If you've encountered the word motley, it's most likely in the phrase "motley crew," which means a diverse and poorly organized group. Think of a band of pirates, or the assorted characters who became The Fellowship of the Ring.
In contemporary usage, motley can be used in virtually any context as a synonym for mismatched, heterogeneous, or ragtag. But the word was first used to describe multicolored fabric, especially the type of material used in a jester's costume. This distinctive apparel was a sign of the fool's place outside the class system — and, in the Elizabethan era, it signified that the jester was beyond the sumptuary laws that determined who could wear what. Thus, the fool had the exceptional ability to speak freely, even to royalty.