A clever fool or jester, with a joke, a song or a witty remark, could say something to a king or queen that even the most senior noble could not. As such, wise monarchs recognised the unique position of the jester and gave them special dispensation; they were the truth-tellers in the Court. Even so, it was a precarious line to tread, one slip could mean exile or execution for the jester.

Nicolas Ferrial, also known as Triboulet (1479 to 1536) was a jester to Kings Louis XII and Francis I of France. Having broken an order from Francis I forbidding Triboulet from making jokes about the queen, the king ordered that he should be put to death. Having served the king particularly well for many years, Francis I granted Triboulet the right to choose the way he would die.

Triboulet said: “Good sire, for Saint Nitouche’s and Saint Pansard’s sake, patrons of insanity, I choose to die from old age.” The king was amused and ordered that Triboulet not be executed but instead be banished from the realm.

Picture: Portrait of Nicolas Ferrial, also known as Triboulet (1479–1536). Artist unknown.