A medieval court jester was a jester employed by the royal court for his performance and entertainment.
A medieval court jester could perform a variety of tricks other than telling jokes. For instance, his entertainment included music, juggling, acting, clowning, etc. Medieval court jesters enjoyed certain privileges which other people did not. For instance, they could make fun of nobles and respectable personalities and get away with it!
There was a considerable difference between a medieval court jester and a normal jester who travelled from place to place. The medieval court jester received a handsome amount of money for his services and enjoyed a permanent place of residence.
A normal jester, who travelled from place to place, usually lived in poverty or survived on little money. He also did not have a permanent place to live.
The foremost responsibility of a medieval court jester was to entertain the king and uplift his mood during sad moments. Thus we see in King Lear that the jester accompanies the king during his gloomy walk in the woods.
The medieval court jester, however, also had to entertain other people in the court. But his main duty remained the entertainment of the king himself.
The foremost payment that a medieval court jester received was food and a permanent place to live. Thus safety and security, much needed during the medieval times, were guaranteed to the court jester.
His payment in the form of money depended on his performance. If he managed to make the king happy, he was paid handsomely. Thus some medieval court jesters were quite well off. However, there was no set income for a court jester.
Medieval court jesters were paid handsomely during their service in the royal court. Further, they could also use their influence in the court to provide financial benefits to their relatives or friends. For instance, the famous jester of Henry VIII of England, William Sommers used his influence to provide financial assistance to his uncle.
Thus while successful medieval court jesters were not very rich, they lived in financial security.
There was no set routine of the daily life of a medieval court jester. Instead, it varied depending on the circumstances and the mood of the king. Sometimes, he could spend the whole day entertaining an audience, and other times he did not perform for days on end.
The clothing of a medieval court jester reflected humor and entertainment. Thus he used colorful costumes. His head was usually covered with a garment that was similar to a monk’s cowl. Perhaps the most famous part of a medieval court jester’s clothing was his hat known as the fool’s hat, it commonly had four parts with bells at each end.
A medieval court jester was given residence in the castle or in a cottage. Unlike the wandering jesters, he had a permanent abode and did not have to worry about residence. Not just a safe residence, he was also provided food and financial security.
Medieval court jesters were common in the courts of medieval kings and sometimes exerted considerable influence on the king. Some of them enjoyed special privileges in the court and could use those privileges to help their relatives.
Unlike wandering jesters, medieval court jesters enjoyed financial security and a permanent residence.