British town appoints first jester in 700 years

Agence France-Presse
An Aston Villa jester's hat is displayed prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Everton at Villa Park on May 2, 2015 in Birmingham, England.
Clive Mason

A small British town has appointed its first resident jester in more than 700 years, naming him in an elaborate medieval ceremony.

Russel Erwood was officially dubbed Erwyd le Fol (French for 'fool') during an event in the main square in Conwy, north Wales, on Sunday which included falconry, knights and a parade.

The 34-year-old had to complete three challenges to get the job: juggling daggers blindfolded, balancing a sword on his chin and making a gold coin disappear during a conjuring trick.

Erwood followed his tasks by balancing a blazing barbecue on a wooden pole down by the town's quayside, a stunt known as "The Burning Brushes of Beelzebub".

Jesters were entertainers and travelling performers employed by noblemen to amuse them and their guests as well as local townsfolk with magic tricks, juggling, music and storytelling.

The market town's previous jester -- Tom le Fol -- was appointed by King Edward I of England, who was besieged by the Welsh within the town walls over the winter of 1294-1295.

"It's a huge honour to take up the role of town jester -- there aren't that many around," Erwood, a professional magician and circus performer, told AFP.

Erwood undertook his trials under the watchful eye of an executioner equipped with a large medieval axe to administer justice in case the postulant failed any of his tasks.

"It was quite intimidating -- he wasn't a small chap," Erwood said.

Erwood will sport a hood with donkey ears as part of his traditional 13th-century jester's outfit when he attends official functions.

He will perform tricks around the town while putting on two shows a day, three days a week until August 29.

Toby Tunstall, chairman of the Conwy chamber of trade employing Erwood, was delighted with the appointment, which they hope will boost local businesses.

"Jesters were always more than just entertainers, they were a recognised figure within the community and as such the appointment of a town jester was never taken lightly," said Tunstall.

"Erwyd embraces the town's past and is extremely passionate about its future. He's everything a town jester should be."