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Prince Rupert, 1619-82

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1982 marks the tercentenary of the death of Prince Rupert, the most brilliant of Charles I's generals. As Hugh Trevor-Roper here documents, he was single-minded in his chosen craft of war, but Rupert was never able to grasp the complexities of the contemporary situation.

Politically calculated marriages rarely work out according to plan. In 1612 a marriage was arranged between Frederick V, Elector Palatine, and Elizabeth, daughter of James I of England. The plans were laid by the bridegroom's uncle Henri, duc de Bouillon, the diplomatic leader of the French Huguenots. To the Duc de Bouillon, the marriage was designed to strengthen that international Calvinism on which the Huguenots depended for foreign support. King James accepted it in order to strengthen his position as the arbiter of Europe: with his daughter married to the leading Calvinist prince and his son, he hoped, to a Spanish infanta, he would hold the balance and preserve the peace of Europe. The Elector accepted it as a means to raise his status and, perhaps, increase his power. All these hopes were soon disappointed. Within a few years the peace of Europe was destroyed, King James's policy in ruins, the Elector deprived of his electorate, the Huguenots reduced to impotence; and all as the result of that marriage, and the ambitions it engendered: the Elector's fatal acceptance of the Bohemian crown.

The positive and more lasting results were different and equally unexpected. The Wittelsbach-Stuart marriage, instead of bringing English influence into Germany, brought Germany into English politics. Of the thirteen children of that marriage, four would be closely involved in English affairs. In the struggle between Charles I and his Parliament, the Elector's heir, Karl Ludwig, backed the Parliament, and even hoped to displace his uncle as King of England. His brothers Rupert and Maurice fought throughout for the Stuart cause. The twelfth child, Sophia, would ultimately be designated to replace the Stuarts on the throne, and her direct descendant sits on it today.

I am concerned, primarily, with Prince Rupert, the third son, famous in English history as the most brilliant and dashing of Charles I's generals, the inventor, almost, of the cavalry charge – with the proviso, however, that his cavalry charges always became disconnected from the main battle and, though completely successful in themselves, did not lead to victory. Of them it could be said, as Napoleon afterwards said, 'c'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre'. In spite of Rupert's brilliant actions, Charles I lost the war; and I am afraid that it was in this sense that Disraeli afterwards described a political colleague as 'the Prince Rupert of parliamentary discussion'.

However, although it was his cavalry charges which made Prince Rupert legendary in English history, they are not his sole claim to fame. He was as active by sea as by land. After four years fighting for Charles I in England, he spent another four years continuing the struggle in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, in the Caribbean sea and off the coast of Africa. Later, he was the admiral of Charles II in three great battles against the Dutch. He was active in colonial enterprise, a founder-director of the Africa Company and of the Hudson Bay Company, which is the beginning of British Canada. He left his name there in Rupert's Land and the Rupert River. He was a scientist, too, who, as a general, devised his own weapons – 'At once the Mars and Vulcan of the war'. In peacetime he would become a Fellow of the Royal Society. And he was an artist who both painted and carved and who practised and perhaps invented the art of mezzotint.

Prince Rupert was schooled in adversity. Born in the European limelight, in Prague in 1619, in that brief winter when his father reigned as King in Bohemia, and christened after the most famous of his Wittelsbach ancestors, the emperor Rupert III, he was soon bundled into exile – tossed as an afterthought into a fleeing coach – and grew up in the impoverished court which his parents maintained, on English and Dutch charity, at the Hague. When he was thirteen years old, his father died, a penniless émigré . The death, a few months earlier, of Gustavus Adolphus had removed all hope of recovering his inheritance through Swedish patronage; and to the widowed Queen of Bohemia – for among Protestants she always kept that title – there seemed no hope of providing for her large family except by turning to her brother, Charles I of England. England was then an island of peace in war-torn Europe, and English diplomacy, or English patronage, she thought, might repair their broken fortunes.

