Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Jeffrey Hudson - Lord Minimus
The tale of tiny Jeffrey Hudson is unique, to say the least. The tiny man famously known as ‘Lord Minimus’ and considered one of the ‘wonders of the age’ was a member of the royal court, fought in the English civil war, killed a man in an illegal duel, was eventually reviled and spent over 25 years as a slave.
Jeffrey Hudson was born to average sized parents in England’s smallest county, Rutlan, on June 14, 1619. His three brothers and half sister were all of average height and Jeffrey’s tiny, yet perfectly proportioned, dimensions quickly became apparent. His father tended the cattle of the Duke of Buckingham, George Villers, 1st and on his seventh birthday young Jeffrey Hudson was presented before the Duchess of Buckingham as a ‘fine rarity of nature’. The Duchess was so smitten the little man who stood only 18 inches tall that she invited him to join the household. His father approved.
Only a few months after joining the household, the Duke and Duchess entertained King Charles and Queen Henrietta in London. At the climax of the celebration, during an opulent banquet, a pie was placed before the Queen. Jeffrey arose from the crust of the pie dressed in tiny suit of armour to the shock of all in attendance. The Queen was known as a collector of rarities and simply had to add Jeffrey to her collection. Jeffrey was invited into the Queen’s royal household and, in 1626, he accepted by moving into Denmark House in London.
Jeffrey was one of several human marvels residing in Denmark House. The Welsh giant William Evans was among his housemates, as were two other dwarves. It is important to note that dwarves were not an uncommon sight in royal courts of Europe, but Jeffrey’s dwarfism was rare and unique. His perfect proportions were likely due to hypopituitarism, a lack of growth hormone, giving him the appearance of a man in miniature. In carnival slang he was a midget, in medical and correct terms he was a pituitary dwarf. Jeffrey proved to be a charming, humorous and light-hearted boy and he quickly became the Queen’s favourite member of court and a favourite of artisans and writers. In fact, he was celebrated in several poems and narratives during his early years.
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 and he learned to ride a horse and shoot a pistol. He was originally something of a jester but as he grew older, and displayed examples of intellect and cunning, he began to serve the court in diplomatic affairs. In 1630 he was included in a mission to the Queen’s home nation of France and in 1637 he travelled to the Netherlands to observe the siege of Breda.
By 1642 the relationship between King Charles and the Parliament had deteriorated and armed conflict broke out between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians. As Charles led the Royalist army, the Queen and Hudson returned to the Netherlands to raise money and support for King Charles. When they returned to England, they found it in the midst of a full-blown civil war.
They were able to join Royalist forces at Oxford and there the Queen appointed Hudson a ‘Captain of Horse’ rank and Captain Jeffrey Hudson presumably commanded troops in cavalry raids orchestrated by Prince Rupert.
By 1643 it became apparent that England was no longer safe for the Queen and Hudson escorted her to France and later he helped establish a new court in exile at Nevers. By this time Hudson had shed his previous clownish reputation and he took his rank and social position quite seriously. He tolerated no insults or entertainment at his expense and when insulted by the brother of William Crofts he challenged the man to a duel. Hudson chose pistols on horseback and shot Crofts through the head. Despite winning the duel, the episode proved to be the downfall of Hudson. Duelling was illegal in France and the murder of Crofts was regarded as a transgression again the hospitality of France. Adding to that William Crofts, who served as the Queen’s Master of Horse and head of her lifeguard, was livid and petitioned the Queen to administer justice. The Queen herself was both embarrassed and outraged by Hudson’s outburst and subsequently expelled Hudson from her court.
Hudson’s life continued its downward spiral and shortly after leaving the court in 1643 he was aboard a ship captured by Barbary pirates. The Muslim pirates were well known for raiding the coasts and shipping lanes of Western Europe for plunder and slaves and, as was their custom with European captives, Hudson was taken to North Africa as a slave. There he spent the next 25 years of his life labouring.
The date and circumstances of his rescue are not known but in the 1660’s several missions were sent from England to Algeria and Tunis to ransom English captives. During one of these routine ransom missions Captain Jeffrey Hudson was likely amongst a group of slaves release was negotiated for. His first documented presence back in England was in 1669.
Upon his return, Hudson was a changed man. Most remarkable was that during his captivity he had added forty-five inches to his height. Such growth spurts are not unheard of in cases of pituitary dwarfism but the added height was not a blessing to Hudson as he was now simply a short man and not a tiny miracle.
Few records of Hudson's years between 1669 and his death in 1682 exist, likely due to the fact that he was no longer a marvel. It is evident that he received a few grants of money from the Duke of Buckingham and the new King, Charles II. In 1676 he personally returned to London seeking a pension from the royal court. His timing was again disastrous as he arrived during a period of great anti-Catholic activity. He was imprisoned at the Gatehouse prison for the ‘crime’ of being Roman Catholic and he was not released until 1680.
The ‘wonder of the age’ Captain Jeffrey Hudson died only a couple of years later, a penniless pauper. The exact date and circumstances of his passing, and his place of burial remain unknown.