‘Hardly one of the irresistible poets’, was C S Lewis’s assessment of Thomas Wyatt. Other critics have tended to agree, treating him (and the Earl of Surrey, with whom he is frequently paired) as the warm-up act before the Elizabethan headliners. But Nicola Shulman, in this ‘life of his lyric poetry’, thrills to Wyatt, not only because some of his poems are really quite beautiful, but also because they provided ‘safe conduct for secret thoughts’. Wyatt was no sighing lover, sitting under a tree penning lyrics in pastoral bliss. He was the courtier, assassin and spy of Shulman’s subtitle and he wrote under the tyranny of Henry VIII.
Despite sending Wyatt to the Tower of London, twice, the king rather liked him. The gentleman from Kent was charming, attractive and well ‘friended’, so Henry appointed him esquire of the body and made him attend court daily. But Henry also saw that the gifts that distinguished Wyatt