Prince Rupert is best remembered as Charles I’s handsome nephew who commanded the Royalist cavalry during the English Civil War.

King Charles I's nephew Rupert of the Rhine,
Prince Rupert visiting the court of his uncle, King Charles I of England, by Anthony van Dyck, c 1637

He was a tall, brave dashing cavalier at 6 feet 4 inches (1.93 metres) in height and is still considered a ‘real hottie’ by some even today.

Early Years

Rupert was born on 17 December 1619 in Prague, the third son of Princess Elizabeth of England and Scotland and Frederick V of the Palatinate’s large brood of 13 children.

Initially, he grew up in luxurious surroundings, but when his father accepted the crown of Bohemia, King Frederick’s reign only lasted a few months. Rupert’s parents were dubbed the ‘Winter King and Queen’.

The family were forced to flee into exile to  Holland in 1620 after Frederik was deposed, but in their great haste, they nearly left Rupert behind.

portrait of palatine princes
Prince Rupert (right) with his older brother, Charles I Louis, Elector Palatine, 1637. Portrait by Anthony van Dyck.

Fortunately, a quick-thinking courtier found Rupert threw the child into the carriage at the last minute.

Rupert was could speak English, Czech, French and some German when he was three years old, and received a good education including logic, writing, drawing, singing and learning musical instruments. He excelled at art, mathematics and science.

Despite being a good student, he was often badly behaved, fiery, mischievous and passionate, and soon earned the nickname of ‘Rupert the Devil’.

His parents did their best to regain their territories, as they were struggling financially, despite a very small pension from The Hague, and negotiating with foreign governments, including Sweden.

Charles I of England suggested his sister and her children move to England, following Frederick’s death in 1632 from a fever when he returned to The Hague.

The Young Veteran

Rupert spent his early teenage years at both his maternal uncle’s court in England and in The Hague, before becoming a soldier, aged 14, and fought alongside Frederick Henry, Prince of Orange during the Thirty Years War.

Rupert soon earned a reputation for his fearlessness in battle, high spirits and hard work.

He fought in the Thirty Years War, the Eighty Years War in the Netherlands, became a prisoner of war at Linz, before he was released, upon the condition he never took up arms against Emperor Ferdinand III.

english civil war battle of edgecote october 1642
Prince Rupert seated at the table as King Charles I holds a council of war at Edgecote, the day before the Battle of Edgehill.

He was gifted a rare white poodle, named Boy, during his imprisonment, who accompanied Rupert to England and eventually killed

By now, as a seasoned war veteran, Prince Rupert joined his uncle’s cause during the English Civil War, with drive, determination and his experience of European warfare techniques.

He was initially successful, but he clashed with other Royalist commanders, mostly due to his youth, speaking his mind and lacking the social graces required of a courtier.

They thought he was arrogant and he was impatient with what he considered as their lack of professionalism on the battlefield.

Rupert could inspire great loyalty in his men but he also made many enemies, especially royal favourite, George Digby, who continued to undermine the young prince’s position at his uncle’s court.

Following the disastrous defeat at the Battle of Naseby, Rupert advised Charles I to seek a treaty with Parliament, but the King refused to listen, believing he could still win the war.

After a siege in September, Rupert surrendered Bristol to Parliament so King Charles angrily withdrew his commission, so he returned to exile in Holland.

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After the English Civil War

Rupert joined the French army under Louis XIV to fight the Spanish during the final years of the Thirty Years’ War, but complications arose by his early promise to the Holy Roman Emperor.

He joined the Navy in 1648, under the command of his cousin, Prince James, the Duke of York, as Lord High Admiral, only to find the fleet had lost discipline and the Royalists lacked the funds for regularly maintaining their fleet.

Rupert obtained command of the Royalist fleet and used the remaining vessels for piracy against English shipping, to restore finances, including trips to the West Indies, but it proved unprofitable.

He returned to Germany, following quarrels at the exiled Royalist court, to visit his brother Charles Louis, but he soon left over a quarrel involving one of his sister-in-law Charlotte’s maids-of-honour, a misunderstanding and an illicit affair discovered.

Rupert resumed life as a soldier, even raising an army for the Duke of Modena against the Papal States, only to discover he was asked to invade Spanish-held territory in Milan.

Interests

Rupert became involved in the development of mezzotint, a printmaking process which superseded the old woodcut process, and even becoming an artist, producing his greatest work, The Great Executioner.

He returned to England, following the restoration of his cousin Charles II, who granted Rupert an annual pension of £4,000. Rupert’s financial situation was, for the first time, rather secure.

As the Duke of Cumberland, Rupert resumed his seat in the House of Lords, continued to serve as an admiral in the Royal Navy and appointed to the Privy Council in 1662.

He became involved in the Hudson’s Bay Company, exploration and in the activities of colonial Canada. The city of Prince Rupert in British Columbia was named in his honour.

prince rupert of the rhine mezzotink work the great executioner
Prince Rupert’s largest and most famous mezzotint work, ‘The Great Executioner, c 1658.

Following his retirement from active service in around 1674, Rupert became a founding member of the Royal Society, focusing on science and technology at the time. Rupert invented a new brass alloy, creating a new form of gunpowder and other inventions for military service.

Rupert fathered two illegitimate children, Dudley Bard, by the daughter of a civil war veteran, Frances, and Ruperta from his affair with actress Margaret ‘Peg’ Hughes.

He died after a bout of pleurisy at his home in Westminster on 29 November 1682 and was given a state funeral.

Rupert is buried in the crypt in Westminster Abbey.

Further Reading

Charles Spencer, Prince Rupert The Last Cavalier, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 2007

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