Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, lord chancellor of England from 1515 to 1529, has played no small
part in the many literary, historical and dramatic retellings of the reign of King Henry VIII.
This article presents the first extended analysis of the way in which Wolsey has been represented
by playwrights and, later, film and television writers during the years from his death in 1530
through the present. The article demonstrates that by the middle of the 16th century, two
competing narratives about Wolsey had become entrenched historiographically, and nearly all
subsequent accounts borrow substantially from the narratives of either Edward Hall (1550) or
George Cavendish (1554–1558). How successive playwrights and screenwriters balanced the
cardinal’s two archetypal personae has often depended, in no small part, on the concerns of
their own day. In the 21st century, readings of the cardinal as crafty rather than callous, unlucky
rather than unprincipled, have become more common, and with them have come more
sympathetic portrayals of a traditional Tudor villain.