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The Love of Anne Boleyn's Life
Thomas Wyatt was born in Kent in 1503. He was the son of Sir Henry Wyatt, one of Henry VII's counselors and a trusted advisor during Henry VIII's reign. Thomas likely felt compelled to further the family name and the pressure by his father to continue to serve kings. However, Thomas was a poet and an artist at heart! He never published any of his works during his lifetime. Why is that? Perhaps it was to preserve his reputation, and perhaps because his art was the one thing he could control.
Thomas had two siblings. His brother, Henry, was assumed to have died as an infant. It was a sad reality in this time of history that many children did not live into adulthood. His sister, Margaret, married and had one son, Sir Henry Lee.
Sir Thomas Wyatt was reportedly over six feet tall, handsome, and physically strong. He was an ambassador in the service of Henry VIII. He first assisted Henry VIII in 1515, when he was a "Sewer Extraordinary." That year, he also began studying at St John's College of the University of Cambridge. That means that, at the young age of 12 years old, he was a child prodigy. He was attending university!
In 1520, Wyatt married Elizabeth Brooke, the daughter of Thomas Brooke, 8th Baron Cobham. A year later, the couple had a son. His name was Sir Thomas Wyatt, and he would go on to lead Wyatt's rebellion against Mary I, Queen of England.
Early into the marriage, Wyatt separated from his wife on the grounds of her alleged adultery. He must have been so humiliated. The heartbroken Wyatt was then assigned to be an ambassador at home and abroad in 1524. This promotion must have been a welcome change in pace, affording him a break from the stresses of his home life.
It's been rumored that the young and unhappily-married Wyatt fell in love with Anne Boleyn in the early-to-mid-1520s. There is no definite proof of their relationship. George Gilfillan, nineteeth-century critic, implied they were together. In one of his poems, Wyatt calls his mistress "Anna" and alludes to her life:
And now I follow the coals that be quent,
From Dover to Calais against my mind . . . .
Gilfillan argues that it could refer to Anne's trip to France in 1522. However, Wyatt was not listed as one of those who attended the royal party in France. Or, could it in fact refer to the Field of Gold and Cloth in 1520?
Wyatt's sonnet "Whoso List To Hunt" may allude to Anne's relationship with the King:
Graven in diamonds with letters plain,
There is written her fair neck round about,
'Noli me tangere [Do not touch me], Caesar's, I am'.
According to his grandson George Wyatt, it was love-at-first-sight for Thomas Wyatt when he first laid eyes on Anne Boleyn. In 1525, when King Henry VIII began to fall in love with her, Wyatt was sent away for a diplomatic mission in Italy. According to his grandson, Wyatt and the king fought over Anne during a game of bowls, and Wyatt was then shipped off as a result. I think that this is strong circumstantial evidence for a relationship or, at the very least, Thomas Wyatt's crush on Anne Boleyn.
I speculate that, in the case of Thomas Wyatt and Anne Boleyn, it was merely a matter of admiration from afar. Anne Boleyn's love of her life was, undisputedly, Henry Percy. Would she have also been juggling a romantic match with Sir Thomas?
I think not.
He traveled to Rome to petition Pope Clement VII to annul the marriage of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon. There is also some reports of Wyatt being captured by Emperor Charles V during the sacking of Rome in 1527. If true, this event would have impacted him greatly, influencing his later poetry, and making him strongly anti-Catholic. These reports also indicate that he managed to escape and returned to England.
In 1535, he was knighted and appointed High Sheriff of Kent during the year 1536. This growth in position and status would have meant a large increase in salary. He was likely living the good life when he was arrested and charged with treason. It would have made his arraignment all the more frightening and devastating for him.
Life in Prison
In May 1536, Wyatt was imprisoned in the Tower of London for allegedly committing adultery with Anne Boleyn. During his stay in the Tower he may have witnessed not only the execution of Anne Boleyn (19 May 1536) from his cell window but also the prior executions of the five men with whom she was accused of adultery. Wyatt is known to have written a poem inspired by the experience, which, though it stays clear of declaring the executions groundless, expresses grief and shock.
Veritas Viat Fides
me inimici mei
by Sir Thomas Wyatt, the Elder
Who list his wealth and ease retain,
Himself let him unknown contain.
Press not too fast in at that gate
Where the return stands by disdain,
For sure, circa Regna tonat.
The high mountains are blasted oft
When the low valley is mild and soft.
Fortune with Health stands at debate.
The fall is grievous from aloft.
And sure, circa Regna tonat.
These bloody days have broken my heart.
My lust, my youth did them depart,
And blind desire of estate.
Who hastes to climb seeks to revert.
Of truth, circa Regna tonat.
The bell tower showed me such 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.
By proof, I say, there did I learn:
Wit helpeth not defence too yerne,
Of innocency to plead or prate.
Bear low, therefore, give God the stern,
For sure, circa Regna tonat.
I have to wonder if, in fact, his feelings for Queen Anne were buried amongst those words as well. He could never have openly declared his allegiance, because to do so was to risk further imprisonment or death. However, from this poem, it's very plain to see just how heartbroken he was from the whole ordeal.
He was released from prison later that year, thanks to his friendship with Thomas Cromwell, and returned to his duties.
In the 1530s, he wrote poetry declaring his love for a woman; the first letter of each line spelled out SHELTUN. A reply is written underneath it, signed by Mary Shelton, rejecting him.
It seemed that Thomas Wyatt was doomed to be unlucky in love. He was rejected, repeatedly, by the women in his life.
Around the year 1537, his fortunes changed for the better. He took Elizabeth Darrell as his mistress. Elizabeth bore Wyatt three sons, Henry (who died in early infancy), Francis (born in 1540 and took the surname of Darrell), and Edward, who was later executed for his part in the Wyatt's Rebellion of 1554. It appeared to be a relationship of love, as he even left her some properties in his will. It was not a common occurrence; in this time period, mistresses were usually not recognized formally in such a manner.
By 1540, Sir Thomas Wyatt was granted a dissolved abbey, showing his restore to favor. However, in 1541 he was charged again with treason and the charges were again lifted. This is due to the intervention of Henry's fifth wife, Queen Catherine Howard, and upon the condition of reconciling with his wife. He was granted a full pardon and restored once again to his duties as ambassador.
After the execution of Catherine Howard, there were rumors that Wyatt's wife, Elizabeth, was a possibility for Henry's final wife. He became ill not long after, and died on 11 October 1542 around the age of 39.
A short life for such a talented and illustrious poet. He never had the love of his wife, Elizabeth, nor of Anne Boleyn, his crush. I can only wonder what would have changed if Anne Boleyn had returned his affections and become his mistress - or his wife.