Tuesday, 5 June 2012


Did you ever wonder who were? And what did that make you do, go to India to an ashram? Read self help books? Take up meditation? Deconstruct your identity? Write poetry? Read Sartre? Or, instead, look at your past? Delve into your childhood? Become disgruntled at your ever failing parents? Or... root back further. Find out about your grandparents. Who they were, where they came from? Who were their parents? And then... stop. Hey, wait. There are no more family photos. Hang on, I need to know more. Some of us do this. There's usually one, in the family, who decides they are going to root, and dig up the ancestors. It's not that fashionable in Ireland, because we don't reconcile with our past so easily, and because there are so few records. But here I am, I'm the one. One little Irish girl whose father's family were so Republican, they ignored DeValera when he greeted them on some occasion in Dublin. But this little Irish girl had a mother with a father from Sydney and a mother from Dallas, Texas. And I always, always had this insatiable curiousity about my Grandmother's people. Where had they come from? She had always told my mother they came from France. Croziers, from France. But it was a flight of fancy. In fact, she had no idea who she was at all. I've already written about her father's people, who came from Tyrone. But her mother's people have revealed to me a history so rich that it is in fact changing my own life, and my own identity for good and forever. I've told you about the Croziers, and the Overtons and the Bartons. But now, the bit that 's blown me away and changing the course of my life: the Wyatts.

I was sitting in the hair dressers when my dear friend Liosa McNamara, who was at the time undertaking to research my family tree in America, sent me a text and said that I would not believe what she had just discovered. I called her, as the hairdresser was about to blowdry my hair. I asked them to wait. Have you seen the Tudors, she asked me? Liosa, not the hairdresser. No, I said. Well, there was a court poet. His name was Sir Thomas Wyatt. He's your grandfather.

Sir Thomas Wyatt 1503-1542

 I nearly fell off the swivelling chair. I knew him. I'd read his poetry in college. It was all coming back to me, the sonnets he had written. And there was one line that had always stayed with me: Noli me Tangere, for Caesar's I am. 

Don't touch me. I'm Caesar's. Somehow, this line had blended in my mind with a Poussin painting of Apollo chasing Daphne. And that one line by Wyatt is the kernel of my new book. Because this line is about Ann Boleyn and Henry VIII. Once, Wyatt had loved her, and perhaps had an affair with her after he had separated from his wife, Elizabeth Brooke.
Ann Boleyn, Second Wife of Henry VIII

There is much in his poetry to imply that he did have an affair and he was incarcerated in the Tower of London along with 5 others accused of having an affair with her, when Henry and Thomas Cromwell needed to get rid of her. All of them, including of course Ann Boleyn, were beheaded. But not Thomas. The very one who wasn't framed, who had probably actually had an affair with her,  survived. Perhaps because of his father, Sir Henry Wyatt, who had been Henry VIII's guardian and had himself received many assets from Henry VIII after he was released from the Tower of London, where he had been imprisoned by Richard III for his loyal support of the Tudor Kings. Anyway, as I got my hair blow dried, I realised that I had hit an ancestral gold mine- in that, if we had gotten to the Wyatts, we could go back very, very far. In short, this is how we got back to Sir Thomas Wyatt, through registrars of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Sons of the American Revolution: My Great Grandmother's parents were John Dunbidden Gardner (1839-1894) and Julia Belle Starke (1839-1916). The Gardners had come from Scotland. John D. Gardner's father was Benjamin Gardner, Attorney General of Alabama. Julia Belle Starke's parents were Col. Bowling Starke and Elizabeth Gregory New. Col. Bowling Starke's grandparents were John Starke (1715-1782) and Anne Wyatt. Her parents were John Wyatt (b.1684) and Jenny Pamplin (1690-1714). Three generations before, Reverent Haute Wyatt had come to Virginia from Boxley Kent on the 'George' in 1621. His brother was the Governor of Virginia, Sir Francis Wyatt, who is a character in the book about my other ancestor, Elizabeth Waters, 'To Have and to Hold.'  Haute's father George Wyatt had written a biography of Ann Boleyn, a defense of her, that gives some insight into Sir Thomas's affair with her. Sir George Wyatt died in Ireland, strangely enough, and was shipped back to England, where he was buried. His father, Sir Thomas Wyatt the younger was executed in 1557 for what became known as Wyatt's Rebellion, a 4,000 strong protest against the betrothal of Queen Mary to Philip of Spain. He was the only son of Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder and Elizabeth Brooke.
Sir Thomas Wyatt the Younger (1521-1557)

It goes on and on, back to William the Conqueror through the Plantagenet Kings on Elizabeth Brooke's line, and all the way back through Luxembourg and Bohemia on the line going back from Sir Henry Wyatt's wife Anne Skinner, and to Louis VI of France (11th C) and back to Anne of Kiev, where at last I found some relief and distance from Anglo Saxon blood. In fact, I've literally traced myself back to the parts of Europe I had always wanted to find my roots in: Eastern Europe. There, I found a gem of a Grandmother: the daughter of Sviatoslav of Kiev. She was called Saint Olga, "Olga the Beauty" (890-969). She was the wife of Igor of Kiev, the founder of the Rurik Dynasty. Her feast day is on 11th July. This year, I'll mark it. But the Wyatts have a hold on me. As soon as I learned of them and took them on board as my own ancestors, I haven't stopped thinking about them. Sir Thomas Wyatt the poet is a friend and a guide to me. He is the muse of my new book, 'The Poetic Spy'. He has asked me to write the story of his affair with Ann Boleyn. In this story, he seeks a descendent who is willing to tell the story of this affair. He haunts Rev. Haute Wyatt before he leaves for Virginia on 'The George', and successive descendents in America, who, once visited by this roving spirit, are left a little odd. In the end, he chose me. I'm willing. He has totally captured my heart and my imagination. He guides my writing. He is calling me to America, where I will research this time-travelling novel that jumps from Tudor England to the American Revolution, to the Civil War and back to the present day.

I Find No Peace

I find no peace, and all my war is done.
 I fear and hope. I burn and freeze like ice. 
I fly above the wind, yet can I not arise;
And nought I have, and all the world I season.
That loseth nor locketh holdeth me in prison 
And holdeth me not--yet can I scape no wise-- 
Nor letteth me live nor die at my device, 
And yet of death it giveth me occasion.
Without eyen I see, and without tongue I plain.
I desire to perish, and yet I ask health.
I love another, and thus I hate myself.
I feed me in sorrow and laugh in all my pain;
Likewise displeaseth me both life and death,
And my delight is causer of this strife. 

1 comment:

Jamie Wyatt said...

Love it
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