A catalogue of Western manuscripts at the Bodleian Libraries and selected Oxford colleges

Christ Church MS. 684

List of the Household of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey; England, s. xvi2


Language(s): English


Divided into four sections as follows:

1. Opening
Incipit: A true note of the order o⟨f...... house who ...... one of the Priuie Cha⟨mber⟩ to the most po⟨tent⟩ Prince Henry the VIII ⟨L⟩ord Chancellor of ⟨E⟩ngland and Ar⟨ch⟩Bishop of ⟨Y⟩ork Bishop of W⟨inchester A⟩bbott of St Albons .. remay⟨ned⟩ ... the Tower.
2. Main list
Incipit: In the Chappell [second column, items bracketed to left and right] A Dean... Divine | A Subdeane
Explicit: [first column] Officers of the Chuancery [second column, items bracketed to left and right] The Clarke of the Crowne … A Clarke of the Checke

Divided into 24 groups, by location, each group listing the officers and their number, bracketing them and giving, to the right a total for each group: Chapel (total: 51), Privy Chamber (61), Great Chamber (116), ‘Officers in the Hall’ (13), Hall Kitchen (31), Privy Kitchen (6), Scalding house (3), Pantry (3), ‘Buttry’ (6), Ewry (6), Cellar (6), ‘Chaundry’ (3), ‘Wafrie’ (3), Wardrobe (11), Laundry (35), Backhouse (7), Woodyard (2), Barn (2), Garden (3), ‘Porters at the Gate’ (4), Stable (24), Almory (2), ‘Other Officers’ (19), ‘Officers of the Chauncery’ (5). Though the sections are re-ordered and there is some minor variations in the numbers, this is closely based on the list of officers and servants provided by George Cavendish, The Life and Death of Cardinal Wolsey, ed. Richard S. Sylvester, EETS 243 (1959), 18-21 (for example, compare the first entry under Privy Kitchen – ‘A Master Cooke who went daylie in velvet or satten with a chaine of gould’ – with Cavendish, 19/4-6). Cavendish himself says his listing is based on the cardinal’s ‘Chekker Rolle’ (21/10); perhaps our scribe was inspired to create a simulacrum of that.

3. Penultimate
Rubric: [title] The ascending of the saide Cardinall, called Thomas Wolsey a poore mans soone of Ipswiche, in the Countie of Suffolke
Incipit: [list] 1. Bacheler of Arte in Oxenforde
Explicit: 18. Ambassadour to Charles the f⟨ir⟩ste.
4. Closing section
Rubric: [title] The falling of the sayde Cardinall
Incipit: [list] 1. Firste he came in displeasure with K Henrie
Explicit: himselfe not longe before had taken.

Stuck to card, and so unavailable for consultation but reported to be blank

Added text, written in the blank columns, right of the main list, extending 86mm in length

‘The Learned Sir Isaac Newton was Born ⟨at Wo⟩olstorpe in the ⟨coun⟩ty of Lincoln upon the 2⟨5⟩th Decr, 1642 his mother being left a widow with Eight Children in but middleing Circumstances Sir Isaac was first Sent to Grantham School and he Soon made very great proficientcy in his Learning My Dear Father Said he was in the garden At his Study one time and some pears Dropt of a tree which Set him to Study the Motion of gravity which made him Soon publish a book upon that Subject and the queen soon after Sent for him knighted him and queen Ann Settled 500l a year upon him for his Life he very Soon after weighed the World by the Effects of gravity alone and Made its Exact weight appear to be 1000000000000000000000 after this he was held in great respect by the Learned in all Nations My father Said that he Livd about Sixty five years and he Died at Lady 1706 and he was Buryed in the Abbey Church Called Westminster near London. My fathers grand-father gave this to him and my father gave it to me when I was at school in the year 1774 Tho. Newton. this very great list of Servants Sir Isaac used to find great fault with he had often been ^heard^ Repromanding Cardinal Wolsesey [sic] Number of Servants and used to say No Nobleman in all England Ever had Nor Never would have So many Servants again he Did always believe this List my father was Told was given Sir Isaac by queen Ann [change of nib] But Since I was at the City of Litchfield my Cosin told me that Sir Isaac was 84 years old when he Died and his Last illness of which he Expressd great pain was a fit of the gravel but he Said that he was very penitent and quite gave himself up and resigned his Soul in Agonies of pain to that great being who gave it and Desired all around him to Live a holy Life here and to Look up to our Lorde and Christ for Salvation in a brighter & better world above where Neither pain Sin nor Sorrow Can Ever Come.’

A biography of Sir Isaac Newton by a later and distant relative. It differs from the usual telling of the famous anecdote about Newton’s musing on gravity: in all the early accounts it is an apple, not a pear, that knocks him on the head and into thought: Early Biographies of Isaac Newton, ed. Rob Iliffe, 2 vols (London, 2006).

