The fourteenth century was a time of "noble"
extravagance. The high courts, surrounded by poverty,
encouraged comedy. It was out of this thirst for
amusement the Court Jester was born. Some Jesters were
dwarves, others were idiots, and most were treated as
pets. From these early court "fools" developed the
official position of Court Jester. As the position
gained recognition, many bright and talented actors
stepped into entertain the court with their comedy and
satire. Often the satire was political, and many walked
a fine line between speaking the thoughts of the people
and offending their masters.
The Jester's costume was
called a "Motley," receiving its name from the dyed
multicolored wool from which it was made. The costumes
differed with the imagination of each Jester, but
essential ingredients were often part of the clothing.
Triangular hemlines were seen with arrays of bells hung
all around. Headgear became popular in the shape of a
conical cap featuring donkey's ears, a cock's comb, or
woven triangles with bells. These hats were the early
prototypes of many hats worn by clowns today. Jesters
grew in popularity and soon became a necessary part of
every nobleman's court. Henry VIII's best friend was
said to be his Jester.
Richard Tarleton, a famous Jester
of British history, was known to keep Queen Elizabeth in
stitches. The relationship between Jester and royalty
allowed freedom of opinion (guised in whit) shared by
few. The Jester's place in the history of the clown is
one of courage and sacrifice. As a forerunner of public
opinion and a friend to kings he is immortalized forever
a major contributor to court and clown.