A Kensington Palace story

When George I arrived from Hanover to reign over Britain, he needed to make many improvements to Kensington Palace in order for it to fit his enormous court. He also remodelled and redecorated the interior of the palace and hired an artist named William Kent to paint the ceilings of the rooms. This was surprising because the most famous artist of the time was James Thornhill (who painted the ceiling of St Paul’s Cathedral, and the great Hall of Blenheim Palace), but George I was careful with his money and Kent’s quote of £45,000 ( in today’s value) was less than half of the quote Thornhill presented to the King.

The result was a beautiful mural that depicted the court of George I with many of its characters. Like many artists, Kent painted himself and his mistress into the painting along with another interesting figure: Peter the Wild Boy.

Who was this Peter, an important enough figure to be included in the mural? Well, he was some sort of real version of Mowgli, the feral child from the famous novel, “The Jungle Book” by Rudyard Kipling (a book that was written 100 years after Peter’s death). The boy was found in a forest near Hanover in Germany at about 12 years old and he was found by none other than King George himself and a group of hunters. Peter was walking on all fours, he could not speak and no one could tell who he was or who and where his parents were.

The child was brought to London as some sort of a pet to the courtiers of Kensington Palace. He became an instant hit not only in the court, but more widely afield. His arrival became the headline of all of the newspapers of the time and a wax figure of him was made and put on public display. In court, a teacher was brought to teach him to speak, but he failed in his task. The satirists of the time used the image of Peter to present him as the only normal person in the court, but the truth was that Peter could not adapt very well and sometimes he would try to pickpocket the people of the court looking to see if they had any nuts.

Eventually, he was sent to live in the countryside and was watched by a family of farmers who treated him well. He loved going back to nature and apparently really enjoyed drinking gin! When he became drunk he used to kind of sing, the only recognisable words of which were “Peter” and “George”.

Peter the Wild Boy lived a long life in Britain. He died in 1785 and you can still see his grave in Northchurch. The reason for his strange condition was finally resolved In 1978, almost 200 years after his death. It was named as a chromosomal disorder and it was called Pitt Hopkins Syndrome.

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