History of the Worthies of England by Thomas Fuller (1662)


Memorable persons.


Page 47


THOMAS TARLTON. My intelligence of the certainty of his birth-place, coming too late, (confessed by the *marginal mark) I fix him here, who indeed was born at Condover in the neighbouring County of Shrap-shire, where still some of his Name and Relations remain. Here he was in the field keeping his Fathers Swine, when a Servant of Robert Earl of Leicester (passing this way to his Lords Lands in his Barony of Denbighe) was so highly pleased with his happy unhappy answers, that he brought him to Court, where he became the most famous Jester to Queen Elizabeth.

Many condemn his (vocation I cannot term it, for it is a coming without a calling) Imployment as unwarrantable. Such maintain, that it is better to be a Fool of Gods making, born so into the World, or a Fool of Mans making jeered into it by general Dirision, than a Fool of one’s own making, by his voluntary affecting thereof. Such say also, he had better continued in his Trade of Swine-keeping, which (though more painful, and less profitable) his conscience changed to loss, for a Jesters place in the Court, who, of all men have the hardest account to make for every idle word that they abundantly utter.

Others alledge in excuse of their Practises; That Princes in all Ages were allowed their 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉 whose Virtue consisted in speaking any thing without control: That Jesters often heal what Flatterers hurt, so that Princes, by them arive at the notice of their Errors, seeing Jesters carry about with them an Act of Indemnity for whatsoever they say or do: That Princes over-burdered with States-business must have their Diversions, and that those words, are not censurable for absolutely idle, which lead to lawful delight.

Our Tarlton was Master of his Faculty. When Queen Elizabeth was serious (I dare not say sullen) and out of good humour, he could un-dumpish her at his pleasure. Her highest Favorites, would in some Cases, go to Tarleton, before they would go to the Queen, and he was their Vsher to prepare their advantagious access unto Her. In a word He told the Queen more of her faults, than most of her Chaplains, and cured her Melancholy better than all of her Physicians.

Much of his merriment lay in his very looks and actions, according to the Epitaph written upon him

Hic •…itus est cujus poterat vox, actio, vultus,

Ex Heraclito reddere Democritum.

Indeed the self same words, spoken by another, would hardly move a merry man to smile, which uttered by him, would force a sad soul to laughter.

This is to be reported to his praise, that his Jests never were prophane, scurrilous, nor Satyrical, neither trespassing on Piety, Modesty, or Charity, as in which plurimum inerat salis, mu•…tum aceti, aliquid sinapis, nihil veneni. His death may proportionably be assigned, about the end of Queen Elizabeth.


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