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You might assume that being made to wear a stupid costume be mocked and act act like an idiot for the entertainment of fatuous rulers. Would be a job nobody want like the position of groom of the stool. A job.
Which initially consisted of directly supplying the necessaries to facilitate a good and clean bowel movement to the king as well as to monitor. Said fecal matter and make dietary. Recommendations based on what you saw there.
The position of court. Jester. Was actually an enviable one due to it involving spending.
So much time with those in power. And as you were often putting them in good humor and otherwise making them happy. It was a position that came with a whole slew of perks.
So what was life actually like as a court jester to begin with the job of jester has been around going back to humanitys earliest recorded history as well as spanning just about every major culture on earth beyond entertaining the masses from egyptian pharaoh to the first emperor of china. The wealthy have frequently employed the services of these individuals over the centuries this line of work matured and as we get into medieval times in the western world. We start to see court jesters that somewhat fit the common stereotype depicted today.
Although it should be noted they werent called jesters at this point rather. Usually. Something like fool or buffoon the.
Jester name deriving from the anglo norman gestour meaning. Storyteller wouldnt come about until around the 16th century in any event. There were two popular types of court jesters prominent during the latter parts of medieval times the.
So called licensed fool and the natural fool in both cases those. With physical deformities. Such as extreme hunchback malformed.
Limbs. Particularly ugly. Visages.
Etc were prized as were dwarfs. Perhaps. The most famous of which being lord minimus.
Who we cover in detail in an episode of our brainfood show podcast lord minimus the renaissance dueling dwarf as for garb this varied from jester to jester but in the general case particularly for licensed fools they typically were clothed in colorful patchworked and mildly whimsical outfits. Potentially including a monks cowl and a pointed colorful fools hat originally modeled after donkey ears. Theyd also sometimes wear donkey tails as well as for the job description.
It was surprisingly diverse but in a nutshell was to entertain the court and their patron basically anytime. They wanted and in any way said royal wanted be it some witty banter performing a drama reciting poetry or stories singing songs performing acrobatics etc when not called to perform directly at banquets and the like they were likewise frequent companions to their patron and generally in charge of cheering them up whenever needed at other times. Some were given additional tasks like various household duties running messages etc.
On this latter.
Note. Given. These jesters were present and privy to the inner workings of court intrigue.
They were natural candidates to carry highly confidential messages. The down side of this is that jesters were sometimes the ones appointed to carry messages around on battlefields. As well as to the enemy camp not the safest job in the world not just useful on the battlefield for carrying messages.
They also sometimes were tasked with entertaining the troops more or less functioning as something of what we think of as a modern day cheerleader and comedian combined in this role as you can imagine from all of this these licensed fools were usually extremely intelligent quick witted talented at many things and needed to spend a lot of time continuing to improve and expand their skill set in order to retain their positions lest their patron get. Bored with. Them as for the natural fools .
They were a little different. Though their general job of being entertainment was more or less the same on the whole these individuals were those who had some sort of mental issue and were by their very nature thought to be entertaining they also were prized for their propensity to naturally speak. The unbridled truth as to outfits for the natural fools.
This occasionally seems to have differed from their licensed brethren in that while they might wear such stereotypical outfits. Other accounts have certain of them wearing clothing you might find on anyone at court in the regions and eras. They lived an example of a natural fool.
We have william sommers. Who replaced king henry viiis previous natural fool. Sexton.
Who was originally gifted to the king by cardinal thomas wolsey moving on to sommers while he was considered a natural fool . Its not really clear what his particular mental deficiency was noted as having an incredibly quick wit being a master of satire and occasionally giving wise council to the king. He ultimately became one of henrys most trusted advisors.
That said he was otherwise apparently incapable of taking care of himself to the point. That king. Henry viii.
Went so far as to ensure that one william seyton would be employed to take care of sommers after the king died as an example of one of his many antics. According to an early 17th century account by comedic actor robert armin at one point the kings juggler thomas was doing his thing when sommers sauntered in with milk. And a bread roll in hand mid performance sommers.
Then began singing this bit harry. I give to thee and this next. Bit must serve for me both which ill eat apace this bit madam unto you and this bit.
I my self eate now and the rest. Upon thy face. He then promptly chucked the milk in thomas face much to the amusement of all present highly favored by the king sommers appears in a 1545 portrait henry.
The eighth and his family with the king one of his former wives jane seymour. His daughters mary and elizabeth son. Edward and marys own jester jane.
Fool who is thought to have also been a natural fool going back to the natural fools gift at speaking the unbridled truth . It turns out this was also something highly valued in licensed fools as well. Though.
Contrary to what is often said. While they were far more free to say whatever came to their minds. They still had to be tactful especially with an audience for example as beloved as sommers was even as stated included in a family portrait on a few occasions king.
Henry viii. Got so mad at him. He threatened to kill him for example in 1535.
When sommers apparently joked that one of king. Henrys children was a bastard perhaps a little too close to home on that one in another case. We have the famed jester triboulet who served under king louis xii and francis.
I french poet jean marot. Described triboulet as a fool with an unsightly head as wise at thirty as on the day. He was born with a small forehead and large eyes.
A big nose and squat figure. A flat long belly and a hump back. He mocked sang danced and preached in derision of every one so famous.
He had a few characters in literature. Based on him. Most notably in victor hugos le roi s.
amuse. It is nonetheless reported his particular brand of satire. Didnt exactly make him popular among the court to the point that he was apparently frequently beaten by those hed offended legend has it whether truth or not is impossible to tell this led to an exchange between himself and king francis in which he told the king.
