the Pipe and Tabor compendium

the Pipe and Tabor compendium

essays on the three-hole pipe

forgotten traditions

fools, jesters and taborers

Books have been written about the symbolism of bald heads, court fools and jesters, jesters who were entertainers and minstrels and the significance of asses ears on hoods. Most fools and jesters were men. I have included the few women jesters that I have found on the internet for balance.

King's 'fools' fell into one of two categories; those that were simple and needed looking after and the clever, witty ones who lived on their quips. There is evidence that the fool existed in medieval England in the surviving accounts of Hirard, the jester for the Saxon King Edmund Ironsides (referred to as a joculator) as well as Rahere, who was Henry I’s jester and referred to as a minstrel. There is some doubt as to whether English fools actually wore the earred hoods, bells and parti-coloured clothes or whether they were used as symbols that people would understand. As yet there is no trace in early contemporary records and few images.

Foolishness is symbolized by the jester. Fools were thought of as low status, untrustworthy, clumsy and stupid. There was a long European tradition of satirical works on fools going back to the twelfth century, and the word fool had, at the time, an underlying Christian religious meaning of sinner, unbeliever, backslider. The root of the word "fool" is from the Latin follis, which means "bag of wind" or that which contains air or breath.

jesterstandard jester outfit on a button

Jesters clothes were always showy, often out-of-date, whether expensive or cheap, inapprpriate to the scene he is depicted in.

Crude and indecent behaviour was expected of fools.

 
12th century12th century misericord
Alsace, France
1275-1325
Toulouse, France

1450c.1450

French player15th century France
with dancers14th century France A closely-cropped head was a sign of low birth and considered to be ugly.
15th Germany15th century Germany jester playing pipe mid 15thc 1464 Roskilde cathedral, Denmark
jester playing pipe and bones
tarot card1450 Germany tarot card
One Tarot card character is Death. In the Middle Ages Death is often shown in Jester's garb because "The last laugh is reserved for death." Also, Death humbles everyone just as jesters make fun of everyone regardless of their standing in society.
the devilpossible taborer, misericord
[broken arm]
jester1470-1480 illustrating a present book of Italian and French songs player1470-1480 illustrating a present book of Italian and French songs
mirror15th century mirror back, France
15th century1464 Roskilde Cathedral, Denmark
misericord1520 Beverley Minster, England, misericord
Dutch15th/16th century, after Bosch, 'Lust', Netherlands

1480 player1480 Skivholme, Denmark

14861486 (copy) Denmark1490 Skivholme, Denmark
1493 1493 Belgium
at war1498 Spanish taborer playing for soldiers
band1570 band of jesters playing for Feast of Fools

'Feast of Fools’ portrays a spectacular festival held in Antwerp, August 1561, although the festival began around 1200. The lower clergy and laity dressed up, ofen as donkeys/asses for the day.

In the original painting Brueghel interprets a play ‘Sotte Bollen’, performed at the festival. The Flemish word “sottebol” denotes a ballheaded fool: all the people are ballheaded, without hair. The Flemish association of ball-heads with foolishness is based on an old Flemish proverb, ‘His head turns foolish’.

This feast, never widespread, was largely confined to cathedrals and collegiate churches in northern France.

pipe playerfool playing a pipe from
' Feast of Fools'
TarletonRichard  Tarleton (died 1588) Norwich, England
The symbolism of the jester being a fool still lingered into Victorian times.
donkey1867 children's book
Mary Evans Picture Library
 
       
Elizabethan fools:      
16th century fool16th century Will Sommers
fool to Henry VIII

Mary Evans Picture Library

Elizabethan fools wore feathers in their hats – residual of the coxcomb. Feathers were fashionable at court, but may also symbolise a fool. 

Shakespeare uses the term 'coxcomb' to mean a foolish or vain person.

King's fool17th century
Archie, fool to 2 kings

Mary Evans Picture Library
"The vogue of the court fool seemed to have steadily increased during the fourteenth and to have culminated in the fifteenth and in the sixteenth century, when he became a highly significant figure not only in social life, but still more in art and literature..."
In 2015, the town of Conwy in north Wales  appointed Russel Erwood (aka Erwyd le Fol)
as the official resident jester of the town and its people, a post that had been vacant since 1295.
   
Women jesters:  
   
200AD dancer 200AD female dancer
with bells and coxcomb
15th century woman15th century woman jester

 

 

Jane the Fool Jane the Fool was the jester of queens Catherine Parr and Mary I, and possibly also of Anne Boleyn (16th century England).  After the Restoration Chales II did not reinstate the tradition of the court jester
Las MeninasMaria Bárbola, from 1651 employed by the Spanish court
Mathurine was a jester for the French court during the reigns of Henry III, Henry IV, and Louis XIII (16th and 17th centuries).
     

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