So in 1635 the new Elector, Karl Ludwig, was sent to London, and was joined there, next year, by Rupert, then aged seventeen. The two brothers were very different. In the nursery at the Hague, Karl Ludwig had been known as 'Timon'. He was cynical and calculating, and his whole aim was to recover by prudent diplomacy what had been lost by rash adventure. Rupert was himself an adventurer. In the nursery he had been known as 'Robert le Diable', and in his brief stay at the university of Leiden his thoughts had been 'so wholly taken up with the love of arms that he had no great passion for any other study'. The difference between the two brothers became apparent in London. There the young Elector recognised that there was more sympathy for his cause among Puritans than at court, and he offended his uncle by openly cultivating 'Puritan' opponents of royal policy. Rupert, on the other hand, became a favourite at court. There different inclinations were nicely respected in the books which were given to them by Archbishop Laud, when they accompanied the King on a ceremonial visit to Oxford. To Karl Ludwig Laud gave Hooker's Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity , the great defence of the Anglican Church against the Calvinism which had been the ruin of the Palatinate. To Rupert he gave the Commentaries of Julius Caesar, in English: for Rupert, though a good modern linguist, was never a Latin scholar.

However, if the English court offered opportunities, it also contained dangers. One was the danger of popery. The Queen of Bohemia was a strict Protestant. The Queen of England, Henrietta Maria, was an active Catholic. She was surrounded by Catholic courtiers and a busy papal envoy, All these made much of the younger Prince. This was very alarming to his mother. Almost as alarming was a project, hatched in the Queen's court, to send him in charge of an expedition to Madagascar, and set him up as King of the island: a project which seemed to his mother to come straight out of Don Quixote : had not Sancho Panza been promised the government of an island, still to be conquered? She would have none of her sons to be knights-errant, she wrote. Fortunately, the East India Company, whose support was essential, was equally opposed to the idea, and it had to be dropped, But eighteen years later Rupert would find himself sailing up the Gambia river and fighting with African negroes in adventures hardly less quixotic than the conquest of Madagascar.

Between fear of popery and fear of knight-errantry, Rupert and his brother were recalled from England and sent out together, with a little army of their own, under Swedish patronage, to the European war. In October 1638 they fought a battle, at Vlotho on the river Weser, in Germany. It was typical of many battles in which Rupert would afterwards be engaged: he himself fought with conspicuous valour, and the battle was lost. Rupert was taken prisoner, and spent the next three years in imperial captivity, mainly at Linz. There he 'diverted himself with drawing and limning' and invented an instrument for drawing in perspective, which he would later give to the Royal Society. He refused his freedom at the price of conversion to Catholicism, and ultimately obtained it through English diplomacy, against a promise not to bear arms against the Emperor. It was a promise which he could give without difficulty; for it was now late in 1641 and his military gifts would soon be needed in England.

From Linz Rupert returned first to his mother's court at the Hague. Then he visited his uncle Charles I, nominally to thank him for his part in procuring his release. When they met at Dover in February 1642 Charles I had left London, resolved to return to it only on his own terms: if necessary, as a conqueror. He was now preparing for war. What passed between him and Rupert we do not know; but when the Queen left for Holland to raise money for a civil war, Rupert accompanied her; and when the King raised his standard at Nottingham, Rupert at once returned to join him and was named General of Horse, with a command independent both of the royal commander-in-chief and of the royal political advisers. The Prince to whom these exceptional and dangerous powers were given was an impetuous and self- willed young man of twenty-two.

In many ways he deserved his post. He was genuinely devoted to his uncle, with a romantic, unqualified devotion. Equally he inspired loyalty in his troops: a loyalty which was well deserved, for in spite of his cavalier panache – he was very tall, strikingly handsome, and 'sparkish in his dress' – he was a brilliant leader. His energy and courage were combined with scrupulous attention to detail, efficient organisation and strict honesty. In the Netherlands and in Germany, at the court of the warrior Prince of Orange and in the battles of the Thirty Years War, he had studied both the art and the technique of war. He was not only a military hero but a military engineer, and he brought his own engineers with him to England. Compared with him the other generals of Charles I were amateurs. He was a professional.

