Prince Rupert of the Rhine: Romantic Hero, Scientist, Cavalier & Lover

There is little doubt that Rupert of the Rhine is still capable of attracting admirers – even after being dead for over 300 years. Not only is he known as one of the Handsomest Men of the 17th Century, but he also was an excellent soldier, scientist, artist and more. And he happened to be a Prince, too. That’s always a bonus!

Prince Rupert, Count Palatinate. by Gerrit van Honthorst oil on panel, feigned oval, circa 1641-1642 29 1/4 in. x 23 1/4 in. (743 mm x 591 mm) Purchased, 1966 NPG 4519. © The National Portrait Gallery, London

Prince Rupert, Count Palatinate. by Gerrit van Honthorst. Oil on panel, feigned oval, circa 1641-1642
29 1/4 in. x 23 1/4 in. (743 mm x 591 mm). Purchased, 1966. NPG 4519. © The National Portrait Gallery, London

I simply cannot do this man justice in a single post, so we’ll have a very general overview of his life. But before we launch into the story of Hottie McStuart (as I call him), let us go back in time to England, 1613…

Elizabeth, Queen of Bohemia. Artist Unknown. NPG 5529, © The National Portrait Gallery, London.

Elizabeth, Queen of Bohemia. Artist Unknown. NPG 5529, © The National Portrait Gallery, London.

Young Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of King James I and his Danish Queen consort, Anne, was seventeen when she married Frederick V, Elector Palatine, who was a few days younger than she. Frederick got on very well with Elizabeth’s brother Henry, who was the family’s golden boy. Learn more about Henry and his involvement to have Frederick and Elizabeth marry.

Der junge Friedrich V. im Jahre 1613. Artist: Michiel Jansz. van Mierevelt (1567–1641). Wikimedia Commons.

Der junge Friedrich V. im Jahre 1613.
Artist: Michiel Jansz. van Mierevelt (1567–1641). Wikimedia Commons.

You can read some of Frederick V’s letters here. I quite like him. He and Elizabeth had a very close marriage. Born on the December 17, 1619 in Prague, Rupert was the fourth of their thirteen children, and there was little indication that he would one day outshine his siblings.

NPG D18151; Prince Rupert, Count Palatine by Hendrik Snyers, after Sir Anthony Van Dyck

NPG D18151; Prince Rupert, Count Palatine by Hendrik Snyers, after Sir Anthony Van Dyck. © The National Portrait Gallery, London

He and his family were eventually exiled, and Rupert went to live in England at his uncle’s court.

Prince Rupert, Count Palatine about 1637, Studio of Anthony van Dyck. Image: The National Gallery, London

Prince Rupert, Count Palatine
about 1637, Studio of Anthony van Dyck. Image: The National Gallery, London

In this next painting, he is on the right beside his brother, Charles-Louis, who is looking directly at the viewer. Rupert eventually fell out with several members of his family, including Charles-Louis.

DYCK, Sir Anthony van Portrait of the Princes Palatine Charles-Louis I and his Brother Rupert 1637. Web Gallery of Art

DYCK, Sir Anthony van
Portrait of the Princes Palatine Charles-Louis I and his Brother Rupert
1637. Web Gallery of Art

Now, Rupert’s probably best known as a military man and for his involvement in the English Civil Wars, for he was one of the Royalist commanders. Something that should be made clear is that his cousins were the future Charles II and James II, who were at this time twelve and nine years old, and:

Above all there was the boys’ hero and cousin, the dashing Prince Rupert, whose cavalry exploits gave promise of an early victory for the Royalists.

– Charles II, by Christopher Falkus, page 20.

In his book “The Stuarts”, Sir Charles Petrie wrote:

The year 1644 was the turning-point of the war….Rupert was sent from Oxford to retrieve the situation, and in particular to raise the siege of York. At first he was singularly successful, for he compelled the Parliamentary forces before Newark to capitulate, and then captured Stockport, Bolton, and Liverpool.

He’s also known for taking his white poodle, Boye, with him into battle – and the dog had been trained to urinate every time someone mentioned the name “Pym” (one of the Parliamentarians!). That always makes me laugh.

Portrait de Robert (Rupert), duc de Cumberland by Honthorst. Image: A.K. via The Stuart Kings Tumblr

Portrait de Rupert’s brother, Prince Maurice, by Honthorst. Image: A.K. via The Stuart Kings Tumblr

But things went badly for the Royalists:

…the Royalists sustained a crushing defeat at Langport, in Somerset, and Rupert was obliged to surrender Bristol, to the great annoyance of the King.

I visited Rupert’s position during my visit to the site of the Battle of Naseby in Northamptonshire, which was fought in June 1645.

