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!
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…
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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:
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.”
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.
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.