In the middle ages, members of high status in the kingdom had the privilege to be amused by people whose profession was to do comedic acts. They were called Jesters and can be also referred as, Clowns, Jokers, Buffoons or a Fool. The Jesters who got work of entertaining the King were considered highly respectable and powerful and had a major influence over the Medieval society.
Their role in the middle ages
While jesters were in company of the King and his nobleman they had little to no significance in the court life, but their presence was the cause of brightening up the entertainment in the royal court. Jesters knew how to do one thing good and that was to bring a smile to the Kings face when he felt tense, angry, worried or even sick, and that helped the King’s concentration for his future duties. In this way, jesters also played a role to prevent over-oppression due to the political affairs and they also helped the members of nobility to rule well.
Most of the European kingdoms in the Middle ages assigned their jesters to perform during celebrations and palace parties, and they were also illustrating famous plays from famous novels and dramas in the medieval period, in some kingdoms there were also women who succeeded in becoming a jester that entertained the Queen and her royal court.
In many cases, the kings, queens, and confidants all used to have their personal jesters who more often than not developed close relations and friendship with them. Because of that some jesters had gained significant political position during the medieval period. In rare cases, Royal courts used to consult with the jesters to make strategies for battles. One case is mentioned in the book Fools are Everywhere, which was written by Beatrice Otto and was published in 2001. According to the book, in 1386, the Duke of Austria, Lepold the Pious, planned to attack Switzerland. Before beginning the war, he asked his personal jester about his opinion to attack the Swiss.
The name of the personal jester of the Duke of Austria was Jenny von Stockach. He reportedly answered the Duke bluntly and said, “You fools, you’re all debating how to get into the country, but none of you have thought how you’re going to get out again.” The duke of Austria ignored his jester and began the war. However, the result of this war wasn’t good for Austria as the army suffered badly and a full brigade of knight passed out from thirst and heat and couldn’t make to the battlefield.
The look and clothes of a jester
The heads of the medieval Jesters were shaved and their clothes were a very tight fit with a lot of contracting colors it was supposed to reflect humor and entertainment. His head was usually covered with a garment which was similar to a monk’s cowl. Perhaps the most famous part of a medieval court jester’s clothing was a hat consisting of three points which was known as the fool’s hat.
Freedom of speech
There used to be very few people in a court who could speak or criticize any act of the court especially if it was directly against the lord or the king of the court. Jester was one such person who could freely speak his mind out without worrying about the consequences. Jesters were not afraid of causing offense by telling what they thought. They often used humor to jibe, mock and joke about the lords, ladies and other members of nobility of the court. Usually, jesters were well educated and they used to come from a wide variety of backgrounds.
How was a court jester paid?
The biggest payment that a medieval jester received was food and a permanent place to live. So safety and security were much needed during the medieval times and were guaranteed to the court jester. His payment in the form of money depended on his performance. If he managed to make the king happy, he was paid very well. However, there was no set income for a court jester.
The Darker Side
Even tough their life was paid in advance and they would have a lovely life living near the high nobles, there was always a dark side. They didn’t have much authority and they could become expendable. If a king was having a bad time he might take it out on the poor jester.
Jesters were also used for espionage, they have used them to spy at the court. They could send reports on what is going on with the king and those close around. If the king was sick he could report it and they could use it for their benefit. The jester would know all the information and know whats going on inside the walls.
Jesters were in a close position to everyone, they could have been used for assassination purposes, but there are little evidences regarding this theory.