The True Story Of Triboulet, The 16th-Century Court Jester Whose Wit Saved His Life
Published in Jul 2021 / Updated in Sep 2021
Triboulet was born in 1479 in Blois, France, and he had microcephaly at the time. This condition causes congenital disabilities, and it is characterized by a smaller head and brain.
He was described as having short, twisted legs, long arms, and a bowed back that gave him an amusing physical appearance. Therefore, for a court jester, he was perfect. Apparently, his appearance was especially delightful to the court ladies, who thought of him as if he were a monkey or a paroquet.
At the time, court jesters were so popular that dwarfs were being made artificially so that they would grow into jesters. Various medications were used to achieve this goal, including feeding children knotgrass and daisy roots blended with milk.
That is why Shakespeare writes in A Midsummer Night’s Dream:
“Get you gone, you dwarf, You minimus of hindering knotgrass made, You bead, you acorn!”
Dwarfs and people with other strange physical features were believed to have magical powers. Some believed that a dwarf’s touch had healing powers.
Still, while most jesters were chosen for their quick wit, many were chosen because people found conditions such as autism very amusing. These people seemed like they could not control themselves, which explained their reputation as truth-tellers.
In the past, court jesters were pretty commonplace, and they could be found in Rome, China, czarist Russia, Middle Eastern courts, and Renaissance Europe. The best of the best, such as Triboulet, became legends who are remembered to this day.
Triboulet’s unmatched wit saved him from the perils of his offensive jokes on several occasions. Triboulet had the honor of serving under two kings: King Louis XII and King Francis I of France.
Otherwise, court jesters were also known as fools, clowns, and buffoons. But Triboulet was no fool.
Sure, he always went a little too far and often put his life on the line while trying to amuse his powerful audiences, but he was also smart enough to know how to get himself out of trouble.
Although court jesters came off as idiots, a number of them were not, and that much is clear from their representation in Shakespearean literature, where they often used sophisticated rhyme and symbolism that often escaped the understanding of commoners.
Before he started his gig as a court jester, Triboulet was a low-level jester. Apparently, his appointment as court jester changed him substantially as he went from being a funny idiot to a witty courtier.
His costume featured bold red and yellow colors.
A Comedian Who Was Serious About His Job
Being a court jester is no easy job. You have to find humor in a serious situation without offending your listeners.
In fact, jesters started off as “truth-tellers,” and their job was telling the truth in a fun kind of way and mock things like vanity, laziness, and snobbery. Therefore, it was quite common for a “joke” to be taken badly.
Basically, court jesters had the right to say whatever they felt like since they enjoyed “comic dispensation,” which was the freedom to speak freely even if they offended their masters or audiences.
So, Triboulet’s job was to highlight hypocrisy in authority ranging from religion and law to the excesses of the monarchy. He had greater authority than most to poke fun at these topics.
However, although he was famous for his jokes, he was not very well-liked around the court.
At one time, he told the king that a noble had threatened to kill him. The king told him that if the nobleman does so, then the king would ensure he would be beheaded fifteen minutes later. In response, he told the king:
“Well, would it be possible to behead him 15 minutes before?”
So, Triboulet was a court jester unlike any other.
Triboulet Slapped The Kings Royal Behind
Triboulet was quite quick-witted, which is how he managed to save his life at one point during his life.
In this incident, he slapped the King of France on his rear. Even with the freedom court jesters had, some lines were not to be crossed unless, obviously, you were Triboulet.
He was good at his job, but he had gone too far.
This was a serious mistake on Triboulet’s part, and king Francis I wanted to have him killed. However, the jester was smart enough to fix his mistake and avoid death.
The enraged monarch, as a kindness, decided to give him a chance to redeem himself by saying something more offensive than the mistake he had made.
However, Triboulet made things even worse, and the king was sure he wanted him dead.
How Triboulet Saved His Life After The King Got Angry At Him
It might help to know that even though the jester could joke just about anything, the queen and the ladies in waiting were off-limits. Therefore, the statement he made was undoubtedly more offensive than his misguided decision to slap the king on his rear:
“I’m so sorry, your majesty, that I didn’t recognize you! I mistook you for the Queen!”
Clearly, these words were more offensive than what he had done. In fact, this statement so angered the king that he went back on his word and decided that Triboulet had to die.
However, after all those years of Royal service, the king offered Triboulet the choice of deciding how he would leave this world. Triboulet was prepared with a response the kind could never have expected:
“Good sire, for Saint Nitouche’s and Saint Pansard’s sake, patrons of insanity, I choose to die from old age.”
The king found this statement so funny that he chose to banish Triboulet rather than have him murdered. This joke turned Triboulet into a legend.
Triboulet Became An Inspiration
As per his wish, Triboulet died of old age in 1536. He was in his late fifties, which was pretty good at the time. Life expectancy in Europe was 30 years, which means 57 was exceptional for someone born with congenital issues.
However, his legacy got a considerable boost after his death, thanks to the efforts of Victor Hugo, who wrote a play, Le Roi s’Amuse, (The King Amuses Himself) in 1832. The play was about Triboulet.
Legendary composer, Giuseppe Verdi, used this play as the inspiration for his opera, Rigoletto. He actually chose the play over Shakespeare’s play, King Lear, since he considered Triboulet more interesting.
In an era that had so many jesters, Triboulet represented them all with his iconic red costume. Today, the word triboulet refers to a clown dressed in red.