Prince Rupert in the Mediterranean, 1650-1

Prince Rupert's squadron evaded the Commonwealth blockade and escaped from Lisbon harbour on 12 October 1650. The squadron now comprised six ships: the former Parliamentarian warships Constant Reformation (52 guns) and Swallow (40), which were the flagships of Prince Rupert and Prince Maurice respectively, the Black Prince (40), purchased in Lisbon, and the converted prizes Second Charles (40), Henry (30) and Mary (14). Apart from Maurice, Rupert's principal officers were his flag captain or chief of staff Captain Fearnes, Captain Kettleby, who took over as captain of the Constant Reformation after the death of Richard Fielding, Captain Chester of the Swallow, Captain Goulding of the Black Prince, Captain Marshall of the Second Charles, Captain Burley of the Henry and Sir John Mucknell of the Mary. Rupert's former rear-admiral Sir John Mennes left the squadron at Lisbon to join Charles II's exiled court. However, Rupert was rejoined by Captain Allin who had been captured when the squadron was based at Kinsale and subsequently escaped from prison in London.

Two days out from Lisbon, the Royalists sighted three English merchantmen. Two surrendered without a fight and were taken as prizes; the third tried to escape and was pursued by Marshall in the Second Charles. Rupert destroyed one of the prizes after transferring its cargo to the other, the Malagonian, which he kept. After waiting a day for Marshall to return, the squadron sailed into the Mediterranean, passing through the Strait of Gibraltar around 18 October 1650. After waiting a further two days off the coast of north Africa for news of Marshall, Rupert sailed for Malaga in Spain where the Royalists sighted a number of English merchantmen at anchor in the harbour. Rupert planned to capture them by sending in the Henry disguised as a merchant vessel to anchor where she could cut off the escape of the English ships, while the rest of the squadron attacked under cover of darkness. However, the plan was thwarted when a group of disaffected sailors aboard the Henry got away in a boat and raised the alarm.

The squadron sailed on to the port of Velez-Malaga where four English ships had taken refuge. Prince Rupert tried to persuade the Spanish governor to surrender the ships to him. When the governor refused to act until he had received instructions from Madrid, Rupert sent in a fireship and burned two of the English vessels, later claiming that the crews had set fire to them to avoid capture. He sailed on to Motril where he destroyed another three English merchantmen and came under fire from the Spanish defences.

Around this time, the Second Charles rejoined Rupert's squadron. Captain Marshall reported that after abandoning his pursuit of the English merchantman in the Atlantic, he was joined by a French ship, the 36-gun Jules. When they approached Gibraltar, they were attacked by General-at-Sea Robert Blake and the Commonwealth fleet. The Second Charles escaped but the French ship was taken as a prize and Blake returned to Cadiz to dispose of it. On entering the Mediterranean, Marshall took an English prize, the William and John, before rejoining Rupert.

Prince Rupert in the MediterraneanPrince Rupert in the Mediterranean, 1650-1

Although Blake's fleet was evidently closing in, the Royalist squadron continued to hunt for prizes in the western Mediterranean. The Constant Reformation and the Swallow pursued a large English merchantman, the Marmaduke, which they took after a fierce battle off the coast of Africa. At the same time, the rest of the squadron was sailing in pursuit of a large merchant fleet that turned out to be Dutch. The Netherlands was regarded as a neutral nation so its ships could not be attacked. However, the pursuit brought the Royalist ships within sight of Blake's fleet, which had entered the Mediterranean at the beginning of November. On 3 November, the Commonwealth fleet overtook the Henry, which surrendered rather than fight against overwhelming odds. Later that day, Blake's leading ships approached the Black Prince. The Second Charles turned back to support her, but the other Royalist ships sailed on, making for Cartagena. Unable to defend Black Prince on her own, the Second Charles turned about again and followed them. Captain Goulding of the Black Prince succeeded in fighting off his pursuers but was unable to reach Cartagena during the night. Next morning, with Blake's squadron bearing down on her, the Black Prince was deliberately run aground and burned by her crew to avoid capture.

