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Disability and the Tudors (Hardback)

All the King's Fools

Colour Books P&S History > British History > Tudors & Stuarts P&S History > By Century > 15th Century P&S History > By Century > 16th Century P&S History > By Century > 17th Century P&S History > Royal History World History > UK & Ireland > England > London

By Phillipa Vincent-Connolly
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 344
ISBN: 9781526720054
Published: 3rd November 2021



As featured in...

As featured in The Bookseller, December 2018.

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Throughout history, how society treated its disabled and infirm can tell us a great deal about the period. Challenged with any impairment, disease or frailty was often a matter of life and death before the advent of modern medicine, so how did a society support the disabled amongst them?

For centuries, disabled people and their history have been overlooked - hidden in plain sight. Very little on the infirm and mentally ill was written down during the renaissance period. The Tudor period is no exception and presents a complex, unparalleled story. The sixteenth century was far from exemplary in the treatment of its infirm, but a multifaceted and ambiguous story emerges, where society’s ‘natural fools’ were elevated as much as they were belittled.

Meet characters like William Somer, Henry VIII’s fool at court, whom the king depended upon, and learn of how the dissolution of the monasteries contributed to forming an army of ‘sturdy beggars’ who roamed Tudor England without charitable support. From the nobility to the lowest of society, Phillipa Vincent-Connolly casts a light on the lives of disabled people in Tudor England and guides us through the social, religious, cultural, and ruling classes’ response to disability as it was then perceived.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

In this book, Phillipa Vincent Connolly discusses the subject of disability at the Tudor court. Disabled people are so very often hidden, their stories untold. They existed. Connolly researched this subject well so we can have a glimpse into these people's lives. Highly recommended.

NetGalley, S. Constant Reader

This book was really interesting and eye opening, and as a disabled person myself I am glad to see a change in our attitudes overall with the treatment of others.

Read the full review here

Life and Tea Blog

Disability and the Tudors is a fascinating look at what we know of how disabled individuals were treated in the past, and how society has changed (or not) in that regard. I found the writing style to be engaging and the acknowledgement of how money and power effects everything past and present. I think that readers that enjoy history, and want to learn more about what did not make it into history lessons will find this read interesting. While many of us know large chunks of history have been forgotten (deliberately or not) to highlight the parts that make those in power look good- I often find the information we have to look harder for much more interesting. As a bonus- the author took the time to properly and thoroughly cite sources (with endnotes and all) which seems to be less common in nonfiction books than it should be these days. When this is done correctly it makes me extra happy with a book.

NetGalley, Sharon Tyler

But it offers a lot to history and is well-written and researched, looking not only at the disabilities that might have been suffered and how they were perceived then, but also how perceptions and even naming of disabilities has changed.

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Tudor Blogger

A lot of research has gone into this book, and I imagine it wasn’t easy but the book is very well written, and certainly one I would recommend to others.

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UK Historian

‘Disability and the Tudors: All the King’s Fools’ gives a new view of Tudor England and the court. Phillipa thoroughly explores how disabilities were defined in those times, how disabled people were treated and what changes the effects of the Reformation had on their lives.

What was particularly fascinating for me, was the in depth look at some of the people affected by disabilities at court. These included the ‘natural fools’ Will Sommers and Jane, courtiers such as Lady Jane Rochford and also members of the royal family. A surprising picture emerges of Henry VIII towards the end of his life and Lady Mary Grey, youngest sister of Jane the Nine Days Queen, who’s disability may have shielded her from worse punishment when she married without permission during Elizabeth I’s reign. The author’s passion for the subject is clear and this is a very welcome addition to my Tudor book shelves.

Read the full review here

Lady Jane Grey Reference Guide

This book is about how the disabled were treated during the Tudor period, which reflects the values and attitudes of society during that period.

The book is divided into nine chapters and a conclusion, with a detailed bibliography and endnotes.

The author has a vast knowledge on this subject, but at times it feels as though the text is written primarily to submit for her thesis for her PhD. There is a lot of duplication of subjects, which results in a degree of muddle. An example of this is the reference to humours throughout the text, rather than being covered in one section in detail.

However I particularly enjoyed reading about the health of Henry Vlll and also his second wife Anne Boleyn. Chapters seven and eight are the best written and interesting where the author focuses on specific people, including Lady Jane Rochford, the sister-in-law of Anne Boleyn. It was fascinating to read that people deemed to be insane could not be executed until Henry Vlll changed the law because of Jane Boleyn’s said insanity.

I would recommend this book to all those interested in disability and how attitudes have changed over the centuries. It’s a subject that I haven’t come across before and so this book is a valuable contribution to our understanding of Tudor society.

Alison Wall, Local history/ nursing and public health groups

Firstly, I am not a historian, I do have a keen interest in history, however and as such found this book fascinating and original.
The subject matter was brave and was handled comprehensively and sensitively I thought, a difficult task bearing in mind the vast differences in social thought between the times.
The book was very thought provoking and made me examine the way society has treated people who were different, in any way, through the ages. There were also some fascinating insights into royal court and key characters of history seen in an entirely different light and from a different perspective, notably Henry VIII... I found the book educational, engaging and humbling.

