Graven With Diamonds

The Many Lives of Thomas Wyatt: Courtier, Poet, Assassin, Spy

by Nicola Shulman

  • Published: 07 Apr 2011
  • Price: £8.99
  • Format: Paperback
  • Extent: 352p
  • ISBN: 9781780720883
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“These bloody days have broken my heart.” Thomas Wyatt

Learned divines despised it, sober heads ignored it, but for Henry, the beau ideal of chivalry, poetry made things happen. It affected his wars, his diplomacy and his many marriages. It was at the root of his fatal attraction to Anne Boleyn, the source of her power and it was the means of her destruction.

In this witty, intriguing, accessible account, Nicola Shulman interweaves the bloody events of Henry’s reign with the story of English love poetry and the life of its first master, Henry’s most glamorous and enigmatic subject: Sir Thomas Wyatt.

Courtier, spy, wit, diplomat, assassin, lover of Anne Boleyn, and favourite both of Henry and his sinister minister Thomas Cromwell, the brilliant Wyatt was admired and envied in equal measure. His love poetry began as an elite and risqué entertainment for the group of ambitious men and women at the slippery top of the court. But when the axe began to fall among this group, and Henry’s laws made his subjects fall silent in terror, Wyatt’s poetic skills became a way to survive. He saw that a love poem was a place where secrets could hide.


“This glitteringly brilliant book… dazzles in its scope, its scholarship and its originality… As a biography it is exceptionally accomplished, as an illumination of the function of literature under tyranny it is extraordinarily modern. Everyone who cares anything for poetry should read this vivid, dynamic and exhilarating account of how and why words matter.” – Times Literary Supplement – Book of the Year

“Masterly… the best work of history this year.” –  AN Wilson, Evening Standard – Book of the Year

“Beautifully intelligent and lucid… Shulman does a wonderful job of showing how Wyatt is one of those poets (one of the best types of poet) whose work conceals enormous complexity and strong countercurrents of thought and feeling underneath an apparently plain and transparent surface.” – John Lanchester, New Statesman– Book of the Year

“Both sparkling and scholarly. Nothing I’ve ever read about the court of Henry VIII has made it so vivid… A gem.” – Cressida Connolly, Spectator – Book of the Year

“A fluid, poised, quick-witted dance through the poetic and political career of one of the most elusive, glittering figures of Tudor England.” – Hilary Mantel

“Shulman has a gift for detail and for vivid phraseology; the complexities of Henrician intrigue are laid out in easily comprehensible fashion so that even a novice such as I can grasp them… This finely considered, silver-veined biography is a decorous and wise monument: now, as Shulman provides the right circuitry, his poems will spark up for us all.” – Daily Telegraph

“A brilliant example of literary rehabilitation… A narrative full of scheming courtiers, amorous women, slippery foreigners and a cruel but oddly earnest king who worshipped poetry… What is so compelling about Graven with Diamonds is not the just the story Nicola Shulman tells, but the way she tells it… The result is a thrilling book that manages to be both scholarly and wonderfully readable *****” – Mail on Sunday

“CS Lewis may have found Wyatt drab, but in Shulman’s company he is utterly captivating. Graven with Diamonds revives the contexts and conversations that shaped, and were shaped by, the poetry… Inasmuch as is possible after almost half a millennium, Nicola Shulman has done a superb rewiring job. The poems glisten again, illuminating everything and everyone around them. It is a marvellous achievement and a lovely book.” – Literary Review

“A close presentation of Wyatt through his verse which gives a sudden and surprising insight into the entire Tudor world… Written with the elevated clarity and dapperness – distinctive, crisp, decided…” – David Sexton, Evening Standard

“The great strength of Shulman’s book lies in its incisive readings of Wyatt’s verse and its likely motivations. She writes precisely, with original, sympathetic perceptions and an infectious relish for her subject. *****” – Daily Telegraph

“The outstanding history book of the year… A perceptive work of radiant scholarship. Brilliantly evokes the thrilling and often dangerous role of poetry in the court of Henry VIII. Wyatt’s life as courtier, spy, lover and diplomat was extraordinary enough. What makes Shulman’s work such a joy is the revelatory urgency with which she engages with language.” – Independent

“Trenchant… lively and sensitive.” – Guardian

“Shulman tells her tale with agreeable zest… This colourful book gives recognition of Wyatt’s greatness a very welcome, vigorous push.” –  Times

“A clever biography, captivating as a netsuke and as charming as n historical novel.” – Times Review

“One of the most persuasive and pleasurable accounts of English Renaissance poetry to appear… in years.” – Boyd Tonkin, Independent

“Poised, lucid, often arresting and frequently witty.” – John Guy, Sunday Times

“Wyatt was not only a poet… he may have been the lover of Anne Boleyn, and also had a reputation as both an assassin and a spy. All of these disparate threads, with a lavish helping of his verse, are woven through Graven With Diamonds by Nicola Shulman, whose lyrical prose creatively matches that of her extraordinary subject.” – Oxford Times

“Shulman argues her case with spirit, and often with a winning turn of phrase.” – Economist

“Sharp, dangerous and exhilarating… bursting with drama as well as being scholarly and full of surprises.” – Geordie Greig, Evening Standard – Book of the Year

“Spectacular brilliance… Deftly combining the skills of critic, biographer and historian, Shulman illuminates the poems by their context and vice versa.” –  Spectator

“Nicola Shulman pulls off the tricky task of moving between the edgy life and the wonderfully elusive writing of Henry VIII’s greatest poet, without reducing the poems to mere biographical ciphers” – Jonathan Bate, Sunday Telegraph – Book of the Year

“Elegant literary criticism and fresh insights into the most influential poet of his day.” – Tatler

About Nicola Shulman

Nicola Shulman is a writer and reviewer for publications including the Sunday Telegraph, The TLS and Harpers & Queen. She lives with her family in London and in Yorkshire. She published A Rage For Rock-Gardening. The Story of Reginald Farrer, gardener, writer and plant collector with Short Books in 2002.