During the Middle Ages, jesters were a common part and member of the household of a nobleman, aimed to entertain guests. They often wore brightly-colored clothes and weird-looking hats, which can still be observed in their counterparts of today. They would usually perform at historically-themed events by singing, playing instruments, storytelling, and some other performance like acrobatics, juggling, telling jokes, punchlines, even magic tricks. They were also allowed to poke fun at the monarch without ending up gibbeted or stretched on the rack.  After all, the official job of the jester was to act as the court “fool” and only a fool would criticize his sovereign, right? Perhaps of all the jesters that have ever lived, it was one named Triboulet whose dedication to being the court’s official fool almost got him killed.

Francis I of France

Francis I was the King of France from 1515 until 1547 and was one of the two kings that Triboulet served for, the other one being his father-in-law King Louis XII whom he replaced after dying without a son.

Known as the patron of the arts, he attracted many Italian artists to work for him during his time, like Leonardo da Vinci with his Mona Lisa. He would decorate the royal palaces of France with great paintings, although he didn’t seem like a fan of sculptures. It was in his time that the art collection of the French kings began.

Francis I was married to his second cousin Claude, the daughter of King Louis XII of France and Duchess Anne of Brittany. Francis and Claude had seven children, two of which reached the age of thirty. Claude died in 1524, and Francis remarried, his second wife being Eleanor of Austria, the sister of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.


Triboulet, Jester of King Francis I (Bibliothèque interuniversitaire de Santé , Licence Ouverte, via Wikimedia Commons)

Triboulet or Nicolas Ferrial, as he was known out of costume and character, was born in France in 1479 and was believed to have suffered from microcephaly, a condition that makes one’s head smaller than normal. It also gave him a hunched back, bandy and shortened legs and gangly arms with fingertips extending almost to his knees.  As a public jester in town, he eeked out a living appearing to be idiotic and simple-minded.  Until one day when he caught the attention of Francis Prince Regent, the future King of France, who commissioned him as a new jester in his father’s court. Once he was under the protection of the Prince, Triboulet dropped the act of being an imbecile and was found to possess a quick mind and a savage wit.

Perhaps one the funniest exchange that he had was this:

Triboulet: A noble has threatened to hang me!

The Monarch: Don’t worry! If he hangs you, I’ll have him beheaded fifteen minutes later.