King's Fool

King's Fool

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by Margaret Campbell Barnes

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More than 2 million copies of Margaret Campbell Barnes' novels have been sold worldwide.

First published in 1959 by world-renowned historical novelist Margaret Campbell Barnes, King's Fool is a remarkable insider tale of the intrigue, ruthlessness, and majesty of the Tudor court. When country lad Will Somers lands himself the plum position of jester


More than 2 million copies of Margaret Campbell Barnes' novels have been sold worldwide.

First published in 1959 by world-renowned historical novelist Margaret Campbell Barnes, King's Fool is a remarkable insider tale of the intrigue, ruthlessness, and majesty of the Tudor court. When country lad Will Somers lands himself the plum position of jester to the mercurial King Henry VIII, he has no idea that he';s just been handed a front-row seat to history.

With a seat near the throne and an ear to the floor, Somers witnesses firsthand the dizzying power struggles and sly scheming that marked the reign of the fiery Tudor king. Somers watches the rise and fall of some of the most enigmatic women in history, including the tragic Katherine of Aragon, the doomed Anne Boleyn, and Mary Tudor, who confided in the jester as she made the best of the fragile life of a princess whom everyone wished was a prince.

Based on the life of the real Will Somers, King's Fool is infused with Margaret Campbell Barnes' trademark rich detail and historical accuracy. This intimate peek into the royal chambers gives readers a unique view on one of the most tumultuous periods in English history.

Includes a bonus reading group guide written by the author's great granddaughter.

"A moving and lifelike portrait... a thoroughly delightful novel."
New York Times

"Immensely entertaining and absorbing."
Chicago Tribune

"A dramatic story, full of color and good characters, great people made more human."
Book of the Month Club

"Memorable scenes... a real achievement."
Saturday Review

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Illuminating and flawlessly written, THE KING'S FOOL is historical fiction at its best. " - Romance Reader at Heart

"Margaret Campbell Barnes provides readers with a different view of King Henry VIII and she does a solid job at backing up her interpretation of this fascinating historical era... KING'S FOOL is brilliant!" - CK2's Kwips & Kritiques

"Thanks to Ms.Barnes, we see the King's fool, not as an accessory, a mere clown, but as a loving, non-judgemental human being, who has his share of misery and misfortune." - Reading Extravaganza

"I have read dozens of books on Tudor England, both fiction and non-fiction. I rank The King's Fool among the very best of them." - Kittling

"[T]he King's fool himself is a fascinating character and well worth the read here." - A Reader's Respite

"I'm giving this book 5 stars because it has everything I like in a historical fiction novel: solid characters (not too good or too bad), a good plot (how can you go wrong with Henry VIII and his wives?), great wording and diction (not overly antiquated or too modern) and historical accuracy." -

"There is so much packed in this small book, that you will have a royal ride in and around the lavish court life... The author does an absolutely fantastic job is sketching out each and every person in the book. " - Give Reading a Chance Blog

"Overall, I think this is a nice work of historical fiction that definitely deserves the re-release Sourcebooks is giving it. " - Medieval Bookworm

"All in all I really liked this novel - Barnes is an excellent writer and manages to fit a lot of life into 300 pages. " - Passages to the Past

"The King's Fool is a highly enjoyable book and definitely something to check out for fans of Tudor-era historical fiction. I hope to read more of Barnes' work." - Devourer of Books

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Read an Excerpt

I was Shropshire born, essentially a country lad, brought up to take my place among the new middle class which Tudor rule begat. Under the Plantagenets there had been titled folk and peasants. But when Henry the Seventh defeated the last of them on Bosworth field and filched dead Richard's crown he changed all that. With his encouragement of merchants and explorers, and this new printing, and learning for the sons of solid citizens, he opened up life for those who knew how to profit by it. Perhaps a prince who has known exile and hardship is apt to have new and wider ideas. And I was particularly fortunate in this matter of learning because my father taught the choristers of Wenlock Priory, and every day I went with him to be schooled in Latin and calculus and other clerkly knowledge as well as music. From boyhood I knew the grandeur of architecture as well as the beauty of the countryside.

But though I was fortunate in one way I was misfortunate in another, for I was an only child and my mother died of the plague when I was four. She was a Welsh woman from over the border and it must have been from her, folks said, that I inherited my dark leanness and love of music. Although I respected my father, I had no particular love for him, so mine was a lonely childhood. While often poking fun at my schoolmates, I envied them secretly and fiercely because they had real homes. Not just a house swept by a hired woman, and empty to come back to. But warm, candlelit homes full of family bickering and laughter, with some mothering person at the heart of it. It would have been easier for me, I sometimes think, had my mother died a year earlier so that I could not remember her at all. For then my mind would not always have been searching for, or my heart hungering for, a shadowy, half-remembered presence, never completely visualized yet all-pervading. A childish hungering of the heart which went on throughout my youthful life.

