Sunday, 24 October 2010

Prince Rupert Of The Rhine 1619-1682

Born in Prague in 1619 to Frederick V Elector Palatine and Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of James I, the family enjoyed a wealthy lifestyle in Heidelberg. Outlawed at the Battle of the White Mountain, Frederick fled with his family from Bohemia to the Netherlands. In the court’s rush to escape from Prague, Rupert was almost left behind in the court's rush to escape The Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand's advance, until a courtier tossed the prince into a carriage at the last moment.

Elizabeth reputedly paid her children little attention, preferring her pet monkeys and dogs, while governors brought up the children as strict Calvinists. Rupert was a 'fiery, mischievous, and passionate' child, nicknamed ‘Robert le Diable,’ though an able student and by age 3, he could speak some English, Czech and French. He mastered German, but had little interest in Latin and Greek, excelled in art, and found the maths and sciences easy. By the time he was 18 he stood 6 ft 4 in tall with the Stuart dark looks.

Whilst at The Hague, Rupert's family continued their attempts to regain the Palatinate though money was short. They relied upon a pension from The Hague, the proceeds from family investments in Dutch raids on Spanish shipping, and revenue from pawned family jewelery. By the early 1630’s Frederick’s attempts to regain the Palatinate and Bohemia seemed achievable, however a dispute with the Swedish King Gustavus over religious tolerance stalled negotiations. Frederick set off back to The Hague, died of a fever along the way and was buried in an unmarked grave.

Rupert was 13, and King Charles proposed that the family move to England; Elizabeth declined, but asked that Charles extend his protection to her remaining children instead. Rupert’s eldest brother Henry drowned at the age of 15, but he had another nine siblings.


At 14, Rupert fought alongside Frederick Henry, Prince of Orange at the siege of Rheinberg, and fought against imperial Spain at Breda at 16, earning himself a reputation for fearlessness in battle. Imprisoned by Emperor Ferdinand III, Rupert was released on the promise he would never take up arms against the Emperor again. He refused a final offer of an Imperial command and left Germany for England in 1641.

Rupert’s Civil War - He landed at Newcastle in August 1642 with his younger brother Prince Maurice, and rode to Leicester Abbey where King Charles I had a tiny army. Appointed General of Horse, Rupert's reputation continued to rise when he routed a Parliamentarian force at Powick Bridge in September 1642. He fought at Edgehill in October, after which he suggested a swift cavalry attack on London before the Earl of Essex's army could return. The King's counsellors urged a slow advance, and by the time they arrived, the city had organized defences against them forcing the King to retreat to Oxford. Some theorists say that, in delaying, the Royalists had perhaps lost their best chance of winning the war.

Rupert often quarrelled with his fellow commanders in front of his troops and thus undermine discipline. After Edgehill, Rupert and Maurice began to clear the South-West, taking Cirencester and then Bristol, becoming so famous, Parliament wanted him punished as part of any negotiated solution.

Of an apparently: 'frank and generous disposition', Rupert showed a 'quickness of... intellect', was prepared to face grave dangers, but he lacked the social gifts of a courtier, and his humour could turn into a 'sardonic wit and a contemptuous manner': with a hasty temper that made him enemies, among them George Digby, a favourite of both the King and the Queen with whom he repeatedly argued in meetings.

By 1644, now the Duke of Cumberland and Earl of Holderness, Rupert was appointed General of the Royalist army, but suffered a severe reversal of fortunes at Marston Moor and the Battle of Naseby, and urged Charles to negotiate a peace with Parliament, who, supported by an optimistic Digby, still believed he could win the war. By late summer, Rupert had become trapped in Bristol by Parliamentary forces, and surrendered. Furious, Charles dismissed him from his service and command.

Rupert was exonerated over his conduct at Bristol, but still shunned by his uncle, he left the service of King Charles in disgrace, along with most of his best cavalry officers. Some say this was an act of vanity, but Rupert knew that the war by this point was effectively lost.

Reconciled with the King by 1646, Rupert remained to defend Oxford during the siege, while the King left for the north. At the surrender of the city, Parliament banished both Rupert and Maurice from England.

Rupert’s Dog - Given to Rupert during his imprisonment at Linz by the Earl of Arundel, Boye was a rare breed of white hunting poodle. He slept in Rupert's bed, had more haircuts than his master, at the word "Charles", he jumped for joy, lay with his paw on young Prince Charles' foot, and Charles I fed him choice morsels of roast beef and breast of capon from the table.

