April Fools’ Day Isn’t Over Yet…
…but there’s only one hour left before I won’t be able to publish this article,which is about the origin of All Fools’ Day, known today as April Fools’ Day, on April 1st, a failure that could have dire consequences. I thought this would be an easy job but it turns out that April Fools’ Day isn’t that easy to pin down.
The earliest written record of April Fools’ Day (it is plural, of course, so the apostrophe follows the “s”) in English can be found in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, except for the fact that Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales are actually written in Middle English rather than the modern English we speak today. A further confusion is that an ancient typographical error makes it seem that Chaucer actually put All Fool’s Day 32 days after March, which would have put the non-holiday back to May 2 instead of April 1, which was the date of Richard II’s marriage to Anne of Bohemia in 1381, which did not bode well for either of them. Anne died childless in 1394 at the age of 28, never having produced an heir. Richard’s second wife, Isabella of Valois, was married to Richard in 1396, when she was six, only to be widowed four years later, after Richard was overthrown by the man who then became Henry IV….but all these misfortunes date back to May 2, 1381, when Richard married the ill-fated and childless Anne, whom – in an even further irony – he appeared to have loved quite deeply since he apparently became unhinged after her death. Why else would he consent to marry a six year-old who could not give him an heir who would then secure his throne.
Things like this happen in monarchies. As long as Richard was childless, any number of other noblemen could plot schemes to overthrow the incumbent and replace him but, once he was a father to male child, that male child would inherit if someone else were to depose the king, and it all tracks back to the botched April Fools joke that Chaucer attempted to play on his readers, which appears to have been thwarted by the typographical error that made it seem as if Chaucer had placed the marriage of Richard and Anne on April 1st instead of May 2nd, which is when it really took place.
Are you still with us here? Well, it turns out that, despite all these opinions, Chaucer had nothing to do with placing All Fool’s Day on April 1st. Further delving (into Wikipedia, of course; where else?) reveals that April’s Fools Day dates back to the Roman feast of Hilaria (from which we get the word hilarious) which was usually celebrated on the March 25, which through some complex calculation known only to ancient Romans, somehow got celebrated on April 2nd…not April 1. Go figure.
Regardless of the ancient history, the modern history of the day dictates that when an April Fools’ Day joke is played upon you, and you fall for it, you then become the April Fool, until you manage to fool someone else, who then takes the next turn as the Fool, until either noon or midnight (the accounts differ) at which point whomever is left holding the bag becomes the Fool for the entire year, until April 1 come around again, and which point he or she becomes the first to play the Fool’s joke in that go-round.
Of course, the flaw in this system is that no one ever remembered who was the last Fool from the previous year and, therefore, unless the Fool revealed himself, the holiday could not be celebrated. Someone always let the cat out of th bag though, usually someone with a grudge against the previous year’s final fool.
One of the most classic of all April Fools’ Day pranks was the annual washing of lions at the Tower of London in England. There really were lions in the Tower of London from around 1199 to 1835, when the Royal Menagerie was finally disbanded and the remaining residents, now scrawny and threadbare were disbursed to the four corners of the kingdom. Needless to say, no one ever washed the lions, but that didn’t stop fun-minded Londoners from printing up and distributing the phony tickets to the phony event, nor did it stop long lines of gullible visitors – no Londoner would get caught dead doing this – from lining up and demanding to see the washing of the lions brandishing the tickets for which some of them had paid good money.
Did you remember that the sigil of King Richard the First was, of course, three lions rampant on a crimson field, and that his nickname was Richard the Lion-Hearted?
So here’s my dilemma. If no one reads this before midnight, having set myself the task of recounting the history of April Fools’ Day by virtue of not having found anyone to fool, I become the first April Fool next year.
I should live so long, if not longer.
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