Saturday, October 12, 2013

Queen Henrietta Maria and Her Dwarf

When I received this month's email from History Today, I noticed an article about Jeffery Hudson, a dwarf at the Court of Charles I by C. Northcote Parkinson--and recalled that Father George Rutler had also written an article about Jeffery, for Crisis Magazine.

Parkinson emphasizes Hudson's role at Court and in the Civil War:

When the Queen was with child in 1630, Jeffery was sent to fetch Madame Peronne, the midwife, from France. His ship was taken by a privateer, however, and the midwife came too late for the event; which was the birth, in fact, of Charles II. Jeffery seems to have been popular at Court ‘wanting nothing but humility,’ and was the subject of an anonymous poem ‘The New Yeere’s Gift’ printed in 1636. There followed Jeffereidos, a poem about his capture, possibly written by Davenant and published in 1638.

Before this, in 1637, the Queen’s dwarf appeared, with other English volunteers, at the Siege of Breda, during which campaign he came to be known as ‘Strenuous Jeffery’- although no bigger, seemingly, then when he first came to Court. We hear nothing of Jeffery during the next few years, the period leading up to the Civil War. On February 23rd, however, 1641/2, the Queen sailed for Holland with the object of raising money for the royal cause. She was successful in her mission and returned to England a year later with a man-of-war and eleven transports laden with ammunition and stores.

Her squadron was caught in a gale and her ladies gave up all hope of survival, but Henrietta Maria told them not to worry - ‘Queens of England are never drowned’. She came nearer to being shot after landing at Bridlington, her headquarters ashore being bombarded by a Parliamentary man-of-war. She reached York, nevertheless, and reported her arrival in a letter to the King dated March 20th, 1643. It is virtually certain that Jeffery was with her, and more than probable that he was now created Captain of Horse, perhaps to give him some status and pay.

History books have paid little attention to the part played by the Queen at this time. She played, in fact, a significant role, her first success being to provide the King with forty waggon-loads of arms and munitions, her second being to join him at Edgehill at the head of her cavalry, with 3,000 infantry and six cannon. ‘Her She Majesty Generalissima’ she gaily called herself, and was evidently adored by everyone. But the war went badly for Charles, and the Queen, again pregnant, was sent to Exeter for safety.

Following the battle of Marston Moor, fatal to the King’s cause, the Earl of Essex marched into the west country. Having given birth to a daughter, the Queen fled to Truro and eventually sailed for France from Falmouth. Jeffery was certainly with her during this adventure, and was under fire again when her ship was almost captured by a Parliamentary man-of-war. There is reason to suppose that Jeffery was his strenuous self on this occasion, making himself useful and expecting to be taken more seriously in future.

Father George Rutler emphasizes, first, the fascination such unusual stories and lives bring to the study of history, and second, that Jeffery Hudson was a convert to Catholicism in Henrietta Maria's Catholic Court:

A boy’s eyes may glaze over if he is made to memorize only names and dates, but tell him something odd about those names and dates and it will never be forgotten. Consider, as one case in point, the defeat of the Scots by Muslims at Teba near Malaga on their way to bury the heart of Robert the Bruce in Jerusalem. King Robert had been excommunicated by both Pope Clement V and Pope John XXII, and the burial of his heart in the Holy Land was to be a penitential gesture, entrusted to Sir James Douglas. When he was killed at Teba on August 25, 1330, the knight Keith of Glastone brought it back to Melrose Abbey in Scotland. Some 201 years earlier, the heart of Richard the Lionheart was buried in Rouen, embalmed with frankincense, as were his entrails which were entombed at Chalus, and the rest of his body at Fontevraud Abbey in Anjou. The same John XXII who excommunicated the Bruce, had received favorably in 1320 the Declaration of Arbraoth, which contained many expressions anticipatory of our 1776 Declaration of Independence. Its reputed author, Abbot Bernard, may thus be called the Thomas Jefferson of Scotland. Or, more fittingly, Thomas Jefferson was the Abbot Bernard of the United States. Arbroath had a happier connection with the papacy than did Magna Carta, which Pope Innocent III called “a shameful and demeaning agreement forced upon the King by violence and fear.” At least the Pope could read the Latin document. In a recent interview on American television, British Prime Minister David Cameron was unable to translate the words “Magna Carta.” That does not speak well of his schooling at Eton and Oxford. Perhaps his father should have spent more time teaching him at home.

In the saga of Catholic curiosities, unique is the smallest known adult Catholic, Sir Jeffrey Hudson who as a man was eighteen inches tall. His parents and siblings were of average height. He was not a typical dwarf, inasmuch as he was perfectly proportioned in every way, only tiny—more of what is called vernacularly a midget, and technically a pituitary dwarf, conditioned by a lack of growth hormone. But his hypopituitarism was without precedent in England and his perfect and delicate miniature size distinguished him from the common Continental court dwarves of his day. As a possible portent, he was born on June 14, 1619 in England’s smallest county, Rutland, whose motto is “Multum in Parvo,” or, Much in Little as David Cameron might try to translate it. His father raised cattle, particularly bulls for baiting, for the Duke of Buckingham. When little Jeffrey failed to grow, he was taken in to the Buckingham household as a “rarity of nature.” He was seven years old and when King Charles I and his queen Henrietta Maria were entertained by the Duke and Duchess of Buckingham, the lavish banquet ended with a large pie out of which popped Jeffrey Hudson in a miniature suit of armor. This gave rise to a rumor that he had been baked in the pie, but this was not the case. The Queen was so delighted that the Buckinghams presented their rarity to her. The Queen kept a separate household at Denmark House in London, and Jeffrey joined it at the end of 1626, along with two disproportionate dwarfs and a Welsh giant. Jeffrey became favored for his wit and elegance, and Inigo Jones wrote costumed masques in which he took part. The French queen’s court was Catholic and housed so many priests that some objections were raised among Londoners who feared a conspiracy might be afoot. Jeffrey embraced Catholicism and kept his faith throughout his difficult life, regularly assisting at Low Masses which occasioned tasteless puns.

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