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Sir Thomas Wyat

Sir Thomas WyatBorn: 1503
Birthplace: Allington, Kent, England
Died: 6-Oct-1542
Location of death: Sherborne, Dorset, England
Cause of death: Fever

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Poet, Diplomat

Nationality: England
Executive summary: Introduced sonnet to England

English poet and statesman, elder son of Henry Wyat, or Wiat, afterwards knighted, and his wife Anne, daughter of John Skinner of Reigate, Surrey, was born at Allington Castle, near Maidstone, Kent, in 1503.

His father belonged to a Yorkshire family, but bought Allington about 1493. He was an adherent of the Lancastrian party, and was imprisoned and put to the torture by Richard III. The family records (in the possession of the Earl of Romney) relate that during his imprisonment he was saved from starvation by a cat that brought him pigeons. At the accession of Henry VII he became knight of the Bath (1509), knight banneret (1513) and held various offices at court.

His son, Thomas Wyat, was admitted at St. John's College, Cambridge, when about twelve years of age, took his B.A. degree in 1518, and proceeded M.A. in 1522. The vague statement of Anthony Wood (Athen. Oxon. I, 124), that he was transferred to Oxford to attend Thomas Wolsey's new college there, has no foundation in fact. He married very early Elizabeth Brooke, daughter of the 3rd Lord Cobham. The marriage was an unhappy one, for a letter (29th March 1537) from the lady's brother to Thomas Cromwell complains that Wyat had gone abroad and made no provision for his wife, and a letter from the Spanish ambassador Chapuys to Charles V (9th February 1542) speaks of her having been repudiated by her husband. As early as 1516 Wyat was server extraordinary to the king, and in 1524 he was at court as keeper of the king's jewels. He was one of the champions in the Christmas tournament of 1525. His father had been associated with Sir Thomas Boleyn as constable of Norwich Castle, and he had thus been early acquainted with Anne Boleyn. He appears to have been generally regarded as her lover, but it is possible that the relations between them were merely of the fashionable poetic sort. In 1526 he was sent with Sir Thomas Cheney to congratulate Francis I on his safe return from Spain; in 1527 he accompanied Sir John Russell, afterwards 1st Earl of Bedford, on an embassy to the papal court. He was sent by Russell, who was incapacitated by a broken leg, to negotiate with the Venetian republic. On his return journey to Rome he was taken prisoner by the Spanish troops, who demanded 3000 ducats for his ransom, but he contrived to escape. In 1528 he was acting as high marshal at Calais with a salary of two shillings per day, and was only superseded in November 1530. During the following years he was constantly employed in Henry's service, and was apparently high in his favor. He was, however, sent to the Tower of London in 1536, perhaps because it was desired that he should incriminate the queen. His father's correspondence with Cromwell does not suggest that his arrest had anything to do with the proceedings against Anne Boleyn, but the connection is assumed (Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, vol X, No. 919) in the letters of John Hussey to Lord Lisle, deputy of Calais. The Roman Catholic writer, Nicholas Harpsfield, makes a circumstantial statement (Pretended Divorce, p. 253) that Wyat had confessed his intimacy with Anne to Henry VIII and warned him against marrying her; but this, in view of his continued favor, seems highly improbable. He was released after a month's imprisonment, and in the autumn of that year took part in the suppression of the Lincoinshire rising. In March 1537 he was knighted, and a month later was sent abroad as ambassador to Charles V, whose ill-will had been revived by the declaration of the illegitimacy of the princess Mary. In 1538 he was joined by Edmund Bonner, then a simple priest, and one Simon Haynes, and seems to have been ashamed of their bad manners, and to have offended them in various ways. Bonner had evidently been desired by Thomas Cromwell to send his own account of the negotiations. He wrote to Cromwell (2nd September 1538) a long letter in which he accused Wyat of disloyalty to the king's interests, and of many personal slights to himself. Wyat was unsuccessful in the difficult affairs entrusted to him, but so long as Cromwell ruled he had a firm friend at court, and no notice was taken of Bonner's allegations. Cromwell even seems to have taken some care of his private affairs, which were left in considerable disorder. He was recalled in April 1539, but later in the same year he was employed on another embassy to the emperor, who was on his way to the Low Countries. After Cromwell's death Wyat's enemies renewed their attacks, and he was imprisoned (17th January 1541) in the Tower on the old charges, with the additional accusation of treasonable correspondence with Cardinal Reginald Pole. Being privately informed of the nature of the charges, he prepared an eloquent and manly defense of his conduct in two documents addressed to the Privy Council and to his judges, in which he cleared himself effectually and exposed his accusers' motives. He was released at the intercession of the queen, Catherine Howard, on condition that he confessed his guilt and took back his wife, from whom he had been separated for fifteen years, on pain of death if he were thenceforth untrue to her. He received a formal pardon on the 21st of March, and received during the year substantial marks of the king's favor. In the summer of the next year he was sent to Falmouth to meet the ambassadors of the emperor. The heat brought on a fever to which he succumbed at Sherborne, Dorset, on the 11th of October. A Latin elegy on his death was written by his friend John Leland, "Naenia in mortem Thomae Viati equitis incomparabilis"; and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, celebrated his memory in some well-known lines beginning "Wyat resteth here, that quick could never rest", and in two sonnets.

