Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder


Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder (1503-1542)

Sir Thomas Wyatt



Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder was an accomplished diplomat and Renaissance poet well known for his influence on the development of the sonnet. During his lifetime, his poems were circulated in manuscript form to members of the king’s court but were not officially published until after his death. In 1557, ninety-six of his poems were published in an anthology which included works by Surrey, another influential writer of the time. Along with the Earl of Surrey, Wyatt is credited with the introduction of the sonnet to the English language. His poems were mostly concerned with love and his lovers, many of which were based on sonnets by Petrarch. His most famous poems are “Whoso List to Hunt,” “They Flee From Me,” “What No, Perdie,” “Lux, My Fair Falcon,” and “Blame Not My Lute.” Wyatt also wrote three satires in which he adopted the Italian terza rima into English (“Thomas Wyatt,” 2013). Although he lived many years ago, his works are still studied and enjoyed today.

Early Life

Thomas Wyatt was born at Allington Castle in 1503 in Kent, England. He was the son of Henry Wyatt, a Lancastrian who was imprisoned during the reign of Richard III, but then was released by Henry VII. After being freed, Henry became a Privy Councillor, or private advisor, for Henry VII and executed his will upon his death in 1509. He then went on to serve Henry VIII and was made a Knight of the Bath at his coronation ceremony in June of 1509. His mother was Anne Skinner who was famous for her hospitality. Anne was the daughter of John Skinner of Reigate, a clerk of the peace (Claire, 2010). While little is known about his childhood, including his education during that period, his adult life is filled with dramatic turns much like his work.

Allington Castle in Kent, England

There is one story about his childhood that is well known: the story of the lion. As the story goes, Wyatt was raising a lion cub with his father and it attacked him. Wyatt then grabbed his sword and stabbed it right through the lion’s heart. When Henry VIII heard this story he replied, “Oh, he will tame lions” (Claire, 2010). In 1516, at the ripe age of thirteen, Wyatt entered St. John’s College, University of Cambridge, a college known for humanism. Just four years later in 1520, he married Elizabeth Brooke, the daughter of Lord Cobham, who bore him two children. One, a son, was cleverly named Thomas Wyatt the Younger (Jokinen, 2010). The Duke of Norfolk became the baby’s godfather at the christening.

A Timeline of Sir Thomas Wyatt’s Life


Following in the footsteps of his father, Wyatt worked in the court of King Henry VIII. His occupation in the court varied based on what was needed. In 1525 he became esquire of the king’s body and clerk of the king’s jewels. His skills in music and language served him, and the king well and Wyatt found himself in the king’s favor despite his minor role. He was so handsomely favored that in 1527 he became an ambassador to France and Rome. He began taking many foreign missions including one to France in 1526 and one to the Papal Court in Rome in 1527, a trip intended to convince the Pope Clement VII to annul the king’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon (Claire, 2010).

In 1528 Wyatt became High Marshall of Calais and in 1532 he became the Commissioner of the Peace in Essex. Wyatt was also chosen to accompany the king and Anne Boleyn on their visit to France in late 1532, and later served Anne at her coronation. Wyatt was then knighted by Henry VIII in 1535. His time as a diplomat to France and Rome served his poetry well as the prosody and languages influenced his writing (claire, 2010). His poems found their way around the King’s court during his lifetime, but it was after Wyatt’s death that they were printed. His poetry was loosely based on the Petrarchan sonnet. He and the Earl of Surrey are frequently credited as ushering the sonnet into English culture (“Thomas Wyatt,” 2013). As with many sonnets, Wyatt was frequently concerned with matters of the heart and ill treatment for the sake of love.

