Monday, September 01, 2008

Question from Gervase - Henry VIII's fool Will

I have read and seen in documentaries , movies etc., that Henry VIII had a fool named "Will", yet I do not see anything in legitimate print to say he was in fact an actual person who was devouted to Henry VIII. Is he a real person?


Blogger Lara said...

Yes, Will Somers was a real person, and we even know what he looked like! I don't know much about him beyond that he was Henry's fool though.

He's in this image from Henry VIII's psalter:
and in the family of Henry VIII (at the far right):

There are at least two more paintings of him, one with Henry and all of the children (the newly rediscovered one) and an older painting with Henry and Mary and Will:

September 01, 2008 3:17 PM  
Anonymous Nasim said...

As Lara notes, he did exist.

He served Henry VIII, having entered his service by 1535 and proceeded to serve Edward VI, Mary I and was even present at Elizabeth I’s coronation. He died on 15th June 1559 in London. I don’t believe there is any reference to Sommers having a wife or children, and his parentage is uncertain.

September 02, 2008 5:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I always wondered why he was depicted in paintings with the family....was this a tradition of some sort at that time, or was Somers particularly close to the family?

September 02, 2008 2:59 PM  
Blogger Lara said...

You know, that's a good question, and I have no idea of the answer. Anyone else know?

September 02, 2008 3:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, Will Somer's was a real person. And that being said also one of Hery's most trusted friends. I am NO historian, trust in that. However, Margaret George is the author of The Autobiography of Henry VII with notes by Will Somers. It is a fictional book based on fact and a wonderful insight into Henry's relationship with Will. If you are interested in Will Somer's I suggest this book as a good read and description of what thier relationship may have been like!

September 07, 2008 12:58 AM  
Anonymous Diane said...

There is a brief biography of Will on It is under William Sommers.

September 07, 2008 3:53 PM  
Blogger Foose said...

In Beatrice Otto's "Fools Are Everywhere," the author notes that Somers addressed Henry VIII as "Uncle." Shakespeare's fool does the same thing with King Lear in the play, but Otto doesn't indicate whether Shakespeare got the idea from Henry's relationship with Somers, or whether the address was customary for master-fool interactions. If Henry and Somers did have a sort of unique familiar relationship, maybe he was included in the portraits because Henry did think of him as "family."

I haven't read that Somers was a "natural," the contemporary term for the mentally disabled, who were socially and legally classed with unmarried women and children as requiring a guardian to direct their affairs. He does appear to have been physically handicapped, and that might have qualified him for being regarded as permanently dependent. Perhaps Somers is grouped with Henry's children in the paintings as a sort of echo of their own relationship with the king, emphasizing Henry's paternal and patriarchal authority.

Sir Thomas More's fool shows up in Holbein's famous group portrait of the More family, but I've read that his presence might refer to and reinforce the identity of More, as the Greek version of his name, "Moros," means fool.

September 08, 2008 10:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm doing some research on fools at the moment, and so came across your posts. There is a lot of anecdotal information about Will Somer (the 's' is probably a later addition) in the state papers and in Robert Armin's play, Foole upon Foole, which dates from 1600 but probably contains, at worst, elaborated versions of oral history about Will. I'm inclining towards thinking he wasn't a 'natural fool', but I'll have to get back to you when I've done some more research.

Suzannah Lipscomb

December 04, 2009 7:00 AM  

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