Physical Description

Form: roll
Support: Parchment
Extent: A long roll made from a single hide.
Dimensions (leaf): 872 × 176 mm.


Some rust damage at top and bottom, with loss of text; the marks are suggestive of it having been kept rolled in a metal container: Katerina Powell, ‘Restoring Cardinal Thomas Wolsey’s Household List’, Christ Church Library Newsletter, 7 (2011), 19-20. The damage must post-date the insertion of the added text as it too has been eroded at its top.


It is divided into four columns, each bounded in red, of varying widths: 32mm, 92mm, 18mm, 20mm.

Writing occurs only in the first and second column, with the second column also divided horizontally by black lines, its top section 47mm high, the central section 640mm, the penultimate 101mm, and the last 84mm.


Written throughout in one tiny italic script.


The text is marked by the range of colours used. The main text is in light brown (now fading) but the first letter of the first word in the left column is in blue, and the first letter of the main now in red. In the second column, capitals at the start of words are in blue, red or gold, and groups of entries are bracketed in green, with red horizontal lines connecting the bracket to a numeral (the total in each group). The same combination of colours is used in the top and bottom sections, with royal names in gold capitals.


Housing The roll is now housed in a guard-box mounted on card. This is a result of a conservation exercise carried out in 2011-12. This removed it from its previous home, a velvet-covered frame with heavy interlace wood carvings; this frame was mounted on the south wall of the Manuscript Room, behind a red curtain. This frame, ‘likely to date from late 19th century’, and the problems it created for conservation are reported by Powell, ‘Restoring Wolsey’s Household List’ (with photo of frame). As noted above, prior to being placed in a frame, it appears to have been kept in a canister.


Origin: England; s. xvi2

Provenance and Acquisition

This roll presents the career of Thomas Wolsey in tabular form, concentrating attention on the size of his household. It relies on information drawn from Cavendish’s Life, which was completed in 1558 and circulated in manuscript (for copies at ChCh and for bibliography, see our MS 154). The circumstances of the production of our roll are unclear: why would someone take the trouble to draw up so carefully such a detailed list relating to a bygone figure? The text, and Thomas Newton’s later tale of his famous relative’s response to it, suggest that it was constructed as a witness to the de casibus tradition, demonstrating how the great over-reach and fall. The disapproval that Newton expressed persisted in early twentieth-century historiography; A. F. Pollard (Wolsey (London, 1929), 326) gave the example of the three hundred servants he had at the Cloth of Gold, when other leading figures each had seventy, as a manifestation of ‘the exorbitant importance he attached to his position’ (with thanks to Steve Gunn for drawing our attention to this reference and for advice on this roll more generally).

It is also difficult to know whether to give credence to the claim that this was once owned by Sir Isaac Newton, or that he was given it by Queen Anne. There is nothing in Newton’s correspondence to suggest such an interest and the author of the note was clearly at some chronological and familial distance. It would seem unlikely that a royal gift would leave no earlier textual trace, but even if we should dispense with the belief that it was a sign of the favour in which monarchs held Sir Isaac, it remains undeniable that the roll passed through the hands of generations who considered themselves his relatives. It is impossible to reconstruct with any confidence the life of Thomas Newton beyond what he tells us: he would seem not to be the person of that name who was admitted to Jesus College, Cambridge in 1777 and who published An Illustration of Sir Isaac Newton’s method of reasoning … (Leeds, 1806), for, though the dates may fit, that Newton was born in Yorkshire, the son of a Westmoreland husbandman (AC, part 2, 4:542).

The next known owner was Rev. Francis Hopkinson (1810-98), of Malvern (Worcs.); it is recorded in the Third Report of the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts (London, 1872), 262 (where it is said ‘the handwriting … seems to be of the 17th century’). Born at Peterborough and schooled at Uppingham, Hopkinson matriculated at Magdalene College, Cambridge in 1841 (at the advanced age of 31), gaining a LLB in 1848 and LLD in 1856. By that point, he was ordained (deacon in 1844, priest the following year); his clerical career took him to Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Hampshire and London, before returning to Malvern, where he had served a year as curate in 1847-48, as perpetual curate for a decade from 1859 to 1869 (AC, part 2, 3:439). He retired and continued to live there, amassing a collection of printed books and of historical documents, some of which (but not our roll) were displayed at the Exhibition of the Royal House of Tudor (London, 1890). It was presumably Hopkinson who had the roll taken from its canister and placed in a frame (see housing). Certainly, following his death, when this item, like others belonging to him, were sold at Sotheby’s on 3 June 1905, it was described, under number 733, as ‘mounted, glazed, inserted in a frame, with old carved oak ornaments’. The entry also suggests a date of c. 1530-2, which is patently too early.

