Wyatt’s contributions to both the English Renaissance and English Literature were extremely significant. As the son of Henry Wyatt, a Privy Councillor in the court of Henry VII, Thomas Wyatt grew up as part of the King’s retinue, and was himself established in service to the young Henry VIII.
Though reminded regularly of his real stature at court, Wyatt was part of Henry VIII’s closest circle. Both men were young, athletic, handsome and intelligent. Wyatt was also shrewdly diplomatic: he realized early that his relationship with the king was a tenuous one, and that many at court would lose their lives if and when they incurred their monarch’s displeasure.
Wyatt was an effective envoy for the court, and conducted diplomatic missions to France and Italy. It is likely that these missions were engineered by the king to ensure that Wyatt’s early relationship with the young Anne Boleyn, who, in Wyatt’s absence, was courted and then married to Henry VIII.
When Anne failed to produce an heir, she was imprisoned, along with several men with whom she had allegedly committed adultery. Wyatt was amongst those arrested, and was the only member of the group to survive the experience. Wyatt’s release is testament to his place in the court, and the respect that Henry held for him. He had earlier told Henry that Anne was an unsuitable candidate for marriage, and his observations had proved accurate in the eyes of the king. Wyatt spent three terms in prison during Henry’s reign, and yet managed to die of natural causes, knighted and honored by his king.
Henry himself was a musician, linguist and poet. Wyatt acted as the perfect foil to Henry. Both were accomplished at jousting and riding as well as intellectual pursuits. It is due in part to Wyatt that Henry was able to express his own skill and interests across the globe, and for society to see their monarch as an intellectual as well as a figurehead. In offering a new development on the Petrarchan sonnet form, Wyatt also advanced English as a language of the poet and the thinker. This act in itself was the most significant in advancing England as an intellectual nation. Wyatt’s contribution, then, to the Renaissance in particular, was a suitably understated but significant one.