RIBALD, a word now only used in the sense of jeering, irreverent, abusive, particularly applied to the uses of low, offensive or mocking jests. It has an interesting early history, of which Du Cange (Gloss, s.v. Ribaldi) gives a full account. It is one of those words, like the Greek rvpavvos, an unconstitutional ruler, and the Latin latro, a hired soldier, mercenary, later robber, which have acquired a degraded and evil significance. The ribaldi were light-armed soldiers, on whom fell the duty of being first in attack, the enfans perdus or " forlorn hope " of the armies of the French kings; thus Rigordus, in his contemporary history of the reign of Philip Augustus, for the year 1189, speaks of the Ribaldi . . . qui primes impetus in expuguandis munitionibus facere consueverunl. Later we find the ribaldi among the rabble of camp-followers of an army, and Giovanni Villani, in his 16th-century Chronicle (n, 139), speaks of ribaldi et i raguazzi del hoste, and Froissart of the ribaux as the lowest ranks in an army. Ribaldus (ribaut) was thus a common name for everything ruffianly and abandoned, and Matthew Paris (Ann. 1251) says: Fures, exules, fugilivi, excommunicati, quos omnes Ribaldos Francia vulgariter consuevit appellare. The name (ribaldae or ribaldi) was particularly applied to prostitutes, brothel-keepers and all who frequent haunts of vice, and there was at the French court from the 12th century an official, known as Rex Ribaldorum, king of the ribalds, changed in the reign of Charles VI. to Praeposilus Hospitii Regis, whose duty was to investigate and hold judicial inquiry into all crimes committed within the precincts of the court, and control vagrants, prostitutes, brothels and gambling-houses. The etymology of the word has been much discussed, and no certainty can be arrived at. The termination aid points to a Teutonic origin, and connexion has been suggested with O.H.Ger. Hripd, M.H.Ger. Ribe, prostitute, with Ger. reiben, rub, or with rauben, rob. Neither Skeat nor the New English Dictionary find any relation to the English " bawd," procuress, pander.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)