When George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham wanted to impress the wife of King Charles I, Henrietta Maria, he thought it'd be a great idea to give her a dwarf.

In November 1626, Jeffrey Hudson was only seven years old and 46cm tall when he was dressed in a tiny suit of armour and served to the Queen in a pie.

When the pie was placed in front of the Queen, Hudson broke out of the crust and started marching up and down the banquet table, to the squeals of delight of the teenage Queen.

Henrietta Maria was immediately besotted with Hudson and wanted to keep the child for herself. What the Queen wants the Queen gets: little Hudson was taken back with her to her own court, where his life forever changed.


It was 393 years ago this month that Hudson was given as a "pet" to the Queen, who treated him as a member of her family and kept him closely by her side. Hudson led the most extraordinary and colourful life.

He went from being a court dwarf, to a fighter in the English Civil War, to a murderer and then a prisoner of Barbary pirates. Here's his incredible story.


Historian Dr John Woolf, author of The Wonderstold news.com.au Hudson was not the first dwarf to be served in a pie. There was a long tradition of dwarfs used for royal and aristocratic entertainment.

"Dwarfs were around in the courts of Ancient Egypt, China and West Africa. Alexander the Great (356BC-323BC) gathered a whole retinue of dwarfs. The Romans collected dwarfs as pets, placing some in gladiatorial rings to fight with Amazons, and tossing others across the amphitheatre for entertainment," Dr Woolf said.

"By the Middle Ages, dwarfs were kept side-by-side with monkeys, sometimes travelling between royal households in birdcages," Dr Woolf said.

But back to Jeffrey.

Henrietta Maria was only 15 years old when she was introduced to Hudson. Her life was not particularly easy because she was trapped in a loveless marriage to King Charles I and doing it tough as a Catholic in a Protestant country.

She had it even tougher as a French woman in England and, to make matters worse, her entire entourage had been expelled by the king.


"So, Jeffrey was a form of escapism. He brought Maria light relief because he was entertaining, charming and funny. But he was also a companion and a confidant," Dr Woolf said.

"In the early days, he followed the queen everywhere, they went on royal progresses around the country; they starred in their own royal masques together; they possibly even prayed together in her Popish chapel. He occupied this ambivalent position as pet, plaything, and friend."

While he might have been a "plaything" for the Queen, he was treated very well and given incredible privileges, including basic schooling and French lessons. He was even provided with his own servant and a supervisor who doubled as the queen's nurse.

By the age of 14, Hudson was very much seen as family, taking part in hunting and shooting in specially made clothes. When he was 21, he was given a salary of £50 a year.

Jeffery Hudson. Photo / Supplied
Jeffery Hudson. Photo / Supplied


Dwarfs were an endless source of fascination and curiosity, especially in the royal courts. According to Dr Woolf, dwarfs were sold, swapped and even bred for European royal families. Hudson was not even the first dwarf to be served in a pie.

"The value of a dwarf was akin to jesters, slaves, eunuchs and pets. They were an extension of the royals' Wunderkammer or Cabinet of Curiosities which, from the sixteenth century, contracted the world's wonders into a collection that enhanced the virtue of the owner," Dr Woolf said.

"Philip IV of Spain had around 100 dwarfs in his court! But in his case, and in many others, court dwarfs were also loved, and some were given special tasks, responsibilities and privileges. The dwarf Don Diego de Acedo, known as El Primo, was secretary and keeper of the king's seal in Philip IV of Spain's court."

Dwarfs were also used for entertainment in travelling fairs but, for many dwarfs, life was very tough. Many faced severe financial hardship and dependency on families (although there were dwarfs in some professions, such as John Baconthorpe (1290-1346), a scholastic philosopher who allegedly taught at Cambridge and Oxford, and the Frenchman Antoine Godeau (1605-72), a contemporary of Jeffrey, who was a renowned writer of romantic poetry and who entered the clergy in 1636.)

"Theoretically speaking, dwarfs belonged to the broad category that embraced 'monsters', 'marvels', 'wonders' and 'prodigies', terms that denoted something or someone out of the ordinary, but within God's great scheme," Dr Woolf said.

"They were grouped with phoenixes, werewolves, portents and miraculous natural occurrences. They were God's creation.

"And they were united by the experience they engendered: the shock and awe at the unexpected and the pleasure at seeing nature's eccentricities; they signified the allure of the strange, the exotic and the novel."


When the Civil War broke out in 1642, Henrietta Maria was forced to leave London. Of course, she brought her faithful companion, Hudson, with her and the pair travelled to the Netherlands to raise funds and support for the royalist army, before returning to London a year later aboard a Dutch warship.

