Tuesday, 16 February 2016

A Stuart Prince - Rupert of the Rhine

Frederick of Bohemia, Elector Palatine
Birth of a Prince

Prince Rupert was the third son of Elizabeth of Bohemia and her husband Frederick the Elector Palantine and King of Bohemia at the time of his son’s birth. Rupert was born in Prague on 17th December 1619 and was placed in an ebony cradle inlaid with gold and precious stones, a gift from the burghers of Prague along with swaddling clothes of cambric . His mother had arrived in Prague in November after an arduous journey while heavily pregnant.

Rupert’s mother was one of two surviving children of one of Protestant Europe’s most important monarchs, James I, king of Scotland and of England. When the news of the birth reached his grandfather in England James;

‘Joyfully asked for a large beaker of wine and drank to the health of the new born prince in Bohemia.’[i]

Bethlen Gabor
Rupert was christened on 31st March 1620, probably in what is now known as the Church of our Lady Victorious. His godfather was Bethlen Gabor, Prince of Transylvania.

Rupert lived through an era of turbulence that commenced in 1618 with the start of the Thirty Years’ War. Frederick, as one of the Protestant Electors of the Holy Roman Empire, saw himself as head of the Protestant Union, a grouping of the German Protestant states. Frederick was invited by rebels to take the crown of Protestant Bohemia to keep it out the hands of the Roman Catholic emperor Ferdinand II’s choice of monarch.

Flight into Exile

Battle of White Mountain
On 8th November 1620 the Battle of White Mountain[ii] signalled the end of Frederick’s tenuous hold on Bohemia when the royal forces led by Christian of Anhalt, Frederick’s general and chief adviser, fell before the might of the imperial armies. The Impreial forces were led by Frederick’s Catholic cousin Maximilian of Bavaria, and Anhalt was taken prisoner.

The royal family beat a hasty retreat from Prague[iii]; Elizabeth was placed in a private carriage by Bernard, the son of Count Thurn. Rupert nearly got left behind in the desperate scramble. The baby was left on a sofa and the screaming child, who had rolled onto the floor, was discovered by Christopher, Baron Dhona.

Dhona picked Rupert up and threw the baby into one of the carriages where he fell in the boot. Once again it was only the baby’s lusty yelling that drew attention to his predicament. The journey to Breslau[iv] was complicated by a heavy fall of snow.

George William Elector of Brandenburg
On the 14th December the family arrived at Custrin, part of the domains of George William, Elector of Brandenburg and Frederick’s brother-in-law. George William gave grudging permission for Elizabeth, once again heavily pregnant, to shelter at Custrin. On the 17th December Elizabeth gave birth to Maurice.  

On 21st January the Emperor made Frederick an outlaw; many of Frederick’s allies threw themselves on the Emperor’s mercy. Frederick’s cousin Maximilian was given the Palatine Electorate. The young Henry Frederick wrote to his grandfather in England;

‘Sir, we are come from Sewnden to see the King and Queen and my little brother Rupert who is now sick. But my brother Charles is now, God be thanked, very well, and my sister Elizabeth, and she is a little bigger and stronger than he.’[v]

Rupert, along with his older brother Henry then travelled on with their mother to the Netherlands to the court of Prince Maurice while the baby Maurice was taken into the care of his grandmother Juliana[vi] in Brandenburg. Prince Maurice gave the exiled family a house, the Hof te Wassenaer and a monthly pension of 10,000 guilders. In the summer Frederick was given 150,000 guilders to raise an army.

A Childhood in Exile

Elizabeth of Bohemia
Elizabeth was a distant mother, always keeping her numerous children at a distance[vii], preferring to play with her monkey and dogs. Elizabeth’s main focus was her husband with whom she was very much in love. But of her children Rupert was to become her favourite. Frederick was proud of his third son’s precocious abilities; when Rupert was three his father wrote;

‘The little Rupert is very learned to understand so many languages.’[viii]

Rupert was to become fluent in High and Low Dutch as well as German and some Czech. He also read English, French, Italian and Latin. Frederick appointed a Monsieur and Madame de Plessen to act as governors to his children, with instructions to bring them up as strict Calvinists.

The young Rupert was fiery and often misbehaved and was called Rupert le diable. His mother decided that Rupert and Maurice were to be trained as soldiers so that they could espouse their father’s cause once grown.

Prince Rupert
upert enjoyed horse riding, the use of weaponry and the study of fortifications; his studies at the
University of Leiden included painting and drawing; his art teacher was Gerard van Honthorst. With the death of Henry Frederick in a tragic accident on 7th January 1629, Rupert’s second brother Charles Louis became heir to his father’s responsibilities.

