Half pay

This account of the French jester Marais interceding, on behalf of two court musicians, is strikingly similar to an anecdote told about a Chinese jester some 500 years before at the court of Song Huizong 宋徽宗 (r. 1100-26).  In both cases, it was a question of half-pay, with the jester successfully persuading the ruler to revert to full pay.  In the one case, it was on behalf of musicians, and in the other, mandarins; yet the technique, using a skit to act out a funny scenario, was the same. 

Two musicians of Louis XIII (r. 1610-43) had angered the king, apparently serving him rather badly, and he halved their pay as punishment.  His jester Marais arranged for the musicians to appear in a masque before the king.  They were only half clothed and the king asked the meaning of this. They answered that people who were on half-pay only half-dressed themselves.  The king laughed and they were in favour again. 

Louis XIII, rebuté des débauches de Moulinier et de Justice, deux des musiciens de la chappelle, qui ne le servoient pas trop bien, leur fit retrencher la moitié de leurs appointements. Marais leur donna une invention pour les faire rétablir. Ils allèrent avec lui au petit coucher danser une mascarade demi-habillés. Qui avoit un pourpoint n’avoit point de haut-de-chausses. “Que veut dire cela?” dit le roy. “C’est, Sire, répondirent-ils, que les gens qui n’ont que la moitié de leurs appointements ne s’habillent aussi que la moitié.” Le roy en rit et les reprit en gràce.


Source: Gédéon Tallemant des Réaux (1619-92), Historiettes, quoted in A. Canel, Recherches Historiques sur les Fous des Rois de France (Paris: Kemerre, 1873), p. 239.

Image credit: Reinhold Timm, ‘Christian IV’s Musicians’ (c. 1622), oil; courtesy Rosenborg Castle, Copenhagen, public domain.



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