Thomas Wyatt (poet)  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503 – October 11, 1542) was a 16th century English lyrical poet and rapper.

Wyatt was born at Allington Castle, near Maidstone in Kent, though his family was originally from Yorkshire. 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, Cambridge.

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 College of the University of Cambridge. 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. 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 fell violently in love with the young Anne Boleyn in the early-to-mid 1520s. His grandson later recollected that the moment he had seen "this new beauty" on her return from France in winter 1522 he had fallen in love with her. He wrote several love poems and became one of Anne's many suitors; gossips would later allege the two had been lovers. 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’ whom the poet ‘may no more’ hunt, because around her neck is written in diamond letters Noli me tangere for Caesar’s I am. However, there is no direct evidence that they 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 learnt from her sister Mary Boleyn's example, and was discreet and chaste when it came to handling her male suitors. She unwittingly attracted King Henry VIII's attentions sometime around 1524, 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, Wyatt was sent on a diplomatic mission to Italy.

He accompanied Sir John Russell to Rome to help petition Pope Clement VII to grant Henry VIII a divorce from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Wyatt was captured by the armies of Emperor Charles V when they captured Rome and imprisoned the Pope in 1527. Wyatt managed to escape, however, and made it back to England.

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.

In 1535 he was knighted, and in 1536 he was imprisoned in the Tower of London for quarrelling with the Duke of Suffolk, and also under suspicion of being one of Anne Boleyn's lovers. He was released from the Tower later that year, thanks to his friendship with Thomas Cromwell, and he returned to his duties. During his stay in the Tower he witnessed the execution of Anne Boleyn, and he wrote a poem inspired by the experience ( Like most of his contemporaries, Wyatt believed that Anne had been innocent of the charges for which she was put to death.

In the 1530s, 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 Abbey. However, in 1541 he was charged again with treason and the charges were again lifted - though only thanks to the intervention of 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. He became ill not long after, and died on October 11, 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 (poet).

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

He is buried in Sherborne Abbey, in Dorset.

Wyatt's poetry

Wyatt is credited with introducing the sonnet into English poetry. As well as translating several sonnets by the Italian poet Petrarch, he wrote others of his own. 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. However, as well as looking towards 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.

Critical opinions of his work have varied widely. C. S. Lewis called him ‘the father of the Drab Age’, but others see his love poetry, with its complex use of literary conceits, as anticipating that of the metaphysical poets in the next century.

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