Jane Foole was a 16th century court jester to Catherine Parr, Mary I, and possibly Anne Boleyn, and is the only female jester ever depicted. She features on the lefthand side of this portrait of Henry VIII and his family, whilst the King’s jester, Will Sommers, features on the right.
Even in a time when ‘the privileged amused themselves with dwarfs, the deformed, the disabled and the dimwitted to ridicule and to laugh at,’ a female jester is still particularly curious. Despite this, however, frustratingly little is known about Jane’s life. Other than the above portrait, the only proof of her existence lies only in The Privy Purse Expenses of Princess Mary. Indeed, until her death, Mary financially supported Jane, ensuring she was always well presented in the most fashionable dresses and shoes - over the course of 18 months she was gifted 36 pairs. Furthermore, Mary paid Jane sick pay during “the tyme of her seekness” in 1543, handsomely compensated a Mrs. Ager who cured Jane of an eye ailment in 1556, and paid for elaborate gifts for Jane’s ‘valentines’.
Undoubtedly Jane was better looked after than most women at court, however, she was also required to shave her head twice a month in a custom ordinary for male jesters, but which would have undoubtedly set Jane apart from other women. Unfortunately no records of what she did to entertain the Queens she served survive, but feigning stupidity whilst insulting one’s master, practical jokes, and making up funny stories, were all popular tricks of the trade amongst male jesters of the period and might indicate what Jane got up to as well.
[Sources: Jane Foole | On the Trail of Jane the Fool]