Finally finished this up–it’s been sitting on my table a while (and why does that phrase seem so familiar…). I’m really proud of how this one turned out, though I must acknowledge a debt to Hans Holbein.
Since the joke’s a bit obscure, and the historical trivia too awesome, I thought I’d share the source. I was recently reading Thomas Penn’s The Winter King, about the life and reign of Henry VII, when I came across this delightful tidbit:
“…John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, preached before the king at Hanworth. Even by the standards of the age, Lady Margaret’s confessor had a morbid fixation. When saying mass, ‘he always accustomed to set upon one end of the altar a dead man’s skull,’ and would also place the same skull before him ‘when he dined or supped,’ a habit which undoubtedly caused the table talk to evaporate.”
The whole book is quite good, too, and if you need further convincing, the Guardian has a quick run-down here.