Sir Thomas Wyatt Biography


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Sir Thomas Wyatt was born into a family already in favor with the court. His father had served and prospered under Henry VII and Henry VIII, holding a series of important offices, and purchasing as his principal residence Allington Castle in Kent, where the poet was born. Young Wyatt made his first court appearance in 1516 and probably entered St. John’s College, Cambridge, the same year. He was suitably married in 1520 to Elizabeth Brooke, the daughter of Lord Cobham, with whom he had a son; but in 1526, they separated because of her infidelity. He was sent on important diplomatic missions, in 1526 to France and in 1527 to Italy, where he traveled extensively.

It is plausibly conjectured that Wyatt was a lover of Anne Boleyn before her marriage to Henry VIII. Some of his poems were probably written to or about her, and his imprisonment in 1536 seems to have been connected with her downfall. He was quickly released to his father’s custody, however, and continued to enjoy the king’s favor. Knighted, he was sent as ambassador to Spain to improve relations between Henry VIII and Emperor Charles V and to prevent an alliance of the latter with France. On later embassies to France and Flanders, he continued this mission. In 1540, because of a shift in policy, his patron, Thomas Cromwell, was arrested and executed. Slanderous accusations found among Cromwell’s papers led to Wyatt’s imprisonment in 1541 and his subsequent preparations to reply to the charges. He was soon released, however, on condition that he leave his mistress, Elizabeth Darrell, who had borne him a son, and return to his wife. He continued to occupy important offices, serving as member of Parliament for Kent and vice admiral of the fleet. At about age thirty-nine, he died in Sherborne, Dorset, of a sudden fever contracted on a diplomatic mission to meet the Spanish envoy at Falmouth.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Throughout the Renaissance, the European noble was expected to be a creditable poet as well as a capable soldier and diplomat, so much of the best poetry of sixteenth century England was written by members of high-ranking families who contributed to their country’s development. Sir Thomas Wyatt (WI-uht) and Henry Howard, earl of Surrey, who inaugurated the golden age of English poetry with their adoption of the verse forms and subject matter of French and Italian works, fall into the long line of courtier poets who wrote sonnets, songs, and satires for their own and their friends’ satisfaction.

Wyatt composed his poems during intervals in a busy, if checkered, career as a public official. The son of Sir Henry Wyatt, a minor noble, he was born in 1503 at Allington Castle in Kent. He went to St. John’s College, Cambridge, when he was thirteen, and was made master of arts in 1520. In that year he married Elizabeth, daughter of Lord Cobham, and began to serve as a court official. In 1526 he traveled to France as a courier for the English ambassador. His mission to Italy in the following year was probably more significant for his poetic development; it gave him an opportunity to become familiar with the works of the Italian poets who greatly influenced his writing, among them Petrarch and Pietro Aretino. During the course of his Italian mission Wyatt was captured by Spanish troops, but he escaped before his ransom was paid. For the next four years he served as marshal of Calais, re turning to England in 1532 as commissioner of the peace in Essex.

Wyatt was imprisoned in May, 1536, probably because of a quarrel with the powerful duke of Suffolk, although there has been considerable speculation about his involvement with Queen Anne Boleyn, who was executed that same year. There is a strong tradition,...

(The entire section is 746 words.)