He was pretty hard core when it came to fighting, and he was even shot in the head in the 1640s. He survived, though this injury did flare up from time to time for the rest of his life.

He was an exceptional artist, too, and was very talented with mezzotints. Here’s an example of his work:

Prince Rupert (Ruprecht of Pfalz), The Great Executioner, a mezzotint. © Trustees of the British Museum

Prince Rupert (Ruprecht of Pfalz), The Great Executioner, a mezzotint. © Trustees of the British Museum

According to the British Museum:

This huge mezzotint is a masterpiece from the early years of the technique. Prince Rupert (1619-82) had been taught the new process by Ludvig von Siegen in 1654. He improved the method of ‘grounding’, or initial roughening of the copper plate, by inventing a curved saw-like tool which he rocked back and forth across it.

The Royal Collection states that “Prince Rupert engraved at least 17 separate mezzotint plates.”

Prince Rupert (1619-82) Painted by Sir Peter Lely (1618-80) c. 1666-68. Royal Collection © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Prince Rupert (1619-82)
Painted by Sir Peter Lely (1618-80) c. 1666-68. Royal Collection © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Rupert was very interested in science as well, and was involved in the Royal Society, of which he was one of the founders. In his Diary, John Evelyn wrote about Prince Rupert several times:

“Next day, at the Royal Society, where was presented from Prince Rupert an Inscription in a stone found on the Keepe at Winsore (Windsor) which covered the skeleton of a child; with an urn full of old coynes &c.”

And again on the 7th May, 1662:

“I waited on Prince Rupert to our Assembly, where were tried severall experiments in Mr. Boyles Vaccuum: a man thrusting in his arme, upon exhaustion of the ayre had his flesh immediately swelled, so as the bloud was neere breaking the vaines, & unsufferable: he drawing it out, we found it all speckled: I returned the next day.”

The other diarist, Samuel Pepys, wrote of his observation of Rupert from the 3rd of June, 1664:

Prince Robert (Rupert) doth nothing but swear and laugh a little, with an oath or two, and that’s all he doth.

In a remarkably similar vein to his much less fortunate second cousin, the Duke of Monmouth, Rupert was both a capable military leader and an enthusiastic lover. He had numerous liaisons. When Rupert was in his later years, he fell in love. Margaret Hughes, who may have been the first English actress, caught his eye, and he, hers, and they became lovers.

Margaret Hughes after Sir Peter Lely mezzotint, 1677-1685 (1687). © National Portrait Gallery, London

Margaret Hughes, after Sir Peter Lely. Mezzotint, 1677-1685 (1687). © National Portrait Gallery, London

She eventually gave birth to their daughter – Ruperta. But this was not his only child, he had by then had several illegitimate children!

John Evelyn writes about one of these on the 7 August, 1663:

Sir Tho: Scot of Scots Hall: This Gent: thought to be begotten by Prince Rupert.

Rupert and Margaret lived together for some years, though he never married her. In fact, Rupert never married anyone, and when he died on 19 November 1682, he was buried in Westminster Abbey. and on his tomb is the following:

“The remains of the illustrious Prince Rupert, Count Palatine of the Rhine, Duke of Bavaria and Cumberland, Earl of Holderness, Vice-Admiral of all England, Governor of the Constabulary of the Royal Castle of Windsor, Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, Member of the Privy Council of the King’s Majesty; third son of the Most Serene Prince Frederick, King of Bohemia etc., by the Most Serene Princess Elizabeth, only daughter of James, sister of Charles I, aunt of Charles the second of that name, both Kings of Great Britain, France and Ireland. Born at Prague, the capital city of Bohemia, on the 17th December 1619, he died in London on the 29th November 1682, in the 63rd year of his age”.

He had had an epic life. Exile, warfare, he had witnessed his uncle lose everything, and his cousin’s Restoration, he had a family – he did pretty much everything and had narrowly escaped death several times. Yes, definitely an epic life.

I absolutely love Rupert, so as soon as I finish William & Mary I’ll be starting work on my Rupert of the Rhine Adventure Series!

Goodnight, sweet prince, we still love thee.

NPG 608; Prince Rupert, Count Palatine studio of Sir Peter Lely

Prince Rupert, Count Palatine. Lely. NPG 608. Image: The National Portrait Gallery, London

And for a little bit more fun, here is a video of Timothy Dalton as Rupert of the Rhine (also Lord Darnley in MQS) in Cromwell and set to Adam & The Ants’ Prince Charming – Princes:

Hear ye! 32 thoughts — so far — on “Prince Rupert of the Rhine: Romantic Hero, Scientist, Cavalier & Lover”:

  1. Sarah Perry-Correia

    Not surprised he had a string of out of wedlock kids.. . . I’d have gone chasing him as I am sure many ladies did.

