One of the more interesting stories I have found during my research of our family history is that my generations 15th Great Grandmother was Margaret Wyatt. While she may be little more than a footnote in the history of the world, she was a Lady in Waiting to King Henry VIII’s wife Anne Boleyn, her nephew had quite a bit of impact on the history of England. With some help from Wikipedia, I shall tell you the story.
He was Thomas Wyatt, a rebel leader during the reign of Queen Mary I of England; his rising is traditionally called Wyatt’s rebellion. He is also known as Wyatt the Younger.
He was born at Allington Castle, the only son of Sir Thomas Wyatt, the famous poet, by Elizabeth Brooke, daughter of Thomas Brooke, 3rd Lord Cobham. The Duke of Norfolk was his godfather. At the age of fifteen he became a squire at the court of King Henry VIII, and Joint Constable of Conisborough Castle. In the same year, his father was imprisoned after a feud with the king’s brother-in-law, Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk and on the false charge of being Anne Boleyn’s lover.
Anne Boleyn was beheaded on May 19, 1536. Thomas’s father was later released, but re-imprisoned in 1541 and only released after the intervention of Queen Catherine Howard. Thomas himself married Jane Hawte, daughter and co-heiress of Sir William Hawte of Bishopsbourne, by whom he had several children. He is also known to have had an illegitimate son, whose mother Elizabeth was a daughter of Sir Edward Darrell of Littlecote.
He was brought up a Roman Catholic. However, he is said to have been turned into an enemy of the Spaniards by witnessing the activities of the Spanish Inquisition while accompanying his father on a mission to Spain. On his father’s death in 1542, he inherited Allington Castle and Boxley Abbey. He served in the war against France, and was knighted in 1547. During the reign of King Edward VI, he was arrested for breaking windows while drunk. He was tried before the Privy Council and imprisoned in the Tower of London.
On his release, Wyatt went to fight for the Habsburg emperor (who was also king of Spain), Charles V in Flanders, obtaining further valuable military experience. In 1543 he took part in the siege of Landrecies, and in the following year was at the siege of Boulogne.
Returning to Allington, he lived quietly until the uprising by the Duke of Northumberland, to put Lady Jane Grey on the throne. Escaping punishment by Queen Mary, he took no further part in politics until Mary’s plans to marry Philip the prince of Spain, later Philip II of Spain, became known. In 1554 he joined with the conspirators who combined to prevent the marriage. A general movement was planned; but his fellow-conspirators were timid and inept, the rising was serious only in Kent, and Wyatt became a formidable rebel mostly by accident. On January 22, 1554 he summoned a meeting of his friends at his castle of Allington, and January 25 was fixed for the rising.
On January 26 Wyatt occupied Rochester, and issued a proclamation to the county. The country people and local gentry collected, but at first the queen’s supporters, led by Lord Abergavenny and Sir Robert Southwell, the sheriff, appeared to be able to suppress the rising with ease. But the Spanish marriage was unpopular, and Kent was more affected by the preaching of the reformers than most of the country districts of England. Abergavenny and Southwell were deserted by their men, who either disbanded or went over to Wyatt, who now had 3,000 men at his command. A detachment of the London trainbands sent against him under the command of the Duke of Norfolk also joined the rebels, raising their numbers to 4,000, and the Duke was forced to return to London.
The rising now seemed so formidable that a deputation was sent to Wyatt by the queen and council to ask for his terms. He insisted that the Tower should be surrendered to him, and the queen put under his charge. The insolence of these demands caused a reaction in London, where the reformers were strong and were at first in sympathy with him. When he reached Southwark on February 3 he found London Bridge occupied in force, and was unable to penetrate into the city. He was driven from Southwark by the threats of Sir John Brydges (or Bruges), afterwards Lord Chandos, who was prepared to fire on the suburb with the guns of the Tower.
He could not find boats for crossing into Middlesex or Essex, so he marched his force up the river to Kingston, where he found the bridge destroyed. They repaired it and crossed the Thames, and made his way to Ludgate with a part of his following. Some of his men were cut off, others lost heart and deserted. His only hope was that a rising would take place, but the loyal forces kept order, and after a futile attempt to force the gate Wyatt surrendered.
He was brought to trial on March 15, and could make no defence. Execution was for a time delayed, no doubt in the hope that in order to save his life he would say enough to compromise the queen’s sister Elizabeth, afterwards Queen Elizabeth, in whose interests the rising was supposed to have been made. But he would not confess enough to render her liable to a trial for treason. It was only through Elizabeth’s dignity and composure that she managed to escape from the scandal unharmed, although she was spied upon and placed under house arrest for the rest of her sister’s reign.
He was executed on April 11, and on the scaffold expressly cleared the princess of all complicity in the rising. After he was beheaded, his body was quartered.
His estates were afterwards partly restored to his son, George, the father of the Sir Francis Wyatt (d. 1644) who was governor of Virginia in 1621–26 and 1639–42. A fragment of the castle of Allington is still inhabited as a farm-house, near Maidstone, on the bank of the Medway.