Thomas Wyatt (b.1503) was educated at St John's College, Cambridge, UK, and became a popular member of Henry VIII's household at Hampton Court. He served on various missions for the king, and was knighted for his efforts in 1532. In 1536 he was thrown into the Tower of London on suspicion of being one of Anne Boleyn's lovers - and again in 1538, after accusations of misconduct in his post as ambassador by the Bishop of London. He was pardoned at the request of the Queen.

His first love and wife of 5 years committed adultery, and he seems to have been bitter after that - as has been mentioned, nearly all his poetry is about how love is a bad idea.

See: They Flee from Me

Sir Thomas Wyatt's poems were originally circulated in manuscript form. In 1557 Richard Tottel included 97 of Wyatt's poems in a collection by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey. Tottel gave many of Wyatt's poems titles and made small changes in rhythm and content to appear more modern.

In 1503, Thomas Wyatt the Elder was born to his parents Henry and Anne Wyatt at Allington Castle in Kent, England. He made a court appearence as a sewer for Henry VIII in 1516, and subsequently became a fairly popular courtier. He was educated St. John's College, University of Cambridge and took positions such as clerk of the king's jewels, ambassador to Spain and Emperor Charles V, and parts of diplomatic missions to France and Italy.

He was married to Elizabeth Brooke in 1520 and they bore a son one year later, whom they named Thomas. After some time together, Thomas Wyatt the Elder acquired a divorce from his wife over accusations of adultery. In all likelihood, he began a relationship with Anne Boleyn immediately afterwards in 1525. This relationship would cause problems for him later. Following a path of success, he was made the High Marshal of Calais in 1528 and the Commissioner of the Peace of Essex in 1532. Meanwhile, Anne Boleyn had become the mistress to Henry VIII, and married the king in 1535. Wyatt served in the coronation.

The same year, Wyatt was knighted for his work as a diplomat and statesman. Events quickly reversed themselves, however. In 1536 he was imprisoned in the Tower of London, supposedly over a quarrel with a Duke, but most likely because of his relationship with Anne Boleyn. After Boleyn's execution, he was released and regained favor as an ambassador again.

Wyatt was imprisoned once more in 1541 on charges of treason. He was freed at the request of Queen Catherine Howard and served in various government positions until his death on October 11, 1542 at Sherborne.

As the introducer of the sonnet to England, Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder is extremely important to the history of English literature. His extensive travel abroad caused him to have an interest in foreign works. He translated several of Petrarch's poems, and began to emulate Petrarch in his own poetic efforts. He addressed the standard Petrarchan subject matter: despairing lovers, cold ladies, elaborate metaphoric images, and passionate descriptions of the lover's suffering. The structure of his sonnets differed somewhat from that of the Italian form of an octave and a sestet. Instead, he commonly used a scheme of abba abba cddc ee, which would serve as the inspiration for the traditional English sonnet form of three quatrains and a couplet.

Besides sonnets, Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder also crafted many lyrics to English "ballets". These were native dance songs, very popular among the lower and upper classes. The stanzic form for these works was short and rigorous. Both his lyrics and songs lack the regularity of accent and smoothness of rhythm present in the later Elizabethan sonnets. Despite this, his contribution to the progress of English literary thought is immense and undeniable. He would serve as the essential base for, the masters of poetry that would follow him: Shakespeare, Donne, Johnson, and many others.

The works of Wyatt were not published during his lifetime, but gathered together along with other authors in the publication of Tottel's Miscellany in 1557. Several notable poems of his include:


sources: The Norton Anthology of English Literature (ISBN 0-393-96808-1), and http://www.luminarium.org/renlit/wyatt.htm

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