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The Hanging of The Hartlepool Monkey

Updated: Apr 25

Recent statistical analysis of our articles show that Wolfenhaas has a preoccupation with simian stories. We've written about, monkey-men, chimpanzees, and even speculative simians like Sasquatch.

Strangely, we haven't done much in the way of highlighting monkey history. They are somewhat closely related to humans. Their presence sparks joy in children, followed swiftly by fear when they attack.

There is a town in England that is famous for their interaction with a monkey. Hartlepool, and its denizens, are known to this day for what happened early in the 19th century.

This is the story of the hanging of the Hartlepool Monkey.

The Legend of H'Angus

At some point during Napoleon's war against Europe, a French Chassé-marée (fishing and trading boat), was spotted off the coast of northeastern England. The vessel was being pursued by a fierce storm.

Inhabitants of Hartlepool watched as the ship was overcome by the storm, and eventually sank. They rejoiced at the French vessel's misfortune. England and France were at war, after all.

Wreckage washed ashore the next morning. Among the debris and the dead, they found a single survivor. Desperately clinging to what remained of the ship's mast, was a terrified monkey dressed in a miniature officer's uniform.

A monkey stands trial for espionage in Hartlepool
They thought the uniform was cute

The good people of Hartlepool allegedly assumed that this was a standard Frenchman. He was clapped in irons, and taken to the local jail. According to the legend, the misunderstanding came from their lack of contact with either monkeys or the French.

Monkey was put on trial. He was interrogated for hours without giving anything away. They charged him with espionage. He was summarily hanged from the neck until dead.

If you find yourself screaming at the screen about it not being 'hanged', but 'hung', then I have news for you. An object that hangs on a wall was hung in the past. When a person is executed by hanging, we say they were hanged.

From that day onwards, the people of Hartlepool have been known as Monkey Hangers. The first mention of the tale comes from a song by Ned Corvan:

In former times, 'mid war an' strife,
When French invashin threaten'd life,
An' all was arm'd to the knife,
The Fishermen hung the Monkey, O!
The Fishermen wi' courage high,
Seized Monkey for a spy,
Hang him says yen, says another he'll die;
They did, an' they hung the Monkey, O!
They tried ivery means to myek him speak,
They tortor'd the Monkey tiv he loud did squeak;
Says yen that's French, says another it's Greek,
For the Fishermen then gat drunkey, O!
He's all ower hair some cheps did cry,
E'en up to summic cute an' sly;
Wiv a cod's heed then they closed an eye,
Afore they hung the Monkey, O!

Any Truth to The Monkey's Tale?

As it turns out, there are no records of the Monkey Hanging story. Strangely, the story isn't even unique to Hartlepool. There is an older song with similar lyrics from Boddam in Scotland. In fact, the story has been told of Mevagissey in Cornwall, and Greenock in Scotland.

People have tried rationalizing the tale of the Hanged monkey of Hartlepool. One theory is that it wasn't a monkey at all. Instead, the Hartlepudlians found a young French boy among the wreckage. He had worked as a Powder Monkey on the ship. The role responsible for carrying gunpowder to the cannons that was usually fulfilled by a child.

So, in this version, the people of Hartlepool hanged a boy for espionage. What there would have been to spy upon in Hartlepool is anyone's guess.

The modern Hartlepudlians have embraced the legend. Their football team's mascot is a hanged monkey named H'Angus the Monkey.

Local folklore is important for developing a cultural identity. Whether a monkey was ever executed there or not.



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