Cardinal Thomas Wolsey was an important figure in the life and politics of Henry VIII. A well-educated man, he became an advisor to Henry. He is possibly best known for failing to annul Henry's marriage to Katherine of Aragon. Henry wished for more children and wanted marry Anne Boleyn, but divorce wasn't an option. Wolsey tried to get the marriage annulled by the Pope, but this was unsuccessful. Henry was angry that he couldn't end his marriage and Wolsey was in trouble. His failure to convince the Pope was seen as an act of treason and he was called to London to face Henry. But Wolsey's health had been deteriorating and he never made it back to London. He did, however, make it to Peterborough.
Peterborough Abbey hosted Wolsey's visit at Easter in 1530. He took part in many ceremonial duties including observing Maundy Thursday. As tradition dictates, he washed the feet of 59 poor men (the same number of men as his age), this was carried out in the Lady Chapel, which no longer exists. He also handed out gifts to the men. They received '12 pence, three ells of canvas to make them shirts, a pair of new shoes, a cast of bread, three red herrings and three white herrings and the odd person had two shillings.' (1)
Wolsey travelled on from Peterborough to the Fitzwilliams at Milton for a few days. His health gradually faded until he died in Leicester Cathedral on 29th November 1530. One of his many legacies was the building of Hampton Court Palace, which was taken by Henry VIII after Wolsey fell out of favour. His visit was also remembered in an iconic LNER poster advertising Peterborough, designed by Fred Taylor. A copy is on display on the top floor of Peterborough Museum.
(1) W. T. Mellors, The Last Days of Peterborough Monastery, Northamptonshire Record Society, 1950, p xviii