    1. Melody Blaydon

      Rupert was indeed a fine looking man and I would love to draw his wonderful face. He seemed to be somewhat interested in my favorite person from this period who was french, Nicolas Fouquet whom I fell in love with when I was 15, now almost 52! I will look into this soon to see if they may have ever met. Nicolas loved reading and the sciences as well. Would love to see a piece done on my tragic fellow. He did not steal money from Louis XIV, I firmly believe and spent time in prison all because the king was threatened by Fouquet’s looks, money, and standing among the noble classes and to a lesser extent w/the commoner’s. Enjoyed your review on Prince Rupert! Melody Blayon.

  2. Tanya Andrade

    Numerous liaisons and several out-of-wedlock children? If that is true, then he must of been one of those discreet playboys. In all the Prince Rupert biographies I own, and in all the other sources I’ve read about him, I haven’t come across too much about him being an enthusiastic lover. The only affairs/issue we’re very sure that he’s had is his relationship with Peg Hughes (produced Ruperta) and Frances Bard (produced a son, Dudley); and possibly a flirtatious dalliance with Mary Villiers. Perhaps he was more serious and low-key with his private life than his more wild cousins.

    1. Andrea Zuvich (The 17th Century Lady) Post author

      Hi Tanya, thanks for your comments. I maintain that he probably fathered several illegitimate children – the two you mentioned are the ones that were acknowledged, but this was a time when a man did not necessarily own up to each illegitimate offspring. In comparison with the others in terms of his liaisons, he does appear to have been more serious and low-key. My evidence for writing what I did comes from several primary sources – mainly the contemporary opinions of John Evelyn and Samuel Pepys, who both made references to Rupert’s amours. As I stated in the article above, Evelyn stated on July 7 1663 that a marriage took place between a

      “Caroline and a Sir Tho: Scot of Scots hall: thought to be begotten by Prince Rupert.

      And this seems to be confirmed by Pepys as well on 30 July 1663. Rupert never acknowledged his paternity for this child, though he had the mother for his mistress whilst she became pregnant. She was married to another man during this time.

      And also, Pepys wrote (on October 18, 1666):

      “Women now (& never ’til now) permitted to appeare & act, which inflaming severall young noble-men & gallants, became their whores, & some their Wives, witnesse the Earle of Oxford, Sir R. Howard, Prince Rupert, the E: of Dorset, & another greater person than any of these, who fell into their snares, to the reproch of their noble families, & ruine both of body & Soule.”

      …that Pepys included Rupert in this – of men overcome with lust and taking actresses to bed – I believe supports my theory.

      And also, Westminster Abbey states that Rupert:

      …left several illegitimate children.

      I hope that clears things up! 🙂

      1. Tanya Andrade

        Yes it did, and it’s much appreciated. I’ve actually came across the commentary on Rupert by Pepys before, but the Evelyn and Westminster sources are new.
        Even Westminster Abbey (not only contemporary opinions) confirms Rupert’s affairs/illegitimate children, so it makes sense that it was indeed true. Thanks for the confirmation.

        1. Andrea Zuvich (The 17th Century Lady) Post author

          Margaret Evans replied about this post on LinkedIn, and she wrote this:

          “…when asked why Rupert did not marry any of the mothers of his children, he replied, “When one steps in a cowpat, one does not wear it on his head for all to see.”

          O.o, erm, ok, Rupert, I think we get the point…

          1. Tanya Andrade

            ^^He really said that? (I wonder why I’ve never come across this quote in all I’ve read about him) Kind of cruel, but nonetheless a hilarious analogy! Perhaps the prince was not as much of a romantic hero as we think he is. Being one of those ‘romantic’ types with a high sense of honor, you would think he would own up to each of his out-of-wedlock children, but it looks like he has not.

            Being one of my idols and having read numerous biographies of him, and nearly every historical fiction book about him, I’ll admit that I’ve probably developed an overly idealized vision of him, to the point I’ve fancied him as a foil to his cousin, Charles II. It’s why when I first came upon the entries in Pepys’ diary referring to his alleged philandering, I brushed it aside thinking he was jealous of the prince and just wanted to smite him. Consider that Pepys was not always a reliable narrator, as funny and entertaining as his diary is.

