Henry VIII with Will Somers

The Psalter of Henry VIII (r. 1509-47) was commissioned by the king who strongly identified with King David.  This illumination has him playing the harp, as David did to ward off evil.  It also features Will Somers, the king’s long-standing jester, whose presence is literally and figuratively aligned with the text of Psalm 53, which it illustrates:

The inclusion of the royal fool in the picture provides the link with the text immediately to the right of it. The illuminated ‘D’ by Will Somers’s head is the first letter of the Psalm in Latin: Dixit inspiens in corde suo, non est Deus (‘The fool says in his heart, “There is no God”’). Will Somers faces out of the illustration, obviously rejected, as the content of the Psalm dictates.

The Psalter was made by the French illuminator Jean Mallard around 1540 and this exquisite manuscript can be viewed online with the British Library’s page turner (this image being at f.63.v).

Source: ‘King Henry VIII as David, seated with harp, in an interior with his jester, William Sommers, image from the Psalter of Henry VIII, illustrating Psalm 53’; The Psalter of Henry VIII (c. 1540-41), Royal MS 2 A XVI, British Library


Illumination - Henry VIII and jester from the Psalter of Henry VIII - British Library

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