– which got Sir Jeffrey into trouble, because duelling was illegal in France, and because his victim was the brother of Lord Croft, a significant man of the court. Banished from France, he was captured by the Barbary pirates and consequently spent 25 years as a slave in North Africa. On the bright side, during this period he had a growth spurt to more than four foot, which must have been useful even if it made him rather less of a curiosity to the nobility.
When Charles II restored the monarchy in 1660, most of the North African slaves were redeemed. At this point, Jeffrey seems not to have rejoined the court, but instead retired to a thatched house in his birth town, Oakham, where a blue plaque can be seen to this day. Sir Jeffrey turned up in London in 1676, received mysterious payments from the Secret Service Fund in 1680 and 1681, and was then accused of being involved in a Catholic conspiracy – with a short spell in prison to show for it. Soon after his release in 1682, he died.
You will not meet a hypopituitary dwarf such as Jeffrey these days, because hormonal differences are easily treated by medicine. But there are still at least 5,000 people in Britain with other forms of restricted growth, most commonly the same achondroplasia that affected Sebastián de Morra (painted by Velázquez above) – characterised by an average sized torso and short limbs.
While their lives today may be less dictated by their bodies than Jeffrey’s was, people of restricted growth still face barriers achieving their full potential in the workplace. They are still subjected to violence and abuse. They are still mocked, assaulted, bullied, given roles in pantomimes and other entertainments, and generally disrespected.
If we want a future without discrimination against people of unusual embodiment, we must be prepared to look at our past as well as our present. Our treatment of people of restricted growth has been fuelled by (and produced) centuries of unexamined negative portrayals in media, comedy, art, theatre, film, cartoons – and even aristocratic portraiture. Today, such representations still prevent people from enjoying safe, valued lives full of opportunities to thrive.
As we stare at Jeffrey’s portrait in the RA’s galleries, we must remember that we are still staring at people like him in 2018. Charles I’s court may seem like a faraway frivolous fantasy, but its reduction of people to novelties and freaks is not so far away at all. To see the full picture, we cannot reduce Jeffrey Hudson to his legacy as “The Queen’s Dwarf”, but must see him in all his complexity – and indeed, glory.