The King of the Debauchees has valets and archers to execute his orders. His function then consists of “chasing debauchees and delinquents from the court”. This means the multitude of loafers and vagabonds who usually follow it.
He has the power to punish them, even to banish them, ” with no other form but to pronounce it”. This explains his title of “King”. In the same way, there is a King of the Haberdashers and of the Arquebusiers, a King of Arms and of the Legal Clerks.
In his Dictionnaire francois, Nicot explains that “the word ribaud (debauchee) in France or ribaldi in Italy cannot be taken with good humour. If you add the word Ribaude (the female version) there is even more shame.”.
The word is rehabilitated under Philippe-Auguste. He notices the courage, the disregard for their lives shown by the pillaging hordes who follow his armies, accompanied by debauched women giving themselves up to all excesses.
This band of ribauds and ribaudes, which nothing can hold back, does such spectacular things in front of the King that, without imposing a too severe discipline, he transforms them into a formidable militia. He gives the supreme command of it to an officer of his household, the one known to us as the King of the Debauchees, who has the quality of sergeant of the King’s arms in wartime.
Does he perform an active role during the battles? We are not very well informed on this. By tradition, he exercises a formidable authority over authors of a wide variety of criminal offences committed in the domain of his jurisdiction, and this is enough to assure his prestige.
He is followed by a gaoler and an executioner, and there is no interval between the condemnation and the execution. He pronounces the death sentence as easily as lighter sentences, associated with fines for his own profit. So this charge becomes lucrative very rapidly, as much because of these fines as because of his taxes on taverns, gambling houses and public women.
The King of the Debauchees has to have his part of the booty brought back by his troops from their expeditions. “His troops” sounds better than the collection of bandits of detestable reputation that they really are: “thieves, banished people, men on the run, excommunicated people”, as they are described by Matthieu Paris.
Another chronicler paints them as “nasty people, as despicable before God as before men; scoundrels, continuously committing perjury, playing dice, dragging their concubines with them, constantly drunk”. The ribauds are part of all the Crusades, in all wars, in all battles. They are badly armed, badly dressed, to the extent that the expression “naked like a ribaud“, appears in 1230.
They probably make up a large part of those bands of adventurers, wanderers, highwaymen, who perform their misdeeds up until the arrival on the throne of Charles V. It is presumed that the company of debauchees is fired after the death of Philippe-Auguste.
In the time of Saint Louis (Louis IX), when ribaux were “labourers and strong men, like meat-hangers and porters”, we see that the attributions of their strange “King” is distinctly modified.
At the death of Charles VI, and during the whole reign of Charles VII, the provost of the Hotel is in charge of the police and of the justice of the court. If there is a criminal execution, the provost receives for himself the gold and silver on the criminal’s belt. The marshals take the horse and the harness, “and all other tools”. The sheets and clothes are left to the King of the Debauchees.
This is on top of the two sols per week “on all of the bordellos and the women of the bordellos”. He also has “knowledge of all dice games, gambling houses, and others which take place in the host or the horsemen of the King”.
In conclusion, whether he was the first sergeant of the maitres d’hotel, the guardian of the king’s palace, the grand master of public women, or simply the executioner, all at once or successively, the King of the Debauchees is a personality who plays his role in the history of morality. A role of some brilliance, if not greatness, in a time when bravery and morality do not always go together.
He is a faithful servant of royalty, a proven defender of the king’s person. Perhaps an imprudent zeal is the cause of his fall.