BOOK REVIEW - NICK PAGE - LORD MINIMUS 2001. Harper-Collins.

 

The amazing and well-researched biography of Jeffrey Hudson, Queen Henrietta's Dwarf jester who became a cavalry officer as the English Civil War broke out, and got shipwrecked, and kidnapped by pirates twice.

I tried the Jeffrey Hudson Beer brewed in his home town of Oakham at a beer festival in Stockport recently too, great beer and a very moving book about a man reduced to a plaything and then becoming a forgotten hero. Jeffrey was up until that time, the smallest man who had ever lived. He was only eighteen inches tall. 

The Stuart Court were fond of curios and so a freak like Jeffrey was naturally one of the wonders they simply had to own. He was bought from his family by the Duke Of Buckingham ad presented to King Charles and Queen Henrietta at a banquet where Jeffrey jumped out of a pork pie. 

At the court, despite the national crisis going on around them, the Royals spent vast fortunes on plays, masques and other entertainments. Jeffrey took part in many such plays, often stage-managed by Inigo Jones.  When the Queen miscarried her first child, Jeffrey was one of a party of people sent to France to secure the services of a new midwife. On the way back he was kidnapped and held to ransom, but quickly released.  Back at court, Jeffrey met other dwarfs, a pet monkey (which appears with him in a portrait. A giant, the Country’s tallest man, used to take Jeffrey out of his pocket to entertain everyone. An attempt to add the oldest living man (reputed to be one hundred and fifty) to the Court list of curious proved disastrous as the poor man died of the exhaustion caused by being herded around on display soon after he arrived.

As the war went on, the decadence of the court faded to grim reality of death and destruction. Jeffrey accompanied the Queen everywhere, even coming under intense fire from the Roundhead Army.

As the war turned against the Royalists, the Queen retreated back to France, taking Jeffrey with her. There, at a time when duelling was being outlawed, Jeffrey got into duel with a man called Crofts, and shot him dead. For fear of revenge attacks, and to keep the peace for her own court Queen Henrietta banished the dwarf. His bad fortune was only just starting. Trying to return to England, he was captured by Barbary Coast Pirates, (his second piracy adventure). He was sold into the Turkish slave trade and languished there forgotten for twenty-five years. Rescued at last as part of a general campaign against the slave trade, he returned home to Oakham. The new Duke Of Buckingham granted him a modest pension. In 1676, he went back to London. Once again, bad luck and bad timing were to condemn him. He arrived at the height of the Popish Plot when Titus Oates had spread malicious rumours of a vast Catholic scheme to overthrow the King. Hysteria led to known Catholics being imprisoned. Jeffrey was a well-known Catholic friend of the Catholic Queen Henrietta (now deceased). He found himself cast ignobly into Westminster Gatehouse jail. He was released on Royal pardon with a compensation payment of £50 from Charles 2cd, followed by a further £20 a few years later. Jeffrey Hudson died, a broken frail old man, in poverty in 1681 0r 1682. The exact date is unrecorded. The World’s smallest man had the most exciting of all big adventures, but no happy ending awaited him. A truly incredible story, and a truly amazing book that deserves to be filmed.

 

If you find a bar serving Oakham’s Jeffrey Hudson beer, drink one or more, in his honour.  www.fireandwater.com

 

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