Unfortunately, he was also a foreigner. He had no knowledge of England, apart from its court, or of English politics, or indeed of politics at all. The other generals of Charles I may have been amateurs, but they were also Englishmen who, like all Englishmen, deplored the civil war and wanted to end it with as little bloodshed as possible. They were noblemen with a stake in the country, and therefore necessarily politicians. They naturally distrusted this brilliant German adventurer in their midst. The King's civilian advisers, whose whole business was to find means to reconcile the King with his subjects, were even more distrustful of one who seemed positively to enjoy war. The ablest of them was Edward Hyde, afterwards Earl of Clarendon, the statesman who would bring back the Stuart monarchy in 1660 and write the greatest contemporary history of the Rebellion. He complained that Rupert was a stranger 'to the government and manners of the kingdom, and utterly unacquainted with the nobility and public ministers, or with their rights'; that his heart 'was so wholly set upon actions of war that he not only neglected but condemned the peaceable and civil arts' which were necessary even in war; and that his methods and manners were unpopular, for he 'was rough and passionate and loved not debate'. This charge cannot be dismissed as arising merely from personal opposition. Twenty years later, the ablest of English naval administrators, Samuel Pepys, would repeat, about Rupert as an admiral against the Dutch, what Hyde had said about him as a general in the civil war.

Nor was it only Englishmen who were alarmed by Rupert's appointment. His own family were equally dismayed. The Queen of Bohemia, as the widow of a Calvinist hero, was popular with the Parliament. She was also kept solvent – or semi-solvent – by a pension from England, which, being based on the customs, was now payable only by the power which controlled London – that is by Parliament. On every account she wished to see King and Parliament reconciled. Her eldest and still favourite son, the Elector, was even less of a royalist. His chief aim was the recovery of the Palatinate. To that end Charles I, even at the height of his power, had done nothing effective, and was unlikely to do more even if he should win the civil war. Therefore, the Elector, who had always looked to the Puritans for help, now openly backed the Parliament. He returned to England in 1641, in flat disobedience to his uncle's orders, and when war broke out, he secretly absconded from the royal headquarters and returned to the Netherlands via parliamentary London. For this act of desertion, the King would never forgive him; and there was worse to come.

In these circumstances Rupert's commitment to the royal cause was highly embarrassing to his own family, and at the beginning of the war his mother and eldest brother, in a petition to the Parliament, openly 'disclaimed and discountenanced all his uncivil actions'. The Parliament published the petition and, throughout the war, exploited the internal division of the Palatine family. The only member of that family who consistently supported Rupert was his younger brother Maurice. Maurice obviously worshipped his elder brother, from whom he was inseparable in all his actions, by land and by sea; and his devotion was returned. Perhaps the greatest personal blow which Rupert suffered was the loss of Maurice, drowned in a storm in the Caribbean in 1652. It does not seem, however, that Maurice had any great personal gifts. Like many dévots , he seems to have been rather dull. He 'had never sacrificed to the Graces', says Clarendon, 'nor conversed amongst men of quality, but had most used the company of ordinary and inferior men', and he goes on to describe him as proud and stupid and understanding 'very little more of the war than to fight very stoutly when there was occasion'.

Disliked by the councillors, courtiers and generals of Charles I – even, in the end, by the Queen who had taken him up on his first visit to England; disowned by the leading members of his own family; arrogant, impetuous and tactless; unable to co-operate, impatient of discipline, without political sense... Such is the character of Prince Rupert as it emerges from all sources during the English Civil War – and indeed after- wards. And yet, at the same time, he was indispensable. He was the most brilliant, the most successful, the most charismatic of Charles I's generals; the military men at court – 'the swordmen', as the responsible civilians described them – loved him; men clamoured to serve under him; and for the first two years of the war he seemed invincible: if anyone could have won that war, it seemed, it was he.

