If it was a struggle to find information on Henry Percy, who was among the nobility in Tudor England, then there is less still on Thomas Wyatt. He was one of the prominent poets of the time, introducing the sonnet into English literature which was passed around in manuscript. His work however, was largely unpublished until long after his death.
So what concrete connection do we have that links Anne Boleyn and Thomas Wyatt? Poetry, mainly. This post is fairly controversial and will push that Anne loved Thomas, despite many believing that Thomas’s love was unrequited. Evidence for this comes from Thomas’s grandson, George Wyatt, who wrote the first biography of Anne. It is often overlooked despite the fact he was writing just two generations later, and this is coupled with Wyatt’s poetry and recorded encounters.
Thomas was born in 1503 at Allington Castle, Kent. He attended Cambridge University, and at just seventeen married Elizabeth Brooke, Lord Cobham’s daughter. There are rumours that as Anne and Thomas had both grown up in Kent, they had been childhood friends, but it’s impossible to know how much time they spent together (if any at all). There are further rumours that Anne was Thomas’s mistress upon her return from France in 1522 while he was still married. George Wyatt writes that it was love at first sight for Thomas when he saw Anne, although an affair seems implausible as this was when Anne and Henry Percy were courting and became secretly betrothed. In 1525, Wyatt separated from his wife on charges of her adultery, and it is widely acknowledged that he was set on marrying Anne. As we know, by this time, he had competition in the almighty force that was Henry VIII.
Here comes our first piece of hard evidence suggesting a romance. Around this time, Thomas was ‘trusted’ with diplomatic missions to France in 1526 and Italy in 1527. Despite his suitability for the post, this seems a simple and nifty tactic on the king’s part to eliminate any love rivalry he would have to contend with, especially with Anne not returning his favours. George claims that the overseas mission to Venice and Rome was decided after an argument between Wyatt and the king, over Anne, during a game of bowls.
After this, Thomas and Anne were next documented together when Thomas accompanied the king and by then, Marquess of Pembroke and almost-queen, to Calais. Although Thomas wasn’t listed as being present, the reason we believe him to be present in the voyage in October 1532 is because of a poem he wrote at this time alluding to the event:
And now I follow the coals that be quent,
From Dover to Calais against my mind.
Lo how desire is both sprung and spent!
The whole poem appears to indicate that Thomas had been desperately in love, and now the love had dissipated, he was looking back at what a fool he had been.
Prior poems had reached out to Anne in other ways, with the riddle of one poem having the solution, ‘Anna’. The most famous poem written by Wyatt, thought to be in relation to Anne, is ‘Whoso List to Hunt’, where Caesar is implied to be Henry VIII. This was likely written before Calais, while Thomas was still besotted, and contains the famous lines:
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’
Verse such as this does not support the theory that Anne reciprocated Thomas’s love, but we must remember a few important facts, including the most vital; Anne was being used as a pawn by her family, and the king was unrelenting. Anne and Thomas were both witty and flirtatious, and alongside Thomas being intelligent, popular and very handsome, they shared an undeniable passion of poetry. We know that Thomas had his heart set on Anne, and it seems unlikely that she would have been able to resist his charms, if only on an intellectual level.
As mentioned, Anne was being used as a pawn by her family in her lead up to her marriage. Her father, brother and uncle found themselves littered with lands and titles, and it was far more likely to be them pushing the marriage than her. Anne had resisted Henry’s advances until there was no option but to relent. If we think about the facts, whether Anne loved the king back or not, as a woman, she had little if any choice in such matters. Henry was accustomed to having every desire met, and her family were more than willing to sacrifice emotions for their ambitions. It is far more likely that Anne, instead of falling for Henry’s overbearing and clumsy love letters, was far more interesting in Thomas Wyatt’s pioneering poetry.
Once Anne was queen, Thomas was in her coronation procession and had the king and queen dine with him at Allington Castle. Any love that they could have shared had either now withered or had to be kept hidden with the utmost secrecy and was almost certainly platonic. The past was swiftly swept under the rug, with Thomas being knighted in 1535… Before being thrown into the Tower of London at the same time as Anne in 1536.
It is disputed as to whether his imprisonment was due to a row with the Duke of Suffolk or on charges of adultery with Anne, but it would appear that either way the latter reason was presumed to be the real one. Due to Wyatt’s father being a good friend of Thomas Cromwell, Wyatt was to be spared. He did have to witness Anne’s execution from his confinement in the Bell Tower before his release, and dedicated a poem to it:
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.
‘circa Regna tonat’ translates as ‘it thunders through the realms’.
There are two poems Anne is said to have penned whilst awaiting her fate in the tower. One is of particular interest, which bears the lines:
Unto my fame a mortal wound,
Say what ye list, it will not be,
Ye seek for that can not be found.
This has been presumed to be a self-declaration of Anne’s innocence, as in, ‘you seek what cannot be found’ and would imply there is no evidence that could condemn her. If we are to look at a deeper meaning beneath that final line though, this could also mean that Anne may have bore another love that was undetectable and therefore could not be discovered.
After Thomas escaped the Tower, he was created ambassador to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, only to be imprisoned there once more in 1541 after the fall of Thomas Cromwell – this time for making rude comments about the king and dealing with Cardinal Pole. Again, he was pardoned and released after Henry’s fifth wife, Catherine Howard, intervened. He was fully restored into favour before his death on 11th October 1542.
Thomas appears to have been able to continue to live his life after Anne, living with his mistress Elizabeth Darrell until his death, with whom he had three children. There is evidence passed down almost half a millennia suggesting that Thomas and Anne shared a romance or at the very least a flirtation. During a time when it would have been most dangerous for such matters to come to light indicates that there could easily have been a great deal more to the relationship than thought.
For this reason, George Wyatt’s biography of Anne is of importance despite often being dismissed. George lived through the end of the Tudor reign, marked by the death of Elizabeth I, at which point his manuscript would then have been less of a danger to him so it would have been easier to document the truth. Here is a condensed version of Thomas’s argument with the king over the game of bowls, taken from George’s biography of Anne:
Thomas was reading Anne poetry while she attended her needlework one day, when he spotted a jewel hanging from her pocket. He playfully snatched it and kept it as a keepsake. Later on, during a debate over a shot in the game of bowls, the king pointed to the shot with a finger on which he wore one of Anne’s rings, which led to Thomas producing the jewel on a ribbon with which he went to measure the shot. The king was said to be furious and broke off the game in search of Anne.³ What strikes as particularly interesting is, if this story is true, it would be unlikely that Anne would allow a man who she didn’t have affection for to take a jewel from her and keep it.
As in the case of Henry Percy, Thomas Wyatt’s relationship with the queen will be steeped in mystery and debate forevermore, and though it may seem frustrating, it is what one would imagine Anne wished for it. There is not only a powerful movement to exonerate the queen from her alleged convictions, but also a strong cry for justice over her thoughts and feelings; for when we study them in a different light, we can swiftly eliminate the notion that she was power hungry. Ignoring Henry’s advances for years were in all probability pure hope; hope that he would move on from his obsession with her, freeing her from the chains of the fate that befell her.
Photos courtesy of:
Thomas Wyatt the Elder: http://www.luminarium.org
Allington Castle: http://www.historicaltrips.com/
The Bell Tower: http://tudorhistory.org/
Sherborne Abbey: http://www.sherbornedorset.co.uk/