On 5 November, Blake sailed into Cartagena harbour and anchored near the Royalist ships Second Charles and Mary and their prizes the Malagonian and William and John. The Spanish authorities warned Blake to take no action against the Royalists until they had received instructions from Madrid. During the night of 6 November, however, the Royalist ships tried to escape from Cartagena but were caught in a sudden squall. All four were run aground and wrecked. Blake notified the governor of Cartagena that the cargoes of the wrecked ships were the property of the Commonwealth government. On 9 November, he sailed from Cartagena in pursuit of the remaining Royalist ships.

Meanwhile, Prince Rupert and Prince Maurice had arrived with their prize at Formentera in the Balearic Islands where they had arranged to rendezvous with the rest of the squadron. Unaware that the ships had been lost at Cartagena, Rupert left a message for a new rendezvous at Toulon. On the voyage from Formentera, Rupert in the Constant Reformation became separated from the Swallow and Marmaduke in a storm and was blown down to Sicily. He stayed for several weeks at Messina to repair the damage to his ship. Maurice continued on to Toulon, where he arrived on 25 November. Rupert finally joined him in mid-December.

Blake had learned of the rendezvous at Formentera, allegedly from Captain Burley of the Henry. When he arrived there to find Rupert and Maurice gone, Blake sailed back to Cartagena. On the return voyage, he received orders recalling him to England with most of his ships. The Council of State had appointed Vice-Admiral William Penn commander of Commonwealth ships in the southern seas, with orders to continue the pursuit of Prince Rupert's squadron. Blake arrived back in England early in 1651 and was rewarded with £1,000 and the thanks of Parliament for breaking up the Royalist privateering fleet.

Rupert spent the winter at Toulon. During December 1650 and January 1651, he was joined by the captains and some of the crews of the ships lost at Cartagena. An inquiry was held to establish responsibility for the loss of the Henry and the abandonment of the Black Prince. Captain Burley claimed that he surrendered the Henry because his crew mutinied and left him no choice, but he was also found to be at fault for passing details of the rendezvous at Formentera to Blake. Rupert dismissed Burley from the squadron with a recommendation that he should never again be employed in the King's service. Captain Marshall of the Second Charles accused Captain Allin of cowardice for not coming to his aid when the Black Prince was overtaken by Blake's ships. Although Allin argued that his first duty was to get the prizes to Cartagena, it was felt that the inquiry was likely to condemn him to death for abandoning his comrades. Allin escaped from Toulon and fled to Jersey. However, he was later reconciled with Prince Rupert and went on to lead a distinguished career in the Restoration navy.

After some initial difficulties with the French authorities at Toulon, Rupert gained the support of César de Bourbon, Duke of Vendôme and Admiral of France, who regarded the Royalist squadron as a potential ally against Spain. Vendôme's support enabled Rupert to sell the cargo of the Marmaduke and to refit his ships. The Marmaduke was renamed Revenge of Whitehall and incorporated into the squadron. Rupert bought another ship, the Honest Seaman, and he was joined by Captain Craven in a vessel renamed the Loyal Subject. Although Rupert ran up considerable debts at Toulon, by the spring of 1651 the Constant Reformation and Swallow along with his three new ships were fully armed and fitted out.

Vice-Admiral Penn's squadron of eight warships passed through the Strait of Gibraltar around the end of March 1651. Rupert realised that the Mediterranean had become too dangerous for him. However, he circulated false rumours that he intended to continue his privateering operations in the eastern Mediterranean and Penn obligingly sailed from Majorca for Sardinia in early May, leaving the Strait of Gibraltar unguarded. On 7 May, Rupert's squadron sailed from Toulon. At first, the Royalists headed east to continue the deception. Once out of sight of land, the squadron turned south and sailed westwards along the Barbary Coast to Gibraltar, and out into the Atlantic.


John Barratt, Cromwell's Wars at Sea (Barnsley 2006)

Sir J.S. Corbett, England in the Mediterranean 1603-1713 vol.i (London 1904)

S.R. Gardiner, History of the Commonwealth and Protectorate vol. i (London 1903)

Frank Kitson, Prince Rupert, admiral and general-at-sea (London 1998)

Eliot Warburton, Memoirs of Prince Rupert and the Cavaliers vol iii (London 1849)


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