Frederick died, still in exile, on 29th November 1632; Rupert was not yet 13. The following year Rupert joined his great uncle Frederick Henry, now Stadtholder[ix] and Captain General of the Dutch army, at the siege of Rheinberg. Elizabeth said of Rupert;

‘He cannot be too soon a soldier in these active times.’[x]

She was keen for her boys to learn the skills that would allow them to regain the Palatine. After the success of the siege Rupert returned to his studies and to the court where he attracted much attention from the ladies. Two years later Rupert was back at the front, fighting in Brabant as part of the Prince of Orange’s lifeguard.


Rupert and Charles Louis
When he attained the age of eighteen the young Charles Louis was invited to the court of his uncle Charles, who had ascended to the thrones of Scotland and England following the death of his father James in 1625. Three months later Rupert joined his brother; both Charles Louis and Rupert were shy and ill at ease in society. Their mother wrote to Sir Henry Vane the Elder asking him to advise Rupert, writing of her son;

‘He is good-natured enough, but does not always think of what he should do…..he will not trouble your ladies with courting them.’[xi]

Sir Thomas Roe described Rupert;

‘His Majesty takes great pleasure in his [Rupert’s] unrestfulness, for he is never idle; in his sport serious, in his conversation retired, but sharp and witty when occasion provokes him.’[xii]

Sir Thomas Roe
Rupert’s love of the arts drew him to his uncle Charles, who collected old masters. He also enjoyed the masques, the plays and music at court. While the queen, Henrietta Maria, believed she could convert this ardent Calvinist into a Roman Catholic.

The teenage Rupert was highly eligible and his mother and uncle set about finding him a bride. Only a Protestant was considered acceptable and the front runner was Marguerite de Rohan[xiii]. The marriage failed to come about, in part due to the death of the Duc de Rohan before negotiations could be completed. Charles continued to push for the marriage even during the war that was to tear England apart.

Charles Louis and Rupert accompanied their aunt and uncle on a visit to the University of Oxford whose Chancellor was Archbishop Laud. On 30th August 1636 Rupert was awarded an honorary arts degree and his name, along with his brother, was entered in the register of St John’s College.

Religious Fervour

Endymion Porter
One of the people Rupert met on his visit to England was the courtier Endymion Porter who introduced Rupert to the literary circle that included John Donne and Ben Jonson. Porter was full of get rich quick schemes and he wanted Rupert to head up an expedition to Madagascar. Rupert’s mother refused to allow her son to be involved; in one of her more sensible decisions, Elizabeth doubted the project’s feasibility, thinking that it would compromise Rupert’s honour and safety.

Porter continued to worry Rupert’s relatives; they feared that he would be persuaded to change religion. Charles Louis wrote to his mother of his concerns about Rupert;

‘I find him very shy to tell me his opinion. I bid him take heed that he do not meddle with points of religion amongst them [the Porters], for fear some priest or other….may form an ill opinion in him. Besides…..Mrs Porter is a professed Roman Catholic.’[xiv]

Rupert was brought home on the excuse that he needed more experience fighting for his family’s rights. The morning of his departure Rupert went hunting with Charles and expressed his desire to stay in England. Charles awarded Rupert a monthly pension of 800 crowns[xv]; uncle and nephew had become close and Henrietta Maria was convinced that Rupert’s religious conversion was imminent.


Prince Rupert of the Rhine – Maurice Ashley, Purnell Book Services Ltd 1976

The Memoirs of Elizabeth Stuart Vol 1-2 – Elizabeth Benger, General Books LLC 2012

Charles the First – John Bowles, Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1975

Charles I – Christopher Hibbert, Penguin Books 2001

Prince Rupert of the Rhine – Patrick Morrah, Constable & Company 1976

Prince Rupert – Charles Spencer, Phoenix Paperback 2008

The Thirty Years War – CV Wedgewood, Folio Society 1999

[i] Prince Rupert of the Rhine - Morrah
[ii] Jointly led by Tilly
[iii] Maximilian gave the family eight hours to leave
[iv] Now Wroclaw
[v] Prince Rupert - Spencer
[vi] Eldest daughter of William the Silent and Prince Maurice’s sister
[vii] She and Frederick had 13 children, the youngest of whom was ten months old when Frederick died
[viii] Rupert of the Rhine - Ashley
[ix] Maurice died in 1625 leaving his brother to inherit his positions
[x] Prince Rupert - Spencer
[xi] Rupert of the Rhine - Ashley
[xii] Prince Rupert - Spencer
[xiii] Daughter of the premier Protestant noble in the French court, the Duc de Rohan
[xiv] Prince Rupert - Spencer
[xv] In 2013 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £28,360.00  economic status value of that income or wealth is £1,080,000.00 economic power value of that income or wealth is £6,574,000.00 www.measuringworth.com


  1. "When the news of the birth reached his English grandfather James;". His grandfather was not English. James was born in Scotland to a Scottish Queen. His mother Mary Stuart was half Scottish and half French. His father Lord Darnley was three quarters Scots and one quarter English.

    1. You are of course right and I have amended accordingly. Thank you for bringing the error to my attention