In medieval times, a jester was an entertainer/comedian/performer who was employed by a nobleman, king, or another high-class individual to entertain him and his guests.
Jesters would learn to sing, dance, recite poetry and tell stories. Some even learned acrobatics or juggling, to further add to their list of abilities. Nowadays, the word “jester” is used in much the same way as the word “clown.”
This is because jesters were the clowns of the Middle Ages. They were professional jokesters or fools who were employed solely for comedic relief, and would often be the only source of entertainment in their employer’s days.
However, they didn’t work the whole year round. Listening to the same jokes night after night would have been boring, after all; most jesters worked multiple jobs in a nobleman’s court, and would occupy other positions like “keeper of hounds” or head cleaner in-between performances.
Being a jester could be a dangerous job. In times of war, Kings frequently used their personal jesters as messengers, and would send them across enemy lines to speak to the opposing forces.
If they survived this process, they would return to their side and boost their allies’ morale with funny songs and stories.
Their wartime role was a psychological one, as they would work to both encourage their troops and demoralize their opponents.
Some jesters would sing mocking songs and shout insults to annoy the opposing army, as well as juggling swords in front of them. If one of the annoyed soldiers was silly enough to charge at him, he’d be killed by the jester’s army.
One of the world’s most famous jesters was “Archibald Armstrong,” employed by English King James VI during the 1600s. Archibald was so loved by the king that he was given authority over land like a noble, and was a figure of some importance in the English political landscape.
However, he lost his position when he went too far with some of his jokes and insulted other, more important members of King James VI’s court.
This is a common trend in the careers of many jesters; most worked until they lost their jobs, and most lost their jobs after offending somebody powerful enough to have them fired!
During the Middle Ages, there was very little entertainment available for kings and nobles. Events such as dog fighting, horse racing, and public shows were seen as beneath them, and so they had no choice but to employ entertainers in their own homes.
Reading was also less of a pastime in the Middle Ages, as nearly every book published was solely for education. Jesters were the only socially acceptable form of entertainment for upper-class members of society.
Jesters wore special clothes to make themselves look funnier. The typical jester’s outfit consisted of a tight tunic and pair of breeches (pants) which were different colors to one another, and frequently very vibrant; greens, pinks, reds, and blues were common jester colors.
Jesters also wore hats that had ears like a donkey’s on them, and they would tie bells all over their body so that they jingled when they walked.
Towards the end of the Middle Ages, their outfits became less colorful. Jesters were regarded less as “fools” in the 1500s and more like the comedians of the modern world.
They were typically very well-educated, and wore normal clothes to show their respect to their master.
Jesters usually taught themselves to sing and dance. During the Middle Ages, entertainers called “minstrels” worked in taverns, who would sing songs and tell stories to their patrons.
Many minstrels would go on to become jesters later in life, as it was a safer form of employment.
Those who didn’t might have taught music lessons to local children and adults – which is how jesters would have picked up their skillsets.
– An entertainer/performer/comedian employed by a king or noble, and paid to entertain them and their guests.
– A jester would need to be able to sing, dance, and tell funny stories/jokes, but some would learn juggling and acrobatics as well.
– They would work as messengers for kings, and were brought to battlefields to boost their soldiers’ morale and annoy the opposing forces.
– Their outfits were always very vibrantly colored. They wore a hat with ears like a donkey, a tight tunic, and a pair of breeches that had two differently colored legs. They also usually wore bells all over their body, so they jingled when they walked.