The story behind Cardinal Wolsey’s Hat currently on show in The Hold 

Why Wolsey’s hat was granted its own carriage 

Did you know that one of the precious artifacts included in the current exhibition, Wolsey’s Ipswich, being held at Suffolk Archives’ The Hold, is the actual hat worn by Thomas Wolsey over 500 years ago? 

At the time, Wolsey’s treasured Cardinal’s hat – a red, wide-brimmed ‘galero’ – was the symbol of being granted the high office of Cardinal by The Pope.  

What you may not know is that there is an amusing story behind the arrival of the hat in London.  

After rising through the ranks of the church and royal court, Ipswich boy Thomas Wolsey campaigned long and hard to become a Cardinal, the highest position in the Church at that time.  He was finally awarded the title in 1515 by Pope Leo X. However, he had to wait a further three years for his special red galero hat to arrive.  It was eventually delivered to England from Rome in 1518. 

When the hat arrived in London, Wolsey was cross that it had been delivered without the pomp and ceremony that he felt such an important symbol deserved. 

So much so,  that he made the Cardinal who couriered it from Rome return to Kent to be appropriately dressed in silks, then Wolsey organised a grand procession for the through the streets of London –  his galero even had its own carriage! He also made sure that important members of the Tudor Court came to pay their respects to the hat when it finally arrived at his palace in London.  

A wide brimmed red felt hat sits on a wooden table in a room with ornate plastered ceilings and dark wood bookcases
Photo credit Christ Church Oxford

The Cardinal’s hat will be the star attraction at ‘Wolsey’s Ipswich’ exhibition, which opens at ‘The Hold’, home of Suffolk Archives, which is open until Sunday 29th October 2023. 

Wolsey’s hat is on loan from Christ Church in Oxford, where it is usually kept in the college library, which is not normally open to the public. 

Terry Hunt, Wolsey 550 project chair, said: “We are really excited about the hat coming to Ipswich. It is rarely lent for display, and this is the first time it has ever visited Wolsey’s hometown. It is a fantastic opportunity for people from Ipswich, Suffolk and much further afield to see this unique symbol of Wolsey’s amazing story. We are very grateful to Christ Church for the generous loan.” 

The exhibition is a key part of the Wolsey 550 project, and has been made possible by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Ipswich Central, Ipswich Borough Council, and curated by the exhibitions team at The Hold. Displays will explore the legacy of Wolsey, re-connecting him with his hometown and examining his position on the world stage. 

Tickets for the exhibition at The Hold can be booked here:

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