Prince Rupert of the Rhine, 1619-1682

King Charles' nephew and commander of the Royalist cavalry. The most energetic of the Royalist leaders, but thwarted by jealousy and rivalry amongst the King's courtiers.

Portrait of Prince Rupert of the RhineBorn at Prague in Bohemia on 17 December 1619, Prince Rupert was the third son of Charles I's sister Elizabeth (the "Winter Queen") by her marriage to Frederick V, Elector of the Palatinate. His lineage was the Pfalz-Simmern branch of the Wittelsbach dynasty.

The Elector Frederick's assumption of the throne of Bohemia prompted an invasion by the forces of the Hapsburg Emperor at the beginning of the Thirty Years War, and in November 1620 the royal family was driven into exile at the court of the Prince of Orange in Holland, where Rupert grew up. He was a gifted child who learned all the major European languages at an early age, was skilled in mathematics and developed precocious tastes in art and music.

Early Military Career

Rupert's overriding interest was the military. In 1633 at the age of 14, he accompanied the Prince of Orange on campaign at the siege of Rhynberg. In 1635, he joined the Prince's lifeguard during the invasion of Brabant. The following year he accompanied his elder brother Charles Louis—now the Elector of the Palatinate—on a visit to England. Rupert made a good impression on his uncle King Charles I, was awarded an honorary MA at Oxford and had his portrait painted by Van Dyck.

Rupert returned to military service with the Prince of Orange in 1637 and was present at the siege of Breda. He then joined Charles Louis and an army of Scottish mercenaries led by James King (later Lord Eythin) in an invasion of Westphalia, which was defeated by General Hatzfeld of Austria at the battle of Vlotho in October 1638. James King placed the blame for the defeat on Rupert's impetuosity in charging the enemy.

Rupert was taken prisoner at Vlotho and held at Linz Castle in Austria for three years. Resisting attempts to convert him to Catholicism, Rupert alleviated his years of captivity by learning the art of engraving, by studying military textbooks and manuals, and by a love affair with the daughter of the governor of Linz. Thanks to the diplomatic efforts of King Charles of England, he was released in October 1641 on condition that he would never again bear arms against the Emperor.

Royalist Commander

The outbreak of civil war in England presented Rupert with an opportunity to continue his military career. In August 1642, Rupert and his younger brother Prince Maurice arrived in England accompanied by a staff of English and Scottish veterans from the European wars to fight for King Charles. The Order of the Garter was conferred upon him and he was appointed commander of the King's cavalry. At first Rupert was welcomed as an experienced soldier. His charisma had an inspirational effect on the Royalist cause, but his youthful arrogance and foreign manners soon alienated many of the King's senior advisers, particularly as Rupert was exempted from taking orders from anyone but King Charles himself.

Rupert won a reputation as a dashing cavalry commander by routing a Parliamentarian force at Powick Bridge near Worcester soon after the beginning of the war. At the battle of Edgehill in October 1643, Rupert's cavalry charge completely routed the Parliamentarian horse but, carried away by the chase, Rupert pursued them too far and left the battlefield—thus forfeiting the chance to inflict a decisive defeat on the Roundheads.

Prince Rupert in cuirassier armourDetail from Prince Rupert by Ernest Crofts

After Edgehill, Rupert proposed an immediate cavalry strike on London before the Earl of Essex's army could return, but senior Royalists prevailed upon the King to advance slowly on the capital with the whole army. When the Royalists finally arrived before London, the city defences were organised against them and the King had lost his best chance of winning the war at a single stroke.

Rupert's military achievements early in the war earned him a fearsome reputation. Some Roundheads credited him with supernatural powers — at least according to Royalist propaganda. His dog Boye, which accompanied him everywhere, was said to be the Prince's familiar spirit. Rupert was certainly the most energetic of the Royalist commanders. Although he was a member of the King's council of war, he was often away directing operations around the country. He was active in the Midlands during the early part of 1643 and captured Bristol in July. In 1644, he was appointed President of Wales with responsibility for both the civilian administration and the military organisation of Wales and the Marches. He proved to be an efficient administrator and still undertook daunting military duties, marching to relieve Newark in March 1644 and seizing most of Lancashire for the King in June. He then set out across the Pennines to relieve the siege of York. Although the York March succeeded in its principal objective of lifting the siege, ambiguous orders from the King and a lack of co-operation from his colleagues contributed to Rupert's defeat by the combined armies of Parliament and the Scottish Covenanters at Marston Moor in July 1644, which lost York and the north of England to the Royalists.

In November 1644, Rupert was appointed Captain-General of the Royalist army. He insisted that the Prince of Wales be nominally appointed commander-in-chief, but his promotion intensified the hostility between Rupert and several of the King's advisers, notably Lord Digby. He also clashed with the erratically brilliant Lord Goring, who was granted an independent military command by the King, thus undermining Rupert's authority. These divisions frustrated Rupert's attempts to co-ordinate the Royalist war-effort during the final year of the English Civil War. At the head of the main Royalist field army, Rupert stormed and captured Leicester in May 1645, but was decisively defeated by Fairfax's New Model Army at the battle of Naseby the following month.

After Naseby, Rupert realised that the Royalist cause was hopeless and advised King Charles to seek a treaty with Parliament. The King, however, believed that he could still win the war. Encouraged by Digby, he came to believe that Rupert was plotting against him. When Rupert surrendered Bristol to Fairfax in September 1645, King Charles angrily dismissed him from his service. Insulted at the stain on his honour, Rupert forced his way into the King's presence at Newark in October 1645 and demanded to be heard before a court-martial. The verdict cleared Rupert's name, but he had become estranged from the King and played no further part in Royalist military campaigns. After the fall of Oxford in June 1646, Parliament banished Rupert and Prince Maurice from England.

