The Folger has recently acquired a real rarity—A pleasant history of the life and death of Will Summers: how he came first to court, and by what means he got to be King Henry VIII’s jester—which is the only recorded copy of a jest book based on the character of Will Somer (d. 1559), who served as Henry VIII’s court jester.
Published in London in 1676, this is the second of two editions; the first, published in 1637 and also extant in only one recorded copy, resides in the Folger collection as well.
The text is illustrated with six woodcuts, which illustrate incidents or jests in the book. Somer’s reputation as a royal fool made him a natural subject for jest books. He purportedly had rhyming contests with his master and after his death had several works written about him. He makes his first appearance in Foole upon Foole (1600) by—appropriately enough—Shakespeare’s resident fool, Robert Armin.