Tuesday, 29 March 2016

A Stuart Prince - Rupert of the Rhine VII

Prince Rupert
A Volte-Face

The Royal Navy had fought on the Parliamentarian side in the first Civil War under the Earl of Warwick. Warwick was replaced by William Batten who deplored the capture of the king and in 1648 it was planned to replace Batten with an extremist, Colonel Thomas Rainsborough.

Ten warships, stationed at the Downs, mutinied in May 1648 after the second Civil War broke out. They sailed to Hellevoetsluys where they were met by Prince Rupert and the Prince of Wales. Batten arrived later in the Constant Warwick, an armed merchantman that he part owned.

Rupert favoured the small fleet sailing to the Isle of Wight and rescuing Charles who was held prisoner in Carisbrooke Castle. By the time the fleet sailed in July under Prince Charles’ command and Baron Willoughby of Parham as Vice-Admiral, there were 18 ships in the fleet. Merchant ships departing the Thames estuary were taken as prizes and two attempts to stop the recapture of Deal and Walmer castles were unsuccessful. Rupert noted;

‘Upon this repulse disorders and discontents increasing in the fleet, and all disadvantages being artificially improved, it was thought.....best to return to Holland.’[i]

The Earl of Warwick was reappointed to head up the navy and Prince Charles challenged him to a battle. Warwick refused to fight and shortages of supplies and ammunition forced the fleet to return to the Netherlands. Batten sailed off with his ship, having received a pardon from Warwick.

A Naval Career

Warwick’s fleet blockaded the Royalists in Hellevoetsluys for several weeks, but the two fleets could not come to blows as the Dutch navy under van Tromp was interposed between them. They could not stop Warwick’s men infiltrating the town and trying to bribe the Royalist sailors.

Ashore Rupert clashed with one of Prince Charles’ more fiery tempered advisers, Lord Culpepper. When Culpepper objected to the inclusion in an expedition of one of Rupert’s friends Sir Robert Walsh, both men became embroiled in an argument and Culpepper challenged Rupert to a duel.

Lord Culpepper
Prince Charles asked Culpepper to apologise, but he refused and it was only several days later, after discovering that he had no support from his fellow courtiers, that he finally did so. Rupert accepted the apology despite the active efforts of one Sir Edward Herbert, the manipulative Attorney General, who then worked Walsh into such a rage that Walsh punched Culpepper in the face. He drew his sword, only desisting when he realised his opponent was unarmed[ii].

As news trickled in of Royalist losses Rupert was unable to stop defections from his men and the Royalist fleet gained a reputation for aggression and wildness, drawing protests from the Dutch authorities. Eventually the bulk of the Royalist ships joined the Parliamentarian fleet leaving Rupert with only eight ships.

Warwick’s ships left at the end of the year and Rupert sent raiding parties out. The Parliamentarian ambassador extraordinary to the Court at den Haag, Walter Strickland wrote to the Speaker of the House of Commons William Lenthall;

‘I am sorry what I must tell to you that the revolted ships come in daily with great prizes......it is no great joy to me to see our merchants beggared.’[iii]

Times of Sorrow

Execution of King Charles
Rupert was made admiral of the fleet on 5th January 1649, a command he accepted with the proviso that James, Duke of York[iv] be the Lord High Admiral. Rupert had Maurice as his Vice-Admiral and Sir John Mennes[v] was appointed Rear-Admiral. Rupert had the small fleet refitted early in 1649[vi]; the only crumb of comfort for Royalists at a time when King Charles, having been tried and found guilty, was executed on 30th January.

Culpepper was one of many attempting to undermine Rupert; the Stuart court in exile unable to join together in attempts to prosecute the war. But one of Rupert’s detractor’s Edward Hyde was impressed by Rupert’s efforts;

‘The preservation [of the fleet] whereof must be entirely ascribed to Prince Rupert, who seriously hath expressed greater temper and discretion in it than you can imagine.’[vii]

Rupert took his small undermanned fleet to Kinsale where the news of his uncle’s death awaited him. Charles had partially filled the space left by the loss of Rupert’s father and Charles’ nephew undoubtedly sincerely mourned the loss of the uncle he loved.

Princess Louise
Rupert’s siblings were also hit by the death of their uncle, Elizabeth becoming seriously ill. Rupert also had to calm down his volatile mother; her upset not so much at her brother’s death but more caused by the entry of her daughter Louise[viii] into the Cistercian convent, Maubisson Abbey, as a novice in March. Prince Charles now declared himself King Charles II, but he was strapped for cash and he too looked to his cousin to provide.