His first success came in a mere preliminary skirmish when a party of royalist soldiers were surprised at Powick Bridge, near Banbury. Rupert soon reversed the surprise. Leaping on his horse, he roused his men and improvised a cavalry charge which, by its sudden shock, dispersed the enemy. That little episode made his name. A few days later, at Edgehill, the first major battle of the war, his cavalry charge totally routed the Parliamentary cavalry, and could have won the battle if they had been able to stop; but – as would often happen – they returned after their triumph to find the victory lost. Even so, the way to London was now open, and Rupert urged his uncle to take it; to advance and enter his capital as a conqueror. The King's civilian advisers resisted and prevailed: they believed that it was not by sacking his own capital that the King would recover the hearts of his subjects.

These early victories made Rupert's fame and determined its character. He was the master of the cavalry charge, to which he gave a new form and a new force. He taught his men not to fire their pistols, as was usual at the beginning of an action, but to charge at once, in close formation, using their swords until the enemy broke and scattered, and only then to use their firearms. This innovation he had learned in the school of Gustavus Adolphus, and it was instantly effective in England. Where he regularly failed was in controlling his own men after the rout of the enemy. Here Oliver Cromwell would succeed; and it was Cromwell's success in keeping control over a victorious cavalry which would ultimately end Rupert's career of undisciplined victory.

After Edgehill, Charles I set up his headquarters in Oxford, and throughout the next year Rupert was engaged in numerous local actions intended to enlarge the area under royal control and to open the way for new royal armies to converge on London. In these operations he was almost invariably successful. He drove back the parliamentary armies by lightning raids, took their town by storm, and captured the great city of Bristol, the second city of England and the gateway to Ireland and the West. This was a great blow to the Parliament, which court-martialled its governor, Nathaniel Fiennes – and indeed nearly executed him, though he was a member of Parliament and the son of one of the great organisers of their party. Two years later this episode would have a dramatic sequel when Rupert himself lost the same city. But we shall come to that.

By January 1644 Rupert's record of success had raised him above all other royal commanders and the King recognised it by appointing him captain-general of four West Midland counties and President of Wales. He established himself at Shrewsbury, on the Welsh border, and at once reorganised the royal forces, raising money, enforcing his orders, and extending his authority in all directions. His most spectacu1ar victory was the relief of Newark: a victory, as even his enemy Clarendon admitted, 'as prodigious as any that happened throughout the war'. The King described it as a 'beyond imaginable success' and hailed his nephew as the saviour of the North.

However, even at the height of his success, Rupert aroused intense hostility, among royalists as well as among parliamentarians. This hostility was not merely due to jealousy on the one side, or defeat on the other. It was caused both by his aims and by his methods. His aim was total victory, victory by conquest. His methods, it was said, were the methods of barbarism.

To aim at complete victory in war seems reasonable enough. To Rupert, the issue was simple: the parliamentarians were rebels and had to be crushed. But to most Englishmen, on both sides, the issue was far less clear. To them the civil war was a regrettable breakdown in government which ought never to have happened and the sole purpose of the war was to find a basis of agreement for the future. This being so, it was important not to embitter the adversary by unnecessary humiliation: for they would have to co-operate with him afterwards. As one of the parliamentary commanders, the Earl of Manchester, put it, 'if we beat the King ninety- and-nine times, yet he is King still': no alternative system was thinkable. On the royal side, many men, and particularly the civilian counsellors, thought similarly about the Parliament. Such men were deeply suspicious of Rupert, who treated the struggle as a purely military contest, to be directed on the advice of soldiers, and particularly of himself, alone.

Even more resentment was aroused by Rupert's methods. Parliamentary writers regularly accused him of unnecessary severities, illegalities, even atrocities: of illegal extortion of money, of pillage in the countryside, of sacking towns and slaughtering prisoners. It was said that it was he who had introduced the new word 'plunder' – a word 'born in Ger- many' – into the English language. He was nicknamed 'Prince Robber'. Some of this can be discounted as war- propaganda. Any war needs a bogeyman, and Rupert, being the most famous and most successful commander, and a foreigner, was an obvious choice. Rupert's modern defenders have shown that some specific accusations are untrue: that his own behaviour in victory was often chivalrous and humane; that most of the excesses attributed to him derived from the indiscipline of his victorious troops, not from his orders; and that the occasional severities ordered by him were according to the laws of war as applied by parliamentary commanders and, particularly, by Oliver Cromwell. However, certain obstinate evidence remains which cannot be dismissed, since it comes from his own side, and from a man as committed as himself to total victory: the King.

