A miniature man with a big story

FROM A DISTANCE, the small stone statue in Folkestone’s Kingsnorth Gardens looked like an oriental character, maybe a Hindu god or a Chinese warrior. Getting near to it, you can see that it depicts a small man in armour. The sculpture’s left hand rests on his waist and he holds a stout staff in his right. On the top of his hat or helmet, there perches a female figure, which on further examination proves to be a sphinx. And what fascinated me most was seeing that his breastplate has a double-headed eagle in bas-relief. This curious statue is supposed to be a depiction of Sir Jeffrey Hudson (1619 – c1682).

Jeffrey Hudson

Hudson was baptised in Oakham in the county of Rutland, which used to be one of England’s smallest counties. Maybe, this was appropriate because Jeffrey was only 30 inches tall when he reached the age of 30 years. However, he eventually reached the height of 42 inches (www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/1129288). Despite his shortness, which might have resulted from a disorder of the pituitary gland, he was perfectly proportioned and therefore a dwarf.  Small as he was, his life story (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeffrey_Hudson) reads like a tall tale.

Aged 7 years, Jeffrey was presented to the Duchess of Buckingham, who welcomed him into her household. Soon after his arrival in this august household, the Duke and Duchess entertained King Charles I and his young wife, Queen Henrietta-Maria (1609-1669), at a party in London. The highlight of the evening was the arrival of an enormous pie:

“…two footmen enter the hall carrying a glorious pie, gilded in gold leaf, 2ft high and 2ft wide. The pie is placed before the queen and, as if in labour, it begins to move. A small hand pops through the crust, and a fresh-faced boy emerges with a cheeky smile, dark brown eyes and light brown hair. He wears a miniature suit of armour and marches up and down the banqueting table waving a flag. He returns to the queen and gives a bow.” (www.historyextra.com/period/stuart/amazing-life-jeffrey-hudson-queen-henrietta-maria-dwarf/)

The queen was so delighted by the dwarf that the Duke and Duchess presented her with Jeffrey as a gift.

Jeffrey joined the collection of live ‘curiosities’ that the queen kept in her court. There were two other dwarves, a giant porter, and a monkey, to list but a few. As Jeffrey grew up, he was educated, learned to ride and shoot, and joined in the court’s leisure activities. After the Civil War broke out in 1640 Jeffrey travelled to France with the queen and members of her household. By 1644, Jeffrey had become fed up with being a ‘pet’, a ‘curiosity’, and the butt of cruel jokes. In October of that year, he challenged a man called Crofts to a duel. Out of contempt for tiny Jeffrey, Crofts brought water squirt guns to the duel. However, when hit in the forehead by Jeffrey’s water emitting weapon, Crofts fell down dead.

Duelling was already banned in France. The queen sent Jeffrey back to England. Soon after leaving her court, Jeffrey was on a ship that was attacked by Barbary pirates. He was captured and enslaved. Nothing is known about his life in slavery. However, he is recorded as being back in England in 1669. He lived in Oakham for several years, returning to London in 1676. Convicted for being a Roman Catholic, he spent a long time in the Gatehouse Prison, which used to be in the gatehouse of London’s Westminster Abbey. He died a pauper sometime after being released. Thus ended the life of a very small man.

We wondered what Hudson’s connection with Folkestone was and why the town is blessed with a statue depicting him as he must have looked when he emerged from a pie. It turns out that he has no known connection with the town, but his statue has stood there since Victorian times and was placed in Kingsnorth Gardens in 1928. What we see today is a replica of the original, which had deteriorated over the years (www.gofolkestone.org.uk/news/welcome-return-of-sir-jeffery-hudsons-statue-to-kingsnorth-gardens/). As for the double-headed eagle on the statue’s breast plate and the sphinx on his head, I need to look into this at a later date.

