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 from 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jesterstandard jester outfit on a button Jesters clothes were always showy, often out-of-date, whether expensive or cheap, inapprpriate to the scene he is depicted in.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. showing rear end15th century, France scratching rear
touching15th century rude fool1520-1525 wood carving
12th century12th century misericord
Alsace, France
Toulouse, France


with dancers14th century France A closely-cropped head was a sign of low birth and considered to be ugly.
1450c.1450 England French player15th century France 15th century15th century France
playing card 'buffoon'
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]
14671467 Germany  
jester1470-1480 illustrating a present book
of Italian and French songs
player1470-1480 illustrating a present
book of Italian and French songs
15th century1464 Roskilde Cathedral, Denmark
mid 15th century on horsebackmid 15th century Germany or Austria
1460-701460-70 Normandy,France
mirror15th century mirror back, France
15th century15th century manuscript France
15th centuryc.1440 France

1480 player1480 Skivholme, Denmark

14861486 (copy) Denmark1490 Skivholme, Denmark
1493 1493 Belgium
at war1498 Spanish taborer playing for soldiers
15th century15th century Rouen, France
15th century15th century France
unknown date
1517 natural fool1517 Germany 'natural fool'
misericord1520 Beverley Minster, England, misericord
Dutch15th/16th century, after Bosch, 'Lust', Netherlands
15201520 Bruges, Belgium

1542 Germany

'The tournament opponents with lances
on opposite sides. On the horse's tournament
blanket depictions of fools, including one with
a one-handed flute and cylinder drum' 


1543 -1587 Germany
'a mounted jester with a
one-handed flute and drum'

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'
1572 jester bent over1572 edition of 'Ship of Fools'
[jester bent over pipe]
Basle, Switzerland
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



  15th century female16th century Picardy, France 16th century female16th century Picardy, France  
women & men foolswomen and men fools woman and manlate 16th century, France  
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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