The life and times of the Court dwarf

This post will discuss what the role of the Court dwarf, loosely covering the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It will do this by focusing on two specific case studies of arguably the most prominent; Jeffrey Hudson at the English court and in exile of Henrietta Maria and Nicolas Ferry at the court of King Stanislaw I of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania at the Lunéville.

Jeffrey Hudson (1619- c.1682)-

Jeffrey Hudson was the court dwarf of Henrietta Maria and arrived at her London residence at Denmark House in 1626. He spent much of his early life in Rutland before he came to the attention of Henrietta Maria and Charles I. Hudson was originally accustomed with the Duke and Duchess of Buckingham and lived in their household. In the same year they were entertaining Charles and Henrietta Maria in London and took Hudson with them. It was at this moment that Henrietta Maria was said to have expressed much interest about Hudson when he was presented to her. It was a rather extravagant entrance as he was said to have appeared out of a pie! At this point Henrietta Maria was delighted by this and the Duke and Duchess decided Hudson should live with Henrietta Maria as a gift.

Hudson became rather famous in courtly life, it should be added that it was not a rarity at the time for those at court to be entertained by court dwarfs but in Hudson’s case he was unique at the time. He was unique in the way, considering his stature people were in awe of the way that his features were evenly proportioned. Hudson soon garnished much attention at court through acting in plays in roles that were usually in striking and elaborate roles, in which he were elaborate dress designed by a favourite patron of Henrietta Maria, Indigo Jones. It can also be said that Hudson was patronised by Henrietta Maria as well in the sense that she provided him with a means to support himself through theatre, dance and comedic performance. In addition he was educated in court culture through receiving lessons in French, fencing, shooting and equestrian skills.

It also appeared that their relationship was genuine in the sense that both Henrietta Maria and Hudson appeared to have a good friendship in England, whereby Hudson attended the Catholic services with Henrietta Maria and that considering it took her a long time to acquire English language proficiency, knowing that Hudson took French lessons certainly helped cement their friendship. It is reasonably fair to state that prior to the turbulent years of Civil War that gripped the country that Hudson through the many performances he gave to courtiers was exceptionally popular and well liked on the whole. The most popular of the roles he played arguably inspired the story of Tom Thumb, whereby Hudson was in one performance kept inside a large pocket of William Evans. Evans was said to have measured 7’ 6”. Taking into consideration the time period, this was an exceptionally height. Perhaps by even today’s standards it is well above average height but, considering the monarch Charles I was said to have measured around 4ft, naturally it would have been perceived as ‘giant’ height, and hence he was cast as playing a Giant in this performance. Alternatively if we take into account the rise in Puritan ideals amongst the proprietor class it is easy to see how something as simple as court gaiety angered those who affiliated themselves with Puritan ideals.

When war ensued the Court abandoned London. Hudson remained loyal to Henrietta Maria and King Charles I, when Henrietta Maria left the country for Holland to pawn jewellery in return for arms he went with her. After approximately a year of doing this he did return with Henrietta Maria and rendezvoused at Oxford with Charles. At this point in time it was a Royalist stronghold where he had set up his Court before the Siege of Oxford before June 1646.

However this friendship did not last when Henrietta Maria fled to France after believing she was likely to be captured by the Earl of Essex after giving birth to another daughter in the South-West of England. Hudson just like in 1642, left with her along with other aids. Later more Royalists decided to do the same, one of them by the name of Charles Crofts got into a dispute with Hudson. Hudson was angered by the way Crofts was insulting his stature and challenged him to a duel as a result of this, it resulted in the death of Crofts. As a consequence of Hudson’s actions this ended up being a disaster for him, for he had killed a Cavalier. This did not look good for Hudson in terms of legality as it was against the law to duel in France and he very easily could have been executed for this offence. The last thing Henrietta Maria did do for him at least was spare him of this sanction, Hudson was exiled instead back to England. However not much was initial known of his movements after his expulsion apart from the fact that at some point he was on a ship captured by Barbary pirates. Hudson was used as a slave to labour in North Africa for 25 years before he was rescued when Charles II assumed the throne.

Nicolas Ferry (1741–1764)-

Nicolas Ferry was the court dwarf of King Stanislaw Leszczyński and was commonly referred to as Bébé at court. Ferry was born in France to a farming family and like Hudson, according to contemporary accounts from portraits it appeared as if his limbs were in proportion to his height. Political instability was rife in Poland during the early-eighteenth century when Stanislaw was on the throne, there appeared to be a power struggle between him and Augustus II. Augustus was king before Stanislaw, but Stanislaw was voted in by the Diet (Polish Parliament) to become King of Poland. This was because Royal elections were held in Poland as opposed to inheriting the title of king. However, Stanislaw was soon ousted out of Poland but he nevertheless remained the Duke of Lorraine and had his court at Lunéville. This was where Ferry spent the majority of his time and unlike Hudson, Ferry remained at Stanislaw’s court at Lunéville.

Again much like Hudson he was acquired by Stanislaw and later Ferry was said to have been a gift to Stanislaw’s wife. Ferry attracted much attention at court and was popular with many of the ladies who arrived. In return for Ferry living in the Leszczyński household, Stanislaw paid Ferry’s family for him to be the court dwarf at Lunnéville. Unlike Hudson there was no evidence to suggest he was interested in education as it was discussed previously how Hudson was educated in the French language. Ferry had tutors but it appeared that Ferry had no interest in education as some accounts suggest he was illiterate. In this sense it can be argued his sole purpose was to entertain at court. In spite of Stanislaw providing Ferry tutors to no effect he, nevertheless was said to have doted on him as he provided him with a purpose-built wooden house attached to Stanislaw’s residence, the Chateau de Lunéville. Ferry had a mischievous and playful nature at court often by carrying out practical jokes on individuals at court and he was arguably a popular attraction that entertained the likes of even Voltaire.

However, there is one similarity he did share with Hudson. It was said he was jealous of another Polish dwarf, Józef Boruwłaski and allegedly attacked him. Boruwlaski toured Europe with his master the Countess Humiecka and on their travels they visited the court of Stanislaw in Lunéville. It is unknown for certain why this occurred but what we do know is that Boruwłaski was well versed, intelligent and witty. Not to mention that many courtiers recognised these characteristics of Boruwłaski, which were not attributed to Ferry. This in a way explains why Ferry acted the way he did. Ferry perhaps felt threatened by the arrival of Boruwłaski who excelled in courtly demeanour. The similarity lies in the way that both Ferry and Hudson grew jealous of others and that there was evidence that they both striked their opponents. However, Ferry did not kill his opponent. Additionally, in spite of Ferry being punished for his behaviour through being whipped he was not expelled from court unlike Hudson. The major difference with Ferry was that he was not expelled from court. After this episode Ferry was still very much at the forefront of court gaiety. Eventually it was Ferry’s health that prevented him from partaking in court activities, he developed a hunchback in his early twenties and there was speculation that his body tissue started to waste away as a result of premature ageing. He died aged 22.

2 thoughts on “The life and times of the Court dwarf

  1. Tom

    Hi, You made mistake in your text, Stanislaw I was Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland, but not only king of Poland, because these countries were dualistic and had two titles.


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