Roland the Farter: The Medieval Flatulist

Roland the Farter, known by various names in historical records such as Roland le Fartere, Roulandus le Fartere, Rollandus le Pettus, or Roland le Petour, was a unique figure in twelfth-century England.

He earned his keep as a jester for King Henry II and was granted Hemingstone manor in Suffolk along with 30 acres (12 hectares) of land in exchange for his entertaining services. Each Christmas, Roland had the rather peculiar duty of performing for the king’s court, involving “Unum saltum et siffletum et unum bumbulum,” which translated to one jump, one whistle, and one fart.

Roland’s name can be found in the thirteenth-century English Liber Feodorum, also known as the Book of Fees.

As for his personal life, there are no surviving records detailing Roland’s family or spouse. After Roland passed away, the ownership of Hummingstone Manor was transferred to his son, Hubert de Afleton. Hubert, in turn, had two children, Jeffery and Agnes. During the reign of King Richard I (1189-1199), Jeffery inherited the manor from his father. In the year 1205, Alexander de Brompton and his wife Agnes, who was Jeffrey’s sister and Roland’s granddaughter, held the manor.

It’s worth noting that Roland’s association with King Henry II dates back to 1159 when the king confirmed the transfer of the specific fee. This makes it somewhat unclear whether Roland’s performances were exclusive to King Henry II or if he entertained other monarchs as well. Some sources even suggest that King Henry I may have been so delighted with Roland’s talents that he rewarded him with a house and 99 acres of land in Suffolk.

Roland’s tenure of his manor and lands was based on a form of serjeanty (a form of land ownership under the feudal system, where a family held an estate in exchange for rendering a service to their liege lord). According to the Liber Feodurum or Book of Fees, Roland, in fulfillment of his serjeanty, was required to perform annually on his master’s birthday, which was King Henry II, one jump, one fart, and one whistle.

This particular serjeanty, once held by Roland the Farter in Hemingston, Suffolk, obligating him to perform these unique acts every year on the king’s birthday, was eventually transferred in accordance with these specific requirements.

Roland’s Wealth…

In addition to Hemingstone Manor, Roland had also been granted 110 acres of land in Suffolk. In historical context, a knight’s fee typically consisted of 5 hides, with each hide varying in size but generally ranging from 100 to 110 acres. This places Roland’s fee at the equivalent of one hide. Furthermore, it’s worth noting that a farmer with a house typically held around 30 acres, while those residing in cottages had approximately 5 acres. Therefore, it can be argued that Roland’s fee was indeed considered substantial and generous by the standards of the time.

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