Latitude of speech

​The Scottish diplomat Sir John Malcolm (1769-1833) mentions the Persian court’s never being without a jester, adding that at a certain point there was also a giant and a dwarf.

A giant and a dwarf were, at one period of the present reign, part of the royal establishment; and that is never without a jester, who enjoys a very extraordinary latitude of speech, and assumes, both in his dress and manner, the habit and appearance of folly.  It is usual to laugh at the witticisms of those jesters, even when they are most severe; and the sovereign himself professes to respect their privilege. 

Note the explicit mention of the ‘extraordinary latitude of speech’ enjoyed by the jester. 

Sir John mentions ‘the present reign’, and judging by the approximate dates of his travels, this appears likely to refer to the Qajar king, Fath-Ali Shah (r. 1797-1834).  However, let me know if I’ve miscalculated. 

Source: Sir John Malcolm (1769-1833), The History of Persia, from the Most Early Period to the Present Time, vol. 2 (London: J. Murray, 1815), p. 551.

Image credit: ‘Fath ‘Ali Shah Qajar and his court’ (20th century), oil on canvas.  Depicting the Qajar ruler, Fath ‘Ali Shah, in full regalia, seated on a bejewelled floor spread in the middle of a courtly interior, flanked by his sons and advisors standing on his sides, the subject and composition echoing 19th-century Qajar oil paintings, the reduced scale and naive pictorial quality aligned with the 20th-century Iranian production of ‘Coffee House Paintings’; photo and text, Chiswick Auctions.


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