The Queen’s Dwarf
It is 1629, three years into the reign of Charles Stuart and Henrietta-Maria, his French Catholic queen. George Villiers, Lord Buckingham, who is closest to the seat of power as Charles’ dearest friend, plots to destroy the Queen. His instrument? A teenage dwarf named Jeffrey Hudson from the shambles of Oakham.
Buckingham grooms the angelic-faced, eighteen-inch-tall Jeffrey in courtly manners, as an ostensible gift to the Queen to join her “menagerie” of other “freaks” and seeming misfits who entertain the court. But Jeffrey’s role is far darker – he must spy on the Queen he comes to adore and protect.
This is a tour de force on many levels. Though I had little background in Stuart court history – and despite Chase’s frank acknowledgment in her Historical Note that she took many liberties with Jeffrey’s story – Jeffrey became a living, breathing person to me. As the story is told in the first person, we become privy to Jeffrey’s darkest inner monologues, his deepest wishes, his personal struggles. To his peers and the King and Queen, Jeffrey’s physical size says nothing of his great humanity, his courage and his ability to love. Many of the other characters, many (but not all) of whom were historical, are fully fleshed out. We come to loathe Buckingham; feel deeply for Charles and Henrietta-Maria; respect Will Evans, the Welsh giant who became Jeffrey’s best friend.
A marvelous, engrossing and highly recommended read.