Why every great lord needs a fool

Johann Balthasar Schupp (1610-61) was a German satirical writer and Lutheran pastor.  The tension between his use of wit and satire and his role as a pastor is perhaps highlighted in the question raised by fellow pastors in 1657:

‘Was it right that a doctor of Theology who was also a cleric of the Lutheran church with responsibilitby over a large congregation and parish should preach and have printed witticisms, fables, satires and ridiculous anecdotes?’

(Sounds like my kind of pastor.)

Also in 1657, his work Salomo, oder Regenten-Spiegel (Salomo, or Regent’s Mirror) was published, in which Schupp promotes the role of the fool even at the beginning of their decline in Europe.   Note his emphasis on the fool’s willingness to tell the truth.  And since counsellors and other courtiers quite wisely don’t wish to be seen as fools, it can easily come to pass that rulers don’t often hear the truth. 

It is hard to imagine this recommendation served to reassure his pastor peers that his behaviour was appropriate to the position. 

… a great lord should either read the histories or keep fools.  For what a Chancellor meanwhile does not wish to say and what a Court Chaplain should not or dare not say will be said by a fool and the histories.  Histories tell us what has happened.  A fool speaks what is still to happen.  It is said that children and fools speak the truth.  Since neither Chancellors nor counsellors, nor any other grandees, Court Chaplains or governors wish to be seen as fools, so it comes about that great lords so seldom hear the truth.


… ein großer Herr solle entweder Historicus lesen oder Narren halten.  Dann was unterweilens ein Cantzlar nicht will sagen / und was ein Hoffprediger nicht darff oder nicht erkühnt zu sagen / das sagt ein Narr und ein Historicus.  Ein Historicus sagt / es sey geschehen.  Ein Narr sagt / es geschehe noch.  Man sagt / Kinder und Narren sagen die Warheit.  Weil nun Cantzlar und Räthe oder andere Grandes, Hofprediger und Superintendenten / nicht wollen für Kinder oder Narren angesehen werden / daher kommt es / daß große Herren so selten die Warheit hören.

Source: Johann Balthasar Schupp (1610-61), Salomo, oder Regenten-Spiegel (Frankfurt, 1701 (1657)), S.41.Bl.c.5a; Carl Bertheau, ‘Schupp, Balthasar’, in Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (Historische Kommission bei der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1891), pp. 67-77.

Quotation: Johann Balthazar Schupp (1610-61), Salomo, oder Regenten-Spiegel (Frankfurt, 1701 (1657)), German text

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