Weird History

What Life Was Really Like As A Medieval Jester

Jesters, also known as court jesters or fools, are a big part of the history of the Middle Ages - but what was the role of a court jester and what was life like for him? It wasn't all fun and games; sure, the jester played a large role in medieval entertainment, but he also played the part of trusted advisor, took part in household chores, and even followed his master into battle. He was also the unfortunate soul that was tasked with delivering bad news to his noble ruler.

Although usually highly educated, the fool still managed to entertain his master by any method necessary, from telling stories and jokes, to juggling dangerous objects, to making music by way of flatulence. This comic entertainer was a great source of amusement, and as a member of the royal entourage, he often held significant political influence, advising his master in all matters of the kingdom.

  • There’s A Good Chance You’d Be Able To Make Music With Your Farts
    Photo: Anonymous / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    There’s A Good Chance You’d Be Able To Make Music With Your Farts

    Court jesters wore many hats, even the one of flatulist. It was a commonly sought trait for a king's fool to be able to make music with their farts.

    There was one jester known particularly for this ability - Roland le Fartere, AKA Roland the Farter - a 12th-century English jester serving King Henry II. Every year on Christmas Day, Roland's performance would end with "one jump, one whistle, and one fart" simultaneously. For this, he was awarded a manor in Suffolk and 30 acres.

  • More Than Likely, You Would Be Highly Educated And Wear Normal Clothing

    There was nothing foolish about being a king's fool in medieval times. In fact, it was often considered a respected profession.

    The jester didn't usually prance around in the classic motley jester costume. Most days, a jester wore regular clothes similar to what a nobleman would wear. Contrary to popular belief, a professional fool was often highly intelligent and well-educated.

  • You Would Accompany Your Master To The Battlefield

    Kings and queens alike often developed close friendships with their personal court jesters. As a result, the jester often held a significant political position within the kingdom during the Middle Ages, and would even follow their masters to the battlefield. 

    One court jester who followed his master into battle was the jester of the Duke of Austria. He reportedly said to the Duke: “You fools, you’re all debating how to get into the country, but none of you have thought how you’re going to get out again.” The duke did not heed his fool's warning, and suffered great loss on the battlefield as a result. In this case, it would have been wise to listen to the advice of a fool, as many rulers did.

  • You Would Be The Only Person In The Kingdom That Didn't Lose Their Head For Poking Fun At The King Or Queen
    Photo: Thomas Davidson / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    You Would Be The Only Person In The Kingdom That Didn't Lose Their Head For Poking Fun At The King Or Queen

    In medieval times, one simply did not make fun of the king or queen and expect to live - unless you were the court jester. Think of it as a medieval royal roast. Most rulers found humor in their jesters' mockery of them.

    It wasn't just the master that was susceptible to this - the king's fool could was given "the power to openly mock any noble" as he saw fit, pointing out any real or made-up shortcomings.