English Poetry in the Sixteenth Century

By Maurice Evans | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V

WYATT AND SURREY

THE names of Wyatt and Surrey have been coupled together ever since their verses appeared in Tottel's Miscellany in 1557. Puttenham refers to "Henry Earle of Surrey and Sir Thomas Wyat, betweene whom I find very little difference" (I, XXXI.), and the fact that the two have always been associated has to some extent obscured their individual merits. Until the XXth century, Surrey was considered the greater poet and Wyatt suffered in comparison; now the position is reversed and there is a danger that Surrey's qualities will be undervalued.

The two poets were men of very different backgrounds and characters, with almost a generation between them. Wyatt, born at Allington Castle in Kent in 1503, was one of the new men whose family had risen by supporting the Tudor cause in the later stages of the Wars of the Roses. His career as a diplomat in France, Italy and Spain had its vicissitudes, and he was in prison on more than one occasion; but Henry VIIIth had an unfailing eye for a good servant, and Wyatt retained the king's favour until his death in 1542. His integrity and honesty shine through everything he wrote, whether it is a satire against court flattery, a sonnet on the fall of his patron Cromwell, or a song in praise of his favourite virtue, patience, of which, in his last years, he had both need and store. Surrey, in contrast, born in 1517, was a man of the old régime, the son of Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, and that Countess of Surrey, who was the patroness of Skelton's later days. The family made itself useful to Henry VIIIth by its military skill, and between campaigns played for power with its chief rivals, the Seymours, declining when Henry married Jane Seymour, rising with the fortunes of Catherine Howard, and suffering final eclipse in 1546 when Surrey himself was executed on a very thin charge of treason. By the violence of his temper and the pride of his blood Surrey was in continuous minor trouble. The traditions for which he stood were something

-65-

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English Poetry in the Sixteenth Century
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 5
  • Author's Note 7
  • Chapter I - Cross Currents of the Renaissance 9
  • Chapter II - Society and the Poet 20
  • Chapter III - Poetic Theory and Practice 31
  • Chapter IV - John Skelton 47
  • Chapter V - Wyatt and Surrey 65
  • Chapter VI - Shorter Forms of Elizabethan Poetry 81
  • Chapter VII - Historical Poetry 118
  • Chapter VIII - Spenser's Faerie Queene 132
  • Chapter IX - Donne and the Elizabethans 161
  • Bibliography 176
  • Index 181
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