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Submitted by on Mar 7, 2022

During the medieval and Renaissance periods, a jester, court jester, or fool was a member of a nobleman’s or monarch’s household who was hired to entertain guests. Jesters were itinerant entertainers who delighted the general public at fairs and town markets, and the discipline is still practiced today, with jesters performing at historically themed events.

Jesters are supposed to have worn a motley pattern of brilliantly colored clothing and quirky caps throughout the Middle Ages. This attire is commonly imitated by their modern equivalents. Jesters used a range of abilities to entertain their audiences, including singing, music, and storytelling, but they also used gymnasticsjuggling, telling jokes (including puns, stereotypes, and mimicry), and performing magic tricks. A lot of the entertainment was done in a comical manner. Many jesters told modern jokes in word or song about individuals or events that were familiar to their listeners.

Throughout English royal history, several royal courts hired performers, and the majority of them had professional fools, sometimes known as licensed fools. Music, storytelling, and physical comedy were among the forms of entertainment. It’s also been suggested that they did juggling and acrobatics.

Will Sommers, a jester, was engaged by Henry VIII of England. Jane Foole entertained his daughter Mary.

William Shakespeare wrote and performed his plays with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (later known as the King’s Men) under the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I of England. Shakespeare’s plays featured clowns and jesters, and Robert Armin, author of the book Fooled upon Foole, was the company’s authority on jesting. Feste the jester is characterized as “intelligent enough to play the fool” in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

In 1909, a court jester with a marotte was chosen for the Pageant of Empire.

Mary, Queen of Scots, had a jester named Nichola in Scotland. Her son, King James VI of Scotland, engaged Archibald Armstrong as a jester. Armstrong received many honors at court during his lifetime. When he overreached and offended too many powerful individuals, he was finally fired from the King’s service. Even after his humiliation, publications recounting his antics were peddled on the streets of London. During the reign of Charles I, he had some power at court and in Irish property estates. Tom Durie, a Scottish jester, served Anne of Denmark. Later on, Charles I hired a popular and devoted jester named Jeffrey Hudson. Because of his small height, Jeffrey Hudson was given the title of Royal Dwarf. One of his pranks was to display himself hidden within a large pie, from which he would leap. During the English Civil War, Hudson fought with the Royalists. Muckle John was a third jester linked with Charles I.

Scholar David Carlyon has questioned the “daring political jester,” calling historical accounts “apocryphal,” and concluding that “popular culture embraces a sentimental image of the clown; writers reproduce that sentimentality in the jester, and academics in the Trickster,” but that it “falters as analysis.”

The King’s jesters may also bring dreadful news that no one else would dare to impart. When the French fleet was defeated by the English at the Battle of Sluys in 1340, Phillippe VI’s jester told him that the English sailors “don’t even have the courage to jump into the sea like our valiant French.”

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