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Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503 – 11 October 1542) was a 16th-century English lyrical poet, whom scholars credit with introducing the sonnet into English. He was born at Allington Castlemarker, near Maidstonemarker in Kent - though his family was originally from Yorkshiremarker. His father, Henry Wyatt, had been one of Henry VII's Privy Councillors, and remained a trusted advisor when Henry VIII came to the throne in 1509. In his turn, Thomas Wyatt followed his father to court after his education at St John's College, Cambridgemarker.

Wyatt was a poet and Ambassador in the service of Henry VIII. He first entered Henry's service in 1516 as 'Sewer Extraordinary', and the same year he began studying at St John's Collegemarker of the University of Cambridgemarker. He married Elizabeth Brooke (1503 – 1560), the sister of George Brooke, 9th Baron Cobham, in 1521, and a year later she gave birth to a son, Thomas Wyatt, the younger, who led Wyatt's rebellion many years after his father's death. (This rebellion, aimed at putting Elizabeth Tudor on the English throne while her sister Mary I reigned, resulted in the younger Wyatt's imprisonment and execution and put Elizabeth herself under heavy suspicion, although she rigorously denied any participation in that rebellion.) 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 adultery.

Wyatt was over six feet tall, reportedly both handsome and physically strong, brilliant, and his poetry bespeaks infinite sensitivity to love. Many legends and conjectures have grown up around the notion that the young, unhappily married Wyatt fell violently in love with the young Anne Boleyn in the early-to-mid 1520s. His grandson (who penned a biography of Anne Boleyn many years after her death) wrote that the moment Thomas Wyatt had seen "this new beauty" on her return from France in winter 1522 he had fallen in love with her. Wyatt certainly wrote a fair share of love poems and, according to grandson George Wyatt, he was one of Anne's many suitors. In a world where courtly love was the chief pastime, it is difficult to discern a sighing poet from a bona fide suitor, and, in any case, Wyatt's marriage was failed but not ended. Attractive he may have been, but he was not an eligible bachelor by any means. Gossips would later allege Thomas and Anne had been lovers. No one really knows. It is possible that one of his poems in particular, Whoso list to hunt (a reinterpretation of Petrarch's Rime 190), refers to this indirectly. The poet refers to a ‘hind’ (i.e., a deer) whom the poet ‘may no more’ hunt, because around her neck is written in diamond letters Noli me tangere for Caesar’s I am. This sensuous sonnet of a love denied suggests to some that Wyatt was forced to abandon his desire for Anne ("Noli me tangere" means "none may touch me") when King Henry VIII (i.e., Caesar) took up his own pursuit of her. There is no direct evidence that Anne and Wyatt were physically intimate, and it has been suggested that this was why Wyatt’s life was spared during the hurly-burly of adultery accusations and executions in 1536. Furthermore, Anne was ambitious and had learned from her reportedly promiscuous sister Mary Boleyn's example; Mary had been one of Henry VIII's discarded mistresses. Anne was, if not indeed chaste, at the very least discreet when it came to handling her male suitors. She attracted King Henry VIII's attentions sometime around 1525 (whether by her design or with her desire, one cannot accurately know), and Wyatt was the last of Anne's other suitors to be ousted by the king. After an argument over her during a game of bowls with the King (again according to Wyatt's grandson's writing), Wyatt was sent on, or himself requested, a diplomatic mission to Italymarker. Although many such tantalizing tales abound, no definitive evidence of the specifics of the Wyatt-Boleyn relationship exists. Did she break his heart? Did Wyatt walk away in frustration? Did either Anne or Wyatt have any choice in the events? Did they only ever love in silence? Again, much romance has been written, but no one can know for sure.

He accompanied Sir John Russell to Romemarker to help petition Pope Clement VII to annul the marriage of Henry VIII to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, an embassy whose goal was to make Henry free to marry Anne Boleyn. According to some, Wyatt 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 Englandmarker.

Wyatt seemed ever-present in the fateful moments of Anne Boleyn's life. He was at Calais when she and King Henry made their only foreign sojourn together (only a short time before they were married in secret). In January 1533, Anne Boleyn is said to have told Wyatt, in front of other courtiers, that she had a 'hankering for apples' and that the King thought she might be pregnant. This was how the shocked court discovered that Henry and Anne were already married. Wyatt was also Chief Ewer (a distinguished serving role) at her Coronation.

