Feast of Fools

The Feast of the Fools was usually held on January 1 and was under the direction of the lower clergy who used the occasion to elect a Bishop of Fools or Fools’ Pope and carry on outrageously, making fun of sacred ceremonies and revelling in a hierarchy turned upside down. However, what began as an exercise in social relaxation eventually turned into burlesque and excess. Church leaders complained in 1445 that

Priests and clerks may be seen wearing masks and monstrous visages at the hours of office. They dance in the choir dressed as women, panders or minstrels. They sing wanton songs. They eat black puddings at the horn of the altar while the celebrant is saying Mass. They play at dice there. They cense with stinking smoke from the soles of old shoes. They run and leap through the church, without a blush at their own shame. Finally they drive about the town and its theatres in shabby traps and carts, and rouse the laughter of their fellows and the bystanders in infamous performances, with indecent gesture and verses scurrilous and unchaste.

Such behaviour was legislated against by king and church but proved very hard to eradicate — records of the Feast of the Fools endured into the eighteenth century.

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