On 15th June 1560, William Somer (Sommers), former court fool to Henry VIII, Edward VI and Mary I died in Shoreditch, London. He was buried at St Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch.
Somer served as Henry VIII’s fool from June 1535 and just a month later got into trouble with the King. In July 1535, Eustace Chapuys, the Imperial ambassador, recorded that Henry VIII was so angry with Somer that he nearly killed him:
“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 [Catherine of Aragon and Mary], and called the concubine “ribaude” [whore] and her daughter “bastard.” He has now been banished from Court, and has gone to the Grand Esquire, who has sheltered and hidden him.”1
Oops! A lucky escape.
The “Grand Esquire” refers to Sir Nicholas Carew, Chief Esquire of the King. Alison Weir2 goes as far as to say that Carew dared Somer to call Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth names but that is not what Chapuys says here, he just says that Carew sheltered Somer. In 1536, the same Nicholas Carew appeared to be working against Anne Boleyn and was mentoring Jane Seymour.
Fortunately for Somer, he managed to work his way back into the King’s favour and after Henry VIII’s death he went on to serve Edward VI and Mary I. He attended Elizabeth I at her coronation in 1559 but seems to have retired after that.
Historian Suzannah Lipscomb wonders if Tudor fools were actually people with learning disabilities – see All the King’s Fools for more on this.
William Somer can be see in the Family of Henry VIII painting which hangs at Hampton Court Palace – look at the man standing in the right hand archway. The woman shown in the left hand archway is “Jane the Fool”, fool to Anne Boleyn, Princess Mary and Catherine Parr.
Notes and Sources
- Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 5 Part 1: 1534-1535, Note 184
- Weir, Alison. Henry VIII: King and Court, p365