Parliamentary propaganda claimed Boye could become invisible to spy for the Royalists, that he was also a witch's familiar, or the Devil in disguise. Pro-Royalist publications listed Boye as being a "Lapland Lady" transformed into a white dog; Boye was able, apparently, to find hidden treasure and could catch bullets fired at Rupert in his mouth. Boye had been left safely tied up in the Royalist camp at Marston Moor in 1644, but escaped and chased after Rupert, only to be killed during the fighting.

Rupert's Restoration - At the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Rupert returned to England, where Charles II rewarded him with a pension of £4,000 a year. After the deaths of the Duke of Gloucester and Princess Mary, Rupert was the King's closest adult relation after his brother, the Duke of York, and a key member of the new regime. Rupert resumed his seat in the House of Lords as Duke of Cumberland, his financial position now relatively secure. His temper was reputedly 'less explosive than formerly and his judgement sounder' Rupert served as an admiral in the Royal Navy, rising to the rank of "General at Sea and Land". He also became a Knight of the Garter and Constable of Windsor Castle, where he conducted improvements, entertained the King and undertook scientific experiments.

Appointed to the King's Privy Council Rupert took roles on various Committee’s including the Tangier Committee. Samuel Pepys, no friend of Rupert's, declared that all Rupert did was to laugh and swear occasionally, though other reports say he took a full and active role in proceedings.

Rupert’s Ladies - He became romantically engaged to Frances Bard, the daughter of the English explorer and Civil War veteran Henry Bard. Frances claimed to have secretly married Rupert in 1664, although Rupert denied this and no firm proof exists to support the claim. Rupert acknowledged their son, Dudley Bard (1666–1686), often called "Dudley Rupert", who was schooled at Eton College.

In 1656 Rupert visited the Palatine and fell in love with Louise von Degenfeld, one of his sister-in-law's maids of honour. One of Rupert's love notes accidentally fell into the possession of Charles Louis' wife Charlotte, who believed it was written to her. Charlotte was keen to engage in an affair with Rupert, so was devastated when the mistake was explained. Von Degenfeld was uninterested in Rupert as she was engaged in an affair with Charles Louis whom he bigamously married.

Rupert, for his part, was unhappy that Charles Louis could not endow him with a suitable estate, and the two parted on bad terms in 1657, Rupert refusing to ever return to the Palatinate again.

During the late 1660’s, Rupert left Frances Bard when he fell in love with Drury Lane actress Margaret Hughes. Hughes appears to have held out reciprocating his attentions with the aim of negotiating a suitable settlement, and subsequently became a member of the King's Company which gave her immunity from arrest for debt. She was also painted four times by Sir Peter Lely, the foremost court artist of the day.

Rupert did not marry Hughes, but acknowledged their daughter, Ruperta and gave ‘Peg’ at least £20,000 worth of jewellery, including several items from the Palatinate royal collection. Margaret returned to the stage in 1676 with the prestigious Duke's Company at the Dorset Garden Theatre, near the Strand. Rupert presented her with a 'grand building' worth £25,000 that he bought in Hammersmith from Sir Nicholas Crispe. Rupert enjoyed family life,  commenting that his young daughter, 'already rules the whole house and sometimes argues with her mother, which makes us all laugh.'

In 1673, Karl Ludwig, Elector Palatine, Rupert’s elder brother, fearing his only son would not survive infancy, used their sister Sophie as an intermediary to persuade Rupert to marry and return to the Palatinate. Sophie sent him a boatload of Hanoverian deer for Windsor Great Park, but Rupert stuck by his oath that he had finished with the Palatinate after his brother denied him his heritage.  Margaret remained on friendly terms with Rupert's sister and sent her shoes from London. However, Sophie's thank-you note maintained that they were 'the prettiest in the world, only too small'.


After the end of his naval career, Rupert’s health was less robust; his head wound from his employment in France required a painful trepanning treatment, a painful leg wound persisted and he still suffered from the malaria caught whilst in the Gambia.

In January, 1666, Pepys writes in his Diary: Here I hear from Mr. Hayes that Prince Rupert is very bad still, and so bad, that he do now yield to be trepanned. It seems, as Dr. Clerke also tells me, it is a clap of the pox which he got about twelve years ago, and hath eaten to his head and come through his scull, so his scull must be opened, and there is great fear of him.

