The portraits: Sir Thomas Wyatt the Younger

Sir Thomas Wyatt the Younger

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The son of Sir Thomas Wyatt and grandson of Sir Henry Wyatt, he is remembered chiefly for the Rebellion of 1553 which was conceived in Kent, bore his name and was regarded as the most serious uprising against Mary 1.

Born at Allington, his education is little known and accounts of early travels in Europe on educative diplomatic missions with his father are disputed.  He did have a familiarity with classical military history, and under Edward VI, wrote a plan of proposed reforms for the military which was eventually adopted by Queen Elizabeth. His career was that of a soldier, leading actions in France under the patronage of the Earl of Surrey, resulting in promotion and a knighthood in 1545.  His father had died in debt in 1542 and lands had to be sold. He retained Allington and Boxley Abbey, but attempts to enclose surrounding land there met with concern from neighbouring landowners.

His career prospered under the Protectorate, but the religious tendencies of Mary 1 and her intention of close alliance via marriage with Spain, was a political and personal turning point for him.

The history and wider significance of the Wyatt Rebellion is extensively discussed and annotated and Tom Wyatt’s contribution to it continuously reviewed.  ‘The radicalized gentry’ in different parts of the country had to manage without traditional noble leadership.  Several Kent landowners were involved, including close relatives of the Twysdens and some behaved in ways less than trustworthy in their support of Wyatt.  His noted grasp of ‘advanced military organisation’ meant that the rebellion failed narrowly and had the unwished for effect of placing Elizabeth in greater danger from her sister and her Spanish supporters.  Wyatt’s defence at trial was :

‘ My whole intent was against the coming in of strangers and Spaniards and to abolish them out of this realm.’

He refused to implicate Elizabeth in any way, although both he and his wife were under pressure to do so.  He was convicted of high treason and executed accordingly.

Wyatt’s wife, Jane Haute, saw their estates fully confiscated; these were partially restored after her death to their oldest surviving son, George.  His sister Anne, another of the six surviving Wyatt children, married  Roger Twysden of Royden, East Peckham in 1562.

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It is assumed that there was a painting from around 1542, by Hans Holbein, of Sir Thomas Wyatt the Younger and this is now regarded as lost.  Several portraits exist, regarded as copies, and there is confusion as to which is the ‘prime version’. The 2016 NPG exhibition at Montacute House, ‘Copying Holbein’ has a version in oil on panel, which is said to be late 16th century and is English or Anglo Netherlandish in origin. Other copies are known to exist in private collections, and the  ‘late copy’ in the Bradbourne collection by Herbert Luther Smith (displayed at the start of the article) is thought to be of one of the reliable earlier versions. The portrait displayed directly above, in a ‘feigned circle’ and unsigned, is described as ‘much repainted’ and is similar to other known copies.

(Written by Janet Mayfield; Photos by Penny Greeves)

References

Archer I.A. 2006. Sir Thomas Wyatt the Younger. In: Dictionary of National Biography. URL: www.oxforddnb.com.

Cook, A.R. 1938. A Manor Through Four Centuries. London.

Hatton, R and Hatton, C. 1945. Notes on the family of Twysden and Twisden. In: Archaeologia Cantiana, vol. LVIII, pp.43-67.

National Portrait Gallery. 2016. Portraits after Holbein. URL: www.npg.org.uk/collection/search/portraitconservation.

Starkey, D. 2000. Elizabeth: My Apprenticeship. London.