Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Review-- King's Fool

Title: King's Fool: A Notorious King, His Six Wives, and the One Man Who Knew Their Secrets
Author: Margaret Campbell Barnes
ISBN: 9781402219023/ Sourcebooks, Inc., 2009
Genre: Historical Fiction, ARC
Rating: A

First Line: I was Shropshire born, essentially a country lad, brought up to take my place among the new middle class which Tudor rule begat.

Thus begins the brilliant tale of Will Somers, King Henry VIII's court jester. First published in 1959 by renowned historical novelist Margaret Campbell Barnes, I wondered why on earth I'd never heard of her before. This is a remarkable insider tale of the Tudor court, told by "a common man" who little thought that saying yes to King Henry would give him a front-row seat to history.

Will Somers arrives at court and learns to care deeply for Queen Catherine and Princess Mary before the besotted Henry decides to divorce his wife and marry Anne Boleyn. It is a sign of Somers' intelligence that he knows how to go with the flow and keep his opinions to himself. As a result, he lives to see Elizabeth on the throne, artists include him in paintings with the king, and Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth both leave him annuities. Not bad for a Shropshire lad!

It would be easy to say that Somers' greatest gifts lay with his humor and wit, but after reading King's Fool, I would say that his forbearance and forgiveness outweighed them:

I found myself slipping into his mind, though it was so utterly different from my own. Almost tenderly, I picked up the bedgown which had fallen to the floor and draped it welcomingly across his chair before the fire. Memories and disgusts of the last few turbulent years receded, and for some reason or other I found myself smiling at the recollection of my Uncle Tobias's comic visit to Court, and of Henry's kindness to him.

Not only do the characters come to life in this book, it is so filled with historical detail that I felt as though Somers was not the only person with a front-row seat to history. I have read dozens of books on Tudor England, both fiction and non-fiction. I rank King's Fool among the very best of them. I still can't believe that I'd never heard of Margaret Campbell Barnes, and I certainly will be looking for her other titles.

A big Thank You to publicist Danielle Jackson of Sourcebooks, Inc. for this review copy. She's just added more books to my wish list!

Other reviews of this book:


  1. I liked this one as well. I think it's one of the better historical fiction books I've read this year.

  2. The Tudor time period is my favorite. This looks like one to add to my wishlist.

  3. Lilly and Dar--I still can't believe that I'd never heard of the author before. I'm no novice with historical fiction!

  4. Margaret Campbell Barnes was one of the very first historical fiction authors I ever read when I was still a kid or at least a tween (I have a first edition of A Brief Gaudy Hour) but it wasn't until her books started being re-printed that I realized she had written more than just that one story. I really need to read this and all of the others!

  5. Tink--I checked out her page on Fantastic Fiction, saw all the titles and almost started rubbing my hands together in glee. LOL

  6. Love Fantastic Fiction! I'm not sure how I ever got along without it since I visit at least once a day!

  7. Fantastic Fiction and Stop, You're Kiling Me! are the two websites I wear out day after day!

  8. I have enjoyed the previous two books I have read by this author, and I am hoping to get hold of this one in due course!

  9. Marg--they're such wonderful books. I hope you're successful!

  10. I had heard of Barnes before, but I had such terrible trouble getting hold of her books. I'm so glad they're reissuing them! I thought this was a great look at Henry VIII.

    I really enjoyed your review, so I've linked to you here!

  11. Thanks, Lana--I returned the favor!


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