In Hilary Mantel's famous historical fiction Wolf Hall, she implies more than once that the court fools of figures in the era of Henry VIII often had some form of learning difficulty. Indeed in one passage, she suggests that fools were often taken in by nobles as a way of protecting and providing employment for disadvantaged members of the community.

Here's an example concerning Henry Pattinson, a fool employed by Thomas More:

The man is a great brawler; normally you take in a fool to protect him, but in Pattinson’s case it’s the rest of the world needs protection. Is he really simple? There’s something sly in More, he enjoys embarrassing people; it would be like him to have a fool that wasn’t.

This contrasts strongly with the picture given in Wikipedia and other online sources, which posits fools as well-trained professional entertainers.

Mantel seems to be very well researched in considerable detail on many other aspects of the history she portrays. But her portrayal of fools is a total mismatch with anything I can find on the subject. Is there any accuracy to it?

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    Note that your descriptions of Mantel's and Wikipedia's accounts are not necessarily contradictory - people with disabilities, learning or otherwise, can nevertheless become well trained professionals. Not saying that is definitely the case, jesters having some kind of disability seems to be a fairly widespread idea. – Semaphore Dec 11 '19 at 13:50
  • @Semaphore thanks, that's an important distinction. I've just added a quote that might illustrate the question a bit better. To me, it implies that fools are "taken in" for their own "protection" and that's what makes me feel she's suggesting a lack of training or professionalism, rather than the disability. Similarly, Cardinal Wolsey's fool is portrayed as being too incapable to receive training. – Bob Tway Dec 11 '19 at 14:06
  • Are you positing disability as a qualification, like with cashiers, or as a professional hazard, like with jockeys? – C Monsour Dec 11 '19 at 23:01
  • @CMonsour As a qualification – Bob Tway Dec 12 '19 at 11:35

As i remember, there are jesters & fools in the triumphal procession of Maximilian I, a paper procession printed by the Emperor as dynastic and personal propaganda.

The woodcuts have often be reproduced, as in my copy of The Triumph of Maximilian I: 137 woodcuts by Hans Burgkemair and Others, Stanley Applebaum, Dover Press, NY, 1964.

On page 6 of the introduction, Maximilian's written instructions for plates 27, 28, & 29 are translated:

After them shall come a man on horseback dressed as jester, bearing a verse for the jesters and natural fools; he shall be Conrad von der Sosen. This verse is not yet ready.

Assiduously always did I try

to keep buffoons in good supply

always to furnish the merriest jest

to this one end I did my best

and from my diligent employment

the Emperor derived enjoyment

After him shall come a small car drawn by two wild ponies; on it shall be these jesters: Lenz and Caspar, Bauer, Meterschy, and Dyweynndl.

And a boy shall be driver and all shall wear laurel wreaths.

After them depict yet another small car, on which shall be these natural fools: Gylyme, Pock, Gulichisch, Caspar, Hans Winter, Guggeryllis.

And a mules (two donkeys) shall drive the car, and a boy shall be driver.

Another group is drawing near

within this Triumph to appear

These are the fools of the natural sort,

very well known in the Emperor's court.

Their sayings and deeds, without reason or rhyme

have occasioned great laughter many a time.

So apparently Maximilian I had both Jesters of normal intelligence and "natural fools" at his court.

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