25 July 1535 – Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth are called names

Posted By on July 25, 2017

With his letter written on the Feast of St James (25th July) 1535, to Nicolas Perrenot de Granvelle, who was Charles V’s advisor, Eustace Chapuys included an interesting post script. It was written in cipher, but said:

“P.S.—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.”

Here, Chapuys, who was the imperial ambassador at the court of Henry VIII, is saying that the king’s fool, Will Somer (Summer), was nearly killed by the king for calling Queen Anne Boleyn “ribald” and saying that Princess Elizabeth was a bastard. Somer kept his head but Chapuys states that he was banished from the court and that he was sheltered by Sir Nicholas Carew, chief esquire of the king. The king was obviously furious.

Somer did manage to get back into the king’s good graces and went on to serve Edward VI and Mary I as court fool. Perhaps Elizabeth I didn’t know that he’d once called her a bastard, or perhaps she forgave him, because he attended her at her coronation in January 1559. Somer died on 15th June 1560.

Also on this day in history, 25th July 1554, Queen Mary I married Philip of Spain, son of Charles V, at Winchester Cathedral. Click here to read more.

Notes and Sources

17 thoughts on “25 July 1535 – Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth are called names”

  1. Mary says:

    Back then, most folks did what they had to do to keep their heads.

  2. Esther says:

    Is it possible that Henry had more than one fool? Considering the number of people Henry executed for calling Anne (or Elizabeth) similar names, I would have thought that Will Summers (who could survivie a lot of tumult) was too smart to make such a remark.

    1. Claire says:

      Will Somer had only been appointed as court fool that year, certainly by 28th June 1535, so was very new at this point, which could explain this case. Perhaps he hadn’t learned what was going too far at this point.

    2. Claire says:

      Interestingly, Anna Whitelock writes that it was Sexton (probably the fool also referred to as Patch) who was involved in this incident and that that is why Will Somer was appointed, as a replacement, but J. R. Mulryne on Oxford DNB has Somer being in Henry VIII’s service by 28th June 1535.

      1. Claire says:

        In a letter dated 28th June 1535, Henry VIII. to the Lord Windsor, Keeper of the Great Wardrobe, there is mention of Somer as the King’s fool:
        “Mandate to make payment to John Malte, the King’s “tillor;” Th. Addington, the King’s skinner; Lettice Worsop, his silk-woman; Wm. Crofton, his “hoosyar;” Henry Cornelys and Henry Johnsone, his cordwainers; and to Wm. Sporyar, for making robes, doublets, &c., and for stuff for the King; for satin, &c., delivered to the Queen; for gowns, coats, &c. for Culpepir, the King’s page; the three officers of the King’s robes; the two royal barbers; the five grooms of the privy chamber; Mark Philip, and Culpepir of the privy chamber; the said Wm. Crofton; the King’s “sporyar;” 67 yeomen of the guard; and Wm. Somar, the King’s fool. Given under the sign manual, at Windsor Castle, 28 June 27 Hen. VIII.” (LP viii. 937).

        It’s hard to say whether there were two fools at this time, but Somer was in the position at the time Chapuys records.

  3. Christine says:

    That was a very foolish insensitive remark but as mentioned Will Somers was new to the job, Henry was acting quite tolerant here, he new Will had a lot to learn, and he went onto to serve him till he died but I wonder what Anne said, she must have been furious, I bet she wanted him sent straight to the Tower. Some monarchs had women fools, Mary Queen Of Scots for one and I wonder where the origin started from, maybe it was from the medieval courts and it came from the court jesters who used to perform tricks for the monarch and the residing court?.

    1. Claire says:

      Here are links to articles about fools:

      Jane was a famous female fool, she was court fool to Queen Anne Boleyn, Queen Mary I (when she was princess and queen) and Queen Catherine Parr. I wrote an article on her at https://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/jane-fool/

      1. Christine says:

        Thanks Claire, very interesting.

  4. Maryann C Pitman says:

    By the time she was crowned, Elizabeth was well used to being called a bastard, so much so that she didn’t do as her sister had, and validate her mother’s marriage. Somer would have been one of those people she had known all her life, she must have been fond of him.

  5. Banditqueen says:

    Fools did try to push the boundaries a bit, not always with disastrous results but it could be dangerous as we see here. A fool wasn’t just for entertainment and were often used as spies and sometimes for advice. They would also use jokes as a criticism but made it sound funny, although annoying the Lord or King too much could be costly most probably got off with a warning. Calling an unpopular and insecure Queen and the new heir to the throne names, which were treason under the new paranoid laws of Cromwell and Henry Viii, that was an invitation to trouble with a capital T. Now did Henry literally almost kill his fool, or did he yell at him and threaten to put him in the Tower or did he strike him or box his ears? We don’t have the full details, but it sounds as if it was pretty bad if he took refuge with Carew, a fan of Jane Seymour and Somers was lucky to get away and then regain favour. Of course this could just be a heat of the moment thing which passed over, but it must have been frightening.

    One question, what is a ‘ribaude’ or ‘ribald’? I am guessing it’s an insult and related to whore or concubine, given what people thought of Anne and her marriage to the King, especially Chapuys, but an exact translation would be welcome. Thanks.

    1. Christine says:

      Hi Bq, iv often seen that word come up in historical works, I think it means an immoral and dissolute person, unsavoury character for eg.

      1. Banditqueen says:

        Yes, that would make sense. Thanks, Christine. Somers was taking his life in his hands making such dangerous and insensitive remarks of the Queen and Baby Elizabeth, who was at this point the heir to the throne, unless a son came along. Even if he wasn’t in royal service for long, surely he must have heard such a jest or remark was not to be tolerated by King Henry? Oh well, at least he lived to entertain another day.

        1. Christine says:

          Yes really he was speaking treason there, he got of rather lightly I think.

    2. Claire says:

      “Ribald” as an adjective now means crude or offensive, but I looked up its entymology on Merriam-Webster and it say “Middle English ribaud person of low status, scoundrel, lecher, from Anglo-French, from Old French riber to be debauched, of Germanic origin; akin to Old High German rīban to be in heat, copulate, literally, to rub.” So as a noun at that time it apears to have meant someone who was low, lecherous and debauched.

      1. Christine says:

        Yes he was really calling the queen a whore, I find the old phrases and names they used long ago fascinating as they have all but disappeared, like ‘wench ‘ and ‘concubine’ .

        1. Banditqueen says:

          Thanks Claire and Christine for your detailed replies. No wonder the King got mad calling his wife debauched and lecherous, yeap good move. Even Chapuys only used a word which meant official mistress or living with someone, not his wife but an official position for the King’s procreation. It was not quite offensive as saying she and by the same thing, the King was debauched, a scoundrel, a lecherous whore and so on. Somers was taking a crazy risk or as we say trying to be funny, especially with a common word or slang. Even though Fools often did have the ear of their masters, this was not the wisest fool. It was good that he made a come back and lived a long life.

  6. Ana Gomez says:

    We think that calling people in power ” names ” is not done now …..it is …..always with disastrous consequences …..calling Trump names can get you very low …..calling Maduro a tyrant can get you in prison …..and worse …..calling Putin a murderer can get you into a XXI st century gulag ……ect….ect…ect….consudering Henry the VIII cut people’s head off ….today they dont cut your head off except the Isis in the Middle East ……but the cruelty of modern day TYRANTS …..for calling people in HIGH SPHERES still goes on !

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