Peter the Wild Boy & Kensington Palace

Posted by Oliver, on 05 Feb 2014, in History
“Peter the Wild Boy” © 2007 Used Under A Wikimedia Commons License

“Peter the Wild Boy” © 2007 Used Under A Wikimedia Commons License

While most guests staying in a Kensington hotel in London will know about Peter Pan, most have heard much less about Kensington’s other Peter!

Although Peter Pan might be Kensington’s most famous Peter, Peter the Wild Boy is certainly the most unusual. Unlike Peter Pan, Peter the Wild Boy didn’t live in Kensington Gardens… he lived in Kensington Palace!

It’s funny to think that anyone with the nickname of “Wild Boy” could live in Kensington Palace for most of their childhood, but Peter certainly did. Peter was discovered in 1725, roaming wild in the woods of Hamelin, the town of the Pied Piper legend. The boy aroused huge public curiosity and appeared to have lived an entirely feral existence, surviving by eating forest flora. He was entirely naked, walked around on all floors and despite the people of Hamelin’s efforts, could not be taught to speak language.

While in other circumstances Peter would have been a ward of the state, luck seemed to be on his side! While on a trip to his childhood home in Hanover, George the First heard of Peter and asked for him to be transported to Britain. Upon Peter’s arrival in London, there was massive public interest in the young boy. Can you imagine what kind of media a discovery like Peter would generate today? Both Jonathan Swift and Daniel Defoe wrote about Peter, and Lord Monboddo presented “the Idiot Peter” in support of his theory of evolution.

Although public interest in Peter died down quickly, Princess Caroline of Ansbach – later to be Queen Caroline – took a special interest in Peter’s welfare. Peter began living in Kensington Palace: serving a strange role as a pet and unwitting court jester. He rejected clothing and remained walking on his hands and knees, and for a time, greatly amused the royal court. He was a natural pick pocket, and imitated the courtiers by stealing kisses from the ladies. A highly maternal woman, Caroline remained intent on involving Peter in society. After her death in 1737, Peter was sent to work as a farm hand in Hertfordshire, where his caretakers were paid a generous pension to look after him. He was reportedly very happy in his new life, but due to his predisposition for wandering, had to be fitted with a collar that read: “Peter the Wild Man of Hanover. Whoever will bring him to Mr. Fenn at Berkhamsted shall be paid for their trouble.”

Amazingly, Peter lived to the ripe old age of 72, an age that few people of the era would have hoped to live to! Today, you can learn all about him at Kensington Palace, which is within walking distance of any good Kensington hotel in London.