The roll reached ChCh in the same year that it was sold at the auction house. The Governing Body, in the minutes for 25 June 1905, noted its gratitude for the gift of ‘an original document in parchment (circa 1530) containing The Order of the Household, etc. of Thos Wolsey, Cardinal of York (with the reasons of the fall of the said Cardinal)’ (ChCh Archives, GB i.b.4, 111, with thanks to Judith Curthoys for unearthing this reference). The donor was a Houseman, Arnold Whitaker Oxford (1854/5-1948), who had matriculated in 1873, taking BA 1876 and MA 1880; he was ordained priest in 1878 and served as vicar of St Luke’s, Berwick Street, Soho, from 1883 to 1899, and subsequently of St Philip’s, Regent Street. During these years, he did not avoid controversy: he stood for election to the London Schools Board, and his opponents accused him of wanting to ban the Bible from schools; despite this claim, he was elected but then unseated by petition on the charge of having addressed voters in Liberal and Radical Clubs where alcohol was served (The Times, 20 November 1888, p. 4, 27 July 1889, p. 15). In 1898 and again in 1904, he stood as a Progressive for election to London County Council but was unsuccessful (The Times, 4 March 1898, p. 10, 18 February 1907, p. 11). It is said that he became increasingly uneasy with his religious calling and his later career was in medicine, as a chiropodist and, eventually, governor at Charing Cross Hospital. The shift in focus is reflected in his publications: early in his time in his first parish, he published a hymnal which ‘revealed his extreme “liberal” theology’ (1884); in 1930, there appeared a Concise Anatomy of the Foot. In between, he had penned other works which displayed his interests as an antiquary (The Ruins of Fountains Abbey was first published in 1910) and a collector, of whom it was said ‘Dr Oxford is a notable ‘small collector’ … Old silver, stay-busks, pieces of the skin of murderers, cookery-books, clocks, Chinese nail-protectors – he collects … them all’ (The Burlington Magazine, 15 (1909), 190). Even, in old age, when blind, he continued to write on medicine and on his life-long devotion to Freemasonry: Masonry, Medicine and Morals (London, 1939). He died in London on 30 May 1948 (see the obituary by F. Lewis Donaldson in The Times, 5 June 1948, p. 6).

A. W. Oxford’s gift of the roll to his alma mater was inspired by a sense of ChCh being an appropriate home for this artefact related to Wolsey. Clearly, it had taken on a different character from its earlier use, when it had posthumously ‘reprimanded’ the cardinal, but its arrival in Oxford emulated the rationale of the eighteenth-century donations of copies of Cavendish’s Life (see MS 154), as well as the earlier gift of the resplendent Epistolary, MS 101. The item to which, however, it is most closely related is the red hat which sits in the Upper Library in a ‘gothick’ case provided for it by a previous owner, Horace Walpole, who assumed it had been Wolsey’s (Strawberry Hill, the renowned seat of Horace Walpole… ([London], [1842]) 17th Day Sale, item 73). It was exhibited as such at the Exhibition of House of Tudor, 222 (no. 1185). The hat was, in fact, for a while in A. W. Oxford’s keeping; as he later explained: ‘I once had Cardinal Wolsey’s hat in my possession, while a subscription was raised to buy it. If I had realized at the time of the sale how much it would have been valued I would have bought it and given it to the House, but it was sold and resold at a much higher price before I could get hold of it, and then it seemed too expensive a gift. Some years after I tried to make up for my meanness by presenting a manuscript containing a list of Wolsey’s household (A. W. Oxford, Notes from a Collector’s Catalogue with a Bibliography of English Cookery Books (London, 1909), 38)’

Oxford, in fact, plays down his role in the arrival of the hat: he was, in fact, instrumental in raising the monies to buy and present it to ChCh (Frederick York Powell, ‘Cardinal Wolsey’s Hat’ in Oliver Elton, Frederick York Powell. A life and a selection from his letters and occasional writings, 2 vols (Oxford, 1906), 2:159-63).

The hat re-gained some fame (or notoriety) at the end of the twentieth century by being mentioned by Stephen Greenblatt in his Learning to Curse. Essays in Early Modern Culture (New York, 1990), 161-63; he claimed that the display card provided for it in ChCh stated that it had been owned by Wolsey, an error which his critics delighted in noting: John Lee, ‘The Man who Mistook his Hat: Stephen Greenblatt and the Anecdote’, Essays in Criticism, 45 (1995), 285-300. It might be added that research is on-going into the origins of the hat, with interim findings suggesting it is an Italian product of the early sixteenth century (with thanks to Cristina Neagu for informing us of these investigations). However that may be, and however remote from Wolsey both hat and roll may have been, they share a significance in telling us of English culture’s enduring fascination with its most magnificent cardinal.

Record Sources

Ralph Hanna and David Rundle, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Western Manuscripts, to c. 1600, in Christ Church, Oxford (Oxford, 2017).


For enquiries relating to this manuscript please contact Christ Church Library.