October 11, 1542 – Death of Sir Thomas Wyatt

Sir Thomas Wyatt, by Hans Holbein

Sir Thomas Wyatt, by Hans Holbein (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Sir Thomas Wyatt was one of the bright poetic lights at the court of Henry VIII, often credited along with Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey for introducing the sonnet from Italy into England.  Anne Boleyn fans will remember the poem he is said to have written about her in her youth, Whoso List to Hunt, as well as the moving Circa Regna Tonat (It Thunders Through the Realm) on her arrest (I’ve posted it – read it here).

Surrey wrote stanzas on Wyatt’s death (entitled, fittingly, Stanzas on Wyatt’s Death):

Wyatt resteth here, that quick could never rest :
Whose heavenly gifts increased by disdain ;
And virtue sank the deeper in his breast :
Such profit he by envy could obtain.

A head, where wisdom mysteries did frame ;
Whose hammers beat still in that lively brain,
As on a stithe, where that some work of fame
Was daily wrought, to turn to Britain’s gain.

A visage stern, and mild ; where both did grow
Vice to contemn, in virtue to rejoice :
Amid great storms, whom grace assured so,
To live upright, and smile at fortune’s choice.

A hand, that taught what might be said in rhyme ;
That reft Chaucer the glory of his wit.
A mark, the which (unperfected for time)
Some may approach, but never none shall hit.

A tongue that serv’d in foreign realms his king ;
Whose courteous talk to virtue did inflame
Each noble heart ; a worthy guide to bring
Our English youth by travail unto fame.

An eye, whose judgment none effect could blind,
Friends to allure, and foes to reconcile ;
Whose piercing look did represent a mind
With virtue fraught, reposed, void of guile.

A heart, where dread was never so imprest
To hide the thought that might the truth advance ;
In neither fortune loft, nor yet represt,
To swell in wealth, or yield unto mischance.

A valiant corpse, where force and beauty met :
Happy, alas! too happy, but for foes,
Lived, and ran the race that nature set ;
Of manhood’s shape, where she the mould did lose.

But to the heavens that simple soul is fled,
Which left, with such as covet Christ to know,
Witness of faith, that never shall be dead ;
Sent for our health, but not received so.

Thus for our guilt this jewel have we lost ;
The earth his bones, the heaven possess his ghost.

(From Wikisource)


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May 8, 1536 – Sir Thomas Wyatt Arrested

May 8, 1536 - Thomas Wyatt was arrested on suspicion of being one of Anne Boleyn's lovers. While in the Tower, he wrote a moving poem ("These bloody days have broken my heart"). Read it on www.janetwertman.com

Sir Thomas Wyatt, by Hans Holbein

Actually, it was not just Sir Thomas Wyatt, it was also Richard Page. These were the last two arrests in connection with Anne Boleyn’s downfall – and both men escaped the trap.

From all appearances, Wyatt was arrested on the basis of his prior (failed) romance with Anne. Page was arrested because he believed the Queen to be innocent (apparently he made enough of a nuisance of himself that Cromwell merely wanted to get him out of the way until the ordeal was over). It would appear that this was a ploy by the crown to appear to be fair and impartial – first, because Wyatt was known to be a good friend of Thomas Cromwell’s, but more important, if these two men could prove their innocence then it stood to reason that the others must be guilty. It would also have constituted a strong message that any defense of the Queen would be dangerous (which people already knew!).

