Who was Prince Rupert of the Rhine?
Prince Rupert was a distinguished German soldier and admiral who commanded the Royalist cavalry during the English Civil War. Born in Prague, his full title was Count Palatine of the Rhine, the Duke of Bavaria, but he came to be known as Prince Rupert of the Rhine. His father briefly ruled Bohemia but was later forced to flee to Netherlands, where Rupert spent his early years. After finishing his education, Rupert became a soldier and served in the Thirty Years War which gave him valuable military experience. Later, he joined Charles I's army in the English Civil War and was appointed to lead the Royalist cavalry. With numerous military victories, he earned a formidable reputation for himself as an admiral and later went on to lead the relief of the siege of York but faced defeat by the Parliamentary army, losing York and the north of England for the Royalists. Next, he took part in the Battle of Naseby at which the Royalists were defeated which also resulted in Rupert surrendering the city of Bristol to parliament. Subsequently, the king dismissed him from service and Rupert left for exile in Holland, spending the next several years commanding small naval squadrons in West Indies and Germany. Later, after the restoration of the monarchy, Rupert returned to England where he held a series of British naval commands and also fought in the Second and Third Anglo-Dutch Wars before dying from pleurisy in his sixties.
Childhood & Early Life
Prince Rupert was born on December 17, 1619, in Prague, Kingdom of Bohemia, to Frederick V, an Elector Palatine and head of the Protestant Union, and his wife, Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of James I of England and Anne of Denmark.
In 1620, after facing a crushing defeat at the hands of his Catholic enemies at the Battle of White Mountain, Rupert’s family fled from Bohemia to the Dutch Republic where he spent most of his childhood.
Rupert was a bright child and learnt to speak some English, Czech and French by the age of three. He mastered German at a young age and also excelled in arts.
At the age of 13, Rupert lost his father and thereafter spent his teenage years in England between the courts of The Hague and his uncle, King Charles I. Rupert became a soldier quite early, serving as a military lifeguard to Prince Frederick.
In 1638, while fighting against the imperial forces in the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648) which earned him sufficient military experience, Prince Rupert was captured and imprisoned in Linz for three years.
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Within months after his release from captivity in Germany in 1641, Prince Rupert traveled to England and joined King Charles I shortly before the outbreak of the English Civil War in August 1642.
After receiving command of the Royalist cavalry at the age of 23, he directed his troops to achieve a series of English victories. He routed a Parliamentarian force in the first skirmish of the war at Powick Bridge near Worcester and later fought in the first major battle of the civil war at Edgehill in October 1642.
In July 1643, he took Bristol and later relieved Newark, Nottinghamshire, in February 1644, getting hold of most of Lancashire in June 1644. Same year, Rupert led the relief of the siege of York but was defeated by a Parliamentary army at Marston Moor, losing York and the north of England to the Roundheads.
In November 1644, Rupert was appointed the Captain-General of the Royalist army. The following year, he fought in the Battle of Naseby against Fairfax's New Model Army which culminated in another Royalist defeat.
Later, King Charles I sent him to hold the city of Bristol but when Rupert surrendered Bristol to the Parliamentarians, the king dismissed him from the service and Rupert was banished by Parliament from England, in July 1646.
Over the next few years, he took charge of the small Royalist fleets. In 1649, he took a fleet to Ireland but was outgunned by Blake, and then cruised in the Mediterranean and West Indies and Germany, during most of the 1650s.
In 1660, after the Restoration of monarchy, Rupert returned to England to exercise high naval command. He was appointed a privy councilor and given naval commands in the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1655–57) and the Third Anglo-Dutch War (1672–1674).
In 1670, he became the first governor of the Hudson's Bay Company. He also took keen interest in science and introduced the art of mezzotint printmaking into England. He was also one of the founder members of the Royal Society.
Personal Life & Legacy
Rupert became romantically involved with Frances Bard, daughter of the English explorer and Civil War veteran, Henry Bard. Although, Rupert denied Frances’ claim about their secret marriage, he acknowledged the identity of their son, Dudley Bard.
During the late 1660s, Prince Rupert fell in love with Margaret Hughes, an attractive Drury Lane actress. The couple did not marry but Rupert acknowledged their daughter, Ruperta.
Prince Rupert died on November 29, 1682, at his house at Spring Gardens, Westminster, Middlesex, England after a bout of pleurisy.