Royal Armouries

Will Somers’ Breastplate

Images

Will somers breastplate

Breastplate associated with Will Somers. Probably Dutch, about 1630 (III.157)

  • Will somers breastplate

    Breastplate associated with Will Somers. Probably Dutch, about 1630 (III.157)

  • monochrome photo of a child's size breastplate

    Breastplate associated with Will Somers. (III.157)

  • monochrome engraving of an armour with a helmet with curly horns

    The figure of Will Somers engraved in 1794

  • monochrome newspaper illustration of a line of mounted armoured figures

    ‘Interior of the Horse Armoury’, anon engraving, The Penny Magazine, 1836 © Royal Armouries 2013

  • monochrome engraving of a man in a long wig above an inscription

    Edward Ward by Michael Vandergucht, line engraving, published 1710 © National Portrait Gallery, London 2013

  • colour portrait of a man sitting at a desk holding a book

    Portrait of William Hutton by an unknown artist, about 1780 © Birmingham Museums Trust

  • monochrome engraving of a man in a long wig holding a map

    Portrait of Albert Jouvin de Rochefort. About 1680 © Österreichische Nationalbibliothek

  • colour photo of a carved wooden head of Henry VIII

    Carved wooden head of Henry VIII. English, about 1689-91 (XVII.1)

Object number: III.157

Statistics

Object Provenance: Probably Dutch, about 1630
Object Number: III.157 with IV.22
Weight: 2.4 kg (5 lb 3 oz)

Will Somers’ Breastplate

Description

Mid 17th century breastplate painted up and displayed as part of Henry VIII’s jester Will Somer’s armour. It formed part of the Line of Kings display from the 18th century until Meyrick’s reorganisation in 1820s, described in contemporary guidebooks as one of the curiosities supporting the main exhibition.

The outer surface of the breastplate is painted green and dotted with small yellow/gold flowers, while the medial ridge is painted to resemble yellow/gold brocade edging with button closure. Samples of the paint have been taken and results are awaited for a closer dating.

This breastplate was presumably taken from Tower stores to form part of a composite armour which also included vambraces and tassets (as yet unidentified) and the horned helmet (IV.22) originally part of a gift armour presented to Henry VIII by the Emperor Maximillian. An engraving of the ensemble was published in 1794.

The 18th century Guidebooks were much more interested in the spectacles attached to the helmet, supposedly showing that Somers was a cuckold, than the details of the rest of the armour. The 1768 Guide records that item (11) of the tour of the Horse Armoury presented to the visitor’s notice is:

‘the droll figure of Will Somers, as the warders tell you, king Henry VIIIth’s jester : an honest man, says they, of a woman’s making – had a handsome woman to his wife, who made him a cuckold; and wears his horns on his head, because they should not wear holes in his pockets. He would neither believe king, queen, nor anybody about the court that he was cuckold, til he put on his spectacles to see, being a little dim sighted, as all cuckolds should be; in which antic manner he is here represented’.

After the reorganisations of the 19th century, no mention is made of the droll figure, the helmet (IV.22) alone finding a place in the guidebooks. Hewitt’s Guide of 1845, p.79, illustrates it and describes it as ‘Anticke Head piece with rames Hornes and spectackels on it of Will Sumers’ suggesting that it would have been worn at a Mock tournament when, according to Meyrick, fools supplied the places of heralds and pages, attending the knights and carrying their lances.

Statistics

Object Provenance: Probably Dutch, about 1630
Object Number: III.157 with IV.22
Weight: 2.4 kg (5 lb 3 oz)

Related Objects

John Newbery’s Historical Description and the Horse Armoury Click on the title link above to find out more.

William Hutton’s account of the Horse Armoury Click on the title link above to find out more.

Jouvin de Rochefort’s View of the Tower Armouries Click on the title link above to find out more.

Ned Ward’s Humorous Account of the Tower as a Visitor Attraction Click on the title link above to find out more.

Henry VIII in the Line of Kings Click on the title link above to find out more.

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