The legend is that Wyatt’s Tower cell overlooked Tower Green, so that he saw Anne’s execution. He wrote a poem while he was in there, entitled Innocentia Veritas Viat Fides Circumdederunt me inimici mei. It translates to “Innocence, Truth, Wyatt, Faith, My enemies surround my soul.” It’s based on Psalm 16.9 (“My enemies surround my soul”), and adds Wyatt’s name between innocence, truth and faith. Its ongoing refrain, circa Regna tonat, means “It thunders through the realms,” and is from Seneca’s Phaedra, (and the first two stanzas of the poem paraphrase lines from that play). It’s an amazing piece of poetry, not as well known as Whoso List to Hunt but much more poignant. After all, who can remain unmoved by the line, these bloody  days have broken my heart…

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


Luminarium, The Encyclopedia Project

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March 16, 1554 – Elizabeth’s Letter to Mary I (the “Tide Letter”)

Tide Letter - Page Two

Tide Letter – Page Two

Elizabeth wrote this letter after being informed that she would be taken to the Tower. Sir Thomas Wyatt (son of the poet who wrote verse about Anne Boleyn) had rebelled against Mary I following the announcement of her plan to marry Philip of Spain. Elizabeth had been implicated in the plot. It was called the “Tide Letter” because by the time Elizabeth finished writing it, the tide on the Thames had turned and they could no longer leave that day.

Elizabeth was amazing in the way she took every advantage that she could. It is said that when she arrived  at the Tower, she refused to go in. When Kat Ashley shared her fear, she turned to her to comfort her and quoted Bible verses. Everything was done with an eye to how her actions would be viewed. This was a lesson she had learned from her mother’s end, from Catherine Howard’s, from Thomas Seymour’s.

One of the most striking things about the letter is the way Elizabeth drew lines after her signature – apparently to prevent anyone from adding anything to it. It was a wise move: one of the pieces of evidence against  her  was a forged letter from her to Henry II of France endorsing Wyatt’s rebellion.

The letter should be read slowly, as if you can hear the words being said (it also helps in trying to understand sixteenth century English!). It is truly an amazingly powerful piece, one that really shows Elizabeth’s brilliance.

       If any ever did try this old saying that a king’s word was more than another man’s oath, I most humbly beseech your Majesty to verify it in me, and to remember your last promise and my last demand that I be not condemned without answer, which it seems that I now am; for that without cause proved, I am by your council from you commanded to go unto the Tower, a place more wonted for a false traitor than a true subject, which though I know I deserve it not, yet in the face of all this realm appears that it is proved. I pray God I may the shamefullest death that ever any died, if I may mean any such harm and to this present power. I protest before God (who shall judge my truth, whatsoever malice shall devise), that I never practised, counselled, nor consented to any thing that might be prejudicial to your person in any way, or dangerous to the state by any means. And therefore I humbly beseech your Majesty to let me answer afore yourself, and not suffer me to trust to your Councillors, yea, and that afore I go to the Tower (if it be possible); if not afore I be further condemned. Howbeit, I trust assuredly your Highness would give me leave to do it afore I be thus shamefully cried out on, as I now shall be; yea, and that without cause. Let conscience move your Highness to take some better way than to let me be condemned in men’s sight afore my desert I known. Also I most humbly beseech your highness to pardon this my boldness, which innocency procures me to do, together with hope of your natural kindness, which I trust will not see me cast away without desert, which what it is I would desire no more of God but that you truly knew, but which thing I think and believe you shall never by report know, unless by yourself you hear. I have heard in my time of many cast away for want of coming to the presence of their Prince; and in late days I heard my Lord of Somerset say that if his brother had been suffered to speak with him he had never suffered; but the persuasions were made to him so great that he was brought in belief that he could not live safely if the Admiral lived, and that made him give his consent to his death. Though these persons are not to be compared to your Majesty, yet I pray God that evil persuasions persuade not one sister against the other, and all for that they have heard false report, and not harkened to the truth. Now therefore, once again, with humbleness of my heart, because I am not suffered to bow the knees of my body, I humbly crave to speak with your Highness, which I would not be so bold as to desire if I knew not myself most clear, as I know myself most true. And as for the traitor Wyatt, he might peradventure write me a letter, but on my faith I never received any from him. And as for the copy of the letter sent to the French King, I pray God confound me eternally if I ever sent him word, message, token, or letter, by any means, and to this my truth I will stand to my death.
       I humbly crave but only one word of answer from yourself

     Your Highness’s most faithful subject, that hath been from the beginning, and will be to my end,


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