Because I am hardier than I look some of my happiest hours were spent helping with the work at my Uncle Tobias's farm. Gathering the golden harvest through long summer days leaves a lasting sweetness to ripen in a man's soul. The smell of newly carted hay can be a lasting memory even in strange cities. The indiscriminating hospitality of my uncle's wife, feeding willing helpers as if they were her own strapping sons, taught me the core of kindness. The glowing companionship of harvest suppers established a belief in humanity against the mean buffets of the years. I shall always remember the glow of these sunsets over Wenlock Edge, and the gloaming covering the softly thatched houses like a gradual benediction. The rough voices of the farm lads and the giggling of the lasses handing round the ale pots making a homely kind of music as precious as the chanting of the monks; the older folk sitting around the cleared trestles afterwards, and the lads drawing the lasses away into the warm darkness. The shrieks and stifled laughter coming from the deeper shadow of the great tithe barn, and then the stillness and the rustling in the straw stack. That was the time I half dreaded. I'd always been the life and soul of the party with my mimicry and quips, and the topical jingling rhymes that even then came to me so easily. But the girls with whom I was popular enough in the day-time had no use for me under a hedge or in the hay. My awkward attempts had always been rebuffed, and I was never one to press myself where I was not wanted. Perhaps they felt me to be different, being the schoolmaster's son, or maybe it was just because I was plain, with quick mind and tongue, and unreddened skin drawn tight across my cheekbones.

So when the lasses and lads paired off with that excited catch in their voices and the glitter of expectation in their eyes I would invent some face-saving errand to the elder folk, and slip away through the beauty of the summer night to listen to the spilled-out ecstasy of nightingales and watch the great gold-white moon sail up behind the branches of the trees. Lonely, I was, and aching for I know not what. But because such beauty could lift the soul clear out of my scrawny body in ecstasy—because I had found celestial beauty in the stone lacework of soaring arches or in the echo of some lingering chord—I seldom hankered for long after the coarse, comely, sweat-soaked bodies and the toil-hardened limbs of the kind of girls I knew. I thought, Heaven help me, that I was immune and never could be driven crazy by a woman.

And so it happened that when I left Shropshire I was still inexperienced and fancy-free.

Until I was fourteen the highlights of my life had been during High Mass or Vespers, when I sent the pure treble of my carefully trained voice soaring up in praise to the very roof of the Priory, or muted it to plead for God's compassion so that it filled the dimness of arcaded aisles with sweet sound. How my world seemed to shatter about me when my voice broke! How restlessly I waited through those awkward months of adolescence when any remark I made croaked between childish treble and manhood gruffness, when I felt like an outcast waiting to creep back into the choir among the alto line. My secret hope was that one day I should be able to sing the tenor solos on Saints' days, or even in the new anthem which my father told us the King himself had composed. But to my bitter disappointment my voice never came again. Oh, of course it was trained and true, good enough to warble a love song as I went about my work, but never again to draw the hearts out of worshippers in a Cluniac priory famous for its music.

Although this was no fault of my own my father was unforgivingly disappointed, lacking the imagination to conceive how much worse it was for me. Half the tragedy of youth is that it has no measuring stick for grief. With a mother I might have talked some of mine out of my heart, bringing it into lighter proportion—indeed, I think that mothers sense such things without being told. But our musical work as master and pupil was the sole thing my father and I had in common. So I tried to assuage my frustration by sitting moodily strumming my shabby lute when I ought to have been chopping logs for winter fuel, or wandering over the hills making up ribald couplets about my betters when I was supposed to be construing Latin, or—with a sudden change of mood—driving the neighbours to distraction with practical jokes and leading the other lads in wild bursts of revelry. By then my poor father—God rest his soul!—was not only disappointed in me, but exasperated and bewildered beyond measure, not knowing what devil possessed me so to dishonour his standing in our little Shropshire town. Twice he beat me, grown lad as I was. Once for hanging a pewter chamber pot on a gable of our Guildhall, and once for releasing a pretty drab from the stocks to annoy our pompous beadle. And Heaven knows the parental chastisements were well deserved! "What is modern youth coming to?" my father would mutter, running a scholarly hand through his rapidly greying hair. So that I imagine he must have been much relieved to send me away into another county to learn better manners.

Actually it was my simpler-minded and more practical Uncle Tobias who brought this about. With more free time on my hands I was often helping him at Frith Farm and, although my thoughts wandered far farther than theirs, I enjoyed the company of my sturdy, uncomplicated cousins. With the failure of my voice I had fallen between two stools, as it were, being neither scholarly enough to teach nor robust enough to make a full-time farmer. And so it happened that I was up a ladder searching for one of my aunt's hens when a strange gentleman came galloping into the yard, and by the wayward chance of a nit-wit bird going broody on a half-cut strawstack the whole course of my life was altered and enriched.

Meet the Author

The late Margaret Campbell Barnes grew up in London. Her historical novels include Brief Gaudy Hour, My Lady of Cleves, With All My Heart, Isabel the Fair, and The King's Bed.

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King's Fool 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A smidge slow to start...but so worth it - - it's a delightful insight "behind the curtain"
Melmel727 More than 1 year ago
I liked this book a lot. The author has a very enjoyable, readable style. She really makes a topic that is familiar to me, having read quite a bit of Tudor fiction and nonfiction, and makes me look at it from a different point of view.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago