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

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21 thoughts on “25 July 1535 – Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth are called names”
  1. 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. 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. 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. 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.

        1. Who are the two Culpepirs mentioned?

          I’m guessing the page is Thomas Culpepper who was executed for his relationship with Kathryn Howard.

          But who is the Culpepir of the Privy Chamber?

        2. Hi Anyanka,
          The page would be the Thomas Culpeper who was involved with Catherine Howard, I assume, and the other could be his brother, who was also called Thomas Culpeper. There’s nothing like calling your sons the same name!

  2. 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?.

  3. 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.

  4. 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 wh*re 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. 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. 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.

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

        1. 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 wh*re 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.

  5. 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 !

  6. I don’t understand what a concubine is. Is that from the bible? Wasn’t that just before Catherine died. Henry’s anger was like a child having a temper tantrum. Catherine did pacify Henry and Anne really did not know how to handle the real him. As for calling Elizabeth that. How despicable.

    1. Laura, hi, a concubine is a tradition from many ancient cultures who took several wives and concubines who were basically official prostitutes living in the royal or noble households as sexual partners for the King or Emperor. They are mentioned in the Bible in both an official context and as an insult for a woman who lived with a man who was not her husband as if she was his wife. However, the position could be one of honour as well, as in China or Japan, where women came as young girls to the household of the new Emperor and were given the rank of concubine, although most didn’t sleep with him or were not trained for several years. It was considered to have prestige. Several ranks of concubine and wife existed and a matron was in charge and examined the new arrivals, giving them assigned titles and positions. Women rose up the ranks until the Emperor and his Eunuchs spotted them and sent for them. Concubines could and did become wives, bearing the heir to the throne. The political life of the Court had more to do with the Harem as it was known as in the East than anything else. Many cultured civilizations had a system of official concubinage. Several prestigious political figures had official mistresses or concubine and many were very intelligent and had great political power. In Ancient Greece there was an official position of being the First Concubine or Consort to the leading political ruler. Women in this position had rare influence. In the West it has traditionally been put down because it is considered immoral to be the sexual partner to someone you were and are not married to. Anne Boleyn was living with the King as if she was his wife while Henry was still officially married to Katherine and had taken her place at Court. She more or less moved in as if she was Queen in 1531 after Katherine was banished from Court. She had a sexual relationship with the King at the end of October or November 1532 onwards from when they were in France. She was now officially his concubine as she certainly wasn’t lawfully his wife, unless she was committing bigamy with him. The King married Anne in January 1533 but her marriage wasn’t made lawful until May that year and in Rome that decision was changed when the Vatican declared for Katherine of Aragon and ordered Henry to return to his first wife. The Holy Roman Emperor, that is the representative of most of the Catholic world refused to recognise the marriage of Henry and Anne, as did his official representative in England, Ambassador Eustace Chapuys, who referred to Anne as Concubine, meaning his Official Mistress, rather than his legal wife. He referred to Anne in this way in his correspondence, but he also called her the Lady or Lady Anna, not as Queen. When he referred to the Queen he was always speaking of Katherine and Princess he referred to Mary, calling Elizabeth “the little Bastard” not very complimentary but from his point of view, the lawful status of Anne and Elizabeth.

      The Treason Act 1534 made it treason to speak openly of Anne or her children by Henry in such terms and Will Somer here crossed the line, but he was so valued by Henry that he was eventually pardoned and returned to his service. He was well provided for and a Keeper was appointed to provide for his financial and other needs after Henry’s death. He served other monarchs until his death on 25th June 1560.

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