"A hand, that taught what might be said in rhyme;|
That reft Chaucer the glory of his wit.
A mark, the which (unperfected for time)
Some may approach, but never none shall hit."
—Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey.
Sir Thomas Wyatt, the Elder (1503-1542), was born to Henry and Anne Wyatt at Allington Castle, near Maidstone, Kent, in
1503. Little is known of his childhood education. His first
court appearance was in 1516 as Sewer
Extraordinary to Henry VIII. In 1516 he
also entered St. John's
College, University of Cambridge. Around 1520, when he was only seventeen years old, he married Lord Cobham's daughter Elizabeth
Brooke. She bore him a son, Thomas Wyatt, the Younger, in 1521.
He became popular at court, and carried out several foreign missions
for King Henry VIII, and also served various offices at home.
Around 1525, Wyatt separated from his wife, charging her with
adultery; it is also the year from which his interest in Anne Boleyn probably
dates.1 He accompanied Sir Thomas Cheney on a diplomatic mission to
France in 1526 and Sir John Russell to Venice and the papal court in
Rome in 1527. He was made High Marshal of Calais (1528-1530) and Commissioner of the Peace of Essex in 1532. Also in 1532, Wyatt accompanied King
Henry and Anne Boleyn, who was by then the King's mistress, on their visit to Calais. Anne Boleyn married the King in January 1533,
and Wyatt served in her coronation in June.
Wyatt was knighted in 1535, but in 1536 he was imprisoned in
the Tower for quarreling with the Duke of Suffolk, and possibly also
because he was suspected of being one of Anne Boleyn's lovers. During
this imprisonment Wyatt witnessed
the execution of Anne Boleyn on May 19, 1536 from the Bell Tower,
and wrote V. Innocentia Veritas Viat Fides
Circumdederunt me inimici mei. He was released later
that year. Henry, Wyatt's father, died in November 1536.
Wyatt was returned to favor and made ambassador to the court
of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, in Spain. He returned to England in June 1539, and later that year was
again ambassador to Charles until May 1540. Wyatt's praise of country
life, and the cynical comments about foreign courts, in his verse
epistle Mine Own John Poins derive from his own experience.
In 1541 Wyatt was charged with treason on a revival of charges originally
levelled against him in 1538 by Edmund Bonner,
now Bishop of London. Bonner claimed that while ambassador,
Wyatt had been rude about the King's person, and had dealings
with Cardinal Pole,
a papal legate and Henry's kinsman, with whom Henry was much angered
over Pole's siding with papal authority in the matter of Henry's
divorce proceedings from Katharine of Aragón. Wyatt was again confined to
the Tower, where he wrote an impassioned 'Defence'. He received a royal
pardon, perhaps at the request of then queen, Catharine Howard,
and was fully restored to favor in 1542. Wyatt was given various royal offices after
his pardon, but he became ill after welcoming Charles V's envoy at Falmouth
and died at Sherborne on 11 October 1542.
None of Wyatt's poems had been published in his lifetime, with
the exception of a few poems in a miscellany entitled The Court of
Venus. His first published work was Certain Psalms (1549),
metrical translations of the penitential psalms. It wasn't until 1557,
15 years after Wyatt's death, that a number of his poetry appeared
alongside the poetry of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey in printer
Richard Tottel's Songs
and Sonnets written by the Right Honorable Lord Henry
Howard late Earl of Surrey and other. Until modern times it
was called simply Songs and Sonnets, but now it is generally
known as Tottel's Miscellany. The rest of Wyatt's poetry, lyrics, and satires
remained in manuscript until the 19th and 20th centuries "rediscovered" them.
Wyatt, along with Surrey, was the first to introduce the
sonnet into English, with its characteristic final rhyming couplet. He
wrote extraordinarily accomplished imitations of Petrarch's sonnets,
including 'I find no peace' ('Pace non
trovo') and 'Whoso List to Hunt'—the
latter, quite different in tone from Petrarch's 'Una candida cerva',
has often been seen to refer to Anne Boleyn as the deer with a jewelled
collar. Wyatt was also adept at other new forms in English, such as the
terza rima and the rondaeu. Wyatt and Surrey often
share the title of "father of the English sonnet."
1. So states Rebholz (p20). According to The Dictionary of National Biography,
they had been acquainted since childhood.
Foley, S. M. Sir
Boston: Twayne, 1990.
Surrey, and Early Tudor Poetry.
New York: Addison Wesley Longman, 1998.
Jentoft, C. W. Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard,
Earl of Surrey, A Reference Guide.
Boston: G. K. Hall, c1980.
Mason, H. A., ed.
Sir Thomas Wyatt: A Literary Portrait.
Bristol: Bristol Classical Press, 1987
Muir, Kenneth. Life and
Letters of Sir Thomas Wyatt.
University Press, 1963.
Rebholz, R. A. Sir
Thomas Wyatt: The Complete Poems. Repr.
York: Penguin, 1994.
Thomson, Patricia, ed. Thomas Wyatt: The Collected Critical Heritage.
York: Routledge, 1995.
Jokinen, Anniina. "The Life of Sir Thomas Wyatt." Luminarium.
2 Aug 2010. [Date you accessed this article].
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Created by Anniina Jokinen on June 3, 1996. Last updated December 21, 2018.
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Persons of Interest
Field of the Cloth of Gold, 1520
Pilgrimage of Grace, 1536
The Babington Plot, 1586
The Spanish Armada, 1588
English Renaissance Drama
Images of London:
London in the time of Henry VII. MS. Roy. 16 F. ii.
London, 1510, the earliest view in print
Map of England from Saxton's Descriptio Angliae, 1579
Location Map of Elizabethan London
Plan of the Bankside, Southwark, in Shakespeare's time
Detail of Norden's Map of the Bankside, 1593
Bull and Bear Baiting Rings from the Agas Map (1569-1590, pub. 1631)
Sketch of the Swan Theatre, c. 1596
Westminster in the Seventeenth Century, by Hollar
Visscher's Panoramic View of London, 1616. COLOR