Triboulet: The Jester Who Was Condemned — and Saved — By His Wits


Nicolas Ferrial, also known as Le Févrial or Triboulet (1479–1536), was one of the most celebrated jesters in history. He served two French kings: Louis XII and Francis I. He had all of the qualities necessary in a good court jester, most importantly, the gift of quick wit. This wit not only made him successful but it also nearly resulted in his doom. Fortunately, that very same wit ultimately saved his life.

His ability to get himself in trouble was legendary. Once a nobleman was upset about being made the butt of Triboulet’s jokes and threatened to kill the jester. Triboulet ran to the king, telling him that the man was planning on hanging him. The king attempted to calm the jester, saying, “Don’t worry! If he hangs you I’ll have him beheaded fifteen minutes later.” Triboulet retorted, “Well, would it be possible to behead him 15 minutes before?”

Another time, Triboulet’s sense of frivolity got out of control, and he slapped the king on the royal bum. The monarch lost his temper and threatened to execute Triboulet. A bit later, the monarch calmed down a little and promised to forgive Triboulet if he could think of an apology more insulting than the offending deed. A few seconds later, Triboulet responded: “I’m so sorry, your majesty, that I didn’t recognize you! I mistook you for the Queen!”

Ultimately, Triboulet’s joking went too far. He offended Francis I to the degree that the king ordered the execution of the jester. Out of recognition of the jester’s years of faithful service, however, the king granted Triboulet the right to choose the way he would die.

Triboulet lost no time in responding. “Good sire, for Saint Nitouche’s and Saint Pansard’s sake, patrons of insanity, I choose to die from old age.” Francis I found his response so hilarious that he commuted the death sentence and, instead, banished the jester from the realm.

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