Early in the war, when Rupert, using the King's name, demanded money by threats from the city of Lincoln, the mayor protested to the King, who promptly replied that he utterly disavowed and disliked his nephew's demand and absolutely freed and discharged the city from compliance with it. After the battle of Edgehill, the King thanked Rupert for his 'great valour and loyal services' but deplored the excessive bloodshed, since 'all in both armies are our subjects' for whose loss he was deeply grieved. He urged his nephew 'to mingle mercy with severity and look on our people as capable of reclaiming, though now misled'. Six months later, when Rupert was besieging Lichfield, the King repeated these warnings in urgent terms, begging Rupert to remember that 'we desire nothing so much as the good, happiness and peaceable government of our Kingdom, and not the effusion of the blood of our subjects'. Later, according to Clarendon, the King was offended to learn that Rupert had stormed and sacked the city of Leicester 'without any distinction of persons and places', churches, hospitals and houses being 'made a prey to the enraged and greedy soldier'. In 1644-5, during the negotiations at Uxbridge, Rupert and Maurice, on learning that they headed the list of war criminals who were excepted from pardon, both burst out laughing; whereupon the King, we are told, 'seemed displeased and bid them be quiet'. In the face of such evidence we must allow some credit to the charge that Rupert embittered an English political struggle by importing into it the methods of Mansfeld and Tilly, Wallenstein and Gustavus Adolphus.

Such methods could be justified only by success. Up to the summer of 1644 Rupert was remarkably successful. But then the tide began to turn. In the previous year, the Parliament, in despair, had appealed to the Scottish Covenanters for military help, and early in 1644 a Scottish army had entered northern England, had joined the two parliamentary armies already there, and had shut up the royalist army of the Marquis of Newcastle in the city of York. This immobilisation of his northern army threatened ruin to the King's plan of campaign. 'If York be lost', he declared, 'I shall esteem my crown little less', and in an urgent but ambiguous letter he ordered Rupert to relieve York and liberate the besieged army. Rupert at once suspended his immediate plans and marched north, fighting his way through a series of victories. He relieved York, and was saluted by the delighted Newcastle as 'the redeemer of the North and the saviour of the crown’. However, this victory was soon thrown away by an unnecessary sequel. Believing that he had been ordered by the King not only to relieve York but to destroy the opposing armies, Rupert challenged them at Marston Moor and there, in 'probably the biggest battle ever fought on English soil', he met his match. Dismissing the reasoned views of his fellow-general, Newcastle, with his usual disdain, he insisted on his own plan; and the plan went wrong. This time it was not the infantry, it was Rupert's own cavalry that was defeated. That famous force 'which formerly had been thought unconquerable' was scattered by the cavalry of Oliver Cromwell; the North had been saved only to be lost again; and the victor of so many charges only escaped (it was said) by cowering in a beanfield. From that moment Cromwell rose to eclipse Rupert as the greatest leader of cavalry in the English civil war. In another respect too Cromwell would resemble and outdo Rupert; for he too believed not in 'accommodation' but in total victory, and he outdid Rupert in being able to secure it.

At first Rupert's eclipse was not visible. The King still expressed confidence in him. Indeed, in November 1644, after a successful campaign in the west, he appointed him Genera) of all his forces in England. But Rupert would never win another important victory, and after the battle of Naseby, in June 1645, he recognised that the total victory on which he had staked all was now impossible. He therefore changed his mind, and urged the King to make peace. 'His Majesty', he wrote to the King's cousin, the Duke of Richmond, 'hath no other way to preserve his posterity, kingdom and nobility but by treaty. I believe it to be a more prudent way to retain something than to lose all.' Unfortunately this conversion to 'accommodation' was now too late. It only served to ruin Rupert by giving a new weapon to his enemies at court.