            I’ve just finished reading the latest biography on Rupert, the one by Charles Spencer (The Last Cavalier). Towards the end Spencer reveals that yes, it was most likely that in his later years, Rupert was just as amorously adventurous as his cousins but was far more discreet. The obscurity of his private life is also due to how he was not too much of a letter-writer, and that tends to be a common source to pinpointing one’s affairs. And as you have done in your article, he also confirms that for sure he left behind a string of illegitimate children as well, with Evelyn’s diary entries and especially the statement in Westminster Abbey supporting this.

            He also credits Evelyn, not Pepys, as the one who wrote that list of shame with Rupert’s name on it (the entry written on October 1666). I personally think Evelyn is somewhat a more reliable source than Pepys. Also, Pepys and Evelyn were two very different individuals, yet held a similar opinion of Rupert, therefore that strengthens your point even more. So you were very spot on with this article. I apologize if it appeared as if I were questioning the validity of your statements. It looks like I was letting my ignorance overcome me, which is probably due to obtaining most of my knowledge of Rupert mostly from outdated, biased biographies and historical fiction books that paint him in an overly romantic light, rather than primary sources.

            Thanks very much for the informative article, and keep up the good work with giving the Stuarts the spotlight that is due to them! I’m still in disbelief that a movie, or a least a short TV serial, has not been made on this guy. He’s had such an eventful life. I’m even in more disbelief that Charlie has gotten only a few movies and a four-episode series on him, and Henry VIII gets a four-season series. Unbelievable!

      2. saman asif

        Re Sir Tho of Scot’s Hall, I Googled and found this about Scot’s Hall: “… it was described as one of the most splendid houses in Kent. Samuel Pepys was a regular visitor in the seventeenth century: the contemporary owner, Sir Thomas Scott, married Caroline Carteret, daughter of Pepys’ friend and colleague, Sir George Carteret. With his keen nose for gossip, Pepys noted that Thomas’ right to inherit the estate was debatable: his parents were separated, and his father for a time refused to acknowledge any of his wife’s children, although he ultimately did acknowledge Thomas as his son.”
        Caroline was Caroline Carteret, and did read somewhere ages ago that SHE was a daughter of Rupert’s, but who knows??? Methinks this requires more research!!

        1. saman asif

          And I just realized, the 400th anniversary of Rupert’s birth is coming up very soon, next month in fact!

          1. Debbie

            Indeed my husband laughs that I remember Prince Ruperts birthday and year more readily than his.
            And is it a bad thing that my eye was first drawn to my husband as in my opinion he looked a little like Rupert. ?

  3. Tanya Andrade

    In the 4-episode series on Charles (The Power and the Passion), Rupert was nowhere in sight, and was only featured in episode one in the Devil’s Whore (yet he was the Commander of the entire Royalist army. That was a crime.

    1. Andrea Zuvich (The 17th Century Lady) Post author

      Hi Tanya! No worries, and thank you for your excellent comments. I’m always happy to discuss things! It’s very easy to idealise historical figures, but we have to remember they were just people like us – capable of good and bad. I think it’s a darned shame that Hollywood has taken so little interest in the 17th century – and the Tudors have been done to death. I really enjoyed the Power & the Passion, and it is a shame Rupert wasn’t in it. I’m sure people will come around to the Stuart dynasty if it’s found in more popular culture. I’m doing my best to make it more popular, but I’m a very little fish in a huge ocean. 🙂

  4. Cryssa Bazos

    Hottie McStuart–love it. Also wondering when Hollywood will realize how much drama the 17th century had even without multiple beheadings. Only one really mattered. 🙂

    1. Lizzie Lamb

      Totally agree, Cryssa. The trouble is that they don’t credit their audience with any brains and think we won;t be able to follow the complex political situation. Of course we can. Prince Rupert has always been my hero.

  5. Louise Hoare

    Rupert of the Rhine has always been a hero of mine since I read The Stranger Prince by Margaret Irwin when I was a teenager in the 60’s. Absolutely shocked to find portraits removed from National Portrait Gallery and none of the staff had the faintest idea who I was talking about.

    1. saman asif

      yes, that’s the book that did it for me, when i was 18, a VERY long time ago!! i remember that portrait, and one of his mother, again, a long time ago (1978 i think), shame if they are not there. that is, i got the postcards, but now i wonder if the actual portraits WERE there.

  6. Jacoba

    Thankyou for this interesting article. I am reading Charles II by Antonia Fraser at the moment. Rupert has a lovely curly lip like my Stuart Hottie James II, who i’ve been in love with since i first saw him in a Ladybird history book at age 7.So pleased i’m not the only person with this sort of history crush.

  7. Ruperta Gardner

    Rupert is also my favourite from the 17th century. We share the same birthday and he is my namesake. I have made a study of him and he is the most interesting, brave, fascinating man I have ever had the pleasure to study. I love him dearly. It is amazing that after he being dead for 335 years he still has fans today ( mostly women).

