Henri IV of France likes the company of buffoons and has several on his payroll. He likes Chicot for his jokes. Chicot passes into his service after having worked successively for Henri III and Charles IX.
L’Estoile says, in his Journal (Diary): “The King liked Chicot all fool that he was, and found nothing bad at all in what he said, which caused him to lose himself in a thousand follies. When the Duke de Parma came for the second time to France, in 1592, he [Chicot] said to the King in front of everyone: “Sir my friend, I well see that all that you do will serve for nothing in the end, if you do not become a Catholic. You must go to Rome, and while there, you hang on the Pope’s shirt tails, and let everyone see you; for otherwise they will never believe that you are Catholic. Then you take a lovely enema of holy water, to finish washing all the rest of your sins.””
The court fool enjoys the privilege of saying all truths, even those which are not good to hear. A sword thrust deprives Henri IV of his buffoon; a blow from a halberd (or halbert) provides him with his successor.
The new fool is an apothecary from Louviers. His name is Guillaume Marchand or Le Marchand, “jovial companion, the life and soul of the party, very well-known among his compatriots”.
The origin of his madness is worth being told. When, in 1591, the town of Louviers is taken from the Ligueurs, Marchand receives a halberd blow to the head, which deranges his brain. He is given to the young Cardinal de Bourbon, “who was amused by him, as well as the people who came to his home”. He is taken in by Henri IV at the death of his first master.
We know that Louis XIII likes to try his hand at different trades, even taking pleasure in shaving the beards of his officers and of his buffoon Marais. Marais, after having patiently suffered the trial of this operation, which had been long and painful, counts out fifteen sols, in liards and deniers, and gives them to the King.
The King tells him that it isn’t enough. Marais answers: “I’ll give you thirty sols when you are a master.” This is judged to be too witty, and has him disgraced.
If we can believe Tallemant, Marais has great assurance. One day he says to his master: “There are two things about your job that I could not get used to: eating alone and… relieving myself in company!”
This liberty to do and say everything has its advantages, even if it is not completely without inconveniences. It allows some of Nature’s mistakes to take revenge on their physical disgraces and, through the favour of their exceptional situations, to hazard a few wise reflections, received with indulgence by those who hear them, and which can also contribute to the public good.
At this time, there are many other people, apart from the fools, who are employed to divert the King. As well as the Moors, whose role is to divert the ladies by singing foreign songs and by dancing grotesque dances, there are the dwarves.
Queen Claude of France has a female dwarf whose name is Marie Dareille, and the accounts for the year 1533 mention another female dwarf, “the little dwarf (petite nayne) of the late Mademoiselle”.
Ten years later, a foreign female dwarf is received into the court. She belongs to the Queen of Hungary, and accompanies her mistress.
Many paintings of the XVIth and XVIIth Centuries, show people with different types of malformation, to which they owe their lucrative situations. The most common malformations are rachitism, giving deformed bones and problems with teeth; scurvy, provoking skin alterations; cretinism, which is accompanied by a voluminous goitre.
It can also be obesity, infantilism, which stops physical development at the childhood stage, or achondroplasia, a squeletal anomaly. There are very few dwarves who, apart from their small size, have no physical deformity and are not, at the same time, hunchbacked or rachitic.
Seventh part tomorrow.