Dr Woolf said Henrietta and Hudson landed at the small fishing village of Bridlington on the northeast coast on 22 February, 1643. At around 5 o'clock the following morning, the pair was woken by the sounds of war: the Parliamentarians were firing cannons at Bridlington from six large ships.

"In the turmoil that ensued, the queen escaped but Hudson, aged 22 and fiercely loyal, stayed to fight. Apparently, he rushed to the quay side with a sword and pistol but the Parliamentarians never left the ships and kept firing. The cannon balls smashed into cottages and streets, killing one of the queen's servants. People ran for cover until the tide changed, the ships left the bay and the queen's entourage emerged from the rubble," Dr Woolf said.

"The Parliamentarians were after blood. They had targeted their queen, who was declared a traitor a few months later. Hudson, however, had shown extraordinary bravery, although in this instance he never actually fought.

"But the queen and her entourage then went to York, a Royalist stronghold, before heading south to Stratford-upon-Avon and then Oxford. One night the cavalry commander Prince Rupert led Royalist forces in raids against the Parliamentarians and it was at this moment that Jeffrey possibly joined the raids and the fighting."

Walter Scott, author of Peveril of the Peak (1823), claimed that Hudson did fight and was even knighted Sir Geoffrey Hudson. Dr Woolf claims Hudson was definitely not knighted but it's not impossible that he did fight.

"Indeed, he was awarded a military title by the queen — Captain of the Horse — and, some 40 years later, towards the end of his life, he was still recorded as Captain Jeffrey Hudson in a list of people receiving donations from the king."


The next massive drama of Hudson's life involved a murder. Even though he was no longer seen as the "court pet" and was now the Queen's close companion, due to his size, he was still the subject of endless jokes.

In 1644, this mockery took a deadly turn

"In the summer, amidst the bloody Civil War, the queen's court escaped to France and by October they were in Nevers, roughly 160 miles from Paris. It was here, in the shadows of the castle of Nevers, that Jeffrey was mercilessly mocked by Charles Crofts, brother of the queen's Master of Horse," explained Dr Woolf.

"We don't know what was said but Hudson clearly took offence and challenged Crofts to a duel — he wanted to protect his honour and prove his valour. Crofts, however, thought the whole thing was a joke. It wasn't.

"Both men mounted their horses and charged. Hudson raised his pistol astride his horse and fired — lodging a bullet in Crofts skull. Hudson won the duel but ruined his life. Crofts was dead and Hudson had broken the numerous decrees against duelling. Maria had no choice but to banish Hudson from her court."

Interesting note: duelling had been outlawed in France. Also, Crofts was a powerful figure as the Queen's "Master of Horse." Hudson was initially sentenced to death but the Queen arranged for his exile instead.

The dwarf Jeffrey Hudson sits on a table reading a large book. Photo / Supplied
The dwarf Jeffrey Hudson sits on a table reading a large book. Photo / Supplied


As Hudson journeyed back to Britain in the winter of 1644, his ship was captured by North African Barbary pirates who had been prowling the waters. Hudson was captured and kept as a slave for the next 25 years.

Little is known about Hudson's time as a slave, but according to James Wright's The History and Antiquities of the County of Rutland (1684): 'It was a Turkish Pirate that took and carried him to Barbary where he was sold, and remained a slave for many years.'

Wright claimed Hudson's time in Barbary was one of "hardship, much labour, and beating, which he endured when a slave to the Turks". According to Dr Woolf, Hudson was eventually released, or perhaps ransomed.

"In May 1669 he was back in England with a pension provided in part by the Duke of Buckingham, the son of his original patron. He was now about fifty years old, living in his home county of Rutland, probably with his brother, Samuel," Dr Woolf said.

"Later that year he heard that Henrietta Maria was dead. King Charles had been beheaded in 1649 after the Civil War; then came the Commonwealth (1649-60) and the reigns of Charles II followed by James II, who was king when Hudson returned to London in 1678.

"The capital, recently ravaged by plague and fire, was awash in anti-Catholic sentiment and Hudson was recognised as the dwarf of the Catholic queen. He was thrown into jail, spending his 60th birthday in Westminster's Gatehouse Prison. He was eventually released, dying an outcast around 1682 and was buried in an unmarked and unknown location."


The entertainment industry has come a long way when it comes to including and representing dwarfs: Peter Dinklage from Game of Thrones is, of course, the most obvious example.

Dr Woolf is hopeful that the trend continues but, in most cases, people of short stature are usually cast in films in a fantasy role, a panto, or as "the bad guy".

"They might be great actors, but they are cast on the basis of their bodies. Also China has a dwarf theme park and we still have dwarf tossing and dwarf boxing and wrestling (although some participants defend their right to partake in these!)" Dr Woolf said.

"But I would like us to get to a place where we see good actors, who happen to be of short stature, cast in major films and TV shows because they are good actors and nothing less."