One of the members of the court had threatened to kill him the king purportedly replied to this if he does i will hang him a quarter of an hour. Afterward to which triboulet supposedly quipped. Ah sire couldnt you contrive to hang him a quarter of an hour previously in another famed instance he angered the king via making fun of the queen whereupon.
His execution was ordered. However legend has it that given his years of good service. He was given leave to choose the manner of his death.
After thinking. It over triboulet purportedly. Told.
The king good sire for saint nitouches and saint pansards sake patrons of insanity. I choose to die from old age. This so amused.
The king that he just had triboulet banished instead of killing him all that said.
A good jester was expected to help their master. See folly in any plans. They were making or actions.
Just if one wanted to keep their position and potentially keep breathing this needed to be done in delicate and tactfully hilarious way on top of all of this a lesser talked about duty of jesters that is somewhat glossed over in modern pop culture is that they were sometimes the ones tasked with breaking bad news to their master. Seeing as they could do so humorously and with somewhat lesser fear of retribution for example in the 14th century. Legend.
Has it that king phillip vi of france was given the news that his fleet was destroyed by the english in the battle of sluys by his jester who burst in on the king saying the coward english the dastard english the faint hearted english. The king then responded why do you abuse them to which the jester supposedly stated because they would not jump out of their ships into the sea as our brave frenchman did moving on to compensation for their many services this varied in some cases. We have accounts of jesters given a regular stipend and in other cases they had no official salary.
However at the least court jesters were exceptionally well taken care of with regards to their day to day. Needs such as food shelter clothing. Etc.
And were often rewarded for particularly good bouts of entertainment by those among the wealthy they were entertaining this could potentially mean gifts of land titles. Money. Etc.
For example. There is a record of king. Henry ii.
Awarding. 30 acres of land to a jester by the name of roland. Le pettour upon his leaving the court.
With one stipulation as a part of the deal that pettour must once a year return to the court and leap whistle and fart the time before the internet. People in another instance. One tom.
The fool was awarded a whopping 50 shillings about a years salary for a commoner for his excellent performance in front of the assembled court at king. Edward. Is daughter elizabeths wedding.
Further. Many jesters were able to parlay their roles as fools into great wealth by using their position at the kings side to secure lucrative deals and jobs for family and friends something. The aforementioned sommers.
Is noted to have done for his uncle who fell into financial ruin and was only saved. When sommers managed to secure a deal for him with the king as for female jesters. They seem to have enjoyed all the same perks as their male counterparts.
Even relatively free to insult the men of power around them with a level of impunity. Though again tactfully as such the job of fool is noted by historians as being one of the few career options held by men that was also completely open to women with no real associated stigma nor much of a difference in job responsibilities. One of the more famous female jesters was a legendary woman known as mathurine.
Who served in the courts of henry iii and iv as well as louis the xiii in the 17th century mathurine was well known for her extravagant costume modeled after the idea of an amazonian warrior complete with shield armor and a wooden sword. While the sword wasnt sharp her wit by all accounts was with perhaps. The most famous example of this being that time she was reportedly criticised by a lady in waiting who complained that she didnt like having a fool at her right side without missing a beat mathurine supposedly jumped to the ladys other side and announced to the court.
I dont mind it at all burn. Mathurine. Also famously supposedly kept a would be assassin of henry iv from escaping as recounted in a 19th century edition of frank leslies popular monthly where it states mathurine it was who arrested the youth who attempted to assassinate henri iv on the 28th of december this youth who had glided into the apartment unperceived struck at the king with his dagger devil take that fool with her tricks cried.
His majesty mathurine sprang to the door and barring the passage prevented the escape of the kings assailant. So if you were feeling down. Today.
Remember that at one point. In time. An assassin was foiled when a female comedian dressed like an amazonian warrior burst into the room.
And told him not to move. No doubt. The reenactment of this scene was great fodder for entertaining guests in the aftermath.
As for what happened to the position of court jesters. While it stuck around in some regions of the world for another century or two in the western world as the 17th century progressed. The broadening popularity of theater and other such performing houses saw nobles seeming to have gradually shifted to this form of entertainment.
Instead of keeping court jesters on hand at all times. Some of the best entertainers likewise gravitated more towards this line of work rather than the unpredictability of working under a royal illustrating the shift one of the last prominent court jesters in the western world was samuel maggoty. Johnson.
Who worked for the duke of montague as well as hiring his entertainment services out to pretty much anyone else who wanted to pay not only entertaining. The elite privately he also at one point wrote an entire play to perform in a theater in london for the masses at the behest of the duke of montague. Noteworthy of this play is that it was universally considered incredibly awful.
But nonetheless had a fairly successful run apparently being something of an 18th century version of the room in being so awful. Its amazing as one commentator noted of the play. The extraordinary drama of hurlothrumbo was the talk and admiration of the town a more curious or a more insane production has seldom issued from human pen further demonstrating his sense of humor when maggoty died at 82.
He requested his friends remove his body from the churchyard after burial. Because he would be buried too close to a woman. Hannah bailey.
He had frequently quarreled the problem with this was according to maggoty that on the day of resurrection. This would no doubt. See the two of them fighting over whose leg bone was whose instead.
He asked to be re buried in a tomb in what today is called maggoty wood. The tomb. Was one he originally had made for his lady love a servant of his who attended him for much of his life.
The location of the tomb. Was her favorite spot in the woods. .
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