The weapon was ready for use in the autumn of 1645. The Parliamentary army, under Sir Thomas Fairfax, was then attacking Bristol, that same city whose capture by Rupert had so disconcerted the Parliament two years before. Rupert was in command of the defence, and confidently promised the King, who intended to join him there in order to introduce new forces from Ireland, that he could hold it for four months. This was a rash promise. In fact, after the loss of an outlying fort, he found it indefensible and, to avoid capture by assault, he accepted the advice of his Council of War and surrendered it in four days. Had he insisted on holding out until the citadel was stormed, the whole garrison would have been put to the sword. The negotiations between Rupert and Fairfax were conducted with great civility, and when the terms of surrender were agreed, Rupert, we are told, rode out 'clad in scarlet, very richly laid in silver lace, mounted upon a very gallant black barbary horse'. Those who escorted him were delighted by his urbanity, so different from the popular image of 'Prince Robber'. 'I am confident', wrote one of them, 'we are much mistaken in our intelligence concerning him, I find him a man much inclined to a happy peace, and will certainly employ his interest with His Majesty for the accomplishing of it.'

Vain hope! Rupert had now no interest to employ. When the King heard of the sudden surrender of Bristol, he was naturally shocked, and his shock being exploited by Rupert's enemies, he reacted violently. Without waiting for explanations, he summarily dismissed Rupert from all his employments and ordered the arrest of the governor of Oxford, who was Rupert's nominee. In a letter of unparalleled bitterness, he reproached Rupert for 'so mean an action (I give it the easiest term)', and summarily ordered him 'to seek your subsistence (until it shall please God to determine of my condition) somewhere beyond seas, to which end I send you herewith a pass; and I pray God to make you sensible of your present condition and give you means to redeem what you have lost'.

The King clearly believed that Rupert had betrayed him. He knew that his nephew had given up hope of victory, and he also suspected him of acting in concert with his brother, the Elector. For in 1644 Karl Ludwig had returned to England, as tentatively and as ambiguously as he had left it two years before. Unexpected and unannounced, he had arrived in Parliamentary London, had subscribed the Solemn League and Covenant, and had pledged his support for 'the people of God' against the popish, jesuitical advisers of the King. The Parliament rewarded Mm with a pension of K800 a year and allowed him to reside at Windsor Castle. At this time there was talk of deposing the King, and the Elector clearly thought that the Stuart line might be replaced on the throne – as it ultimately would be – by that of Wittelsbach, and hoped, if he could not recover his electorate, that he might compensate himself with the crown of England. Seen against this background, Rupert's surrender of Bristol could be made to seem very sinister, and Charles I evidently suspected that Rupert, his most trusted general, had deserted to the would-be usurper of his throne. Such was exactly the position which would occur forty- four years later when Marlborough, the commander of the royal forces, treacherously deserted James II and supported his usurping nephew William of Orange. But this time it was not true. Whatever his faults or errors, Rupert's loyalty was unconditional. It never wavered for a moment, even in Charles's defeat, or after his death. In this he was the perfect cavalier.

Rupert refused to be condemned unheard. He forced his way through the enemy lines and confronted his uncle at Newark, the scene of his own great victory. He demanded to be tried by court-martial – as Nathanial Fiennes had been when he had lost Bristol for the Parliament. He obtained his wish. The court-martial duly cleared him of any lack of courage or fidelity but not of indiscretion. So his honour was saved. But he would never receive back his commission. After a second stormy interview, be was ultimately reconciled to the King, but the royal cause was now lost, and in July 1646 Rupert went abroad to take service in. the French army till Charles I, or his son, should call for him again.

Although Rupert's services to the Stuart crown did not cease in 1646 – he would serve it, with undimmed loyalty, for another thirty-six years – he would never again occupy the centre of the stage. His martial activities, from now on, were marginal and. in the main, indecisive. They were also on another element. From the land he turned to the sea.