Thomas Wyatt and Anne Boleyn


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Anne Boleyn

All great writers have a muse; for Wyatt drama and inspiration came in the form of Anne Boleyn. When she arrived at the English Court in 1522, Wyatt was unhappy in his marriage and took a liking to Anne. His marriage to Elizabeth Brooke was unsuccessful and the couple divorced in 1525 after Wyatt accused his wife of adultery (Jokinen, 2010). It was love at first sight for Wyatt, but the king already had his eyes on her. As the king’s mistress, and eventual wife, Anne was deemed by many to be off limits, but many have used Wyatt’s poetry as evidence of an affair, specifically “Whoso List to Hunt,” which tells the tale of a man hunting with no success who then withdraws from that hunt because of another hunter. Although there is no solid evidence that the two were lovers, conclusions can be drawn based on the themes of his writings at the time (Claire, 2010).

Just one year after being knighted, in 1536 he was imprisoned for quarreling with a Duke. He was not mentioned as a prisoner by the Constable of the Tower of London until May 5th. This is also suspicious as he was arrested shortly after five other men believed to be Boleyn’s lovers were jailed (Jokinen, 2010). On May 17, Thomas watched the executions of the five other men imprisoned because of associations with Anne Boleyn. He noted his shock and terror in his poem “Innocentia Veritas Viat Fides Cicumdederunt me inimici met,” and worried that he would have a similar fate. Thomas Cromwell, a friend of Wyatt’s and enemy of Boleyn wrote to Wyatt and reassured him that he would eventually be released. However, Cromwell warned Wyatt that he needed to mend his relationship with the king in order to stay safe (Claire, 2010). Similarly, Boleyn did not escape an unfortunate fate. The King investigated Anne for connections with Protestant churches and following what was considered a fair trial, Anne was beheaded. Wyatt was only in jail for a month, but that was long enough to see Anne and her five accused lovers murdered. After leaving jail, Wyatt found himself back in the King’s good graces.

Final Days

Although he was able to escape the same fate as Boleyn, in 1541 a revival of old charges related to Wyatt’s early time as ambassador found him again imprisoned in the Tower. He was accused of treason for making rude comments about the king and mistreating members of the court (Jokinen, 2010). At the request of the Queen he was released, but had to agree to return to his ex-wife. After the pardon, he was restored to his office of ambassador and given various royal offices. He was unable to enjoy his return because he became ill and died on October 11, 1542 at Clifton Maybank House, the home of his good friend Sir John Horsey, in Sherborne Dorset. He was laid to rest at Sherborne Abbey and his tomb can be viewed in the Wykenham Chapel of the Abbey (Claire, 2010).

Sir Thomas Wyatt’s Tombstone


Introduction to the Sonnet

A brief overview of the sonnet

The word sonnet comes from the Italian word, “sonetto” which also translates into “little song.” A sonnet, has been generally known to be a poem that contains fourteen lines of iambic pentameter
(“Definition of a Sonnet,” 2013). Iambic pentameter is a line that consists of five iambs, being one unstressed syllable followed by one stressed syllable. This method is used by many poets from the English language and proves to be a fundamental building block of poetry (“Iambic Pentameter,” 2010). Traditional sonnets have been classified into groups based on a a particular rhyme scheme. Sonnet’s differ in many ways throughout the years and have been changed with each author that have utilized the sonnet (“Definition of a Sonnet,” 2013).

Graph that represents the differences and similarities between poets using a form of the sonnet

From the picture above, we could recognize that Wyatt followed in Petrarch’s lead in constructing the sonnet. Wyatt used Petrachian form in the first two stanzas and only the first two lines in the third. Wyatt strayed from Petrarch’s form in the last stanza, instead of doing three lines with a CD, DC, ED rhyme scheme he chose to do a couplet. A couplet is two lines that have the same end rhyme. Spencer and Shakespeare utilized couplet’s in the last stanza in their own versions of a sonnet as well. This graph establishes the fact that all authors recycle, borrow and change forms from each other. This shows that there is no right way to write a sonnet, that it is all up to the author.

“The long Love that in my thought doth harbor”

Below are both Sir Thomas Wyatt’s poem and the Petrarch sonnet that inspired his work.

