A Cromwell Adventure – Part 12: The Pillar Perish’d: Thomas Wyatt Laments Thomas Cromwell’s Death

In preparation of my final Thomas Cromwell book out next week, I came across Thomas Wyatt’s sonnet, which he wrote just after Cromwell’s execution on 28 July 1540.

The pillar perish’d is whereto I leant,
The strongest stay of my unquiet mind;
The like of it no man again can find,
From east to west still seeking though he went,
To mine unhap. For hap away hath rent
Of all my joy the very bark and rind:
And I, alas, by chance am thus assign’d
Daily to mourn, till death do it relent.
But since that thus it is by destiny,
What can I more but have a woeful heart;
My pen in plaint, my voice in careful cry,
My mind in woe, my body full of smart;
And I myself, myself always to hate,
Till dreadful death do ease my doleful state.

Poor Wyatt obviously suffered greatly when he stood on the scaffold with his friend on the day of his messy execution. Cromwell had known Wyatt’s father for about twenty years by this stage, and Wyatt became close friends with Cromwell at a young age, their shared passion of Italy a driving force. Only five months after Cromwell’s death, Wyatt was in the Tower himself, along with Sir Ralph Sadler, a muddled affair based on nothing more than being Cromwell allies. Both were acquitted, Wyatt proving himself in court, Sadler convincing the King they, and Cromwell himself, were innocent of any wrong doing. King Henry then made his claim that Cromwell “was the most faithful servant I ever had.”

Sadly, Wyatt lived only two years longer than Cromwell, dying of illness in October 1542, aged only 39.

While Wyatt’s beautiful sonnet loses it poetry when translated to modern English, I have included a copy. in case middle English doesn’t come easy to you.

My pillar of support has perished,
The strongest influence on my troubled mind;
I cannot find another to replace that pillar,
From east to west, you would not find someone to ease my misfortune. By chance, or fortune
Has torn away my inner and outer joy:
I, alas, have no choice
but to mourn daily, until death relieves me.
What more can I have but a woeful heart;
The pen I use, and my voice, cry,
My mind woeful and my body in pain;
And I must hate myself,
Until death relieves me of my misery.

Source: Yeowell, James, Ed. The Poetical Works of Sir Thomas Wyatt.
London: George Bell and Sons, 1904. 18.