The second civil war, in 1648, began with a naval revolt against the Parliament, and Rupert, in the Hague, took command of the royal fleet. He made his base at Kinsale in Ireland, and was there when he learned of 'the bloody and inhumane murder of my 1ate dread Uncle of ever renowned famous memory'. When Kinsale became untenable, he moved to Lisbon, which the King of Portugal allowed him to use. Thence he preyed on English shipping and increased his fleet by converting his prizes into warships. One of them, the Marmaduke , he converted (until it broke away after a mutiny) into his flagship, renaming her Revenge of Whitehall – that is revenge for the murder of the King. When the fleet of the English Common- wealth drove him from Iberian waters and forced the King of Portugal to close Lisbon to him, he crossed the Atlantic to support the royalists who still controlled Barbados. Finally, he left the Caribbean and continued his operations off the coast of Africa, These activities kept him busy till 1652, when he joined Charles II's court at Cologne. They had no effect on the English Revolution, but they prepared Rupert for his post as admiral in the Dutch Wars of Charles II.

At sea, as on land, Rupert showed all his old qualities: vigorous administration, technical expertise, impetuous courage – and also his old weaknesses: lack of co-ordination, sacrifice of strategy to spectacular partial victory, and ruthlessness. His sea-war against the Parliament was little more than continuous piracy. It was also ineffective: while he preyed on English shipping from Kinsale, Cromwell was able to sail unopposed into Dublin. From Lisbon he preyed on Spanish as well as English ships and became a general nuisance: Blake was able to call on the King of Portugal to suppress Rupert and Maurice (for Maurice was inseparable from him on sea as on land) as mere pirates, 'that most nefarious tribe, the enemies of the world'. For the sake of such piracy, he delayed his expedition to the West Indies till it was too late: when he arrived, Barbados had submitted to the Commonwealth, and thenceforth he had to maintain his fleet among desert islands in the Caribbean or on deserted shores of Africa. In the end, when he arrived at the exiled and penniless court of Charles II, he was welcomed with overflowing affection, for it was thought that he had come laden with booty. The affection soon dried up when it became clear that his piracy had paid only for itself.

In his later sea battles against the Dutch it is much the same. In the Admiral of Charles II, we recognise the old cavalry leader of Charles I. He would co-operate as uneasily with Albemarle and Sandwich by sea as with Wilmot and Newcastle by land, In the Four Days Fight off the Downs in June 1666, as at Edgehill, twenty-four years before, his impetuous but unco-ordinated courage won a spectacular partial victory which was lost in the total result. He believed in 'the melee' as against 'formal' warfare, in individual initiative as against centrally controlled strategy. As he once said to Samuel Pepys, 'I can answer but for one ship, for it is not as in an army, where a man can command everything'. But even in an army, he had answered but for one arm, the horse. 'Individual initiative', 'the melee', had been his method there too. To the end he was an individualist, a law to himself alone.

Indeed loneliness is the most obvious quality in his life. Though he felt, and inspired, absolute loyalty, he always seems to have had more enemies than friends. He was temperamentally unable to co-operate on equal terms, for he recognised no equals. When he returned to the English court in 1660 – the easy, affable court of Charles II – he was, says Pepys, 'welcome to nobody'. Always intolerant and quick tempered, misfortune had made him silent and morose. His personal life was lonely too. He never married – though he had at least two mistresses, of a lower social class, in later life, and left two illegitimate children. His relations with his brothers and sisters (always excepting Maurice, his colourless satellite) were not close, and with his elder brother, the Elector, positively hostile. How could he ever forgive that brother who had clung so long to the Parliament, gaping after his uncle's throne, and had earned general con- tempt by remaining in England even after the execution of the King? Only when the Parliament abolished the monarchy, and therewith his own hopes, had the Elector left England. By then the Treaty of Westphalia had restored to him half of his Electorate, and he could return from republican England to a desolate Palatinate and a ruined castle in Heidelberg.

