The Tudor Society

11 April 1554 – The Execution of Thomas Wyatt the Younger

On the 11th April 1554, Sir Thomas Wyatt the younger was beheaded and then his body quartered for treason, for leading Wyatt's Rebellion against Queen Mary I.

Wyatt had already shown his opposition to Mary when he supported Lady Jane Grey’s claim to the throne after the death of Edward VI – he escaped punishment that time – but he felt compelled to act when he found out about Mary I’s plans to marry King Philip II of Spain.
The plan was to have a series of uprisings in the South, Southwest, Welsh Marches and Midlands, and then a march on London to overthrow the government, block the Spanish marriage, dethrone Mary and replace her with her Protestant half-sister, Elizabeth, who would marry Edward Courtenay. Unfortunately for Wyatt, other rebel leaders like the Duke of Suffolk (Lady Jane Grey’s father) and the ill-fated Lady Jane Grey (who had nothing to do with the revolt), the plan failed.

The government was alerted to the plots when Sir Peter Carew refused a summons to court and Ambassador Renard heard that a French fleet was assembling off Normandy. Courtenay was interviewed by his mentor Stephen Gardiner, and divulged everything. When the rebels learned that Mary knew of their plans, they did not give up, instead deciding to spring into action, with three out of the four planned provincial revolts going ahead. They were a failure due to the lack of organisation. However, Sir Thomas Wyatt did manage to raise a considerable “army” in Kent, but his delay in marching on London gave Mary a chance to rally her troops.

On the 1st February 1554, Mary gave a speech to the City government in the Guildhall, reminding them that she was England’s queen, that she was “wedded to the realm and the laws”, that she was the true heir to the throne, her father’s daughter, and that she loved her people. She said:

“On the word of a prince, I cannot tell how naturally the mother loveth the child, for I was never mother of any. But certainly, if a prince and governor may as naturally and earnestly love her subjects, as the mother doth the child, then assure yourselves, that I being your lady and mistress, do as earnestly and tenderly love and favour you.”

According to diarist Henry Machyn, Mary ended the speech by saying that:

“She never intended to marry out of the realm, but by her council’s consent and advice. And that she would never marry but all her true subjects shall be content.”

This rousing speech of half lies worked their magic and won over the people. When Wyatt arrived at Southwark on 3rd of February, he found it barricaded and guarded. A few days later, he tried entering the City from Kingston, and was successful. As they entered the City, the rebels split, and although they were now at a disadvantage, having split into groups, a group of them still managed to scare off the Queen’s Guards near the Holbein Gate. However, by the time Wyatt and his troops reached Ludgate, Mary’s force had gathered their wits and closed the gates. Mary’s troops far outnumbered the rebels and, with his men surrendering around him and no hope of winning, Sir Thomas Wyatt the Younger surrendered and was captured. Wyatt was taken to the Tower of London.

Not only did Wyatt’s Rebellion lead to his execution and the shadow of the axe hanging over Elizabeth’s neck for many months, but it sealed the fate of Lady Jane Grey who had been kept in the Tower since Mary seized the throne from her in July 1553. On 12th February 1554, Lady Jane Grey and her husband Guildford Dudley were executed, a tragic end to Lady Jane’s short life and a frightening event for Elizabeth who knew she would be implicated in Wyatt’s Rebellion, and who had a very shaky relationship with her half-sister, Mary.

Sir Thomas Wyatt was tried at Westminster Hall on 15th March. He denied plotting the Queen’s death and would only admit to sending Elizabeth a letter to which she replied (though not in writing) “that she did thank him much for his good will, and she would do as she should see cause.” He did not implicate her in any other way.

Wyatt was found guilty and sentenced to death, but his execution was delayed for a time – it is thought that the Queen’s advisers hoped that Wyatt would still implicate Elizabeth in an attempt to escape execution.

On 11th April 1554, Sir Thomas Wyatt was led out to the scaffold, making the following speech before being beheaded, his body quartered and his innards and genitals burned:

“And whereas it is said and whistled abroad that I should accuse my lady Elizabeth’s grace and my lord Courtenay; it is not so, good people. For I assure you neither they nor any other now in yonder hold or durance was privy of my rising or commotion before I began. As I have declared no less to the queen’s council. And this is most true.”

His head and the quarters of his body were then taken to Newgate where they were parboiled, nailed up and the head placed on a gibbet at St James’s. It is not known what happened to his head, as it disappeared from the gibbet.

Here are links for Tudor Society members interested in reading more about Wyatt's Rebellion:

(Extract from On This Day in Tudor History, Claire Ridgway)

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