). Examines Cavendish’s poetry to illustrate manuscript transmission in the reign of Mary I.Sylvester, Richard Standish, and Davis Philoon Harding, eds. Preface to Two Early Tudor Lives: “The Life and Death of Cardinal Wolsey.” New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1962. Another helpful preface.Wooden, Warren W. “The Art of Partisan Biography: George Cavendish’s Life of Wolsey.” Renaissance and Reformation 11 (1977). Formalist critical study that examines Cavendish’s symmetrical style and subtle psychological characterization of his subject.
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