William Wareham left Oxford in 1488 to follow a career in the ecclesiastical courts. His reputation was such that he was soon being sent abroad on diplomatic missions. In 1502 he became Bishop of London, then in 1503 he became Archbishop of Canterbury. The following year Henry VII made Wareham his chancellor.
In his capacity of Archbishop of Canterbury he crown Henry VIII and his new bride Katherine of Aragon. Initially he maintained his role of king’s advisor but Henry became increasingly reliant upon Wolsey who received his cardinal’s hat from Wareham in 1515. That same year Wareham resigned in part because he disagreed with Henry VIII’s anti-French policy but in 1520 he was part of the Field of Cloth of Gold where Henry and Francis I of France declared undying friendship.
Wareham was loyal to Henry even though he didn’t always agree with him. At the time of the King’s Great Matter in 1527 it was Wareham who was appointed to represent Katherine, which was not particularly helpful to the queen as he refused to give her any advice based on the principal that the king’s wishes should not be opposed. In fact he signed a petition to the Pope Clement VII requesting that the divorce should be granted. It was even suggested that as Archbishop of Canterbury he should try the case but fortunately for him this idea fizzled out. He was doing his best to maintain the Church in the face of Henry’s growing hostility towards it and the Pope.
In 1531 he was in charge of the Convocation that handed £100,000 over to Henry in order to avoid the charge of praemunire (obeying a foreign authority). He also accepted Henry VIII as the supreme head of the church with the caveat that allowed most men to accept the oath “so far as the law of Christ allows.” Perhaps he realised that Henry would never be satisfied and tried to pursue the rights of the Church but it was too late – he was old and tired. He died on 22 August 1532.
The painting of Wareham is after the style of Hans Holbein – a sketch of Wareham’s head by Holbein is in the Royal Collection which was executed (okay perhaps not a good word to use in the context of anyone alive during the reign of Henry VIII) during Holbein’s first visit to England in 1526-28.