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Prince Rupert of the Rhine

For the city in British Columbia, see Prince Rupert, British Columbia

Prince Rupert of the Rhine (17 December 161919 November 1682), soldier and inventor, was a younger son of Frederick V, Elector Palatine and Elizabeth Stuart, and the nephew of King Charles I of England, who created him Duke of Cumberland and Earl of Holderness, and appointed him commander of the Royalist cavalry during the English Civil War.


Early Life

Rupert was born in Prague in 1619 at the time of the Thirty Years War. Soon after his birth, the family fled from Bohemia to Holland where Rupert spent his childhood. His mother, Elizabeth of Bohemia, sometimes known as the "Winter Queen", was a sister of King Charles I of England. Consequently, Rupert gave his allegiance to Charles when the English Civil War broke out, as did his brother, Prince Maurice von Simmern.

At an early age he took to soldiering and fought alongside Frederick Henry, Prince of Orange at the siege of Rheinberg in 1633 and at Breda in 1638 - see Eighty Years' War. The forces of the Imperial General Hatzfeld captured him at the Battle of Vlotho (17 October 1638) during the invasion of Westphalia (Thirty Years' War) and imprisoned him in Linz, Austria, where he studied military textbooks. He was released on parole in 1641, on the condition that he never bore arms against the Holy Roman Emperor again.

Career During the Civil War

In 1642, King Charles appointed him to lead the Royalist cavalry, and he largely takes credit for their early successes. His dashing reputation earned him the nickname of the "Mad Cavalier". He reputedly took a large dog, a poodle named "Boye", into battle with him on several occasions. Throughout the Civil War the soldiers of Parliament feared this dog, claiming it had supernatural powers.

Rupert became General of the Horse, and his reputation prospered after routing a Parliamentarian force at Powick Bridge (23 September 1642); however he overextended himself at the Battle of Edgehill (23 October 1642) and left the Royalist forces unsupported by cavalry at a critical time which cost them the victory and led almost to defeat.

After Edgehill Rupert asked Charles for a swift cavalry attack on London before the Earl of Essex's army could return. The King's senior counsellors, however, urged him to advance slowly on the capital with the whole army. By the time they arrived, the city had organised defences against them and the Royalists had lost their best chance of winning the war. Nevertheless, Rupert continued to impress militarily; in 1643 he captured Bristol and in 1644 led the relief of Newark.

In November 1644 Rupert gained appointment as General of the Royalist army. This increased already marked tensions between him and a number of the king's counsellors. In May 1645 Rupert captured Leicester but a reversal at the Battle of Naseby a month later would prove politically damaging.

After Naseby, Rupert regarded the Royalist cause as lost, and urged Charles to conclude a peace with Parliament. Charles, ever the political ingenu, still believed he could win the war. Faced with an impossible situation, Rupert surrendered Bristol in September 1645; in response, Charles dismissed him from his service. After demanding a court-martial, which acquitted him, Rupert played no further part in the Royalist army command. After the fall of Oxford in 1646, Parliament banished both him and his brother from England.

For some time after this Rupert commanded the troops formed of English exiles in the French army, and received a wound at Marshal de Gassion 's siege of La Bassée in 1647. Then, following a degree of reconciliation with Charles, he obtained command of a Royalist fleet. A long and unprofitable naval campaign followed, which extended from Kinsale to Lisbon and from Toulon to Cape Verde. However, following a naval defeat by Admiral Robert Blake, Rupert took refuge in the West Indies. There he followed the life of a buccaneer, preying on English shipping. But the prince again quarrelled with the Royalist advisers, and spent six obscure years (1654 to 1660) in Germany, vainly attempting (as also before and afterwards) to obtain his rightful apanage as a younger son from his brother Charles I Louis, Elector Palatine.

Career Following the Restoration

Following the Restoration of the monarchy under Charles II, Rupert returned to the service of England, accepting an annuity and becoming a member of the privy council. He never again fought on land, but, turning admiral like Blake and Monk, he bore a brilliant part in the Dutch Wars.

After his retirement from the military in around 1670, he engaged in scientific research. Some have credited him with the invention of the mezzotint, which he introduced into England and developed new techniques for, as well as a form of gunpowder and an alloy named "Prince's metal" in his honour.

Even in retirement he continued to hold important governmental posts; from 1673 to 1679 he served as England's Lord High Admiral. He did not marry but lived with a Drury Lane actress and had a daughter by her, named Ruperta.

Rupert became the first Governor of the Hudson's Bay Company, which traded furs in Canada, and the territory of its immense trading monopoly gained the name Rupert's Land for him. Prince Rupert, British Columbia likewise takes its name from him.

Prince Rupert died at his house in Spring Gardens, Westminster, on 19 November 1682.

Miscellaneous - an explosive novelty named after Prince Rupert

External links

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