Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wyatt, Thomas (1521?-1554)

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WYATT, Sir THOMAS the younger (1521?–1554), conspirator, was the eldest and only surviving son of Sir Thomas Wyatt the elder [q. v.], by his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas Brooke, third lord Cobham. He was brought up as a catholic. He is described as ‘twenty-one years and upwards’ in the ‘inquisitio post mortem’ of his father, which was dated 8 Jan. 1542–3. The Duke of Norfolk was one of his godfathers. In boyhood he is said to have accompanied his father on an embassy to Spain, where the elder Sir Thomas Wyatt was threatened by the Inquisition. To this episode has been traced an irremovable detestation of the Spanish government, but the anecdote is probably apocryphal. All that is positively known of his relations with his father while the latter was in Spain is found in two letters which the elder Wyatt addressed from Spain to the younger, then fifteen years old. The letters give much sound moral advice. In 1537 young Wyatt married when barely sixteen. He succeeded on his father's death in 1542 to Allington Castle and Boxley Abbey in Kent, with much other property. But the estate was embarrassed, and he parted with some outlying lands on 30 Nov. 1543 to the king, receiving for them 3,669l. 8s. 2d. In 1542 he alienated, too, the estate of Tarrant in Dorset in favour of a natural son, Francis Wyatt, whose mother was Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Edward Darrel of Littlecote. Wyatt was of somewhat wild and impulsive temperament. At an early age he had made the acquaintance of his father's disciple, Henry Howard, earl of Surrey [q. v.], and during Lent 1543 he joined Surrey and other young men in breaking at night the windows of citizens' houses and of London churches. They were arrested and brought before the privy council on 1 April, and they were charged not merely with acts of violence, but with having eaten meat during Lent. Surrey explained that his efforts were directed to awakening the citizens of London to a sense of sin. Wyatt was inclined to deny the charges. He remained in the Tower till 3 May. In the autumn of 1543 Wyatt joined a regiment of volunteers which Surrey raised at his own expense to take part in the siege of Landrecies. Wyatt distinguished himself in the military operations, and was highly commended by Thomas Churchyard, who was present (cf. Churchyard, Pleasant Discourse of Court and of Wars, 1596). In 1544 Wyatt took part in the siege of Boulogne and was given responsible command next year. When Surrey became governor he joined the English council there (14 June 1545). Surrey, writing to Henry VIII, highly commended Wyatt's ‘hardiness, painfulness, circumspection, and natural disposition to the war.’ He seems to have remained abroad till the surrender of Boulogne in 1550. In November 1550 he was named a commissioner to delimit the English frontier in France, but owing to ill-health was unable to act. Subsequently he claimed to have served Queen Mary against the Duke of Northumberland when the duke attempted to secure the throne for his daughter-in-law, Lady Jane Grey. But he took no well-defined part in public affairs at home until he learned of Queen Mary's resolve to marry Philip of Spain. He regarded the step as an outrage on the nation's honour, but, according to his own account, never thought of publicly protesting against it until he received an invitation from Edward Courtenay [q. v.], earl of Devonshire, to join in a general insurrection throughout the country for the purpose of preventing the accomplishment of the queen's plan. He cheerfully undertook to raise Kent. Help was vaguely promised him by the French ambassador.

The official announcement of the marriage was published on 15 Jan. 1553–4. Seven days later Wyatt summoned his friends and neighbours to meet at Allington Castle to discuss means of resistance. He offered, if they would attempt an armed rebellion, to lead the insurgent force. Like endeavours made by Courtenay, the Earl of Suffolk, Sir James Crofts, and Sir Peter Carew, to excite rebellion in other counties failed [see Carew, Sir Peter]. The instigators elsewhere were all arrested before they had time to mature their designs. Wyatt was thus forced into the position of chief actor in the attack on the government of the queen. He straightway published a proclamation at Maidstone which was addressed ‘unto the commons’ of Kent. He stated that his course had been approved by ‘dyvers of the best of the shire.’ Neighbours and friends were urged to secure the advancement of ‘liberty and commonwealth.’ which were imperilled by ‘the queen's determinate pleasure to marry with a stranger.’

