Kings who are usually parcimonious with regard to their subjects, spare no expense when it comes to their fools. Apart from their mistresses, no-one is more sumptuously kept.
A fool treated with so much munificence must be indispensable. When King Jean le Bon is taken prisoner at the Battle of Poitiers on 20 September 1356, and is taken by the English to Bordeaux, his buffoon keeps him company.
Charles le Sage is signalled as one of the princes who take pleasure in keeping fools. He bestows his favour on no less than three marotte bearers, the most famous being Theverin de Saint-Legier. The King has a magnificent mausoleum raised to his memory when he dies.
Charles VI, of fragile mental health, likes the company of fools. After the terrible accident in which he almost burns to death, the presence of buffoons becomes indispensable to chase away his dark thoughts.
One of his buffoons, Heinsselicoq (or Hainselin Coq) amuses him by wrestling with him or by ripping his own shirt into tiny pieces. Heinsselicoq is a poor devil, not really able to look after himself, and placed, for this motive, in the care of a valet. This particularly agitated fool wears out no fewer than forty-seven pairs of shoes in one year!
Did Charles VII keep buffoons at his court? His passion for the beautiful Agnes is so complete and so exclusive that the facetious behaviour of a buffoon seems out of place in the little Bourges court, where all is tenderness and sensuality.
It seems therefore that, under his reign, the fools do not re-conquer their prerogatives. Charles, prematurely aged and sad, plays chess, fires his crossbow and hears three Masses a day. When he eats, his doctor, his inner-circle and his chamber-valets are present. He doesn’t care about any “wise fools”.
However, documents do show the presence of fools at the court of Charles VII, but they only come occasionally to the King’s home, and are not included on his payroll. They only receive small sums of money and sometimes clothes. They are fools from the public square or from fairs.
With Louis XI, successor to Charles VII, the marotte bearing officers do not regain their lost territory. His doctor Coictrier, his barber, Olivier le Daim his astrologist, who is also a doctor, are sufficient distraction for the royal neurasthenic.
On the other hand, Louis XII possesses several buffoons, the most famous of whom is certainly Triboulet.
This name is thought to have come from the ancient verb “tribouler” which has left us the word “tribulation”, identical in both French and English. Some people think that Triboulet means “troubled brain”. Another origin could be the Provencal word tribo, which means “trepan”, and “triboulet” could therefore be translated by “trepanned”.
Some Spaniard or Italian, some treasury clerk, or perhaps some of the town’s scholars, might have given the King’s buffoon this name which, borrowed from the Italian language or from Latin, expresses the idea of displeasure, of torment, at the same time as it alludes to the thistle, whose head, armed with little spikes, stabs those who touch it.
Why would anyone look for such a complicated explanation, when a much simpler one is on our doorstep?
The name of Triboulet did exist. It was even the name of a lawyer, a goldsmith, a master apothecary. Why couldn’t our fool have belonged to the same family?
What we do know is that Triboulet, whom Francois I inherited from Louis XII, at the same time as the other charges and benefits of the crown, is not from Paris, but from the Blesois. He is only a poor bewildered man, a native of Foix-les-Blois.
“Because the pages, the lackeys and the children took advantage of his misery, King Louis XII was charitable enough to commit him to the care of a man who stopped people from hurting him.” Michel Le Vernoy is named as Triboulet’s assistant and governor.
Fifth part (including more about Triboulet) tomorrow.