Feudal barons had their paid fools. So did Church people.
The fashion is so common that a law from the Roman court forbids ecclesiastics to have pairs of hounds, falcons, hawks and jesters. Another law forbids them to fill the role of jesters and buffoons themselves, under threat of being stripped of the privileges of their robes.
The Paris Council just declares war on fools kept by bishops in their episcopal homes.
Besides domestic buffoons, there are those who travel the world, wandering here and there, in quest of food and shelter. These travelling buffoons are admitted to work before the sovereigns, and it is good luck for them if the monarch takes them into his service, putting an end to their roaming lives.
The yellow or green livery has always been that of the fools. The tunic, the jacket, the breeches and the hood with donkey ears are always in one or other of these two colours, but the shades can be multiplied to infinity.
The presence of yellow in the costume of the fools has been explained by the property of the crocus (safran) to excite laughter, and even cause madness, in people who smell it for too long. The expression crocus edisse (having eaten safran) means to burst out laughing at everything.
However, in the Middle Ages, this colour is also the mark of felony, of contemptibility, or of scorn. Lackeys are often dressed in it. As well as that, the home of a criminal guilty of lese-majeste is painted in yellow.
The green is considered an emblem of ruin, of affliction and of dishonour. A green cross, surrounded by black crepe, usually figures in the procession of a person condemned to be burnt at the stake (auto-da-fe). It serves as a banner to the princes and people of quality who follow it, wearing cloaks with white and black crosses.
In the civil order, green recalls the colour of the bonnet worn by the bankrupt at the Halles pillory, or the cap worn by the convict condemned to the galleys.
At the French court, the job of buffoon exists as early as the Xth Century. A fool accompanies Hughes le Grand, the father of Hughes Capet, during an expedition in 944 to meet King Louis IV d’Outre-mer. This fool, having spoken irreverently of the bodily remains of saintly people, is struck by lightning, and the superstition of the time sees this as punishment for his impiety.
Anecdotes show that the buffoons are also bodyguards in charge of watching over the person of the sovereign to whom they are attached. Such is the fool who saves Guillaume le Batard, Duke of Normandy, by revealing to him, in time, the plot against his life.
Buffoons can also be seen at the court of Louis le Pieux, but Philippe-Auguste gets rid of them because of the scandalous lives they lead.
Philippe VI de Valois has a fool who is given the task of announcing the disaster to the King, after the Battle of l’Ecluse. No courtier had enough courage to do it. This battle marks the beginning of the Hundred Years War.
The use of fools is so well embedded in the customs of the XIIIth Century that, in the epic poem Robert le Diable, the hero has to simulate folly, among other things. The people amuse themselves with him, laughing at him, pushing him, hitting him. But this might only be a legend.
The first positive documentation which shows these burlesque officers of the crown executing their charges, is found in the accounts of King Philippe le Long, from 12 July 1316 to 1st January 1317. The article related to this subject, evokes a “dress of three garments for Master Geffroy the fool”.
Fourth part tomorrow.