Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Sir Jeffery Hudson

Sir Jeffery Hudson was an English court dwarf at the court of Queen Henrietta Maria. He was famous as the "Queen's dwarf" and "Lord Minimus", and was considered one of the "wonders of the age" because of his extreme but well-proportioned smallness. He fought with the Royalists in the English Civil War and fled with the Queen to France but was expelled from her court when he killed a man in a duel. He was captured by Barbary pirates and spent 25 years as a slave in North Africa before being ransomed back to England.

Jeffrey was baptised in Oakham in Rutland on 14 June 1619. His parents, three brothers, and a half-sister were all of 'normal size.' Hudson's father John was keeper of George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham's baiting bulls. Jeffrey's marvellous smallness and normal proportions became apparent in early childhood.

On his seventh birthday, in 1626 Jeffrey Hudson was presented to the Duchess of Buckingham as a "rarity of nature" and she invited him to join the household. A few months later the Duke and Duchess entertained King Charles and his young French wife, Queen Henrietta Maria in London. The climax of the lavish banquet was the presentation of Jeffrey to the Queen, served in a large pie. When the pie was placed in front of the Queen, Jeffrey arose from the crust, 18 inches tall and perhaps dressed in a miniature suit of armour. The Queen was delighted and the Duke and Duchess of Buckingham offered Hudson to her as an amusing gift.

Jeffrey moved into Denmark House in London in late 1626, where the Queen maintained her royal household. He was one of several natural curiosities and pets, among whom were a giant Welsh porter named William Evans, two disproportionate dwarfs, and a monkey called Pug. Jeffrey was educated in the Queen's household and learned the manners of the court. He was brought up in the Roman Catholic Church of her household. He learned to ride a horse and shoot a pistol.

Jeffrey learned to amuse and entertain with his wit and courtly behaviour as well as his appearance. Dwarfs were not rare in the courts of Europe but Jeffrey's fine proportions and tiny size made him uniquely famous. His size was repeatedly described as 18 or 19 inches and he is reported to have grown little between 7 and 30 years of age. He was often cast in picturesque roles in the elaborate costumed masques which were staged by Inigo Jones for the amusement of the court.

By 1640 the relationship between King Charles and the Parliament had deteriorated to the point of plots and attempted arrests. Armed conflict broke out between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians in 1642. As Charles led the Royalist army, the Queen took a small number of her retinue, including Hudson, to the Netherlands to raise money and support for him. By selling articles from her palace she raised enough to buy some supplies for the Royalist army but was unsuccessful in obtaining official support from the Protestant Dutch government. She returned to England with her courtiers and they found themselves in the middle of a civil war.

They were able to join Royalist forces at Oxford. The Queen appointed Hudson a "Captain of Horse." It is not known whether he commanded troops or saw combat in one of Prince Rupert's cavalry raids, but he considered the appointment an honour rather than a joke and later in life continued to style himself Captain Jeffrey Hudson.

As it became apparent that the war was broadening rather than concluding, the Queen fled to France in 1643 with a small group of courtiers and household staff, again including Hudson. Although they were warmly received in France and provided with space in the Louvre palace, the Queen was ailing after a difficult delivery and she soon moved her court in exile to the spa at Nevers.

Royalist courtiers collected around the Queen but Hudson apparently had no interest in resuming his role of pet or clown and let it be known he would suffer no more jokes or insults. There is no record of the precise offence offered, but in October, 1644, Hudson challenged the brother of William Crofts to a duel. Hudson chose pistols on horseback, and shot Crofts through the head. Crofts' death was a disaster for Hudson. Duelling had been outlawed in France and this could be considered a transgression against hospitality. Besides, Will Crofts was the Queen's Master of Horse and head of her lifeguard. She asked permission of the French to administer justice and expelled Hudson from her court.

Hudson's movements after leaving the Queen's court in late 1644 are unknown. Within months he was unlucky enough to be on a ship captured by the Barbary pirates. The Muslim corsairs raided the coasts and shipping of western Europe for plunder and slaves well into the 18th century. As was common with European captives, Hudson was taken to North Africa as a slave, where he spent perhaps his next 25 years labouring. The date and circumstances of his rescue or redemption are not known but it was in the 1660s that several missions were sent from England to Algeria and Tunis to ransom English captives, and his first documented presence back in England was in 1669.

The few contemporary records of Hudson's years between 1669 and his death in 1682 consist of a few receipts for grants of money from the Duke of Buckingham and the new King. He did not return to the Queen's court, even after the royal Restoration in 1660 and her return at the invitation of her son, Charles II.

Jeffrey Hudson lived in Oakham for several years, where he was interviewed and a short record of his life made, by an antiquarian named James Wright. In 1676 Hudson returned to London, perhaps to seek a pension from the royal court. He had the misfortune of arriving at a time of turbulent anti-Catholic activity and was imprisoned "for a considerable time" at the Gatehouse prison. Being a "Roman Catholick" was his only recorded offence, but he was not released until 1680. He died about two years later on an unknown date, in unknown circumstances, and was buried in an unknown grave.

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