In 1535 he was knighted. In May 1536 he was imprisoned in the Tower of Londonmarker, perhaps for quarreling with the Duke of Suffolk, but most likely because he was one of seven men under suspicion of being one of then-Queen Anne Boleyn's lovers. 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. During his stay in the Tower he may have witnessed not only the execution of Anne Boleyn (May 19, 1536) from his cell window but also the prior executions of the five men with whom she was accused of adultery. Although there was little if any room for dissent at that point in Henry VIII's Court, Wyatt is known to have written a poem inspired by the experience (http://www.luminarium.org/renlit/innocent.htm), which, though it stays clear of declaring the executions groundless, reverberates with grief and shock. Like some of his contemporaries and most present historians, Wyatt may have felt Anne to be innocent of the charges for which she was put to death. Her high spirits, the reformist ambitions she held which ran counter to those of Cromwell and the King, her jealousies of the mistresses of the King, and her inability to give the King the male heir he so doggedly desired were, in all likelihood, the reasons for the trumped-up charges. Some blame Cromwell, some blame Henry VIII, some blame factions within factions seeking to restore Henry's first daughter Mary to his favor, but no definitive records of the trial survive, and no one knows what schemes specifically engineered her demise. Suffice it to say that Henry was betrothed to marry a new girl (Jane Seymour) on the very next day after Anne Boleyn's execution. One can only imagine what Wyatt felt and learned at such close quarters to this tragedy and the official propaganda explaining it all. To dissent was death. Despite (or perhaps because of) all this, Wyatt persevered as a writer of poems and ballads and as a singular figure at court.

In the 1530s (NB: Dates for the manuscripts as well as verifications of authorship, are rarely certifiable.), he wrote poetry in the Devonshire MS declaring his love for a woman; the first letter on each line spelt out SHELTUN. A reply is written underneath it, 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 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 Abbeymarker. 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, then-Queen Catherine Howard, and upon the condition of reconciling with his adulterous wife. He was granted a full pardon and restored once again to his duties as Ambassador. After the execution of Catherine Howard, there were rumours that Wyatt's wife, Elizabeth, was a possibility for wife number six, despite the fact that she was still married to Wyatt. He became ill not long after, and died on 11 October 1542 around the age of 39.

None of Wyatt's poems were published during his lifetime - the first book to feature his verse was printed a full fifteen years after his death. He and Lord Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey were the first poets to use the form of the sonnet in English. One of his sonnets, Whoso list to hunt, thought to be about Anne Boleyn, is posted at Wikisource:Author:Thomas Wyatt .

His sister Margaret Wyatt was the mother of Henry Lee of Ditchley.

Long after Thomas Wyatt's death, his only son, Thomas Wyatt the younger, led a thwarted rebellion against Henry's daughter, Queen Mary I, for which he was executed. The rebellion's aim was to set the Protestant-minded Elizabeth (who would eventually accede upon Mary's death), on the throne. This Elizabeth (who was to become the celebrated Virgin Queen) was, of course, the daughter of Anne Boleyn.

His great grandson was Virginia Governor Francis Wyatt.

He is buried in Sherborne Abbeymarker, in Dorsetmarker.

He figures in history, and as a character in historical romance, in the Showtime television series, "The Tudors," and in a three-character play, Crowley's "Most Happy."

Wyatt's poetry

Modern scholars credit Wyatt with introducing the sonnet into English poetry. Although a significant amount of his literary output consists of translations of sonnets by the Italian poet Petrarch, he wrote others of his own. Wyatt's sonnets first appeared in Tottle's Miscellany, now on exhibit in the British Library in London. In addition to imitations of works by the classical writers Seneca and Horace, he experimented with other poetic forms such as the rondeau, and wrote epigrams, songs and satires. While Wyatt's poetry reflects classical and Italian models, he also admired the work of Chaucer and his vocabulary reflects Chaucer’s (for example, his use of Chaucer’s word newfangleness, meaning fickle, in They flee from me that sometime did me seek). His best-known poems are those that deal with the trials of romantic love. Others of his poems were scathing, satirical indictments of the hypocrisies and flat-out pandering required of courtiers ambitious to advance at the Tudor court. There is a case to be made for Wyatt's having been essential in making English a language worthy for literature, since French had been the court tongue and Latin the language of diplomacy until around his time.

Critical opinions of his work have varied widely. For most of his posthumous legacy, he was considered an inferior poet to his contemporary Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey. The twentieth century saw an awakening in his popularity and a surge in critical attention. C. S. Lewis called him ‘the father of the Drab Age’, though not necessarily in a dismissive sense, while others see his love poetry, with its complex use of literary conceits, as anticipating that of the metaphysical poets in the next century.

As stated above, it is thought that the inspiration for much of his early poetry was Anne Boleyn. Later, it is believed, his long-term mistress, Elizabeth Darrell was his muse. (She is rumoured to have become the mistress of his son, Thomas Wyatt the younger, before marrying, but, then, romance and rumor seem to have been drawn to Thomas Wyatt.)

References



External links

Life and works: http://www.luminarium.org/renlit/wyatt.htm


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