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Peter the Wild Boy - King George I's Pet

Humans, throughout the ages, have sought to own other living beings. From the standard household pets, dogs, cats, rodents, to the exotic. Owning another human has become taboo in the modern era, but this was not the norm for most of our existence.

Usually ownership of another person amounts to the reprehensible practice of slavery. There is another way to own a human being though. Imagine a world where everything you say becomes the law - that is the life of a king.

King George I was disliked by his subjects. He came from Hanover, Germany, and ascended to the throne of Great Britain in 1714. The public saw him as a foreigner who couldn't even speak English.

Eleven years into his reign, he was informed of a remarkable boy that had been found in the woods of Hanover. The lad walked on all fours, had no manners, and could speak no languages. George had the boy shipped to his court soon after, and took him as a pet.

This is the story of Peter the Wild Boy.

Raised by Wolves

In the village of Hamelin, once cursed by the Pied Piper, times were tough. Parents often had to make tough choices, like - which child do we feed today? So when King George I came for a visit, they were likely cautiously optimistic about a change of fortune.

George led a retinue of hunters into the Hertswold Forest in search of any beast worth slaying. Back in the early 18th century, there were wolves, bears, and several other creatures stomping about Europe.

The hunters thought they had stumbled upon a wolf who had strayed from its pack as they approached the rustling bushes. Their weapons held at the ready. As the beast burst forth, they were certainly caught off guard.

From the foliage there came a faint growing as a naked boy, roughly twelve years old, emerged. Some laughed, others recoiled in terror. There were even some who thought that they had found one of the missing children taken by the Pied Piper of old.

King George I demanded that the boy identify himself. To this, the boy merely growled and hopped about. He was clearly curious of the hunters and their horses, but made no indication of understanding them.

The King had the boy captured and returned to his lodging. Upon their arrival, Caroline the Princess of Wales, George I's daughter-in-law, requested that the boy return to London with them.

Because of the boy's feral nature and inability to speak - everyone assumed he was raised by wolves, a popular trope at the time. They named the feral child Peter.

Peter in George's Court

Peter's arrival in London sparked a massive public reaction. Satirists wrote about him, and the royal court was abuzz with rumors of the wild boy's origin.

The Princess arranged for a tutor, Dr. Arbuthnot, to teach Peter language. Despite his best attempts, the doctor failed to teach him anything. So Peter continued on in his wild ways.

Peter spent his days wandering the grounds of the palace. He was largely left to his own devices, and only summoned for dinner or bedtime. At these dinners, Peter was said to eat with his hands and behave in his generally savage way.

King George I died in 1727, having kept Peter for only 2 years at this point. Ownership passed to his son, George II and his wife, Caroline. They would keep him for a few more years.

Satirists loved Peter. He was the perfect conduit for their critiques of the nobility. There was even a waxwork depicting the boy at one point.

His time at court would not last forever though. Princess Caroline entrusted Peter to one of her servants, who quickly grew tired of the task.

Peter is Sent to the Farm

This is no euphemism, Peter was really sent to live on a farm up north. James Fenn, a farmer from Northchurch, Hertfordshire, took the wild man in. He was paid a stipend of £35 a year to take care of Peter.

The feral youth took to farm life with gusto. He was finally back in his element, frolicking in the fields and playing with the animals.

Once, Peter disappeared for a considerable time. Advertisements were put out for his safe return, but he was only found when the Norwich gaol (jail) burned down. At first the townsfolk thought him to be an escaped orangutan. They came to this conclusion because of how hairy and strong the young man was.

After wandering off, he was fitted with a leather and iron collar that promised a reward if found. Similar to what we affix to our pets today (except the heavy iron). The collar did much to establish him as a beloved local oddity.

He was visited by an Oxford Scholar, Thomas Burgess, who wrote an amusing anecdote about Peter:

“Peter was employed one day with his master in filling a dung-cart. His master had occasion to go into the house for something, and left Peter to finish the work. The work was soon done. But Peter must have something to employ himself; and he saw no reason why he should not be as usefully employed in emptying the dung out as he was in putting it into the cart. When his master came out, he found the cart nearly emptied again; and learned a lesson by it, which he never afterwards neglected.”

Ownership of Peter was transferred between several farmers. He grew quite fond of his caretakers. This eventually led to his demise, when his final caretaker passed away Peter followed soon after.

The locals paid for a headstone, which stands to this day.

Pitt-Hopkins Syndrome

Peter has been posthumously diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder, Pitt-Hopkins Syndrome. Researchers came to this conclusion after studying the portraits of Peter, as well as the many accounts of his behavior.

Those afflicted with Pitt-Hopkins Syndrome have a distinctive curved 'cupid's lip'. Peter, as seen in the portrait at Kensington palace, had this characteristic on prominent display.

His other symptoms were his short height, course hair covering his body, and syndactyly (fused fingers on one hand). The disorder also comes with developmental difficulties, chief among which is the inability to learn language. These characteristics are likely the reason why Peter's biological parents abandoned him in the woods in the first place.



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