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King at Court

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King at Court

Henry VIII was heavily influenced by the writings of Erasmus, More, Machiavelli, and Thomas Elyot, which provided him with advice and suggested appropriate standards of royal behavior. But Henry and his court had much more fun and pleasure than these treatises on morality may suggest. Ruler and courtiers outfitted themselves richly, according to their station, and Henry’s jester, Will Sommers, provided merriment in the court, much to the annoyance of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, who detested him. He might well have done so, as one of Sommers’s favorite pastimes was lampooning the cardinal.

Franz Hogenberg after Georg Hoefnagel. Elizabeth I arriving at Nonsuch Palace. Engraving, 1582

This view of Nonsuch, near Epsom, in Surrey, was engraved some thirty-five years after Henry’s death but nevertheless provides an excellent impression of one of his royal palaces that is long gone. Arguably the greatest of Henry VIII’s building projects, Nonsuch was begun in 1538 but remained incomplete at the king’s death, almost nine years later. It was built to demonstrate the grandeur and power of the Tudor monarchy and to compete with the palace of Chambord, built by Henry’s great rival, Francis I, king of France.


Pictured at right is Henry's jester, Will Sommers, wearing an elaborate coat with the letters “HR”—“Henricus Rex”—embroidered on the chest and jester’s cap tucked into his belt. Sommers was Henry's jester for over twenty years. He amused the king with foolish riddles and by playing practical jokes on Cardinal Wolsey, who could never abide him.


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Francis Delaram. Will Sommers, King Heneryes Jester. Print, ca. 1618-27

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