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Sir Thomas Wyatt 1503–1542

Sir Thomas Wyatt 1503 – 1542, He was a 16th-century English politician, ambassador, and lyric poet credited with introducing the sonnet to English literature. He was born at Allington Castle, near Maidstone, in Kent, though  the family was originally from Yorkshire. His mother was Anne Skinner, and his father, Henry Wyatt, had been a Privy Councillor of Henry VII, and remained a trusted adviser when Henry VIII ascended the throne in 1509. In his turn, Thomas Wyatt followed his father to court, after education at St John’s College, Cambridge. Although they were circulated at court, Wyatt’s poems were not published during his lifetime; the first book featuring his verse, Tottel’s Miscellany (1557), was printed fifteen years after his death.

Sir Thomas Wyatt

Allington Castle, Kent

11 October 1542 (aged 38–39)
Clifton Maybank House, Dorset

Resting place
Sherborne Abbey, Dorset

Elizabeth Brooke

Sir Thomas Wyatt the younger
Henry (no image available)
Francis (no image available)
Edward (no image available)

His father, Henry Wyatt, was a Lancastrian who had been imprisoned during Richard III’s reign, but released on the accession of Henry VII who rewarded him with many grants and titles. His mother was Anne Skinner, daughter of John Skinner of Reigate, a woman famed for her hospitality.

He had a brother and sister. Henry Wyatt was assumed to have died an infant (no image available) Margaret Wyatt,  married Sir Anthony Lee

Little is known of Thomas Wyatt’s childhood, apart from the story of the lion. It is said that Wyatt, or his father, were raising a lion cub as a pet when it turned on Wyatt and attacked him. Wyatt had the presence of mind to grab his rapier and run it through the lion’s heart. When Henry VIII heard of this story, he commented “Oh, he will tame lions”.

Wyatt was over six feet tall, reportedly both handsome and physically strong. He first entered Henry’s service in 1515 as “Sewer Extraordinary” at Princess Mary’s christening

In 1520, Wyatt married Elizabeth Brooke. A year later, the couple had a son Sir Thomas Wyatt the Younger, who led Wyatt’s rebellion many years after his father’s death.

Wyatt fell in love with the young Anne Boleyn when she arrived at the English Court in 1522. His grandson, George Wyatt, later wrote that when Thomas Wyatt first saw Anne he was “surprised by the sight thereof”. It was love at first sight for Thomas

But Anne, at this time, was in love with Henry Percy and by 1526 she had a new admirer, the King.

His riddle poem “What wourde is that that chaungeth not” has the answer “Anna” in “The Lover Confesseth Him in Love with Phyllis” he writes of “That Brunet” which is thought to refer to Anne.

Wyatt’s sonnet “Whoso List To Hunt” also alludes to Anne’s relationship with the King..

Graven in diamonds with letters plain, There is written her fair neck round about, ‘Noli me tangere’ (Do not touch me) Caesar’s, I am’.

In 1524 Henry VIII assigned Wyatt to be an ambassador at home and abroad and some time soon after he separated from his wife on the grounds of her alleged adultery.

After an argument over Anne during a game of bowls with the King, Wyatt was sent on a diplomatic mission to Rome to help petition Pope Clement VII to annul the marriage of Henry VIII to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon He was captured by the armies of Emperor Charles V when they captured Rome and imprisoned the Pope in 1527 but managed to escape and then made it back to England.

Thomas Wyatt was apprehended by Thomas Cromwell, by order of the King, at the May Day joust in 1536, for allegedly committing adultery with Anne Boleyn

In the Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, there is a letter from Sir Henry Wyatt, Thomas Wyatt’s father, to Cromwell in which he writes that he…

On the 17th May 1536, Thomas Wyatt was filled with horror as he watched the executions of Weston, Brereton, Norris, Smeaton and George Boleyn from the window of his prison cell in the Bell Tower. He recorded the sight in his poem “Innocentia Veritas Viat Fides Cicumdederunt me inimici met”

He was released from the Tower later that year, thanks to his friendship or his father’s friendship with Thomas Cromwell, and he returned to his duties.

In the 1530s, he wrote poetry in the Devonshire MS declaring his love for a woman employing the basic acrostic formula: the first letter of each line spells out SHELTUN. A reply is written underneath signed by Mary Shelton, rejecting him. Mary, Anne Boleyn’s first cousin, had been the mistress of Henry VIII between February and August 1535.

In 1535 Wyatt was knighted and appointed High Sheriff of Kent. The King also made him an ambassador to the court of Charles V

Around the year 1537, he took Elizabeth Darrell as his mistress. Elizabeth bore Wyatt three sons, Henry (who died in early infancy), Francis (born in 1540 and took the surname of Darrell), and Edward, who was later executed for his part in the Wyatt’s Rebellion of 1554, led by his legitimate half-brother Thomas Wyatt the Younger.

By 1540 he was again in favour, as evident by the fact that he was granted the site and many of the manorial estates of the dissolved Boxley Abbey.

However, in 1541 he was charged again with treason and the charges were again lifted—though only thanks to the intervention of Henry’s fifth wife, Queen Catherine Howard, and upon the condition of reconciling with his wife.

In 1542, Wyatt was back in favour and had been restored to his office of ambassador. He became ill not long after, and died on 11 October 1542 around the age of 39.

He is buried in nearby Sherborne Abbey

Critical opinions of his work have varied widely. Thomas Warton, the 18th-century critic, considered Wyatt “confessedly an inferior” to his contemporary Henry Howard, and that Wyatt’s “genius was of the moral and didactic species and be deemed the first polished English satirist” The 20th century saw an awakening in his popularity and a surge in critical attention. C. S. Lewis called him “the father of the Drab Age” (i.e. the unornate), from what Lewis calls the “golden” age of the 16th century

Others see his love poetry, with its complex use of literary conceits as anticipating that of the metaphysical poets in the next century. More recently, the critic Patricia Thomson describes Wyatt as “the Father of English Poetry”

Long after Thomas Wyatt’s death his only legitimate son, Sir Thomas Wyatt the Younger, led a thwarted rebellion against Henry’s daughter Mary I, for which he was executed. The rebellion’s aim was to set the Protestant-minded Elizabeth, the daughter of Anne Boleyn, on the throne.

His sister Margaret Wyatt was the mother of Henry Lee of Ditchley, from whom descend the Lees of Virginia including Robert E. Lee.

Wyatt’s grandson, Sir George Wyatt, was an ancestor of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, wife of King Edward VIII, later Duke of Windsor

Thomas Wyatt’s great-grandson
was Virginia Colony governor
Sir Francis Wyatt

Sir Thomas Wyatt

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