Rupert was an active shareholder in the Company of Royal Adventurers Trading into Africa whose backers included the King, the Duke of York and the Royal Society engaged in the West Africa slave trade, and later the Royal African Company, with a royal charter to set up forts, factories, troops and to exercise martial law in West Africa, in pursuit of trade in gold, silver and slaves. He also invested in the Hudson Bay Company which was granted a trading monopoly in an immense territory named Rupert's Land, with Rupert appointed the first Governor.

A founding member of the Royal Society, which fitted his wide interests in science and technology, Rupert engaged in scientific research and became credited with many inventions and discoveries. He converted some of the apartments at Windsor Castle to a luxury laboratory, complete with forges, instruments and raw materials, from where he conducted a range of experiments.

He designed the Rupertinoe naval gun; devised a gun that fired multiple rounds at high speed, and a "handgun with rotating barrels". He is credited with the invention of a form of gunpowder, which had a force of over ten times that of regular powder; he developed a form of grape shot for use by artillery. Rupert’s naval inventions included: a balancing mechanism to allow improved quadrant measurements at sea, and a diving engine for retrieving objects on the ocean floor. While recovering from his trepanning treatment Rupert set about inventing new surgical equipment to improve future operations.  He also invented a brass alloy, called Prince’s metal, slightly darker than regular brass, to improve naval artillery, but which also became used as a replacement for gold in decorations.

Rupert’s Death - Rupert died at his house in Spring Gardens, Westminster, on 29 November 1682 after a bout of pleurisy, and was buried in the crypt of Westminster Abbey. He left most of his £12,000 estate, equally to Hughes and Ruperta. Hughes had an "uncomfortable widowhood" due to her gambling. Presents from Rupert such as Elizabeth of Bohemia's earrings were sold to the Duchess of Marlborough, while a pearl necklace given by Rupert's father to Elizabeth was sold to fellow actress Nell Gwynn. Hughes sold the house in Hammersmith to the Margrave of Brandenburg—it ultimately became known as Brandenburg House.

Rupert’s Children - Ruperta married Emanuel Scrope Howe, future MP and English general, and had five children, Sophia, William, Emanuel, James and Henrietta. Rupert's son, Dudley Bard, became a military officer, frequently known as "Captain Rupert", and died fighting at the Siege of Budapest while in his late teens.

6 comments:

Marg said...

The first I had heard of Rupert was in a Cynthia Harrod-Eagles novel in the Morland series. He sounded like such a fascinating character, so I was surprised I hadn't heard more about him before.

Thanks so much for this post. It was very enlightening!

Alison Stuart said...

Oh, be still my fluttering heart!!!
I adore Prince Rupert (probably ever since a young Timothy Dalton played him in the 1969 film Cromwell!). There are many books about him...but for a novelised account have you read Cheryl Sawyer's book, the Winter Prince?

Nicola Cornick said...

Thank you very much for this, Anita. I have always found Prince Rupert a fascinating historical study. We have a picture of him at Ashdown, painted when he was in exile in Holland, and another of him painted in Oxford during the English Civil War (with dog, though not Boye). I've been researching his family background and friendship with William, Earl of Craven, as part of my Ashdown House research and so appreciated this article very much.

Anita Davison said...

You are welcome, Nicola, what with your post on Lord Craven and the fact I had just read 'the King's Daughter' and finished The Cherry Garden my Civil War novel, it seemed an auspicious time for this post. Rupert was a fascinating person and did so much with his life - I tried to make the post shorter but couldn't!

Susan Holloway Scott said...

By coincidence, there's an excellent post up today over at the National Trust blog "Treasure Hunt" that features portraits of Rupert's mother and sisters:

http://nttreasurehunt.wordpress.com/2010/10/29/2274/

I've always been fascinated by Rupert. Oh, that man deserves a book of his own!

Dolly said...

Oh how I adore Rupert. My friend calls me a Rupert Groupie because I sit in the National Portrait Gallery and drool. I think i was born some 300 years too late. So very sad about his brother Prince Maurice. Years ago I went to a pub in the East End called the Grave Maurice because I read it was named after his brother. Is the pub still there I wonder?