NetGalley, Helen Frost

I have a thing for English history so no wonder I enjoyed reading this book. It was informative and well-researched... I honestly recommend it to everyone who wishes to (re)discover the Tudor period and see things from a different aspect.

NetGalley, Anita Salát

It really brought home to me just how poorly history is taught in this country. I had no idea that dissolution of monasteries had such a calamitous effect on the lives of disabled people living there. Nor that "natural fools" (to use the historic parlance) were held in such high esteem... It is a worthwhile - and worthy - book. Perfect for anyone who thinks the commonly-taught, rose-tinted view of Tudor society tells the whole story.

NetGalley, Terence Eden

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

An extremely well-researched book.

Little has changed from the Tudor era till today in that the disabled are labelled and then either cared for or marginalised.. There is inclusion both at court and in the village to a certain degree..

How does wider society respond ? The special Tudor laws are eye-openers for both people in high places and the ordinary person as all is mixed up with religion, and superstition.

This book draws awareness to disability which is part of life. It is both thought-provoking and informative.


Overall, I found this book informative and fascinating. The lives of Tudors who had disabilities mattered, and it was an intriguing book that added a new aspect to Tudor research. I think this will open a discussion about those who had disabilities in the past and give us a better appreciation of their struggles and how they survived. If you want to learn something new about this dynasty, I suggest you check out “Disability and the Tudors: All the King’s Fools” by Phillipa Vincent-Connolly.

NetGalley, Heidi Malagisi

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

We often think of Tudors as being barbaric and backwards but this revelatory book describes how many of those who were disabled in the time of Henry VIII were treated like family amongst royalty and less stigmatized than they are now. We have a lot to learn from the past! As the author says, how people treated others is a reflection on the society at the time. Values change. She also discusses legislation, definition of "disability", the difference between "natural fools" (naturally disabled, injured in accidents and war, leprosy, amputations, infertility) "artificial fools" (as in Shakespeare's plays) and jesters (who were mocked). The terminology is incredibly useful and there is a helpful glossary at the back. The author's notes are fascinating!

Examples of "natural fools" are explained and the most discussed are Jayne Foole and William Somer. King Henry VIII's most trusted companion was William who could pull anyone out of melancholy slumps with innocent honesty and laughter, considered the best medicine. Clothing revealed much about status and William and Jayne wore the best fabrics using the best threads. To read about their treatment is touching. I really like the thought of the "Holy Innocents" who were thought to be protected by God. The disabled were highly visible unlike being treated cruelly in the Victorian era.

Laws and provisions were in place as most "natural fools" could not work but this was often dependent on food supply and prices. People were superstitious and relied on healers. Not only were there disabilities as listed above but those resulting from dental problems and syphilis. Wheelchairs and lifts were used at this time. Beekeeping was in vogue. Richard III and Lady Mary Grey were considered to be disabled as they had spinal deformities. But there is so much more to read about, too. My only complaint is that the writing is disjointed at times with some repetition.

Anyone wishing to learn more about the differences between how those with disabilities were treated then and now ought to read this outstanding book.

My sincere thank you to Pen & Sword and NetGalley for the privilege of reading this riveting book on an important topic, one seldom explored in writing.

NetGalley, Brenda Carleton

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This was a fascinating book! I highly recommend it. I love everything to do with the Tudor era.

NetGalley, Heather Michael

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Such an interesting topic! The history of disability and how individuals have been treated over time is an area that’s given little attention but should get more. I’m so glad this book exists to shed more light on how people have been treated throughout history.

NetGalley, Sophia Davis

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Wow what a well researched and fascinating read!

NetGalley, Michelle Coates

A very informative, well researched book on disability in the Tudor days. Disability has many forms, the attitude of society and royals towards it also differs according to the social hierarchy, religion in those times. Reviewing laws, society, psychology and religion , the author has written a comprehensive book on the subject. Highly recommended.

NetGalley, Christine Boos

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

My mom loves everything Henry the 8th so of course, I had to read this book in order to figure out if she would like it! Needless to say, I'm sure that she will love this when it comes out.

NetGalley, Morgan Schaer

I learned a lot I didn't know about many members of the Tudor family. I have been learning about them for years and thought I knew most of what there was to know. Thank you for showing me something new. It is a great book and very engaging!

NetGalley, Ashley Porter

This was a super interesting read filled with tons of things I couldn't have expected about disability during Tudor times. The writing is super engaging (I finished this book in one day) and well-researched.

NetGalley, Sierra Bornheim

About Phillipa Vincent-Connolly

Phillipa Vincent-Connolly is a historian, writer, author, consultant, and broadcaster, who qualified in History and Humanities with the Open University in 2011. She has written both historical fiction and non-fiction. Phillipa is currently working towards achieving her PhD in History, specialising in Tudor disability, at Manchester Metropolitan University. Among her many interests, she has a deep and abiding love for all things historical: archives, artefacts, architecture, corsetry, fashion, and royalty. Phillipa is also a keen activist, wanting untold disabled voices of the past to be heard, by bringing them into the mainstream. Being disabled with cerebral palsy, Phillipa has an interest in disability equality. She lives in Poole, Dorset, the UK with her two boys.

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