11 April 1554 – Thomas Wyatt

Thomas WyattIf you’ve ever wondered how Bloody Mary earned her nickname, then Thomas Wyatt the younger may hold the answer. Head honcho of an impressive uprising to depose Mary I in favour of her half-sister Elizabeth, Wyatt was executed on this day for treason.

Known creatively as the Wyatt Rebellion of 1554, it was a bid to overthrow the Catholic monarch in favour of her Protestant sister.

Mary was due to marry Felipe, King of Spain, which would have compounded her Catholic bloodline. As a result, the co—conspirators even managed to rope in the French, whose main role was to stop the marriage by preventing Felipe from getting to England. After all, France didn’t want to risk England and Spain uniting against them – they’d have been baguetted between two super-powers, which in that age was not a good move.

Size is everything

As conspiracies go, this wasn’t a disorganised plot. It was just that it was huge. Ridiculous amounts of people were in on the secret, which meant that it was nigh on impossible to remain a secret.

Lady Jane Grey’s dad (he who’d tried to get his daughter installed on the throne) was involved, as were his three brothers, Wyatt’s step-dad and Edward Courtenay, Earl of Devon, who had illusions of being suitor to Elizabeth once she was safely on the throne, were among the plotters.

Each was to mobilise key counties from the West Country to the Midlands. And therein lay the problem. Courtenay couldn’t be bothered to travel down to Devon, so the West Country was left to Sir Peter Carew, who singularly failed to drum up support.

Weakest link

Meanwhile, Mary’s Lord Chancellor Stephen Gardiner had got wind of the plot and apprehended the cretinous Courtenay who promptly blabbed details of who, where and when. You name it, he divulged it, so the plot was pretty much dead in the water before it had even kicked off.

Most were arrested, leaving Wyatt to see it through single-handedly. And to his credit, he did good, mobilising Kent so effectively that even the French sat up and took notice – two Ambassadors who were visiting at the time were well impressed – glad that he was leading the way so ably. He proved a good leader, undaunted even when the supposed troops from the West Country failed to arrive.

London calling

But the Queen would not be outdone. She heard about his activities and put it about that she would pardon any of the troops who agreed to stand down. Wyatt, on the other hand, was a consummate spin doctor, rallying his men’s spirits and trying to drum up support by blagging that they were winning in other parts of the country.

He managed to amass a hefty force of up to 3,000 men and had he been quicker he may even have taken London. But he paused for a couple of days and in that time, Mary took to the capital where she gave a rousing speech to her people. The bridge spanning the Thames at Southwark was part demolished and fortified against the plotters.

Not to be outdone, Wyatt headed for Kingston. But for the ill-fated English weather, he may even have succeeded. The quagmire meant that it took his men 10 hours to travel 10 miles.

Out on the town

Once they’d crossed the river at Kingston, Wyatt’s men headed through to Acton and on to Knightsbridge, then progressed to Fleet Street heading for Charing Cross. Little did they know that as they advanced they were being barricaded in, so there was no escape… And disaster struck at Charing Cross. When passing through, the Queen’s men cut off the troops bringing up the rear, so Wyatt’s army was dissected.

But he’d made it to Ludgate on the scheduled day, so now it should have been time for his fellow allies to take over from within. Of course, he had no idea that there were no allies from within and with a mere 60 men left to help him in his endeavours, things looked decidedly dodgy for our hero.

Hark the herald

Needless to say, at Temple Bar he was met with opposing troops and they battled before a herald shouted ‘ye may yet find the Queen merciful’. Like a herald had the authority to say that… Still, Wyatt saw this as a lifeline and agreed to turn himself in. But you know Bloody Mary better than that. People had died for less than Wyatt’s actions, so he didn’t have a hope in hell against her wrath.

He was taken to the Tower where he found a whole raft of his former allies. Indeed there were so many involved that the prisoners spilled over into nearby churches, in a time when the gallows went into overdrive.

Head count

It was carnage. Day after day, Mary’s vindictively insatiable wrath enabled the vengeful monarch to literally leave no prisoners. Courtenay was incarcerated on 9 February, and on 10 February 10 men were sentenced, then on the very next day, as many as 80 to 100 hanged-drawn-and-quartered bodies and heads festooned the ramparts of the city. And seeing as Mary was on a roll, she even threw in two other condemned individuals on 12 February, in the shape of Lady Jane Grey and her other half Dudley. Wyatt apparently watched her being carted off.

On 13 February there are details of two strung up at Cheapside, one quartered at Aldgate, one hanged and quartered at Newgate, threesomes hanged at Leadenhall, Holborn, Bermondsey Street, and St George’s, as well as four at Charing Cross. The next day, loads more followed and apparently, after they’d been hanged, they were parboiled, quartered and their remains hanged at Newgate.

Wyatt hurts

Amid this bloodbath, the sentencing kept coming, by fair means and foul. It turns out that Wyatt was tortured on the rack to force him to admit that Elizabeth was somehow connected. Such was Mary’s evil scheming that she was set on finding some way to remove the threat of her little sister swiping the throne from under her. But of course Elizabeth had nothing to do with it and Wyatt held steadfast to the end and never once implicated the soon-to-be successor.

And so we finally end with Wyatt’s execution. After being blindfolded using his hanky, Wyatt laid his head on the block and the executioner took it clean off with one blow. He then held Wyatt’s disembodied head up in front of the crowd and untied the hanky to show them that it was definitely Wyatt who’d been executed.

They then quartered his body and one part was strung up at Mile End, one in Newington, one at Southwark and the last quarter at Old Kent Road (St Thomas of Waterings). His head was skewered at Tyburn, but six days after his death it was stolen, maybe by fans as a keepsake, and never recovered.

Also on this (jumbo death) day

11 April 1947 – Louise Peete
11 April 1612 – Edward Wightman
11 April 1916 – Ludovico Zender
11 April 1922 – Frederick Keeling

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