|Engraving of the royal jester|
Despite the rather condescending title of "Fool", Will Somers had a good deal of integrity combined with discretion which made him perfect for his role at court. He often drew the King's attention to the extravagance of his court by small witty remarks and jokes. Court jesters had always had a special familiarity with the monarchs and the royal family and was allowed to utter things that would have sent everyone else to the scaffold.
Will Somers could even joke about Cardinal Wolsey when he was at the height of the King's favour and get away with it. But even Henry VIII has his limits with his fool and in one particular incident Henry flew into a rage and threatened to kill Somers with his own hands. So, what had the beloved fool said that would cause such a violent reaction? Sir Nicolas Carew had dared Will Somers to call Queen Anne Boleyn a "ribald" (basically a vulgar and lewd person) and the Princess Elizabeth a "bastard".
Through the records of Robert Armin, we have come to know of an episode at court where Will Somers humiliated the court juggler, Thomas:
Will interrupted a performance of Thomas' carrying milk and bread. Will then asked the King for a spoon to which the King replied that he had none while Thomas told him to use his hands. Will - being the court jester - immediately replied with the following verse:
"This bit Harry I give to thee
and this next bit must serve for me,
Both which I'll eat apace.
This bit Madam unto you,
And this bit I my self eate now,
And the rest upon thy face."
And then he threw the milk at Thomas' face and ran out - Thomas never appeared at court again. But Will Somers also used his influence to help an uncle who had become impoverished after an enclosure of common land.
Will Somers survived Henry VIII and continued his career during the reign of Mary I and partly Elizabeth I. He continued as court jester to Mary I where he was mainly used for ceremonial events but is reported to be the only man who could make Mary laugh. His last public performance was at the coronation of Elizabeth I after which he retired. He is most likely the "William Sommers" whose death is recorded on June 5th 1560.
|The man in the background (to the right) is Will Somers|