Wyatt, The long Love that in my thought doth harbor

The long love that in my thought doth harbor,
And in mine heart doth keep his residence,
Into my face presseth with bold pretense
And therein campeth, spreading his banner.
She that me learneth to love and suffer
And will that my trust and lust’s negligence
Be reined by reason, shame, and reverence,
With his hardiness taketh displeasure. Wherewithal unto the heart’s forest he fleeth, Leaving his enterprise with pain and cry,
And there him hideth, and not appeareth.
What may I do, when my master feareth,
But in the field with him to live and die?
For good is the life ending faithfully.

Petrarch, Rima 140

Love, who lives and reigns in my thought and keeps his principal seat in my heart, sometimes comes forth all in armor into my forehead, there camps, and there sets up his banner

She who teaches us to love and the be patient, and wishes my great desire, my kindled hope, to be reined in by reason, shame, and reverence, at our boldness is angry within herself.

Wherefore Love flees terrified to my heart, abandoning his every enterprise, and weeps and trembles; there he hides and no more appears outside.

What can I do, when my lord is afraid, except stay with him until the last hour? For he makes a good end who dies loving well.


Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder has written his poem loosely based on the work by Petrarch entitled Rima 140. At first glance, both poems seem to be dealing with love. Upon closer reading one can tell that the author means much more. Coming from a courtly status in the court of King Henry VIII Wyatt could mean love as a metaphor for service and pledge of honor to ones king. After examining lines one and two, the honor one has pledged to his king is inescapable and always present not only in ones mind but his heart as well. Lines three and four imply that regardless of how one truly feels the king or lord a courtier owes service to will embed his thoughts and cause into the servants mind.

Because of the pledge of honor, pursuing ones love interest may not be possible at all. The next quatrain implies unattainable love because of ones loyalty to his king. The speaker has learned to love and suffer with it because of the expected sanity he is forced to uphold fighting against his lust over her with reason and reverence. The next lines talk about being able to flee into his hearts desires, the vast forest found within his desires. The speaker could hide there, unable to perform his duties to his king and focus on the pain and sadness this unattainable love has given him. The last couplet in the poem gives the speaker a reason to disregard his own desires in order to help his king. As long as the speaker is able to live a faithful life and honor his pledge to his king or lord his life becomes one of virtue.

This poem has a clear reflection of the influences of Petrarch. Focusing on unattainable love was a clear influence to Petrarch so it makes sense for Wyatt’s poem to mimic that. Despite the suffering caused by things unattainable, a courtier must still perform his duties to those in court in order to be considered honorable or virtuous. These poems both seem to complain about the every day pressures found in such a society built upon honor and servitude.

“Whoso list to hunt”

Below are both Sir Thomas Wyatt’s poem and Petrarch sonnet that inspired his work.

Wyatt, Whoso list to hunt

Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind,
But as for me, alas, I may no more.
I am of them that farthest cometh behind. The vain travail hath wearied me so sore,
Yet may I, by no means, my wearied mind
Draw from the deer, but as she fleeth afore,
Fainting I follow. I leave off, therefore,
Since in a net I seek to hold the wind.
Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,
As well as I, may spend his time in vain.
And graven with diamonds in letters pain
There is written, her fair neck round about,
“Noli me tangere, for Caesar’s I am,
And wild for to hold, though I seem tame.”

Petrarch, Rima 190

A white doe on the green grass appeared to me, with two golden horns, between two rivers, in the shade of a laurel, when the sun was rising in the unripe season.
Her look was so sweet and proud that to follow her i left every task, like the miser who as he seeks treasure sweetens his trouble with delight.

“Let no one touch me,” she bore written with diamonds and topazes around her lovely neck. “It has pleased my Caesar to make me free.”

And the sun had already turned midday; my eyes were tired by looking but not sated, when I fell into the water, and she disappeared.


