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  • Jane Fool July 8, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback


    In the famous image of Henry VIII’s family from 1545 there is a mysterious figure walking on the left in the background. The woman apparently has no hair (note the back and front of her head and compare with the princesses in the picture) and she seems rather lost, perhaps even confused.


    Different theories for her identity have been advanced, but by far the most popular is that this was ‘Jane Fool’, a jester at the Tudor court. Jane is, it is claimed, the only recorded female fool to have served a European royal family, but she was evidently well liked. She was brought into the court by Anne Boleyn. She was then inherited by Catherine Parr and looked after by Princess Mary who then employed her throughout her reign. She is identified with the woman in the picture for three reasons: her apparent lack of hair (Jane as all fools had shaved heads – we have the records of payment to barbers!); on the opposite side of the picture, walking towards her, is Will Sommers, Henry’s fool; and because of her rather forlorn expression.


    It has sometimes been claimed that Jane was mentally disabled: the proof for this seems to be almost vanishingly slight. Another legend is that Jane was married to Will, but the only ‘evidence’ for this is that they are positioned together in the painting: something easily explained by the fact that they were both fools. (One story suggests that Will’s wife may have been ‘simple’, make of that what you will). Jane was certainly well cared for by the Tudors, at least materially: she received shoes, horses, and clothes. Some of these clothes were ornamental: they matched the clothes given to one Lucretia the Tumbler. Other items of clothing though seem to have been chosen to guarantee Jane’s comfort: Mary also paid for treatment for an eye condition. We know what it was like to listen to Will Sommers because some anecdotes survive. We know nothing of Jane. Did she have witty zingers? Did she do prat falls? Was she really constantly in a ‘simple’ daze? We’ll never know, though the picture, if it is Jane, does not suggest genius.

    Anything else on Jane the Jester: drbeachcombing AT yahoo dot com

    There is a fabulous account of the search for Jane here.