The Tudor Society

25 July – A fool gets into big trouble

On this day in Tudor history, 25th July 1535, the Feast of St James, the imperial ambassador wrote about a furious King Henry VIII who’d apparently been nearly driven to commit murder!

What had angered the king? Well, it involved Henry VIII's fool and some foolish name-calling. Find out more in today's talk.

Links to related videos:

Also on this day in Tudor history, 25th July 1554, Queen Mary I, daughter of Henry VIII by Catherine of Aragon, his first wife, married Philip of Spain, son of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. The couple got married at Winchester Cathedral and Mary's Lord Chancellor, Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, officiated at the ceremony. Find out more about their wedding in last year’s video:

Also on this day in history:

  • 1538 – Death of John Barnewall, 3rd Baron Trimleston and Lord Chancellor of Ireland.
  • 1539 – Death of Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggio, diplomat, Bishop of Salisbury, Cardinal-Protector and Papal Legate. Campeggio was buried in Santa Maria in Trastevere, but in 1571 his remains were moved to the church of Santi Marta e Bernardino, the church he had built in Bologna.
  • 1556 – Baptism of George Peele, poet and playwright, in St James Garlickhythe, London. Peele's works included the pastoral comedy “The Arraignment of Paris”, “The Battle of Alcazar” and “The Love of King David and fair Bethsabe: with the Tragedie of Absalon”.
  • 1577 – Death of Nicholas Barham, Sergeant-at-Law and Queen's Sergeant, at Oxford. He was a victim of the Black Assize (gaol fever), a fever which killed around 300 people associated with the trial of Roland Jenkes, a recusant bookseller.
  • 1602 – Burial of Salomon Pavy, actor, at the Church of St Mary Somerset, near Blackfriars Theatre. Pavy was just thirteen years-old, and is thought to have been abducted to serve as an actor in the Children of Paul's. He later joined the Children of the Queen's Revels at the Blackfriars Theatre and had parts in Ben Jonson's “Cynthia's Revels” and “The Poetaster”.
  • 1603 – Coronation of James I at Westminster Abbey. As Westminster Abbey points out "he was the first Scottish King to be crowned sitting on the Stone of Scone (contained in the Coronation Chair) for over 300 years".


On this day in Tudor history, 25th July 1535, the Feast of St James, Eustace Chapuys, the imperial ambassador wrote about a furious King Henry VIII who’d apparently been nearly driven to commit murder!

What had angered the king?

Well, let me explain… and if you’ve heard my talk or seen my video on Tudor Court Fools then this will be familiar to you.
In a postscript to his letter to Nicolas Perrenot de Granvelle, Emperor Charles V’s advisor, Chapuys wrote of the English king: “He the other day nearly murdered his own fool, a simple and innocent man, because he happened to speak well in his presence of the Queen and Princess, and called the concubine “ribaude” and her daughter “bastard.” He has now been banished from Court, and has gone to the Grand Esquire, who has sheltered and hidden him.”

The Queen and Princess in this postscript are Catherine of Aragon and Mary, and the concubine and her daughter are Anne Boleyn and little Princess Elizabeth. Henry VIII’s new court fool, William Somer had had the audacity to praise the banished Catherine of Aragon and Mary and to call Anne “ribald” and Elizabeth a “bastard”. Now court fools could get away with saying all kinds of things, but this was going too far. Catherine was still refusing to accept that her marriage was over and would not recognise her new title “Dowager Princess of Wales”, referring to herself as queen, and the king was furious at his former wife and eldest daughter’s defiance and disobedience, as he saw it. It was a real sore point, and he was intent on people recognising Anne Boleyn as his rightful wife and Elizabeth as his legitimate heir. So furious was he that he nearly murdered Somer, so I expect that Somer got his ears well and truly boxed.

Somer was lucky not to receive a more brutal punishment and to keep his position. He was temporarily banished from court, being sheltered by Sir Nicholas Carew, Chief Esquire of the King, a man who would go on to plot with the Seymours and a group of Catholic conservatives against Anne Boleyn in 1536 and to coach Jane Seymour in how to behave with the king and what to say to turn him against Anne.

While Somer survived the king’s fury and was soon back taking part in court entertainment, Carew came to a sticky end in 1539 when he was executed after being implicated in a plot against the king.

I’ll give you links to find out more about Nicholas Carew and also William Somer and the other famous Tudor court fool, Jane the Fool.

There are 2 comments Go To Comment

  1. R

    I think I would want to box his ears as well. Imagine someone insulting your spouse, worse your Queen and baby daughter, even if they were a favourite. Somer went too far and he was lucky that Sir Nicholas was able to shelter him until the King calmed down. Will Somers was almost one of family and is seen in family portraits. Ironically ten months later Henry thought exactly the same about Anne as her enemies did.

  2. M

    I love Will Somers! Is it Jean Plaidy who wrote I think it’s called The King’s Fool? And in Margaret George’s The Autobiography of Henry VIII, she uses Somer as the keeper of this diary. I find these fictional takes on this man utterly fascinating and have read these multiple times. Anyway, I think Henry truly loved him, and was the closest thing he had to true family.

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25 July – A fool gets into big trouble