Sir Thomas Wyatt

Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503-1542) poet, lyricist and ambassador to Henry VIII, is often accredited with writing the first English sonnets. He was much influenced by Italian poets and writers such as Petrarch, Seneca and Horace. But hardly anything he wrote was published during his life time. A few poems were published as part of a miscellany, 'The Court of Venus.'  A more important collection of his poems was published fifteen years after his death, with the work of other poets of that era (Songes and Sonettes) under the title of 'Tottel's Miscellany' (1557).

A lot of his work reflects what seems to be his own tragic history of betrayed love, with titles such as 'The Lover Complaineth the Unkindness of His Love,' 'Farewell to the Faithless,' 'And wilt thou leave me thus...'  (the last of which an irreverent parody follows below). In fact he left his own wife, Elizabeth Brooke, on unproved grounds of her committing adultery. Elizabeth gave birth to their son, Thomas Wyatt the younger (born 1522, executed and quartered for treason in 1554).

Although Wyatt was knighted in 1535, he was charged and imprisoned the following year for adultery with Anne Boleyn, with whom he had fallen in love. History records that from the Bell-Tower window of the Tower of London, he witnessed her execution on the 19th May, 1536. Her beheading followed that of five men who were also charged with having had adulterous affairs with her. Their confessions were often obtained by persuasive pressure of the rack.
Naturally shocked by all this, Wyatt wrote- 'V. Innocentia Veritas Viat Fides Circumdederunt me inimici mei.'  ('My enemies surround my soul'- Psalm 16.9)
He however, was spared. Due to the influence of Thomas Cromwell who was a friend of Wyatt's father, Wyatt was released after a few months.

Despite his romantic woes, including his being rejected by a certain Mary Shelton, it seems that he had a relatively replete love-life, one mistress being Elizabeth Darrell who had three sons by him.

Mary Shelton, first cousin to Anne Boleyn, had also been the mistress of Henry VIII in 1535 for about seven months. Wyatt made his declaration of love to her by writing a poem using the acrostic formula: the first letter of each line corresponding with the letters of her maiden name 'Shelton.'

Fortunately for Thomas Wyatt, he was a little more in royal favour (also as luck would have it regarding timing and circumstances) than out of it. Each time he was charged with treason, he was pardoned, thanks to the influence of eminent courtiers, and even on one occasion the influence of Catherine Howard, Henry's doomed fifth wife. The pardon was also given on the alleged condition that Wyatt reach an 'acceptable arrangement' with Elizabeth Darrell, no doubt also to comply with social standards worthy of an ambassador to Henry VIII. Such were the hypocritical and tortuous times.

And wilt thou leave me bare?
Say no, say nay, for care!
-To save me from such shame-
An eyesore of ill-fame.
And wilt thou leave me bare?
Say nay, say neigh.

And wilt thou leave me thus,
                                          To pollen indisposed,                                            
Benumbed and runny-nosed,
Indecently exposed
In nursery enclosed?
Say nay, say nae.

And wilt thou leave me bare,
                                         Without my netherwear                                         
After loving you so well:
Is then thy heart so fell,
              So cruel and infidel?              
Say neigh, say nay.

And wilt thou leave me bare,
                 Bound to this garden chair,                 
To be found thus by my wife
 Who will cause me endless strife:
And wilt thou leave me thus?
Say nae, say nay.

With apologies to Sir Thomas Wyatt
'And wilt thou leave me thus?...'

Text and parody © Mirino. Text from various sources, including Wikipedia. With thanks. 
Top portrait sketch of Thomas Wyatt, by Hans Holbein the Younger. March, 2013

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