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Legend of the Hartlepool Monkey
During the Napoleonic Wars the French were, for obvious reasons, persona non grata throughout Britain. Indeed, it was such concern about French infiltrators and spies that provided the basis for the legend of the Hartlepool Monkey.
Some time in the early 19th century a French warship was supposedly wrecked off the coast of Hartlepool in North East England. The only survivor was a monkey, dressed up in French military uniform apparently for the purpose of entertaining the doomed crew.
Not knowing what a Frenchman might look like, the Hartlepool locals assumed they had apprehended one, and held a trial for him in the town centre. Unsurprisingly, the monkey was unable to answer their questions and was duly sentenced to death by hanging.
There is also another, more sinister, interpretation of the legend which states that the survivor of the wreck might not have been a monkey at all, but rather a French boy employed as part of the ship’s crew, “After all, the term powder-monkey was commonly used in those times for the children employed on warships to prime the cannon with gunpowder.”
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