On this day in Tudor history, 25th July 1535, the Feast of St James, Eustace Chapuys, the imperial ambassador, reported that a furious King Henry VIII had nearly been driven to commit murder.

What had driven the king to this fury?

His fool, Will Somer.

Find out more about what Somer did to anger his king in this video and transcript below…

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 at https://youtu.be/289MSTDoZHA


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.

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One thought on “July 25 – Henry VIII is nearly driven to murder!”
  1. It was a strange profession to be a court fool, but these people were well cared for, clothed and fed and lived in sumptuous palaces even though they were probably of peasant stock, their masters to thought highly of them, a pleasant and light hearted diversion no doubt from the pressures of state business, and Henry V111 even had his fool Will Somers and Jane his queens fool, depicted in his famous painting of his family by Holbein the younger, Jane served several queens and her last as we know mistress, Mary 1st appears to have adored her, she spent lavishly on her and Queen Catherine Parr bought her some poultry to attend to in one of the kitchen gardens, these people were often mentally retarded and such people are often very affectionate, I can see Jane smothering Queen Mary with cuddles and kisses which no doubt delighted her, this lonely queen having been starved of such warmth for many years from her father, and later her beloved husband, it is a shame we hear no more of Jane, she disappears from the records but we know she had a habit of falling asleep in later life, maybe she developed the condition sleep apnea ,or she could have had some more sinister illness which caused her extreme tiredness, there are records she was treated with an eye infection to, which could have been conjunctivitis though heaven knows that potions they used, and her head was shaved, maybe she had lice but no royal master or mistress would surely let them in their presence with that? At Anne’s coronation she shouted to the crowd they must have scurvy heads for they dared not left their caps of, Jane never upset her royal mistresses either, whether it was Anne Boleyn or Jane Seymour and those who she served afterwards, but poor Will Somers he over stepped the boundaries when he praised Henry’s first queen, and insulted Anne Boleyn calling her a ribald meaning whore or concubine, and the Princess Elizabeth a bastard, Chapyus referred to him as an innocent simple man, and so Somers and his fellow fools were, and of course such people were allowed license for their remarks, and as we know these fools did get away with quite a lot, they were merely entertainers but Somers angered the king on this occasion he nearly murdered him, according to Chapyus, one can see Henry growing red in the face and striving over to Somers getting hold of him by the shoulders and the poor man must have quacked in terror, for what he had just said was treason and anyone else would have been thrown in the Tower and had his tongue cut out, or worse, we do not know if Anne was there that day but she must have also been furious when she heard of it or witnessed the coarse words spoken, Henry was very sensitive on the subject of Katherine of Aragon she was a very deep thorn in his side, and he had striven to get Anne recognised as his real queen, he had a bill passed to make it treason not to recognise her as such, Elizabeth his heir, and himself Head Of The New Church, one can understand his fury, Somers must have fled from the room in terror and he was henceforth banished, he was offered refuge in the house of Sir Nicholas Carew, a relation of the queen and who later was to plot against her, it is sweet justice when we know he was himself later executed, Somers after being banished for some time was allowed back at court when the kings anger had cooled, realising that his fool had meant no harm, and after the death of his third queen Henry shut himself away in grief with only Will for company, in a rough sketch of Will he has a blank look on his face, in face he reminds me of Stan Laurel, what intrigues me is how these people who became valuable court entertainers got their odd profession in the first place, they must have been a servant maybe of the lower quarters in the kings household and made themselves known by amusing the others with their comical remarks and gestures, maybe the king got to hear of their amusing anecdotes and had them brought into their presence, then they became their ‘fool’, we no nothing of how Will became Henry’s fool though he was said to have been Shropshire born and was introduced to the king in Greenwich, but the story is unsubstantiated, all they did was keep company with them, travel beside them on their outings and generally amuse them, it sounds like a good life, a much better lot than befall the poor people of society, also they were treated by the court physicians when they fell ill and ate well to, did they eat with the court or was they consigned to eat in the kitchens with the lower orders?, also do we know if they were granted a small income, maybe they were rewarded with a few coins and Jane even had her own horse, the most safest people in the Tudor court were in fact these fools because they were not political people, they were never considered anyone’s enemy, they were immune from the plots and petty jealousies that surrounded the much more important personages those unhappy queens of Henry V111 for example, both Anne Boleyn and later Catherine Parr who was the subject of a plot by Stephen Gardiner to oust her, Will also was said to be the only person who could amuse Henry V111 when he was bed bound in pain with his leg, and the only one who could make Queen Mary laugh, which really must have been quite a feat, no wonder this rather simple man was considered a very real treasure to those he served, even though he did make Henry V111 blue in the face on this one rather dangerous occasion.

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