In 1654, after his return to France from four years of piracy at sea, Rupert attempted to make peace with his elder brother, and to obtain his own rights in the Palatinate, as confirmed by the same treaty. So he paid a formal visit to Heidelberg, with a train of twenty-six persons, including three blackamoors picked up in his African expedition. However, this interested reconciliation did not last long: on his next visit, his brother refused him admittance to the castle, and he left swearing a solemn oath – which he would keep – never to set foot there again. At one time he nearly made war on his brother, offering himself as a general to the Catholic Bavarian branch of the Wittelsbach family – the same branch which had deprived his own father of his lands and his Electorate a generation before.

After the death of his brother Maurice, Rupert's closest friend was another German: William VI, Landgrave of Hesse Cassel, whom he met in 1655. Like Rupert, the Landgrave was interested in chemistry and art, and Rupert corresponded with him on both subjects, describing his inventions and experiments: his pumps and powder-flasks, his varnishes and drops and medical cures. For by now Rupert was involving himself more and more in chemical and artistic experiments. 'Il avait le gériences de mathematiques', says Grammont, 'et quelque talent pour la chimie'; and at the close of his life, as governor of Windsor castle, he set up a laboratory, forge and workshop in the castle. The list of his library, which survives, includes many books on chemistry. As for his artistic interests, several of his works survive. He had been taught to paint at the Hague by Gerard van Honthorst, who painted the fine portraits of him in the National Portrait Gallery in London and Wilton House, Wiltshire, and on his first visit to England he had shown the royal physician (who was a great expert both in chemistry and in painting) how to paint in ink. Whether he invented mezzotint or merely introduced it into England is disputed. If he did not himself invent it, he learnt it at the court of his friend the Landgrave of Hesse.

Like many fundamentally misanthropic men, Rupert loved animals. In this he took after his mother, who was said to prefer her menagerie to her children. In his early captivity at Linz he had enjoyed the company of 'a rare bitch called Puddle, which my Lord Arundel gave him', and of a tame hare which 'lay upon the Prince's bed' and would open his bedroom door with its mouth. The 'bitch called Puddle' may well have been a poodle whose name has been confused. Perhaps it was the mother of the white poodle, Boy, who accompanied Rupert on all his campaigns and became a royalist army mascot. Good Puritans reported, with pious horror, that the debauched cavalier soldiers drank profane healths to 'sergeant-major Boy', and suggested that the dog was Rupert's familiar, his accomplice in witchcraft. In the end Boy slipped his collar, followed his master into battle, and was killed at Marston Moor. His death inspired a vindictive puritan elegy:

Throughout his life Rupert, like Charles II, was surrounded by dogs, but Boy was the most famous, and shared the most exciting part of his life.

Lament poor cavaliers, ay, howl and yelp
For the great loss of your malignant whelp!
He's dead, he's dead... etc, etc.

A man of intense loyalties but few friends, proud, reserved and morose, uncompromising, unpolitical, undiplomatic, single-minded in his chosen craft of war, which he saw as a personal adventure under his own command – such was Prince Rupert of the Rhine. Though he lived long in England, he seems never to have understood it, or loved it, or its people: only his uncle, Charles I, and – to a lesser extent – his cousin Charles II who, on his restoration, would reward his services with offices and revenues. For the rest, he lived to himself, in a private world, with his blackamoors and his poodles, his books, his laboratory and his instruments of art. Perhaps his mother was not altogether wrong in 1637, when she likened him to a knight-errant. This 'vagabond German', as his English enemies would call him, with his undivided loyalty and his 'visage sec et dur, lors même qu'il le voulait radoucir' (as Grammont described it), was surely not very different from that famous 'knight of the doleful countenance', Don Quixote; and his brother Maurice, the peasant prince who 'had never sacrificed to the graces' but followed him so faithfully, was his Sancho Panza.

Further reading: 
  • Elliot Warburton's Memoirs of Prince Rupert and the Cavaliers (1849) is still a valuable work, containing many documents, some of which have disappeared. 
  • A good modern biography is Patrick Morrah's, Prince Rupert of the Rhine , (Constable, 1976)
  • Ronald Hutton, The Royalist War Effort (Oxford University Press, 1982) gives an excellent account of Rupert's part in the Civil War.
Historical dictionary: English Civil War


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