Jeffrey Hudson, friend and companion to Queen Henrietta Maria
Ann Stamper tells the story of the life of Jeffrey Hudson, who was friends with a Queen, killed a man who was armed with a water pistol and was kidnapped by pirates.
Ann Stamper: Hello. I’m Ann Stamper. I’m a gallery assistant at the National Maritime Museum.
To one side is a boy holding two dogs on a lead. His name was Jeffrey Hudson who became the friend and companion of Henrietta Maria, Queen of England.
On the 14 July in 1619 in the village of Oakham, Rutland, a boy was born to John Hudson, the local butcher and slaughterhouse man, and his wife Lucy. The baby was christened Jeffrey.
Soon after Jeffrey’s birth the Duke and Duchess of Buckingham bought a hunting lodge near Jeffrey’s home, an event which was to have a dramatic effect on his life.
It soon became apparent that Jeffrey was different from other children. He was intelligent, lively, perfectly formed and handsome. But he was not growing. By the time he was eight years old he was 18 inches or 46 cm tall. And his life was about to change.
Jeffrey was brought to the notice of the Duchess of Buckingham, who was entranced. And she brought him into her household.
In November 1726, when Jeffrey was seven, he left his home to travel with the Duke and Duchess to their impressive London home. A great celebration was planned and the guests of honour were to be Charles I and his wife Henrietta Maria.
The high point was the appearance of a huge pie, the crust of which was decorated and gilded. It was brought in by two men who placed it in front of the queen.
Henrietta looked at the pie in amazement and as she did so a tiny hand appeared at the top of the pie and the pastry was pushed away. Out stepped the beautifully clad Jeffrey Hudson. He bowed low to the Queen and pranced around the table.
From that moment Jeffrey Hudson’s life was transformed. He found himself living at the Royal Court, the adored and cosseted companion of the Queen of England.
In February 1630 the queen was expecting a child and a deputation, including Jeffrey, was dispatched to France to bring back a French midwife.
On their return to England the Barbary Corsairs, ruthless and greatly feared pirates, boarded their ship. The pirates soon realised that the terrified passengers were no ordinary people but part of the English Court. Therefore they merely helped themselves to many valuables and allowed all to continue to England.
This encounter with the pirates proved to be the precursor of a far more frightening experience for Jeffrey later in his life.
By 1640, when Jeffrey was 21, he was an excellent horseman, a very good marksman, and had a salary of £50 per annum – about £40,000 at today’s rate – from the King.
However dark clouds were gathering over England and Charles I and Henrietta Maria were facing catastrophe: civil war and eventually the death of Charles.
In 1642 it was decided that Henrietta should go to the safety of Holland and Jeffrey was among those who accompanied her. Once in Holland they were able to raise funds and buy armaments.
In February 1643 the queen, Jeffrey and the courtiers returned to England where the queen set up headquarters in Newark. Jeffrey Hudson, her most faithful friend and defender, was rewarded by becoming captain of horse.
In spring 1644 the king and queen parted, never to see each other again. The queen, Jeffrey, and her ladies, left for the safety of France where others joined them. Many of the young male exiles gambled and drank and constantly insulted and taunted Jeffrey.
Jeffrey then announced that he would challenge the next man who crossed his path to a duel. Charles Croft laughingly took up the challenge. Croft appeared at the duel with a water pistol. Jeffrey had a loaded gun.
The two men rode towards each other. At close range Jeffrey fired and instantly killed Croft. Queen Henrietta Maria after this could no longer protect Jeffrey.
He left France on a ship bound for England. When well out to sea the ship was boarded by the terrifying Turkish Corsairs. Jeffrey was captured and taken as a slave to North Africa. He fetched and carried for his owner, was fed mostly black bread, but he lived in warmth and sunlight.
It seems that during this extreme exercise his growth hormones were stimulated and after five years his height had doubled to 38 inches or just under a metre.
Eventually Jeffrey was released having spent nearly half his life with royalty and the other half in slavery.
In 1669 Jeffrey returned to Oakham for about seven years where his brother and sister still lived. Local people listened to the tales of his extraordinary life but he eventually returned to London.
He visited the court but he was from another era and as a Roman Catholic was not welcome. However Charles II granted him £20 a year, about £1,670 by today’s values.
It is thought that Jeffrey died in 1681 but there are no records of his death. His body almost certainly would have been thrown into a communal grave in London; a sad end to a most remarkable life.
To find out more about the gallery favourite talks that are on this month in the museum please visit our website, nmm.ac.uk/galleryfavourites. Thank you for listening.