Wyatt showed himself worthy of his responsibilities and laid his plans with boldness. Noailles, the French ambassador, wrote that he was ‘estimé par deçà homme vaillant et de bonne conduicte;’ and M. d'Oysel, the French ambassador in Scotland, who was at the time in London, informed the French king, his master, that Wyatt was ‘ung gentil chevallier et fort estimé parmy ceste nation’ (Ambassades de Noailles, iii. 15, 46). Fifteen hundred men were soon in arms under his command, while five thousand promised adherence later. He fixed his headquarters at the castle of Rochester. Some cannon and ammunition were secretly sent him up the Medway by agents in London; batteries were erected to command the passage of the bridge at Rochester and the opposite bank of the river. When the news of Wyatt's action reached the queen and government in London, a proclamation was issued offering pardon to such of his followers as should within twenty-four hours depart peaceably to their homes. Royal officers with their retainers were despatched to disperse small parties of Wyatt's associates while on their way to Rochester; Sir Robert Southwell broke up one band under an insurgent named Knevet; Lord Abergavenny defeated another reinforcement led by a friend of Wyatt named Isley; the citizens of Canterbury rejected Wyatt's entreaties to join him, and derided his threats. Wyatt maintained the spirit of his followers by announcing that he daily expected succour from France, and circulated false reports of successful risings in other parts of the country. Some of his followers sent to the council offers to return to their duty, and at the end of January Wyatt's fortunes looked desperate. But the tide turned for a season in his favour when the government ordered the Duke of Norfolk to march from London upon Wyatt's main body, with a detachment of white-coated guards under the command of Sir Henry Jerningham. The manœuvre gave Wyatt an unexpected advantage. The duke was followed immediately by five hundred Londoners, hastily collected by one Captain Bret, and was afterwards joined by the sheriff of Kent, who had called out the trained bands of the county. The force thus embodied by the government was inferior in number to Wyatt's, and it included many who were in sympathy with the rebels. As soon as they came within touch of Wyatt's forces at Rochester, the majority of them joined him, and the duke with his principal officers fled towards Gravesend.

Wyatt set out for London at the head of four thousand men. He found the road open. Through Dartford and Gravesend he marched to Blackheath, where he encamped on 29 Jan. 1553–4. The government acknowledged the seriousness of the situation, and sent Wyatt a message inviting him to formulate his demands, but this was only a means of gaining time. On 1 Feb. 1554 Mary proceeded to the Guildhall and addressed the citizens of London on the need of meeting the danger summarily. Wyatt was proclaimed a traitor. Next morning more than twenty thousand men enrolled their names for the protection of the city. Special precautions were taken for the security of the court and the Tower; many bridges over the Thames within a distance of fifteen miles were broken down; all peers in the neighbourhood of London received orders to raise their tenantry; and on 3 Feb. a reward of land of the annual value of one hundred pounds a year was offered the captor of Wyatt's person.

The same day Wyatt entered Southwark, but his followers were alarmed by the reports of the government's activity. Many deserted, and Wyatt found himself compelled by the batteries on the Tower to evacuate Southwark. Turning to the south he directed his steps towards Kingston, where he arrived on 6 Feb. (Shrove Tuesday). The river was crossed without difficulty, and a plan was formed to surprise Ludgate. On the way Wyatt hoped to capture St. James's Palace, where Queen Mary had taken refuge. But his schemes were quickly betrayed to the government. A council of war decided to allow him to advance upon the city and then to press on him from every quarter. He proceeded on 7 Feb. through Kensington to Hyde Park, and had a sharp skirmish at Hyde Park Corner with a troop of infantry. Escaping with a diminished following, he made his way past St. James's Palace. Proceeding by Charing Cross along the Strand and Fleet Street he reached Ludgate at two o'clock in the morning of 8 Feb. The gate was shut against him, and he was without the means or the spirit to carry it by assault. His numbers dwindled in the passage through London, and he retreated with very few followers to Temple Bar. There he was met by the Norroy herald, and, recognising that his cause was lost, he made a voluntary submission. After being taken to Whitehall, he was committed to the Tower, where the lieutenant, Sir John Brydges (afterwards first Lord Chandos), received him with opprobrious reproaches. On his arrest the French ambassador, De Noailles, paid a tribute to his valour and confidence. He wrote of him as ‘le plus vaillant et asseuré de quoye j'aye jamais ouy parler, qui a mis ladicte dame et seigneurs de son conseil en telle et si grande peur, qu'elle s'est veue par l'espace de huict jours en bransle de sa couronne’ (Ambassades de Noailles, iii. 59). On 15 March he was arraigned at Westminster of high treason, was condemned, and sentenced to death (Fourth Rep. Deputy Keeper of Records, App. ii. pp. 244–5).