  8. Lizzie Lamb

    Hi Andrea, great article. You give all the facts but in such an entertaining way that even if the person reading your blog had never heard of Prince Rupert, they would get the picture straight away. Bit of a strange story – when I was in the sixth form I came across an old book in the school library which had a mention of Prince Rupert. In it the author asserted that descendants of Prince Rupert (illegitimate, of course) always held office in the royal household. I don;t know if that’s true and I wish I’d made a note of it at the time (and the book). But I was eighteen, the sun was shining and I was taking part ion a tennis match, so I didn’t. Also have my copy of THE STRANGER PRINCE by Margaret Irwin which I bought in the sixties.

  9. Louise Hoare

    As previous writer said – I also discovered Prince Rupert through Margaret Irwin when I was a teenager. Also the Marquis of Montrose. I was very disappointed a couple of years ago when I went to the National Portrait Gallery and went into the room with the Stuart portraits that Prince Rupert was missing. When you think of how much he contributed to this country it seemed a great mistake to not include him, especially when you consider his scientific achievements and being one of the three founders of The royal Society.

  10. ZelM

    Given that I’ve been researching the period for a novel I’m working on- I loved all the colour related to this fascinating historical personage – it’s sad that he’s only been seen twice in film; his life’s interesting enough to be a movie or docu-drama itself!

  11. Debbie Birrell

    I prefer the portrait in the Landesgalerie in Hanover by Honthurst as it’s much better and more ‘real’ to me than any of the ones you reproduce including the Honthurst oneI wrote asking for a copy when I was 15 ( I’m now 63) after reading CV Wedgwoods the English Civil War. They very kindly sent me a decent sized black-and-white copy of it and I had it framed and it has been displayed wherever I have lived since then as he continued to be from then until now a character who I was fascinated with. Interestingly I wrote to them recently thinking that I might finally get round to visiting the museum and see the actual colour portrait only to be told that that too is no longer on display and is kept in their ‘depot.’

    1. saman asif

      Goodness, I could have written what you wrote, except that i saw that picture at 18 years and never wrote to the Gallery. But I bought the book just for the picture! And visited Prague castle where he was born, and Westminster Abbey where he is interred, with special interest because of him.
      I’m a just couple of years older than you.
      Are we crazy?

      1. Debbie Birrell

        Have you been to Upton Cressett ??? He is alleged to have stayed there during the war and my lovely hubbie arranged for us to stay there and we had the whole gatehouse to ourselves .It’s amazing . I lay in a bed in a room where he may have slept…shiver. Had a great chat with Bill Cash (MP) who I suspect was slightly surprised that someone was quite so knowledgable about Prince Rupert .
        Lively to know that I’m not the only one Saman !

  12. Kate Bunting

    I’m currently re-reading ‘The Stranger Prince’. I have to say, I think the portrayal of Rupert in the film ‘Cromwell’ as a shallow, mindless thug is grossly unfair (not Timothy Dalton’s fault, just the way the part is written).

    1. Andrea Post author

      Cromwell has a great cast but there is a lot wrong with it, I think it’s fair to say. Still, good entertainment!

  13. Debbie

    What does everyone think about Ruperts involvement in the slave trade ? Not addressed sadly in any great detail in any of the biographies. I am very troubled by this after my kids drew it to my attention. I have tried to judge him in the historical context but the truth is not every rich chose to be part of the company he set up with the King and the Duke of York. I wonder if he addressed this in any if his letters.
    I am disappointed that my life long hero clearly had feet of clay.

    1. Kate Bunting

      Shocking though it seems to us today, this was a long time before any organised opposition to the slave trade. Not comfortable to think about someone we admire being involved, but then it was just seen as a legitimate commercial opportunity.

  14. Gary L Myers

    I am a distant great grandson of Prince Rupert; and of course the woman whom I see as his common law wife, Margaret Hughes, the first actress to appear on a British stage in the 17th century. From her portraits i can see why he he was attracted to her, she was absolutely beautiful and the thing he loved the most. Duary Lane actresses!
    Price Rupert had such a fantastic life!! to much for me to say here about.
    Their daughter, Lady Ruperta Hughes and her husband Lt. General Emanual Scrope Howe.grandson Joseph william Howe came to America in 1745 and first worked with a young man surveying western Virginai, This young man even helped to survey his plantation in Polaski County Virginia. The 14 year old man was none other than George Washington.

    1. Debbie Birrell

      How very interesting that you’re related to him. Was this just knowledge passed down through the family ?


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