Medieval partygoers loved spectacles, and every decent feast would contain pranks such as dwarves leaping out of giant pies, or jesters climbing onto the dinner table and burying their heads into tubs of custard. But one joke performance went tragically awry in 1394 Paris. It was a wedding feast attended by the young French King Charles VI, who was given to fits of madness, and his long-suffering queen, Isabel.

One of the groom’s friends, a known party animal from Normandy named Hugonin de Guisay, decided to entertain the ladies by dressing himself and five accomplices (including the loopy king himself) as “Wildmen,” or savages. In secret, they donned their inventive outfits: Each man wore a linen body-stocking coated in resin and covered with flax to look like… More…