Back in the times of Napoleon and his empiric maurading, a French ship supposedly sank off the coast of north east England and all aboard were lost save for a pet monkey that the French had dressed in a tiny French officer’s uniform. Such was the fear of Napoleonic spies (or any spies at all), the locals took one look at the monkey—supposedly having never seen either a Frenchman or a monkey—and took him for a French spy. And when the monkey could neither understand nor utter English they grew convinced and hung him on the nearest solid mast.
Now, the people of Hartlepoole, the village in question, take great offence at their nickname (Monkey Hangers) and defend themselves against the claims most fervently (on the grounds that their town was a port and so most living there would certainly have seen a french man before if not a monkey) and most insist that the story was perpetrated by a rival town based on a myth from a Scots village, Boddam, from 1772 some thirty years earlier.
The Scots myth says that the monkey was hanged because Scots law required that salvagers could only take possession of booty on sunken vessels if all aboard are perished. They even made a song of it:
A ship went out along the coast,
And all the men on board were lost,
Except the monkey, who climbed the mast,
And the Boddamers hinged the monkey O!
Either way, poor bloody monkey.
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