Have there ever been female jesters?

Contrary to popular belief, there have been female clowns (including jesters) throughout history. The earliest recorded instance of women in comedy dates back to the seventh century BCE, in ancient Greece.

Dorian Mimes

In contrast to the silent mimes most of us are familiar with, the Dorian Mimes were boisterous "mimics," comprising traveling groups of male and female entertainers that acted out comedic skits, sang, danced, and parodied interaction between Greek citizens and the gods. Women played both male and female roles.

Phlyax ("Gossip" Players)

The Phlyax comedies began in Greek colonies in southern Italy and formed the basis of the evolution of comedy in Rome. Most skits involved humorous entanglements between ordinary citizens and the gods, most often Odysseus and Herakles, and vignettes of everyday life, including drunkenness, hangovers, paying rent, cooking, and other common aggravations. This popular form of comedy ended somewhere around 300 BCE.


In Medieval England, Glee-maidens, the counterpart of Glee-men, were entertainers skilled at acrobatics, music and dance. Some made a living as wandering minstrels or troubadours, traveling alone or with a male partner. Their dress was similar to what we might picture for a court jester; bright colors, short petticoats, red stockings and gaudy jewelry dominated.

Some of the Glee-maidens endeared themselves to men in power. One, Adeline, received an estate from William the Conquerer; another, Marie de France, was famous during the reign of Henry III, and enjoyed the patronage of William Longsword, son of Henry II.

Jesters (Jestress)

According to Dana Fradon, author of The King's Fool: A Book About Medieval and Renaissance Fools, many court jesters were, indeed, women. "In medieval days buffoonery was one of the few professions open to women," she says.

The most famous female court jester was Mathurine, known for her satire and biting wit, who performed for three consecutive French kings: Henry III, Henry IV, and Louis XIII. Some sources claim Mathurine saved Henry IV from certain death when an assassin attacked him in his bed with a knife. When the king cried out, Mathurine blocked the door to prevent his attacker's escape. He was captured and executed.

Mathurine was a member of the royal household later in life, and was paid an extravagant pension of 1,200 livre (a generous sum in 1622).

Another well-known jestress was La Jardiniere, who served at the court of Mary, Queen of Scotts.

The household account of Queen Mary, who ruled England from 1553-1558, shows entries for fabric and other costume accessories intended for "Jane, our foole."