Locked in a church overnight

THE BATTLE OF NASEBY was fought on the 14th of June 1645 between the Royalists, led by King Charles I and his nephew Prince Rupert of the Rhine, and the Parliamentarians, led by Sir Thomas Fairfax and Oliver Cromwell. It was a victory for the Parliamentarians and the last major battle in the (First) English Civil War (1642-1646), putting an end to any hopes that the king had of winning the conflict. The battlefield at Naseby is about 5 miles southwest of the small Leicestershire town of Market Harborough, which we visited for the first time in July 2021. We dove there, almost accidentally, after having had a frustrating experience navigating the ring road around the town of Rugby without finding a route to its old centre.  Shamefacedly, I must admit that we were completely ignorant of this town’s connections with the Civil War and the Battle of Naseby.

It was at Market Harborough that King Charles had his headquarters before the fight at Naseby. I am not sure which buildings in the town were used by the king, but one of them, still in existence, might possibly have been visited by the royal person. This is the former coaching inn, The Three Swans. Its website informs us with appropriate cautiousness:

“Like most old inns, The Three Swans has become the subject of a number of legends, often passed on with varying degrees of accuracy. One is that Charles I visited the inn on the night before the Battle of Naseby in June 1645. According to surviving records made at the time, the king actually retired for the night two miles down the road at the private house of Lubenham Hall. He was raised from his bed at 11pm by reports of the unexpected arrival of the Parliamentarian army just eight miles away at Naseby. He rushed to Market Harborough to meet his senior General, his nephew, Prince Rupert of the Rhine, who had established his military headquarters in the town.

At midnight they met with several other commanders for a council of war. The venue for the meeting is unknown. It could have been The Swan, or it could just as easily have been anywhere else in the town…” (from a pdf accessed via www.threeswans.co.uk/about/history/).

An information plaque in the town suggests that on the eve of the battle, the king and Prince Rupert conferred in an Inn on Church Street, the site of the present Kings Head Pub. The present establishment was built in the 19th century.

There might be some uncertainty about the king’s whereabouts in Market Harborough before the Battle of Naseby, but there is no doubt where some of his soldiers spent some time as prisoners after the Royalists were defeated. After the battle, the Parliamentarian Provost Marshall had to secure the 4000 to 5000 Royalist soldiers who had been captured during fight at Naseby.         The only building in Market Harborough large enough to house this large number of captives and to secure them was the centrally located church of St Dionysius, which is close to both the Three Swans and The Kings Head. They were held in the church for one night before they were marched to London via nearby Northampton.

St Dionysius church and The Old Grammar School in Market Harborough

The construction of the Church of St Dionysius with its tall tower with steeple was started in the 13th century, but much of its structure dates to the 14th and 15th centuries. High up on a wall at the west end of the church is a depiction of the royal coat-of-arms dated 1660. This was the date when the monarchy, led by King Charles II, was restored in England. Five years earlier, the church was crowded with tired soldiers, who had fought in vain for Charles’s father, who was executed on the 30th of January 1649.

Some, if not all, of the Royalist soldiers, who were about to be incarcerated in St Dionysius, might have noticed a curious structure next to its southern side. Built in 1614, this building, which stands on sturdy wooden posts at least 6 feet high, must have seemed quite new in 1645. It was the grammar school founded by in 1607 by Robert Smyth, a resident of the town who became Comptroller of the City of London’s Chamber and member of the Merchant Taylors’ Company. The structure, which you see today, was funded by Smyth’s money. The school, which is accessed by a staircase, stands raised high above the ground. The space beneath it was created to keep the town’s market dry in wet weather. Many years later, a descendant of this school was established elsewhere in the town. Now known as the Robert Smyth Academy, one of its past students was the Nobel Prize winning physicist, Sir William Henry Bragg.

Today, the centre of Market Harborough is pleasantly vibrant with a good range of shops and eateries. Contemporary life and memories of the town’s history rub shoulders harmoniously in this place that deserves the attention of more tourists.

On our return from Market Harborough and the fascinating Foxton lock staircase nearby, we did manage to find our way into the heart of the town of Rugby, which did not impress us nearly as much as Market Harborough.