On the day appointed for his execution (11 April) Wyatt requested Lord Chandos, the lieutenant of the Tower, to permit him to speak to a fellow-prisoner, Edward Courtenay, earl of Devonshire. According to Chandos's report Wyatt on his knees begged Courtenay ‘to confess the truth of himself.’ The interview lasted half an hour. It does not appear that he said anything to implicate Princess Elizabeth, but he seems to have reproached Courtenay with being the instigator of his crime (cf. Foxe, Acts and Monuments, iii. 41, and Tytler, Hist. of Edward VI and Mary, ii. 320). Nevertheless, at the scaffold on Tower Hill he made a speech accepting full responsibility for his acts and exculpating alike Elizabeth and Courtenay (Chronicles of Queen Jane and Queen Mary, p. 73; Bayley, Hist. of the Tower, p. xlix). After he was beheaded, his body was subjected to all the barbarities that formed part of punishment for treason. Next day his head was hung to a gallows on ‘Hay Hill beside Hyde Park,’ and subsequently his limbs were distributed among gibbets in various quarters of the town (Machyn, Diary, p. 60). His head was stolen on 17 April.

Wyatt married in 1537 Jane, daughter of Sir William Hawte of Bishopsbourne, Kent. Through her he acquired the manor of Wavering. She bore him ten children, of whom three married and left issue. Of these a daughter Anna married Roger Twysden, grandfather of Sir Roger Twysden [q. v.], and another Charles Scott of Egerton, Kent, of the family of Scott of Scotshall. The son George was restored to his estate of Boxley, Kent, by Queen Mary, and to that of Wavering by Queen Elizabeth in 1570. He collected materials for a life of Queen Anne Boleyn, the manuscript of which passed to his sister's grandson, Sir Roger Twysden. In 1817 there was privately printed by Robert Triphook from a copy of Wyatt's manuscript ‘Extracts from the Life of Queen Anne Boleigne, by George Wyat. Written at the close of the XVIth century.’ The full original manuscript in George Wyatt's autograph is among the Wyatt MSS., now the property of the Earl of Romney. Twysden also based on Wyatt's collections his ‘Account of Queen Anne Bullen,’ which was first issued privately in 1808; it has little likeness to Wyatt's autograph ‘Life.’ The Wyatt MSS. contain letters and religious poems by George Wyatt, as well as a refutation of Nicholas Sanders's attacks on the characters of the two Sir Thomas Wyatts. George Wyatt, who died in 1623, was father of Sir Francis Wyatt [q. v.]

A portrait of Sir Thomas Wyatt the younger in profile on panel belongs to the fifth Earl of Romney, and is in his London residence, 4 Upper Belgrave Street.

[Dr. G. F. Nott's memoir (1816) prefixed to his edition of the Works of Sir Thomas Wyatt the elder (pp. lxxxix–xcviii) gives the main facts. An official account of Wyatt's rebellion was issued within a year of his execution, under the title of ‘Historie of Wyate's Rebellion, with the order and maner of resisting the same, etc., made and compyled by John Proctor [q. v.], Mense Januarii, anno 1555,’ reprinted in the Antiquarian Repertory, vol. iii. The account of the rebellion in Grafton's Chronicle is said to be from the pen of George Ferrers. Holinshed based his complete narrative of the rebellion in his Chronicle on Proctor's History, with a few hints from Grafton. A few particulars are added in Stowe's Annals. A full narrative with many documents from the Public Record Office is in R. P. Cruden's History of Gravesend, 1842, pp. 172 sq. See also Loseley MSS. edited by Kempe, 126–30; Diary of Henry Machyn, 1550–63 (Camden Soc.); Chronicle of Queen Jane and Queen Mary (Camden Soc.); Wriothesley's Chronicle (Camden Soc.); Lingard's Hist.; Froude's Hist.; Miscell. Genealogica et Heraldica, ii. 107 (new ser.); Bapst, Deux Gentilhommes-Poètes de la Cour de Henry VIII, pp. 266 seq.; Cave Browne's History of Boxley Parish, Maidstone, 1892; Wyatt MSS. in the possession of the Earl of Romney; information kindly given by the Hon. R. Marsham-Townshend.]

S. L.