On a Curious Boy

Peter was a strange child. For example, one of his favorite things to do was to rife the pockets of the adults around him to see what interesting things could be found there. He was born around 1713, and, like most kids from the lower classes of the 18th century, Peter had no formal education to speak of. The farm where he eventually came to live and work, owned of course not by his family, came to see him as a sort of mascot or pet, even when he became an adult. He had a natural curiosity about him, Peter did, and part of that curiosity may have stemmed from an unusual event in his life. It was at the age of about 12 when Peter moved from Germany, his homeland, to Britain. Such a move was unusual for a person of his social status at that time in history, and the change of venue obviously changed Peter’s life forever.

Again, unusually for someone of his station, Peter came to be feted by members of the British Royal family. In fact, his move to the British Isles was precipitated by the daughter of King George I, Caroline, the Princess of Wales. She met Peter near his home outside of what is now Hanover, Germany, when he was but a young boy, and she immediately was captivated by his unique character.

In fact, the princess was so taken with the boy that she ordered he be painted into one of the official portraits of the King’s court. The painting, by William Kent, now hangs in the hall of Kensington Palace in London. You can see Kent’s depiction of Peter today, the boy depicted wearing a smart green coat, standing to one side of the large group of the courtiers, and holding some tree foliage in one hand.

The princess even arranged for Peter to be tutored by an important physician of the day, the famous Scottish doctor, John Arbuthnot. Dr. Arbuthnot worked with Peter to teach him to read and write and speak the King’s English, but Peter had no interest in those things. In fact, Peter preferred to spend time outdoors, walking in the fields or running through the woods—both perfectly normal things for a young boy to want to do.

Eventually, Dr. Arbuthnot gave up. The princess, despairing of her young charge, eventually decided that it would be best for Peter to go to live with one of the chambermaids of her mother’s, a woman who came from the country originally. This woman, in turn, entrusted Peter to a yeoman farmer she knew, and so Peter ended up spending most of his life on the farm where, as stated above, he became a favorite of all who knew him there.  A nice yearly sum was given to the farmer by the royal family on Peter’s behalf. He lived to be about 70, loved and cared for all his days. His grave is near the door of the local church in Northchurch.

You might think that Peter’s parents would have had a say in what happened to their son, but Princess Caroline did not even consult them in making her decisions regarding the boy’s future. Thus, Peter’s father and mother had absolutely no choice in deciding Peter’s future.

How could they?

After all, no one knew who Peter’s parents were.

By the way, when Peter would bunk off from his lessons with Dr. Arbuthnot and run in the woods, he even did that in a curious way. He ran…on all fours. Also, one reason Arbuthnot had no success with Peter was that he couldn’t speak at all. You see, Peter had been found living naked and alone in the woods near Hanover by some hunters led by King George.

He was the original feral child.

You may know him as Peter the Wild Boy.

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