Medieval History: The Fool was More Significant Than You Thought


This article from the BBC History Magazine by Elinor Evans reveals a side of the Fool that you might not have been aware of previously.


Within the tarot community I have heard people discuss the Fool as his jingly-belled-fancy-hat iteration as a throne-room “pet” of the king… Most of those conversation are punctuated by the profound “discovery” that the Fool (or jester) had an immense amount of power, because of his close proximity to the ruler, and because of his favorite/intimate status. The reasoning goes that through wit and possibly eloquence, and assuredly his “favored” status and trust, that the jester/fool was able to whisper opinions to the king, or interpret situations, or pass low-class gossip to the ear of the majesty…and thus affect grandiose decision-making through the subtleties of his words.


This all may be true to a certain extent. But it is rather fantastic and fictional speculation. It makes for good story-telling, but the real-world life of the Fool/jester was much more perilous. It was a life of extremes. A Fool might be rewarded richly in land or in coin—extravagantly so—but he also performed some of the most dangerous strategic roles during warfare, which often resulted in his demise.


Does this remind you of anyone in the tarot deck? Of course…the Fool (card 0) is depicted in severe situations as a happy-go-lucky sort of fellow. Walking off a cliff precipice while contemplating the beauty of a rose is a juxtaposition of extreme magnitudes, after all! Even in the Marseille-style tarot, the Fool is striding forth in his own direction, confidently making his way in his expensive, multi-colored finery…which a mangy, mongrel dog has just ruined and torn to pieces exposing the Fool’s genitals and arse in an unfortunate turn of events (The Fool, perhaps, always seems to be the epitome of a fast-turning Wheel of Fortune (card X)!


Lute-playing Fool with a Dog, by Anton Möller der Ältere, Berlin, Kupferstichkabinet

Lute-playing Fool with a Dog, by Anton Möller der Ältere, Berlin, Kupferstichkabinet (with thanks to Prof. Johan Oosterman for finding the image!)


Read Elinor Evans’s article in full for a more in-depth perspective of the Fool’s life in Medieval times…






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Posted in Discovering Meaning in Imagery, Tarot History, Tarot Reading and tagged , , , , , .

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