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. So sometimes the fool is playing
a bagpipe.

jesterstandard jester outfit on a button Jesters clothes were always showy, often out-of-date, whether expensive or cheap, inapprpriate to the scene he is depicted in.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


13451345-1355 moral Bible, France 14th century14th century Bohemia

“the strange position of the damaged left hand
indicates that ‘the master’probably held another musical instrument... the musician has a sleigh bell attached to his dress"

‘The Image of the Fool in Late Medieval Bohemia’,
in: Umění/Art LXIV, 2016, 354–370

with dancers14th century France; this may be a horn and tabor


1420's1420's France

A closely-cropped head was a sign
of low birth and considered to be ugly.
  c 1430c 1430 Hague, Belgium
1450c.1450 England 1450-14751450-1475 Troyes, France
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]

14571457 the Book of Holidays, in Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah, Italy

14671467 Germany 14781478 Italy, drummer
1460-701460-70 Normandy,France jester1470-1480 illustrating a present book
of Italian and French songs
player1470-1480 illustrating a present book of Italian and French songs
14711471 jester's hood down, Germany player1479
15th century1464 Roskilde Cathedral, Denmark
15th century15th century Herkaberga Church Sweden
mid 15th century on horsebackmid 15th century Germany or Austria
mirror15th century mirror back, France
15th century15th century manuscript France
15th century15th century manuscript France
15th centuryc.1440 France
1475-14801475-1480 Paris / the Loire region, France fol 7 1475-1480jester in tree 1480 player1480 Skivholme, Denmark Germany1480 house book from Wolfegg Castle, Germany
14871487 France
Denmark1490 Skivholme, Denmark
14911491 Italy
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
early 16th century possibly early 16th century

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' 

early 16th century Munich, Germany, possibly. Horse caparison covered with images of fools doing foolish things; close-up of taboring fool
15201520 Bruges, Belgium

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
20232023 Jester from
The Bourne River Morris Men
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).
  For more information on fools see
'Fools, Devils and Alchemy, Secular Images in the Monestry' by Ana Maria Gruia, 2008

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