Posts Tagged ‘Wyatt family fall from grace’

A hero fell this week. I had an idealized view of Queen Elizabeth as a woman, a survivor, a creative genius who reinvented herself as necessary.

Our ancestor Henry Wyatt served Henry VII and Henry VIII; his son Sir Thomas Wyatt the Poet served Henry VIII as ambassador, and in fact died prematurely while zealously conducting the king’s business. And his warrior son, Sir Thomas Wyatt the Younger, served Edward VI (Henry’s short-lived male heir) and sought to prevent his older sister Queen Mary from marrying Felipe of Spain. (These three men and their times within the Tudor era are the focus of my book; I may stop with Sir Thomas Wyatt the Poet as I find the circumstances of his son’s life unsettling.)

The actions of Henry’s grandson against Queen Mary cost the family dearly.  Elizabeth could have … should have … made it right, because his ultimate sacrifice was on her behalf.

Last night I was “visiting” with Sir Thomas Wyatt the Younger via “The Works of Henry Howard Earl of Surrey and of Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder” edited by Geo. Fred. Nott in 1815.  The poet’s son was a somewhat wild and reckless young man, but Nott tells us he transformed that aggression into a successful military career.

Towards the end of King Edward’s short reign, Thomas’ zeal for protestant causes led to “intrigues which aimed at placing the Lady Jane Gray on the throne.”  It’s even said that he appeared in arms in her favour. The short lived attempt failed; “his offence being either pardoned or overlooked, he was permitted to retire unmolested to Allington.”

In 1554 Mary’s Spanish match upset the nation so much that “a powerful party was secretly formed every where to oppose it, and nothing was wanted but a leader.” Wyatt had the right credentials, but his timing was off. “The measures he proposed, and concerted with the Duke of Suffolk, were those of wisdom, caution and prudence: but some unforeseen events compelled him to take arms before the general plans were ripe, and this ultimately proved his ruin.”

Imagine this day … “He had on a shirt of mail, with sleeves very fair; thereon a velvet cassock, and a yellow lace, with the windlace of his dag hanging thereon, and a pair of boots on his legs, and on his head a fair hat of velvet, with a broad bone-work lace about it.”

His forces penetrated as far as London, but was forced to surrender and fling himself on the Queen’s mercy.

“As he passed through the gate, Sir John Bridges took him by the collar and said, ‘O! thou villain, and unhappy traitor! How couldst though find in thy heart to work such detestable treason to the Queen’s Majesty, who gave thee thy life and living once already, although thou didst before  this time bear arms in the field against her? And now to yield her battle! If it were not that the law must pass upon thee, I would strike thee through with my dagger.’ To the which Wyatt, holding his arms under his side, and looking grievously, with a grim look upon the lieutenant, said ‘It is no mastery now!’ and so passed on.”

He was committed to the Tower February 7, tried and condemned March 15 and executed April 11 because it was hoped he would incriminate the Lady Elizabeth and the Earl of Devonshire.

While pleading his case he told the judges “I was persuaded that by the marriage of the Prince of Spain, the second person in this realm, and the next heir to the Crown, the Lady Elizabeth, would have been in danger; and that I, being a free-born man, should with my country have been brought into the bondage and servitude of aliens and strangers.”

Nott quotes Wyatt’s speech from his trial. “I confess that my crime is great; for nothing can excuse the rebellion of the subject against the lawfully constituted authority of the Prince. It is a great relief to my conscience that the motive which led me to the fatal measure was zeal, however misguided, for my country, and not private ambition. Still I do not on that account hold myself absolved. My life is justly forfeit to the law. If it be spared, I shall receive it as a free gift of mercy from the Queen; of that mercy, which is, as he strongly expresses it, the greatest treasure that may be given to any Prince from God.”

Of course that gift was not forthcoming.  He died a vicious traitor’s death wherein he was hung, drawn and quartered.

“He was considered by the nation at large as one who had voluntarily sacrificed himself for the Protestant cause.”

“With Sir Thomas Wyatt fell the hopes and the fortunes of his family. All his great possessions were resumed by the Crown, with the exception of the estate at Boxley, which Mary granted in small parcels to Lady Wyatt for the support of herself and her numerous family.”

Nott states that “It might have naturally been expected that Elizabeth, upon her accession to the throne, would have immediately removed the stigma of attainder and poverty from a family which had dared so greatly, and suffered so much from zeal in the general cause. But whether it was that she gave credit to the report of her having been accused by Wyatt in the Tower, or that she was influenced by motives of a personal nature, certain it is, that it was not until the thirteenth year of her reign that she reversed the attainder, and restored George Wyatt, the eldest son in blood. She does not seem, however, even then to have acted with that generosity which the occasion called for.”

This site has a much more detailed overview of Wyatt’s Rebellion:

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