11/02/2013 by noonobservation
Thanks to my blog, my Christmas presents this year included no less than 12 history books – joy! Unfortunately, this has placed an unsustainable strain on my storage facilities to the point where I may need to buy a house. Preferably one with a library.
In an attempt to save myself from being crushed to death in an avalanche of my own books, I have been reading some of the weightier biographies. This week’s lucky winner is the romantically named, Prince Rupert of the Rhine
This post is dedicated to my first history teacher, Mrs Hulse (or Linda as I now try to call her). I apologise for mocking your admiration for Prince Rupert and drawing little pictures of you kissing him in the back of my exercise book. I now understand that there is nothing unnatural about yearning after romantic dead military heroes.
Hey, who’s that guy?
Even thus, upon the bloody field,
The eddying tides of conflict wheeled
Ambiguous, till that heart of flame,
Hot Rupert, on our squadrons came
– Walter Scott, ‘Rokeby’
As son of the Elector Palatine and the grandson of James I/VI, Rupert had immaculate breeding, as can be seen in his perfect conformation, good sharp teeth and nice glossy hair.
Since his father’s lands were being borrowed by the Thirty Years’ War, Rupert grew up mostly in The Hague and at Leyden. By 14 he was skilled in horsemanship, hunting, swordplay, fortification, pistol shooting, painting and science, and spoke German, English, High Dutch, Low Dutch, French, Italian and Spanish. He was thought so promising that his uncle, Charles I hatched a plan to make him Viceroy of Madagascar.
Having narrow career aspirations, Rupert instead joined his brothers’ army in Bohemia, where he successfully established his reputation for being recklessly brave and terribly romantic, when his innovative tactic of not running away resulted in him being very heroically captured.
After a spell in prison at Linz (where he spent his time playing tennis, taming a baby hare, seducing the governor’s daughter and inventing a new way to draw perspective), Rupert was released just in time for the English Civil War, which he immediately recognised as a massive opportunity to be recklessly heroic and romantically brave again.
King Charles placed Rupert in charge of the Royal Horse (there being only one of them at this time), and after an energetic recruitment drive and lengthy training montage, Rupert soon had them up to an effective fighting force of 3000.
Rupert fought the Civil War with several secret weapons. One was his vicious white war poodle, Boye, who was unfairly vilified in the parliamentarian press as a witch, though in reality he was merely a woman from Lapland transformed into a dog and able to predict the future, speak Hebrew, etc.
Another weapon in Rupert’s arsenal was his mastery of disguise which (allegedly) allowed him to sneak into parliamentarian encampments dressed as a rustic apple seller.
His main weapon however was his legendary Dash, which was potent enough to unnerve whole regiments of grim, dowdy and uniformly turd-coloured parliamentarian troopers. Resplendent in billowing red cloak, feathery hat and lacy shirt, the sight of Rupert and his beautiful hair galloping across a battlefield was too much for any man (or woman) to stand against.
(His understanding of siege warfare, and ability to raise, organise and maintain large numbers of troops were also quite useful.)
Rupert pulled off many dashing victories, including at Powick Bridge, Lichfield, Bristol, Newark and Leicester, but unfortunately lost all the glamorous/important battles. His custom of falling out with the other Royalist commanders and habit of dashing too fast at the enemy, overshooting, and ransacking a nearby village were not terribly helpful on these occasions. After a row with Charles over whether he should have surrendered Bristol, Rupert stormed out of England in a dashing and not uncomely huff.
What Rupert did next
In an attempt to become even more unbearably dashing and romantic, Rupert became a pirate.
In 1648, the English fleet mutinied and sailed to Holland in support of the King. Rupert, who had been filling his spare time fighting for the French against the Spanish in the Netherlands (don’t ask), immediately came to take charge.
Rupert took to the water like a duck to… um… water. His knowledge of artillery was highly relevant, as was his famous way with people: when the sailors of the Antelope mutinied, Rupert responded by holding one of the ringleaders over the side until they all stopped being so damned un-heroic.
With his eight ships, Rupert first thought to come to the aid of Charles I. Unfortunately, Charles was relieved of the tiresome weight of his massive god-given head in January 1649, forcing Rupert to resort to plan B: piracy.
Avoiding the Commonwealth fleets sent to catch him, Rupert sailed the high seas, eking out a hand-to-mouth existence off the fatted carcasses of English merchantmen. Large prizes were converted to new warships, but Rupert lost ships faster than he gained them. His flagship, the Constant Reformation, sprung a leak off the Azores – when an attempt to seal it using 120 pieces of raw beef failed, the sailors bundled Rupert into the only available boat before the ship sank with all hands.
Rupert’s next plan was to join the royalists on Barbados. It took some months to collect enough beef, wine and English pluck for the voyage, and unfortunately by the time he got to the Caribbean, the royalists had surrendered. After losing his brother Maurice and all but one of his ships in a hurricane, Rupert sailed back to France at the end of 1652. Charles II reproached him for returning with only four prizes, a ‘little nigger boy’, and an odd west-country accent.
Rupert went back to Germany for a bit, where he worked on making better gunpowder, devised rudimentary revolvers and torpedoes and invented mezzotint engraving. He also discovered the interesting, if useless, Prince Rupert’s Drops.
In 1660, Charles II was given a full restoration and Rupert moved his laboratory to Whitehall. He sat on the board of the Royal Africa Company, the Committee for Tangiers (where Pepys said that “Prince Rupert do nothing but swear and laugh a little”) and pitched in at the Royal Society, being himself extremely royal.
Feeling that he still had a great deal more Dash to offer, Rupert signed up as a lowly Admiral during the Second and Third Anglo-Dutch Wars, once more displaying his now excellent seamanship and legendary fightiness in a dramatic series of inconclusive naval engagements. By 1673 he was head of the navy.
His own head however, was less than shipshape. Rupert underwent trepanning twice to deal with a head wound dating back to 1647. Pepys (who was unmoved by Dash), ascribed it to other causes: “…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.”
In his later years, Rupert also occupied his time in helping to set up the Hudson Bay Company and having 15% of North America named after himself.
Rupert died in 1681 aged 62 and was buried in Westminster Abbey. Though he never married, he left behind several illegitimate children, including the imaginatively named Ruperta, born to his final mistress, actress Peg Hughes.
Memorability Spectrum Analysis:
Hotness (Red): 229 – the archetypal romantic warrior prince. He had too many lady friends to go into here.
Eccentricity (Green): 176 – generally sane, but hot-tempered and too interested in metallurgy.
Violence (Blue): 209 – as Pepys admits, he was “…the boldest attaquer in the world for personal courage”.