Following his departure from England, Rupert took command of a contingent of exiled English troops serving in the army of France in its war against Spain. He served under Marshal Gassion in the campaign of 1647 at the sieges of Landrécy and La Bassée, during which he received a head wound that obliged him to leave the army for a time. Finally reconciled with King Charles, Rupert joined Queen Henrietta Maria and the Prince of Wales in exile at the court of St Germain near Paris in October 1647, where he met his old adversary Lord Digby. Rupert challenged Digby, and only the Queen's intervention prevented them from fighting a duel. In March 1648, Rupert fought Lord Percy, another of his enemies among the English Royalists, whom he wounded.

Prince Rupert's Voyages

During the Second Civil War, Rupert accompanied Prince Charles when he took command of a number of warships that had defected from Parliament. The naval campaign was unsuccessful and the Prince's fleet was chased back to Holland by the Earl of Warwick in August 1648. Early in 1649, Rupert and Prince Maurice took command of the eight ships remaining in the Royalist squadron and sailed to southern Ireland with orders to support the Marquis of Ormond. From his base at Kinsale, Rupert ran supplies and reinforcements to the Royalist garrison on the Scilly Isles and preyed upon Commonwealth shipping in the Channel, selling the ships and cargoes he captured and donating the proceeds to the Royalist war-effort.

In the summer of 1649, Rupert was driven from Irish waters by the Commonwealth General-at-Sea Robert Blake. He sailed to Portugal, where King John IV promised him protection. Rupert continued to raid English merchantmen until Blake arrived off Portugal in March 1650 and blockaded Rupert's squadron in Lisbon harbour. He finally eluded Blake and escaped in October 1650. Denounced as a pirate, and with Blake's powerful squadron in pursuit, Rupert scoured the Mediterranean and the western Atlantic for prizes. He preyed upon English and Spanish ships, regarding Spain as an ally of the Commonwealth, and sold the captured goods to the Portuguese. During the spring of 1652, Rupert sailed to the coast of West Africa where he was wounded in a fight with natives. He sailed to the West Indies with his four remaining ships in the summer of 1652, only to find that the Royalist enclave on Barbados, where he hoped to find shelter, had capitulated to the Commonwealth. In a storm off the Virgin Islands in September 1652, Rupert lost two of his ships, one of which was commanded by Prince Maurice. The loss of his younger brother was a devastating blow to Rupert. Sick and exhausted, he returned to Europe in March 1653.

At first, Rupert was warmly welcomed at Charles II's court-in-exile in Paris. However, his reception turned sour when it was realised that the treasure he had brought back with him was negligible. Reluctant to become involved in the poisonous political intrigues of the exiled court, Rupert left Paris in June 1654. He spent the next six years in obscurity. He quarrelled over his inheritance with his elder brother Charles Louis, who was restored to the Palatinate, and was unable to find suitable military employment with the ending of the Thirty Years War.

After the Restoration

Prince Rupert's coat-of-armsPrince Rupert's coat-of-arms
Rs-nourse, Wikimedia commons

Rupert returned to England after the Restoration of Charles II in 1660. Despite their quarrel of 1654, Rupert was warmly received by the King. He was granted an annual pension and appointed to the privy council in 1662, his particular concern being the navy. He also took an interest in overseas commercial ventures, becoming the first governor of the Hudson's Bay Company in 1670. The territory granted to the Company was named "Prince Rupert's Land" in his honour. Continuing his interest in scientific experiments, Rupert became a founder member of the Royal Society. Among other scientific interests, he experimented with the manufacture of gunpowder, the boring of guns and the casting of shot, and invented a modified form of brass known as "prince's metal". During his exile in Europe, he had become skilled in mezzotint engraving, which he is said to have introduced into England.

Rupert held naval commands in the Second Anglo-Dutch War of 1665-7. Although wounded at the battle of Lowestoft in 1665, he broke through the Dutch line at a critical point in the battle. In June 1666, he co-operated with George Monck, Duke of Albemarle, to introduce new, aggressive naval tactics in the inconclusive Four Days Battle. Their tactics achieved a significant victory over the Dutch the following month in the St James's Day Battle (25 July 1666). The Third Anglo-Dutch War (1672-4) was characterised by an alliance between England and France that Rupert opposed. He was appointed admiral of the English fleet in 1673, but poor communications with the French commanders resulted in Dutch victories at the battles of Schooneveld and Texel in June and July, after which Rupert retired from active naval command to take up an administrative post as first commissioner of the admiralty.

Prince Rupert died on 29 November 1682 at his house at Spring Gardens near the Palace of Whitehall after an attack of pleurisy. He received a state funeral and was buried in the crypt at Westminster Abbey.

Prince Rupert was Duke of Cumberland and Earl of Holderness in the English peerage. He never married, but left two illegitimate children: his mistress Frances Bard bore him a son, Dudley Bard, in 1666; his second mistress, the actress Peg Hughes, bore him a daughter, Ruperta, in 1673. Rupert's sister, Sophia, Electress of Hanover, was the mother of George I, the first Hanoverian King of Great Britain.


John Barratt, Cavaliers, the Royalist Army at War 1642-46 (Stroud 2000)

C.H. Firth, Rupert, Prince, count palatine of the Rhine and duke of Bavaria, DNB, 1897

Ronald Hutton, The Royalist War Effort 1642-46 (London 1999)

Patrick Morrah, Prince Rupert of the Rhine (London 1976)

Ian Roy, Rupert, prince and count palatine of the Rhine and duke of Cumberland, Oxford DNB, 2004


Prince Rupert's dog

Who Was Afraid of Prince Rupert's Dog?

Examples of Prince Rupert's mezzotints: The Standard Bearer, The Great Executioner

Wikipedia article on Prince Rupert