Wyat's work falls readily into two divisions: the sonnets, rondeaus, and lyric poems dealing with love; and the satires and the version of the penitential psalms. The love poems probably date from before his first imprisonment. A large number were published in 1557 in Songes and Sonettes (Tottel's Miscellany). Wyat's contributions number 96 out of a total of 310. These have been supplemented from manuscripts. He was the pioneer of the sonnet in England, and the acknowledged leader of the "company of courtly makers who... having travailed in Italie and there tasted the sweet and stately measures and stile of the Italian Poesie, as novices newly crept out of the schooles of Dante, Arioste and Petrarche, greatly pollished our rude and homely maner of vulgar Poesie, from that it had been before" (George Puttenham's Art of English Poesie, 1589). Wyat wrote in all thirty-one sonnets, ten of which are direct translations of Petrarch. The sentiment is strained and artificial. Wyat shows to greater advantage in his lyrical metres, in his epigrams and songs, especiaily in those written for music, where he is less hampered by the conventions of the Petrarcan tradition, to which his singularly robust and frank nature was ill-fitted. His thought is generally far in advance of his technical skill, and his disciple Surrey has been far more widely recognized, chiefly because of the superior smoothness of his versification. His works are preserved in a manuscript in possession of the Harrington family, which originally belonged to Wyat himself, and in another belonging to the duke of Devonshire in which are inscribed the names of Wyat's sister, Margaret Lee, and of the duchess of Richmond, Surrey's sister. The text differs considerably from Tottel's, which has been generally adopted. Wyat wrote three excellent satires -- "On the mean and sure estate", dedicated to John Poins, "Of the Courtier's Life", to the same, and "How to use the court and himself." They are written in terza rima and in form and matter owe much to Luigi Alamanni. In the "Penitential Psalms" each is preceded by a prologue describing the circumstances under which the psalmist wrote, and the psalms themselves are very freely paraphrased, with much original matter from the author. They were published in 1549 by Thomas Raynald and John Harrington as Certayne Psalmes... drawen into English meter by Sir Thomas Wyat Knyght.

Father: Sir Henry Wyat (b. 1460, d. 1537)
Mother: Anne Skinner
Wife: Elizabeth Brooke

    University: BA, St. John's College, Cambridge University (1518)
    University: MA, St. John's College, Cambridge University (1522)

    Escaped from Prison
    Inmate: Tower of London one month (1536)
    Treason (17-Jan-1541)
    Inmate: Tower of London (1541)
    Pardoned (21-Mar-1541)
    Knighthood 1537

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