Henry Wyatt (courtier)
Sir Henry Wyatt
Portrait of Sir Henry Wyatt, Hans Holbein the Younger
|Died||10 November 1537 (aged 76–77)|
|Resting place||Milton, Kent|
|Occupation||Courtier and Politician|
|Children||Sir Thomas Wyatt|
Sir Henry Wyatt (1460–1537) was an English courtier, knight, nobleman, and politician.
Early life to 1485
A younger son of a Yorkshire family, little is known of Henry Wyatt before he adopted the cause of Henry Tudor, later to become king Henry VII. Many myths and assumptions have been woven around his privations in prison as a supporter of the Tudor party's opposition to Richard III in the years 1483-85, and are still to be found recounted as facts. Some of them occur in the widely cited entry in the Dictionary of National Biography (c.1900, available online), s.v. Sir Thomas Wyatt (poet), although the entry has since been modified by the 2004 Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
The Wyatt family papers in the British Library contain material which provides the nearest that can be found to an authentic account of this period of his life. Recently transcribed and published in full, the relevant documents, although collated and written up in the 18th century, incorporate a self-contained narrative about Wyatt which can be dated to the mid 17th century. At this date the family was intent on reclaiming its former status after falling into disgrace with the execution and attainder of his grandson. The aim was to play up the glory days of Henry's adherence to the Tudor cause, describing him inter alia as ‘his Country’s martyr’.
It is unknown why and in what precise capacity he came to act on behalf of the exiled Tudor, or how he came to be imprisoned. He appears to have had contacts among those close to the Scots king James III and may have been an intermediary in attempts to secure Scottish support for Henry Tudor's invasion. Possibly he fell into the hands of ‘some Scottish baron with Yorkist sympathies, only to be released when Henry VII was securely on the throne, after a considerable period of cruel imprisonment, and on the promise of a huge ransom’.
His exploits in the Wyatt family papers include being ‘imprisoned often, once in a cold and narrow Tower’, where he would have starved but for the ministrations of a kindly cat who befriended him and brought him food. During his incarceration he suffered tortures involving the use of horse-barnacles and being force-fed mustard and vinegar. On one occasion ‘the Tyrant himself examined him’, trying unsuccessfully to persuade Wyatt to change sides. Eventually in 1485 he was released from imprisonment in Scotland and received the thanks of the newly crowned Henry VII. His first recorded grant was on 11 October 1485 when he was appointed keeper of Norwich castle and gaol. A grant of Henry VIII on 22 August 1515 confirms that Wyatt still needed money to pay off his remaining Scottish ransom.
In a surviving letter written a few months after Wyatt's death, his son Thomas wrote that God had preserved his father ‘in prison from the handes of the tirant that could find in his hart to see him rakkid, from two yeres and more prisonment in Scotland in Irons and Stoks,’ and from other tribulations.
The myth that he was imprisoned in the Tower of London finds its first appearance in 1702 on a stone tablet in Boxley church erected by Edwin Wyatt, Henry's great-great-great-grandson. The claim is unlikely and finds no support in any records including those of the Tower of London authorities. Two reasons may account for the error. First, the association with Henry's son and grandson, each of whom was thrown into the Tower under the Tudors. The second lies in the letter's oblique reference to being racked, which may however be figurative rather than literal. Certainly the Wyatt family papers never mention the rack, as one would have expected them to, when describing the privations he suffered.
The 2004 Oxford DNB states that his support for Henry Tudor began before 1483, and that he probably participated in Buckingham's Rebellion. No evidentiary support is available for either statement. The entry continues, ‘Family legend has it that he was imprisoned and interrogated by Richard III himself.’ However, Richard III is never named by the Wyatt family. The assumption is derived from two instances of the word ‘tyrant’ applied to Wyatt's captor, a term which in the 16th century could refer to ‘Anyone who acts in a cruel, violent, or wicked manner’. More likely it referred to the Scottish baron postulated by Conway (above). Records show that Richard III never set foot in Scotland during his reign.
Life under the Tudors
Wyatt's close connections with Scotland came to the fore in his later career as Henry VII's agent in that country, for which there is ample evidence of his employment on secret and sensitive missions.
He assumed high places at court, being admitted to the privy council, and remained high in the royal favour. He was one of Henry VII's executors, and one of Henry VIII's guardians. He was admitted to the privy council of the new king in April 1509, and became a knight of the Bath on 23 July of the same year. In 1511 he was made jointly with Sir Thomas Boleyn constable of Norwich Castle, and on 29 July of the same year was granted an estate, Maidencote, at Estgarstone in Berkshire. At the battle of the Spurs he served in the vanguard (16 August 1513).
He purchased in 1492 Allington Castle and its estate, near Maidstone in Kent, and made the place his principal residence. Henry VIII visited him there in 1527 to meet Wolsey on his return from the continent. Wyatt remained on good terms with Sir Thomas Boleyn, who resided at Hever Castle. The proximity (about 20 miles) accounts for the meeting in a family setting of Sir Henry's poet son Thomas, and Sir Thomas's daughter Anne, the future queen, and the poetry in the courtly love tradition that resulted.
Marriage and issue
- Sir Thomas Wyatt, who married Elizabeth Brooke, the daughter of Thomas Brooke, 8th Baron Cobham, by Dorothy Heydon, daughter of Sir Henry Heydon and Elizabeth or Anne Boleyn, daughter of Sir Geoffrey Boleyn
- Henry Wyatt, assumed to have died an infant.
- Margaret Wyatt, who married Sir Anthony Lee (d.1549), by whom she was the mother of Queen Elizabeth's champion, Sir Henry Lee
Wyatt died on 10 November 1537, and, in accordance with the directions in his will, was buried at Milton, near Gravesend.
- BL Add MSS 62135-62138, sections 62135 (2 vols), vol 2, ff. 359-369 and 456.
- Annette Carson, ‘The Questionable Legend of Henry Wyatt’, Ricardian Register (Richard III Society, Inc.), Vol. 42 No. 3, September 2011, pp.2-8; http://www.richardiii-nsw.org.au/?p=6088
- Agnes Conway, Henry VII’s Relations with Scotland and Ireland, 1485–1498 (Cambridge, 1932), pp.7-8.
- Letters & Papers, Henry VIII, vol 2, 1515-18 (1864) pp. 227-388.
- BL Add 32379, BL Egerton 2711.
- Colin Burrow, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004) Vol. 60, s.v. Thomas Wyatt
- Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles (OUP, 1980)
- Rhoda Edwards, The Itinerary of Richard III 1483-1485 (Richard III Society, 1983, 1995)
- S. B. Chrimes, Henry VII (1984), p. 87 note 4.
- Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. .
- Eric Ives, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn (2005), pp.67–74.
- Richardson IV 2011, p. 382; Burrow 2004
- Richardson IV 2011, pp. 381–2
- Burrow 2004
- Burrow 2004; Chambers 1936, p. 248
- Burrow, Colin (2004). Wyatt, Sir Thomas (c.1503–1542). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 12 January 2013. (subscription required)
- Chambers, E.K. (1936). Sir Henry Lee; An Elizabethan Portrait. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
- Richardson, Douglas (2011). Magna Carta Ancestry: A Study in Colonial and Medieval Families, ed. Kimball G. Everingham. IV (2nd ed.). Salt Lake City. ISBN 1460992709