Jesters in Legend and Reality

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[Legendary/Historical Jesters]   [Modern Jesters]   [Jesters in Religion]

Legendary and Historical Jesters

A motley collection of jester legend and history, divided into sections by continent.

Click on the relevant section of the mediaeval map to jump to that page.

I've decided to incorporate the Jesters in Legend section into Jesters in Reality, because often it's impossible to distinguish the original real person from the legend and rumour that's grown up around them. I hope this new layout will be clear and easy to use...

Europe Asia Africa North America South America Australia
The Fool's Cap World Map, anon. c.1590.

[Europe]   [Asia]   [North America]   [Africa]   [South America]   [Australia]

Modern day Jesters

Contemporary jesters and entertainers who I think perform the function of the jester.

Jesse Dean Bogdonoff: click for more pics

JD Bogdonoff
Jesse Dean Bogdonoff was officially the only court jester in the world. He was appointed as financial advisor to the King of Tonga, and was later declared official court jester by the King - click here to see a scan of the royal decree. However, the Tongan trust fund, which JD managed, was invested with a company called Millennium Asset Management. MAM subsequently went bust and the money (some $26 million, equivalent of half Tonga's annual income) was lost. On June 3rd 2002 Tonga took out a lawsuit against JD, who is now resident in Sonoma County, alleging that his behaviour had been fraudulent. There followed a lengthy legal battle which has now concluded; see below for the full details.

JD was kind enough to send me some pics which you might like to see, including the scan of the royal decree that made him court jester. For the JD gallery click here.

News of the court case:
The BBC reported the conclusion of the case in February 2004. JD was kind enough to send me his response to this and his side of the story, which you can read here.

Background and older stuff:
For backstory, I recommend the BBC's 'Tonga's jester has last laugh'. Also, JD sent me a copy of an LA Times article: 'Tonga Is Not Amused'.

Jesse Dean's music

JD's occupation is just as creative these days, but in a different direction; he is a composer and musician producing smooth jazz. You can visit his website here and listen to song samples (I recommend 'Candles Dance'!).

Dario Fo: The Red Mime of Milan

Dario Fo
"who emulates the jesters of the Middle Ages in scourging authority and upholding the dignity of the downtrodden." Dario Fo won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1997.

From the Nobel Committee press release: 'For many years Fo has been performed all over the world, perhaps more than any other contemporary dramatist, and his influence has been considerable. He if anyone merits the epithet of jester in the true meaning of that word. With a blend of laughter and gravity he opens our eyes to abuses and injustices in society and also the wider historical perspective in which they can be placed. Fo is an extremely serious satirist with a multifaceted oeuvre. His independence and clear-sightedness have led him to take great risks, whose consequences he has been made to feel while at the same time experiencing enormous response from widely differing quarters.'

You can read Dario Fo's Nobel Lecture entitled CONTRA JOGULATORES OBLOQUENTES ["Against jesters who defame and insult"] here.

Nigel Roders, AKA Kester the Jester

Kester the Jester
In August 2004 the English Heritage organisation advertised for a State Jester, to perform at its events during the summer. O'course, they then got into more than a little trouble with the National Guild of Jesters... (see entry below)

Click here to read a BBC news article about the guy they chose, Kester the Jester (whose real name is Nigel Roder), or you can visit his official website (he's available for hire!) You can view the English Heritage website here. And click here to read about the amusing fuss that followed the appointment of Kester.

In August 2005 English Heritage (having hurriedly dropped the 'State' from 'State Jester' after Members of Parliament got involved) held another audition which resulted in the appointment of Peterkin the Fool.

The National Guild of Jesters - image by Roland Kemp (

The National Guild of Jesters
And while we're on the subject, the UK is lucky enough to have its very own Guild of Jesters. Visit their official site here for jester news and views - many guildmembers are available for hire...

Jesters in Religion

Practically every religion I've come across has a place for the jester or holy fool. This stuff has expanded enough to become a section in its own right...

Jesters in Christianity
Interestingly, much of the Fool's persona may be found in the Christian ideal of a character neither corrupted by the world nor impressed by worldly status or authority. English painter Cecil Collins, in his book The Vision Of The Fool, argued that 'The Saint, the artist, the poet and the Fool are one. They are the eternal virginity of spirit, which in the dark winter of the world, continually proclaims the existence of new life, giving faithful promise of the spring of an invisible kingdom, and the coming of light.' Notable examples:

Jesus Christ. In the words of Cecil Collins: 'The Fool is innocent, spontaneous and joyful, even Christ-like. As a result he may be ridiculed by conventional society, although he actually has the sight which they have lost.'

St Francis of Assisi, who was famously described by G K Chesterton as 'God's Tumbler', and his troubadour and companion Brother Juniper, who St Clare called the 'Jester of God', and of whom Francis said 'I would I had a forest of such junipers'. While a crowd waited to receive him in Rome, Brother Juniper was found playing seesaw with some children outside the city. St Francis's Franciscan order are known as the 'fools of God'.

And, as a sideline, St Genesius of Rome, patron saint of clowns and actors, who supposedly converted while performing in a theatrical routine ridiculing Christianity. [Read more]

Jesters in Judaism
Jewish literature is particularly rich in jester figures, who often puncture the pomposity of others or teach lessons in wisdom. There is also often an emphasis on the joy that should come with the knowledge of living in God's divine plan; therefore, the truly holy man should be joyful.

'Rabbi Baruqa of Huza often went to the marketplace at Lapet. One day, the prophet Elijah appeared to him there, and Rabbi Baruqa asked him, "Is there anyone among all these people who will have a share in the World to Come?" Elijah answered, "There is none." Later, two men came to the marketplace, and Elijah said to Rabbi Baruqa, "Those two will have a share in the World to Come!" Rabbi Baruqa asked the newcomers, "What is your occupation?" They replied, "We are jesters. When we see someone who is sad, we cheer him up. When we see two people quarreling, we try to make peace between them."' (from the Talmud, Ta'anit 22a)

Who shall bring redemption, but the jesters?
-the Talmud

Some examples:
Badchan/badkhan are wedding jesters. At any traditional Jewish wedding the badchan sings humorous verses, to warn the bride of the faults of her husband to be. Badchanim also appear in many places in Jewish holy writings.

Jesters in Islam
Islam, especially Sufism, (the mystical branch of Islam, despised by more traditionalist Muslims) has a place for the holy fool. Islamic jesters travel on the 'path of blame', courting ridicule and abuse in order to intensify their commitment to Allah.

Some examples:
Nasreddin, the legendary jester of Tamerlane and Turkish folk figure, possibly a real imam in the 13th century. For more about Nasreddin click here for his entry in the Jesters in Reality: Asia section.

Abu Sa'id. 'In the eleventh century, the majzub (Sufi holy fool) Abu Sa'id was the focus of constant gossip because of his erratic and "irreligious" behavior. Not only did he frequently hold sumptuous feasts, he also would wear the characteristic woolen garments of a Sufi one day, only to appear in expensive silk gowns on the next. When the local sultan had him officially investigated, Abu Sa'id promptly responded by holding another one of his feasts. The investigating committee quickly arrived at the conclusion that they were dealing not with a sybaritic impostor but a formidable spiritual teacher. All charges against him were dropped.' [source]