The fools of history

On Tuesday 6 November, a listener to the BBC Radio 4 series Making History asked about the role of the fool in history, and specifically about why two such figures appear in the arches of this Royal Collection painting of The Family of Henry VIII (1545).

Making History’s presenter Dr Helen Castor, and her producer, Nick Patrick, went to speak to Simon Callow about fools in Shakespeare, and then came to me (from the sublime to the ridiculous) to discuss the historic fool – especially those at the court of Henry VIII. I told them all about the research I’d done as part of All The King’s Fools, the distinction between artificial fools and natural fools, and my belief – from the historical evidence – that natural fools had learning disabilities. You can hear the interviews on the programme here (starting at 9.16 minutes in – though the rest of the programme is well worth a listen too!)