A small tome about Britain’s smallest man in the seventeenth century, Jeffrey Hudson.
When the pie was opened, out jumped Jeffrey Hudson, not four and twenty blackbirds….wasn’t that a dainty dish, to set before the queen?
Seven year old Jeffrey Hudson was tiny, when he popped out of a pie specially prepared at one of the Duke of Buckingham’s celebrated banquets to the delight of King Charles I’s wife Queen Henrietta Maria. The Queen adopted Jeffrey as part of her menagerie, like a pet. The court was graced by the talents of Inigo Jones and Ben Johnson and the great artist Van Dyck. Because what is known about Jeffrey is little (sorry couldn’t resist), the book is filled out with information about the 17th Century Court. I certainly learnt about Queen Henrietta, whom I knew nothing about before, I was aware of Charles I’s struggle with Parliament having studied 17th Century English History as part of the A Level* many years ago ( I passed my History A Level in 1983 – Grade B). I learnt a lot more about the seventeenth century reading this, including lots of trivial information such as lemons at the time were a luxury, whilst oysters were the food of the poor, how times have changed!
Jeffrey’s life is eventful. He was born in Oakham, Rutland (the smallest man from the smallest county). He arrived at court in 1626, where he performed in the masques of Ben Johnson and Inigo Jones. Inigo Jones particularly used Jeffrey for his size, to add to the visual effects he wanted to convey. He was painted by Van Dyck, the cover of the book is a detail from “Queen Henrietta Maria and her Dwarf”. He was twice captured by pirates, fought a duel (with an opponent who mocked his height), held as a slave on the Barbary Coast and imprisoned for treason falsely on the slanderous words of Titus Oates.
The biography is highly readable but there are large gaps in Jeffrey’s life like his 25 years on the Barbary Coast, possibly in Algiers. The book also paints an interesting picture of seventeenth century England especially the court of Queen Henrietta Maria.
My rating 4 out of 5
*A Levels are the advanced level exams taken in England and Wales, usually at the age of 18, they are rather narrower than the baccalaureate in scope. I took History, Geography and Chemistry in 1983 (Results B, A, fail…or as I prefer to see it my results were f.A.B)…much later in 2000 I passed the French A Level at grade A…