Foolish Endeavours: Lady Matilda’s Guide to All Fool’s Day Pranks

My darlings, Lady Matilda here with you again! I’ve been busy writing my column, attending dinners and masses, and investigating the latest trends for you, my readers. I’ve also been looking through all of the letters you’ve sent in, asking for my help, particularly about All Fool’s Day, so I decided to address your questions and concerns in an article.

All Fool’s Evening, or April Fool’s Day. A source of great fun but, pushed too far, also a path to eternal damnation. Where do you draw the line between harmless and hellish? We at Lady Matilda’s are here to help!

 

Tradition

(Tres Riche Heures du Duc de Berry)

Whether you believe the day originated with soldiers mocking our most revered Lord Jesus Christ as He hung on the cross, or the Roman myth about Ceres searching foolishly for her kidnapped daughter Persephone (or even if you believe that Chaucer boy and his ludicrous claims about becoming a writer), the day is here.

On a day when the natural social order is temporarily upended, knowing that all will be returned to its rightful place at the end of the day is a comfort that will let you sleep at night despite the horrible tricks you’ve played on people. And you can either throw yourself in and have some fun, or grab your bible, adopt a stern expression, and wander the streets lecturing people about the eternal torment of hell that awaits any who pull a prank.

At Lady M’s, we say let’s have some fun!

Pranks to Try

In these days of shortage and infection, it’s natural to want to shy away from any disease-related amusement. But humour is good for health, as those clever Greeks discovered, and will benefit those suffering from a dose of the Black Death or a bout of famine.

Screen Shot 2018-03-21 at 13.51.38 Offer friends who have the plague crushed green glass instead of real emeralds as a treatment. They won’t be cured but they’ll have a good laugh.

(Li Livres dou Sante by Aldobrandino of Siena)

Screen Shot 2018-03-21 at 13.51.38 Replace the Prior’s ‘personal’ supply of communion wine with water. Drop hints throughout the day that you feel God’s anger and wonder aloud if there’ll be any retribution.

Screen Shot 2018-03-21 at 13.51.38 Hide a wooden snake in a local merchant’s turnip display. This will put a quick end to Lady Agnes’ interminable lectures about picking the perfect turnip, and the accompanying, quite unnecessary, turnip fondling.

Screen Shot 2018-03-21 at 13.51.38 An idea from our Scottish cousins: send your least favourite child (or a bothersome neighbour’s child) on an errand to deliver a note to a neighbour. On the paper write “Send this foolish child to another neighbour with this letter.” See how many people the child visits before realising he or she’s been made fun of.

Screen Shot 2018-03-21 at 13.51.38 Tell your maid the sumptuary laws have JUST changed, and that the wives or daughters of servants ARE now allowed to wear veils greater than 12 pence in value. See if she can avoid the sheriff before the day is out!

(Bestiary Bodleian Library MS Bodley 764 Folio)

Screen Shot 2018-03-21 at 13.51.38 Replace your husband’s badger fur belt (according to the lovely Hildegard von Bingen, ‘dangerous illness will not fall upon you’ when badger is worn) with one made from a less efficacious animal, like a hamster or a mouse. (Sometimes a good wife can use a prank to also send a message…)

Screen Shot 2018-03-21 at 13.51.38 For those in larger cities, sneak into the cathedral at night and remove a relic from its reliquary. In its place leave a note saying the relic was borrowed by the Pope.

(Tacuinum Sanitatis)

Screen Shot 2018-03-21 at 13.51.38 Create fake buboes using bread dough and put them on your unsuspecting target’s underarms using a bit of honey. Wake your victim and wait for the laughter! (Extra laughs can be had by putting too much black pepper in your victim’s food and convincing them the inevitable sneezing is actually the pestilence, or using an emetic to induce harmless vomiting).

A Warning!

(La Prinse et Mort du Roy Richart, BL MS Harley 1319 f. 12)

Take heed when performing some of these pranks, for not everyone will enjoy them in the spirit in which they’re meant. Not everyone will happily accept the role of fool on this day, particularly the Bishop, who will do his best to maintain the correct order and stop any pranks before they start. Especially if his wine is involved. And getting caught sneaking into cathedrals at night may result in additional penance and over-long sermons for at least the next two months.

But with a little advance planning, and a modicum of caution, there’s no reason to abstain. Have a little fun, but remember: while you’re making others YOUR fool, who is making you THEIR fool?

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