- “Thus I restles rest in Spayne”: Engaging Empire in the Poetry of Sir Thomas Wyatt and Garcilaso de la Vega
The English poet Sir Thomas Wyatt (ca. 1503–42) and his contemporary, the Castilian poet Garcilaso de la Vega (1501?–36), shared so much in common and played such important roles in the development of poetry in their respective languages that the lack of comparative studies of their poetry is surprising. In the article that follows, I compare a few poems of similar themes and dates from each writer to suggest that Wyatt’s poetry is more thoroughly Petrarchan—and more successfully so—than has been generally recognized. Placing Wyatt’s poetry in the context of Charles V’s court and alongside the poetry of Garcilaso reveals that Wyatt’s poems appropriate Petrarchan strategies in a struggle to establish a unified lyric voice and to resist what we might loosely call discursive colonization: for while the flexible, indeed almost protean qualities of Petrarchism invited poets like Wyatt and Garcilaso to experiment in their native languages, the same qualities made Petrarchism an apt vehicle for imagining the imperial ambitions of Charles V. Comparing Wyatt’s poetry to that of Garcilaso de la Vega reveals that a discursive resistance to the imperialism of Charles V’s court is inflected by the difference between the two poets’ relationships to that court—with significant consequences for the development of Petrarchan poetry in the English and Castilian vernaculars.
Both Wyatt and Garcilaso flourished in the sixteenth-century revival of Petrarchism, each is credited with introducing Italian Renaissance innovations into his own vernacular literature, and we know that the [End Page 493] two shared common influences in Petrarch, Luigi Alamanni, Baldesare Castiglione, Pietro Bembo, and others. Both men were embroiled in the struggle for supremacy over the Mediterranean basin fought among Charles V, Francis I, and the Ottoman Emperor Suleiman II. Garcilaso had served Charles V against the forces of Suleiman II at the siege of Vienna in 1529; he was wounded in Charles V’s retaking of Tunis from Ottoman forces under the command of Khair ad Din, the feared Barbarossa, in 1535; and he died October 14, 1536 from a head wound suffered at Le Muy, while fighting the forces of Francis I. Wyatt had been a member of Henry VIII’s embassy to France to discuss a league against Charles V in 1526; he was part of another embassy to Pope Clement VII in 1527, just before Charles V’s soldiers sacked Rome; he was Henry VIII’s ambassador to the imperial court from June 1537 through June 1539 and again from December 1539 through May 1540; and he died of exhaustion and a consequent illness as the result of a hard ride from London to Falmouth to meet Charles V’s emissary to England on October 11, 1542.
Garcilaso and Wyatt share in common more than hard service to demanding monarchs. Each man’s life and career depended on the constant negotiations, alliances, betrayals, and battles through which Charles V, Francis I, and Suleiman II struggled to control the western Mediterranean. Garcilaso found himself at various times early in his career on both sides of Charles V’s struggle to bring Spain under Hapsburg rule, especially during the revolt of the comuneros in 1521.1 The emperor’s need to control his Spanish aristocracy was intensified by his difficulties in securing shipping lanes in the western Mediterranean against the Barbary corsairs, who were supported by Suleiman II, and in holding onto his possessions in Italy. Charles’s 1535 campaign to retake Tunis, in which Garcilaso was wounded, was likewise part of the [End Page 494] attempt to control the western Mediterranean basin, but by 1535 the stakes were even greater, because the emperor was becoming increasingly dependent on wealth from the New World.2 Much of Garcilaso’s poetry responds to his own role as a soldier in events far beyond his control—beyond even the control of his monarch.
Wyatt’s fortunes depended even more on the wider European stage over which he had no control, on the capricious schemes of his relatively weak sovereign, and, worse...