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The Poets

June 15, 2009

Sir Thomas Wyatt*


Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503 - 1542)

Thomas Wyatt was born in 1503 at Allington Castle in Kent, England. His father served as a wealthy privy councilor to both Henry the VII and Henry VIII. Wyatt attended St. John's College, Cambridge, and married Elizabeth Brooke in 1520. Although she bore him two children, they separated shortly after marriage and did not reconcile until 1541.

Wyatt, like his father before him, worked in the court of Henry VIII. Handsome and admired for his skill in music, jousting, and languages, he served first as esquire of the king's body and clerk of the king's jewels in 1524. Though these positions were minor, they helped to establish Wyatt in the king's favor. By 1527, he began a diplomatic career with missions to France and Rome, where he grew acquainted with the French and Italian prosody that would later have profound influence on his literary life.

It was also at this time that Wyatt became acquainted with Anne Boleyn, the king's mistress and soon-to-be wife. Scholars have pointed to suggestions in his poems (particularly "Whoso List to Hunt") and other anecdotal evidence to posit that he was Boleyn's lover. It is difficult, however, to firmly establish their relationship. In 1536 Wyatt was arrested shortly after five men alleged to have been Boleyn's lovers were imprisoned. Boleyn herself was imprisoned and executed for adultery. Wyatt spent only one month in the Tower and shortly thereafter regained Henry's favor. He would serve Henry VIII in various offices in England and abroad for the remainder of his life, and by all accounts was an accomplished diplomat.

Although Wyatt's poems circulated among many of the members of Henry's court, they did not appear in print until after his death. In 1557, ninety-six of his songs appeared in Songs and Sonnetts (Tottel's Miscellany). The remainder of Wyatt's poems, satires, and lyrics would remain in manuscript and slowly come into print during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Along with the Earl of Surrey, Wyatt is commonly credited with introducing the sonnet into English. His love lyrics, many based loosely on the Petrarchan sonnet, deal with courtly love and ill treatment at the hands of his lovers. Among his most famous poems are "Whoso List to Hunt," "They Flee From Me," "What No, Perdie," "Lux, My Fair Falcon," and "Blame Not My Lute." Wyatt also wrote three satires, which adopted the Italian terza rima into English, and a number of penitential psalms. He died of a fever in 1542.


*Biography from Poets.org

2 comments:

The Anne Boleyn Files said...

Thomas Wyatt was a great poet and I'm sure that Anne Boleyn was his "muse" for a while but, as you say, there is no evidence that they were lovers and his love for her was unrequited as far as I can see. Anne would not have been stupid enough to have committed adultery. All charges against her were cooked up by Cromwell. I love his poem "“V. Innocentia Veritas Viat Fides Circumdederunt me inimici mei” which is about Anne's execution, which he supposedly witnessed from his prison cell. A truly great poet.

John W. May said...

Thank you so much for your insight.

Turns out- and I was unaware of this until recently- that the marrage between Anne and the king had been dissolved before the charges of adultery were brought to her.
The only thing I'm having difficulty understanding is- IF she did committed adultery- was it before or after their divorce?

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