Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Sir Thomas Wyatt Survives

As Gareth Russell noted in yesterday's post on the executions of the men accused of adultery (and in the case of her brother, incest) with Anne Boleyn and treason against Henry VIII, the poet Thomas Wyatt the elder was also imprisoned in the Tower, threatened with the same charges. He was, however, freed. [Which has sometimes made me wonder about the element of justice in the matter. If Henry VIII and Cromwell didn't care about the true guilt or innocence of Anne and George Boleyn and the other men, what's one more head? The randomness of who lived and died confuses me, I guess.]

Be that as it may, Elena Maria Vidal has brought a new book about Sir Thomas Wyatt, poet and courtier, to our attention. From The Guardian review of Graven with Diamonds: The Many Lives of THOMAS WYATT, Courier, Poet, Assassin, Spy by Nicola Shulman:

At the centre of this nexus of romance and gossip was the dangerously appealing figure of Anne Boleyn. Beautiful, sharp-witted and no less sharp-tongued, she was 17 when she arrived at court in 1521, after two years soaking up the modish graces and affectations of the French court. She immediately caught the eye of Henry, though it would be 12 years before they were secretly married – the inconveniences of a royal divorce, and its epoch-making repercussions across Europe, accounting for this delay. The extent of Wyatt's intimacy with Anne remains uncertain. According to contemporary sources, when he learned of the king's intention to marry her, Wyatt confessed that he had been her lover. When her star fell in 1536, he was imprisoned in the Tower, though he was never formally accused – as others were – of sexual relations with her. In a powerful poem, discovered by Kenneth Muir in Dublin in 1959, Wyatt records his feelings in prison – "These bloody days have broken my heart" – and perhaps his witnessing of Anne's execution from an upstairs window of the Bell Tower, where he was held: "The bell tower showed me such a sight / That in my head sticks day and night. / There did I learn out of a grate, / For all favour, glory or might, / That yet circa regna tonat [around the throne it thunders]."


  1. Hi Stephanie,

    Thanks for the link. My theory about Wyatt's survival in 1536 is that he was arrested because of his known friendship with Anne and rumours of a love affair between the two from a decade earlier. However, Cromwell liked Wyatt very much personally and had no intention of letting him die. By arresting someone suspected of having once been intimate with the Queen when she was a young woman but then freeing him, it made the Crown's case against her seem much more fair and convincing.

  2. Also it kept out of the way someone who could provide an argument for the nullity of the marriage--no marriage: no adultery? But Henry, Cromwell and Cranmer had already determined the marriage was null. They could not really be consistent!