Authors: Sir Thomas Wyatt

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English poet

Author Works


The Courte of Venus, c. 1539 (includes 3 to 10 Wyatt poems)

Certayne Psalmes Chosen Out of the Psalter of David, 1549

Songes and Sonettes, 1557 (known as Tottel’s Miscellany, Richard Tottel, editor; includes 90 to 97 Wyatt poems)

Collected Poems of Sir Thomas Wyatt, 1949 (Kenneth Muir, editor)

Sir Thomas Wyatt and His Circle: Unpublished Poems, 1961 (Muir, editor)

Collected Poems, 1975 (Joost Daalder, editor)


Plutarckes Boke of the Quyete of Mynde, 1528 (of Plutarch)


Throughout the Renaissance, the European noble was expected to be a creditable poet as well as a capable soldier and diplomat, so much of the best poetry of sixteenth century England was written by members of high-ranking families who contributed to their country’s development. Sir Thomas Wyatt (WI-uht) and Henry Howard, earl of Surrey, who inaugurated the golden age of English poetry with their adoption of the verse forms and subject matter of French and Italian works, fall into the long line of courtier poets who wrote sonnets, songs, and satires for their own and their friends’ satisfaction.{$I[AN]9810000361}{$I[A]Wyatt, Sir Thomas}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Wyatt, Sir Thomas}{$I[tim]1503;Wyatt, Sir Thomas}

Wyatt composed his poems during intervals in a busy, if checkered, career as a public official. The son of Sir Henry Wyatt, a minor noble, he was born in 1503 at Allington Castle in Kent. He went to St. John’s College, Cambridge, when he was thirteen, and was made master of arts in 1520. In that year he married Elizabeth, daughter of Lord Cobham, and began to serve as a court official. In 1526 he traveled to France as a courier for the English ambassador. His mission to Italy in the following year was probably more significant for his poetic development; it gave him an opportunity to become familiar with the works of the Italian poets who greatly influenced his writing, among them Petrarch and Pietro Aretino. During the course of his Italian mission Wyatt was captured by Spanish troops, but he escaped before his ransom was paid. For the next four years he served as marshal of Calais, re turning to England in 1532 as commissioner of the peace in Essex.

Wyatt was imprisoned in May, 1536, probably because of a quarrel with the powerful duke of Suffolk, although there has been considerable speculation about his involvement with Queen Anne Boleyn, who was executed that same year. There is a strong tradition, supported by some evidence, that Anne was Wyatt’s mistress before her marriage to Henry VIII, and several of his poems have been interpreted as references to his love for her. These lines, translated from a sonnet by Petrarch, are often quoted: “Noli me tangere, for Caesar’s I am;/ And wild for to hold, though I seem tame.”

Wyatt remained in prison only briefly; then, after a few months at his father’s home, he was appointed ambassador to Spain, faced with the unenviable task of placating the Emperor Charles V, nephew of Henry VIII’s divorced queen, Catherine of Aragon. The last years of Wyatt’s life proved turbulent, marked by the execution of his friend Thomas Cromwell, Henry’s capable minister who fell from royal favor and was convicted of treason in 1540, and by the enmity of Thomas Bonner, bishop of London, who had Wyatt brought to trial on charges of treason in 1541. Wyatt spoke brilliantly in his own defense and received a full pardon. He was made both a member of Parliament and a vice admiral, but before he could enjoy his new positions, he died of a fever contracted as he was traveling to the coast to greet the Spanish ambassador.

Wyatt did not publish any poems during his lifetime because he was a noble; during his era, the publication of one’s own poems was not considered genteel. His poems, however, circulated at court. Some appeared for the first time in print in Richard Tottel’s Songes and Sonettes (1557), also known as Tottel’s Miscellany. The meter in Wyatt’s poetry is sometimes irregular, and Tottel made some revisions before printing the noble’s poems in his collection. Henry Howard, earl of Surrey, also wrote poems that appear in Tottel’s Miscellany; the poetry of these contemporaries is often compared. Surrey’s, modern scholars agree, is smoother. Wyatt was nonetheless an important Renaissance poet, an innovator who introduced Petrarchan sonnets and conceits to England and whose verse contains passion. Wyatt wrote primarily of love–love scorned or betrayed–in poems such as “They Flee from Me” and “The Long Love That in My Thought Doth Harbor.” He also wrote an important satirical poem titled “Mine Own John Poins,” an autobiographical piece apparently written in 1536 during his banishment from court.

A poem by Wyatt’s young friend and disciple, the earl of Surrey, pays tribute to his intelligence, his integrity, and his faith: “Wyatt resteth here, that quick could never rest;/ Whose heavenly gifts increaséd by disdain,/ And virtue sank the deeper in his breast;/ Such profit he by envy could obtain.”

BibliographyEstrin, Barbara L. Laura: Uncovering Gender and Genre in Wyatt, Donne, and Marvell. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1994. A study acknowledging the tyranny to women that most Petrarchan poems impose. Includes bibliographical references and index.Foley, Stephen Merriam. Sir Thomas Wyatt. Boston: Twayne, 1990. Examines the meaning of Wyatt’s poetry and, more important, how he came to write in such pioneering forms in Tudor England.Harrier, Richard. The Canon of Sir Thomas Wyatt’s Poetry. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1975. This study attempts to establish the canon of Wyatt’s poetry. Harrier analyzes the history and physical characteristics of Wyatt’s manuscripts and scrutinizes them in the context of the poet’s complete output of work.Heale, Elizabeth. Wyatt, Surrey, and Early Tudor Poetry. New York: Longman, 1998. An indispensable resource containing critical interpretation of the works of two early English sonneteers. Includes bibliographical references and index.Jentoft, Clyde W. Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey: A Reference Guide. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1980. An invaluable book for the student of Wyatt. Contains annotated information from books, magazines, studies, and monographs as well as introductions and commentaries from important editions of Wyatt’s work and sections about him that appeared in other scholarly works.Ross, Diane M. Self-Revelation and Self-Protection in Wyatt’s Lyric Poetry. New York: Garland, 1988. This book examines how Wyatt’s attempts to express his themes relate to the lyric genre. Ross accomplishes this primarily by contrasting Wyatt’s work to other Renaissance lyric poetry.Thomson, Patricia, ed. Wyatt: The Critical Heritage. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975. The critical tradition of Wyatt’s poetry is presented in sixteen commentaries on his work ranging from an unsigned 1527 preface to Plutarckes Boke of the Quyete of Mynde, to C. S. Lewis’s comments written in 1954. Includes an informative introduction to this material.
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