Stańczyk (c. 1480–1560) was the most famous court jester in Polish history. He is remembered as a man of great intelligence and a political philosopher gifted with formidable insight into Poland’s current and future situation. He used his job to criticize and warn his contemporaries through satire. His witty jokes often pertained to current political or court matters.

The best known anecdote about Stańczyk is that of a hunting incident. In 1533 King Sigismund the Old had a huge bear brought for him from Lithuania. The bear was released in the forest of Niepołomice near Kraków so that the king could hunt it. During the hunt, the animal charged at the king, the queen and their courtiers which caused panic and mayhem. Queen Bona fell from her horse which resulted in her miscarriage. Later, the king criticized Stańczyk for having run away instead of attacking the bear. The jester is said to have replied that ‘it is a greater folly to let out a bear that was locked in a cage.’ This remark is often interpreted as an allusion to the king’s policy toward Prussia which was defeated by Poland but not fully incorporated into the Crown.


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