In A Nutshell
Only 48 centimeters (19 in) tall, by all accounts perfectly proportioned, and the son of a man in the employ of the Duke of Buckingham, Jeffrey Hudson made his first court appearance when he was served to Charles I and his queen, Henrietta, in a pie. Quickly becoming a favorite of the queen, Jeffrey traveled with her on her trips between England and France, was captured by pirates more than once, lived for some time as a slave, and is said to have later served England as a spy. More about his life is unknown than known, however, leaving the man one of the most fascinating mysteries of the court of Charles I.
The Whole Bushel
Born in 1619, Jeffrey Hudson—who would later become Sir Jeffrey Hudson—had a truly remarkable life story. The son of a man employed by the Duke of Buckingham to keep his bulls, he was about 48 centimeters (19 in) tall when he was nine years old. It was then that his father had decided to present him to the king, Charles I. According to the story, he wasn’t so much “presented” to the king as he was served to the king in a pie. The queen took a liking to the boy and brought him into her service as a page. He also filled some less-than-desirable roles at court. While he was painted in official portraits with the queen several times, he also rode in the pocket of the king’s massive porter, who would take him out at what we can only assume was the most properly amusing time.
Also undoubtedly amusing was his nickname at court—Lord Minimus.
Incredibly intelligent and charismatic, the boy soon grew into a young man—although he retained his small stature. He was educated by the queen’s staff and had two of his own attendants. He was a favorite amusement in the French court as well as the English one, and when it came time for the queen to need a midwife, it was Jeffrey she entrusted to fetch one from France. Unfortunately, on his return to England he was captured by Dutch privateers working for the Spanish and suffered through a rather ignominious capture—he was made to fight a turkey at one point, an encounter recorded in a poem.
Eventually, he made it back to England with the midwife, but too late for the birth of Charles II.
A good part of his life has been lost to the mists of time, largely due to the fact that records tell more about the goings-on surrounding the king than the queen to whom he was primarily attached. At some point he was made Captain of the Horse and accompanied the queen on her trips between England and France.
It was in France that Jeffrey’s temper—most likely made increasingly volatile by the jokes he was no doubt forced to endure—finally boiled over. A letter details a duel, on horseback, between Jeffrey and one Mr. Croft. Croft, who was overtaken with laughter, was shot and killed by Jeffrey. After the incident (which ended without imprisonment, as far as history can tell), Jeffrey dropped off the face of the Earth for a time. It’s said—although the veracity of the rumor is up for debate—that he once again found himself a prisoner, this time of the Turks. Shipped off to Barbary, it was said that he spent a number of years as a slave.
By 1658, he was back in London and had grown considerably to nearly 120 centimeters (4 ft). Now at 30 years of age, he found himself back in his home country without the approval or protection of the royal courts.
He cropped up again when he returned to London in 1679, when he was somehow (again, history’s not quite clear on just how) involved with the Popish Plot. He spent some time in prison, after which there were a few mentions of his working as a spy. Predictably, the details of his employ are murky.
Jeffrey Hudson died in 1682, ultimately buried in an unmarked grave. Some of his clothes are on display at Sherborne Castle in Dorset, and he gets a mention in Sir Walter Scott’s Peveril of the Peak. But his life is more unknown than recorded, meaning that too many of the details of his life have been lost to history.