Dundonald Castle Rebuild Unveiled!

Oh Ye! Oh Ye! The Town crier was out yesterday in the village of Dundonald to help announce our wonderful news as the celebrations continue for us in this 650th anniversary year of Dundonald Castle – the Castle has at last been completed!

Unveiling of the completed building works took place yesterday when FODC volunteers and staff celebrated, with local dignitaries, who cut the giant ribbon by socially-distanced punctilio!

 “This is a remarkable achievement given that the roof and surrounding walls had been removed in the 16th century to furnish the building of nearby Old Auchans, and it’s been a huge effort by the local builders and the whole team to enable this restoration” said spokesperson Jess Schteur.

As you can see from the photo taken yesterday afternoon, we can confirm that the castle and the surrounding walls have been restored to their former glory – much like the way it would’ve been when Robert II rebuilt it utilising the west gate house of his great grandfather, Alexander the 4th High Steward of Scotland’s enormous structure which had been here c.1240-1298.

This had been one of the first and largest tower-house castles in Scotland which we think Robert II designed to be personal space for him and his large family to enjoy Dundonald’s beautiful scenery and surrounding wooded glens. It was however built for protection, as you can see, with both an inner and outer courtyard where a heavily guarded entrance  ensured the utmost security for Scotland’s king, making it almost impassable without permission!

Sorry…Our court jester is here to tell you this is fake news!–I It’s our April Fool’s!

We wish of course, that it was true, but for now we will just be satisfied to be able to open again once more to  allow our visitors to explore this fascinating place built by Robert II and his family of (at least) 21 children – 3 of which were named Walter – this is actually true – not an April fool!

“Satire must always accompany any free society. It is an absolute necessity. Even in the most repressive medieval kingdoms, they understood the need for the court jester, the one soul allowed to tell the truth through laughter.”

 Joe Randazzo

We’ve no real evidence to suggest that Robert II was a repressive medieval ruler, but we’re sure that Dundonald Castle would have been no stranger to the importance of foolery; just as we have comedy- it’s highly likely that Robert II would have had a fool in his household to help lighten the load! It seems that starting in medieval times, and continuing up until the Renaissance, a court jester played comic roles such as acting as a mock king in traditional fool’s clothing or habit de fou which had an exceptionally short tunic, a hood with bells, and multi-coloured tights to show who he was – with the later addition of donkey’s ears being added to complete the look!

Jester comes from the French gestour meaning itinerant story-teller who would generally sing out a story to the accompaniment of music. For us, this conjures up more of an image of a medieval minstrel rather than that of a fool, but their function as fairly high status court entertainers seems to have been pretty much the same as that of minstrels.  However, a court jester would have been part of the royal household rather than being part of a visiting troupe of travelling entertainers. He may also be considered a rather pointless addition to the royal household, neither a knight nor a cook, and that laughter was his only provision. However if we might imagine him to be a bit of a social charmer tasked with keeping the winter nights alight with merriment in the darkest days where food and warmth were scarcer, and especially important if castles were fraught with worry in times of war. In other words, the role of the jester would be an important position to help enhance morale.

On one of our information boards on the walkway inside Dundonald castle, education groups usually point and laugh at the picture of the jester which has been included in the illustrations to show what the castle would have been like in its days as a royal household. We like to tell them that this man dressed in very silly clothing was often one of the king’s most trusted household members – indeed the fool or jester could tread around safely into practically any part of the castle without arousing suspicion, and by doing so could be party to conversations which might alert the king to sculduggery afoot in his castle! In other words, his foolery was an act as all humour requires intelligence to pull off, and we might also conclude that medieval society valued humour highly if they sponsored the residency of a fool. Moreover,they were often highly talented in acrobatics, performing magic tricks, recitals, acting out stories, playing of musical instruments and singing.

It’s also likely that the jester could be something of a scapegoat – when news which may well upset the king arrived it would have been given over to the jester to deliver, as all else were afraid the news might anger the king and weaken any  social position or even lead to their untimely demise! It was the Jester who took the steps others feared to tread! The Jester often also had the role of wine-taster – to ensure the king’s wine wasn’t poisoned – so it was within his best interests to know who the king’s enemies might be, hence he was likely to have taken his listening into conversations as a life or death situation for himself, as well as the king!

According to research by author Karen Maitland (BBC History Extra magazine) both English Kings, Edward II and Edward III, had a succession of fools they all named ‘Robert’ regardless of what their real names were! Might we assume this was because Edward II, and his father Edward I both had trouble with ‘Roberts’’? Firstly, even though Edward I had painstakingly prepared to stop any coronation ever happening in Scotland by absconding with the Scottish crowning stone and ceremonial regalia,as we know, Robert I became king anyway in 1306, and with the Scots decisive defeat at Bannockburn in 1314 in Scotland’s First War of Independence, Robert I would have become a major thorn in the side to Edward II.

Secondly, before becoming king in 1371, Robert, as 7th High Steward of Scotland, was involved in the Battle of Halidon Hill near Berwick-upon-Tweed  in 1333 between Scotland and England as one of the main leaders, with Edward III, himself only 14 years old, yet commanding the English forces. Robert was only 17 years of age and so it’s likely they would’ve become bitter enemies from a young age, hence Robert II may well have been part of the reason for Edward III continuing the family tradition of naming his fools Robert as a satirical insult!

Historically April Fool’s Day was especially popular in Scotland where it became a two-day event, starting with ‘hunting the gowk’, (gowk meaning ‘cuckoo’ or ‘fool’) which entailed sending people on fake errands to find the gowk saying: “Dinna laugh, dinna smile. Hunt the gowk another mile.” The recipient would pass the message on to another person, and so on. This was followed byTailie Day, which involved playing pranks on people such as attaching pretend tails to their breaches!

Sources:

“Former ‘Onion’ editor: Freedom of speech cannot be killed” by Joe Randazzo, www.msnbc.com. January 7, 2015

https://www.historyextra.com/period/medieval/what-was-life-like-for-a-court-jester/

https://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/April-Fools-Day-1st-April/

Ştefan Borbély. 2006. ”The Court Jester: Anthropology and Power”. Caietele Echinox Journal.  10:275-281:  https://www.ceeol.com/search/article-detail?id=185889

Images:

Cover image by Marysia Kolodziej for FODC

Jester image background: by Jason Robertson: Jester by Image by federicopusimedda from Pixabay: Image manipulation by Gwen Sinclair for FODC