In Sir Wyatt’s, “Whoso list to hunt”, the speaker of the poem begins the poem asking the reader a question, whether or not they enjoy the hunt. In the next line, he exclaims that he has given up the hunt because it actually has brought him to the point of physical pain and suffering. In lines 4 and 5 he tells the reader that he cannot bring himself to think of anything but the deer, and as she runs away from him again; he follows for a short amount of time then again gives up. He compares this hunt as futile saying in line 8, “Since in a net I seek to hold the wind.” This line is easily translated in that his efforts in trying to catch the deer is like trying to catch the wind with a net, which is impossible. In both poems of Petrarch and Wyatt, the speaker notices a collar around the deer’s neck with the variation of words that were taken from Petrarch’s poem, “Let no one touch me.” Instead, Wyatt wrote, “Noli me tangere, for Caesar’s I am,” which is translated to ‘Touch me not, for I am Caesar’s’. The speaker of the poem with this new realization, understands that this deer already belongs to someone else.

Sir Wyatt the Elder utilizes Petrarch’s Rima 190, in that both poems have an unattainable deer that belongs to someone else. Sir Wyatt in his own sonnet, relates the deer to Anne Boleyn in how she is too, unattainable. This poem is supposedly related to how Anne Boleyn and King Henry VIII were getting married at the time and Sir Wyatt would have to give up in trying to win her affections. In Wyatt exclaiming that he is giving up the hunt for the deer is equivalent to him giving up wooing Anne because she already has a figurative collar around her neck; she belong to Henry VIII. It also an interesting idea that this poem is in Petrarchan sonnet, sonnet’s are usually about love and relationships, while this poem is about letting go in a love affair.

“They Flee from Me”

Below is the complete poem; it maintains iambic pentameter throughout, and carries a rhyme scheme that flows ABABBCC throughout three, seven-line stanzas.

Portrait of Sir Thomas Wyatt


They Flee From Me
They flee from me that sometime did me seekWith naked foot, stalking in my chamber.
I have seen them gentle, tame, and meek,
That now are wild and do not remember
That sometime they put themself in danger
To take bread at my hand; and now they range,

Busily seeking with a continual change.
Thanked be fortune it hath been otherwise
Twenty times better; but once in special,
In thin array after a pleasant guise,
And she me caught in her arms long and small;
When her loose gown from her shoulders did fall,
Therewithall sweetly did me kiss
And softly said, “Dear heart, how like you this?”

It was no dream: I lay broad waking.
But all is turned thorough my gentleness
Into a strange fashion of forsaking;
And I have leave to go of her goodness,
And she also, to use newfangleness.
But since that I so kindly am served
I would fain know what she hath deserved.


As the title suggests, this poem is about one of the speaker’s past relationships that is no more. In line 11, we learn that this relationship was with a woman, since the line states “And she caught me in her arms long and small”. Within the first stanza, it is said that the acquaintance of his used to be calm (“gentle, tame, and meek”) until she had begun acting uncontrollable and seeming to have forgotten the past her and the speaker had once had. As early as the first line, the tone of the poem is that of regret and dismay, for at one point, the woman was looking for the speaker; when she was actively seeking his company and reciprocating their friendship together.

He continues on, dwelling on his past relationship. He tries to comfort himself with the fact that he had once been in a situation in which he was happy and content, but attributes the relationship between him and this mystery woman to pure luck, rather than mutual love or actions he had carried out. He recalls a time where they shared a kiss, and he enjoyed it immensely. The speaker is left with a feeling of devotion from her, which makes his current situation that much more heartbreaking.

The speaker then explains that he knows this experience he had was not a dream (“It was no dream: I lay broad walking”), but now feels as if it had been. He blames himself for acting the way he did (“..I so kindly am served // I would fain know what she hath deserved”), and is now feeling rejected. This is the speaker’s way of saying that he was unsure of what this woman really wanted of him, and suffered for it. The last two lines enforce this concept of suffering, and shows that the speaker is more bitter than depressed, giving the poem a heavy air of anger.

It is unclear whether or not the speaker of this poem is actually Wyatt himself. It is known that Wyatt had separated from his wife because of adultery, so this could be a manifestation of his anger towards that. This could of also been written from a metaphorical standpoint, perhaps Wyatt wanted to comment on the whole concept of courtly love, and how entering and leaving relationships as quickly as he did could be dangerous



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