It seems strange that the buffoon Triboulet was seen as a “poor bewildered man, incapable of looking after himself”, when his sallies have become famous. It does not seem plausible that Louis XII, who had such a cultivated mind, would have taken a miserable idiot away with him. Although Triboulet was deformed, he could certainly make people laugh by other means than his physical appearance.
Tribouley was a fool, with a damaged head.
As wise at thirty years old as the day that he was born,
Small forehead and big eyes, big nose, and size the same.
Stomach flat and long, high back for carrying a hod;
Each part deformed, sang, danced, preached,
And all so pleasantly, that no man was angered.
Small forehead, big nose, big eyes, flat stomach and a back suitable for carrying the Middle Age version of the back-pack. All of his imperfections must have been compensated by a ready wit, verve and decisive phrases.
Even if some of the facetious things attributed to him are not really his, the fact that they have been attributed to him at all, shows that he is capable of assuming their paternity.
He is shown as an individual with a particularly lively mind, but he never pushes his malice as far as the nasty barb which cannot be pardoned. An imbecile does not join certain delicacy of mind with subtle gaiety.
“He freely speaks his mind without fearing the stirrup leathers; he sits on the King’s Council, he mocks his master and the whole court: he is Diogenes in his barrel, standing up to Alexander.” However, it seems that he was not as audacious as all that.
“Always trembling at the crack of his governor’s whip, always quarrelling with the pages who jeer at him.” He is also afraid of cannon fire. He shakes like a leaf, in 1509, at Peschiera, when he is in the service of Louis XII; he hides under the camp bed, so as not to hear the cannon.
This has been explained by the fact that Triboulet must have been no more than thirteen or fourteen years old at the time.
Triboulet’s civil details are not very well known. On 26 November 1464, he is paid the sum of ten pounds by the Duke d’Orleans’ secretary, a sergeant named Georges de Volleur, “for a horse which the said Duke gives to Triboullet, fool of the King of Sicily”. King Rene, passing through Blois, must have seen Triboulet doing his face-pulling exercises, and taken him into his service.
In 1480, King Rene dies. The young Duke d’Orleans, grandson of Valentine Visconti de Milano, now King of France under the name of Louis XII, takes in Triboulet.
Therefore, in 1509 at the time of the Battle of Peschiera, Triboulet is no longer a child, but a mature man who didn’t live much longer, if we are to believe the epitaph composed for him by Jehan Robertet, Louis XII’s Secretary of Finances.
So, if Triboulet died under the reign of Louis XII, how could he be Francois I’s fool? The argument seems rather specious. The epitaph written by the Finance Secretary might only have been a play on words or even a joke.
We believe that Triboulet was still alive at this time, particularly as his governor was receiving money from the royal cassette, for his upkeep. Also, Rabelais and Bonaventure Des Periers talk about him as a contemporary. As well as that, some anecdotes seem too real for us to suspect their veracity.
What were the sallies invented by Triboulet? What was this humour and this wit which so pleased the kings?
One day, when a great lord had menaced Triboulet with having him beaten to death, for having spoken about him with irreverence, the buffoon went to complain to the King.
The monarch says to him: “Don’t worry. If anyone dared to submit you to such a treatment, I would have him hung a quarter of an hour after your death.” Triboulet is supposed to have answered: “Ah! Cousin, I would give you great thanks if you would rather agree to have him hung a quarter of an hour before.”
Many wise men would envy this fool’s reply.