From Kinsale Rupert managed to supply the Royalists holding out in the Scilly Isles[ix]. The fleet lost the Charles in a fog, which was then taken by the enemy. But the depredations caused by Rupert’s ships forced Parliament to institute a convoy system to protect the fleets carrying troops to aid Cromwell’s ruthless campaign in Ireland.

In May 1649 a Parliamentarian fleet, under the command of Robert Blake[x], appeared outside Kinsale harbour and blockaded the Royalists. Rupert was refused permission to attack and the fleet was kept penned in. Rupert lost William Legge when his frigate was seized outside the harbour.

Charles II and his court repaired to St Helier in mid-September; infighting and Charles’ inherent laziness kept them there. It was there that the news of Cromwell’s victories at Wexford and Drogheda[xi] reached them.

Mediterranean Escapade

King John IV of Portugal
Winds finally dispersed Blake’s fleet and on 17th October Rupert and his ships set sail for Portugal, following an invitation from King John IV. On the voyage the ships lost contact with one another, as Rupert explained to his cousin;

‘It happened in the night by mistake of a fight alle our Fleete except Sir Jo: Menes lost me......Wee therefore plyed as much to windward as wee could......wee made early in the morning 7 shipps to windward wee gave chase to them & they to us which proved to be our Fleete.’[xii]

The little fleet sailed up the Tagus to Lisbon in mid-November having taken three or four prizes en route. Hardly had they arrived before the English government lodged protests followed shortly by the Dutch and the Spanish[xiii]. Rupert sold off some of his prizes, including the Roebuck[xiv] which caused a storm in Lisbon.

Blake’s fleet followed the Royalist ships in March 1650; Blake carried an ambassador who demanded that Rupert, Maurice and the ships be handed over or forced into open waters. Despite pressure from his advisers John refused and was informed that Blake and his fleet would feel free to attack Portuguese shipping. There was a split in the court and John’s adviser, the Count de Miro, was all for throwing Rupert and his men to the wolves.

Unwelcome Visitors

Rupert concentrated his energies on the clergy who sympathised with his plight; they preached the shame of the Christian king treating with the rebels. Rupert also made sure to show himself to the people of Lisbon; he had always been easy dealing with people from all backgrounds.

Rupert rode to the hounds every day and the Parliamentarians, reduced to skulduggery, attempted to kidnap Rupert and his brother on one such expedition. The brothers managed to ride off, evading capture.

Rupert received a letter from his cousin Charles, begging for financial aid. The naïve Charles told Rupert to raise the money by privateering. An attempt in July to break through Blake’s blockade failed when the mast of Rupert’s ship was struck in a fight. A second attempt in September was foiled when one of de Miro’s men informed Blake of Rupert’s plans.

n October Blake ordered a refit in
Cadiz; having worn out their welcome. The Royalist fleet decided to take advantage of the absence of the Parliamentarian blockade.

‘The King.....victualled our fleet , and fitted us with such other stores as were necessary for us, giving the Princes many thanks for their endeavours to preserve the fleet, and assured them of his friendship.’[xv]

They were sent on their way; Rupert’s ships were to rendezvous in Formentera. But eager for booty the majority of his captains delayed and were caught by the return of Blake’s ships. The Royalists dashed to Cartagena, hoping for sanctuary. But Blake’s men fired on them. In desperation the captains ran their ships ashore after the crew of the Henry went over to the enemy. Only Rupert and Maurice’s ships remained of the little fleet.


Prince Rupert of the Rhine – Maurice Ashley, Purnell Book Services Ltd 1976
The English Civil War – Robert Ashton, Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1989
Charles the First – John Bowles, Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1975
Cromwell – Antonia Fraser, Phoenix Paperback, 2001
Charles I – Christopher Hibbert, Penguin Books 2001
The Civil Wars of England – John Kenyon, George Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1989
Prince Rupert of the Rhine – Patrick Morrah, Constable & Company 1976
Man of War – Richard Ollard, Phoenix Press 2001
The English Civil War – Diane Purkiss, Harper Perennial 2007
Prince Rupert – Charles Spencer, Phoenix Paperback 2008

[i] Prince Rupert - Spencer
[ii] Walsh was banned from Den Haag
[iii] Rupert of the Rhine - Ashley
[iv] James had escaped house arrest in St James’ Palace disguised as a girl
[v] A very experienced naval officer
[vi] Funded by selling the brass cannon of the Antelope; as part of the Tudor fleet she sailed against the Armada
[vii] Prince Rupert - Spencer
[viii] Like her brother Louise was a talented artist and she converted to Catholicism in December 1657, having fled to France
[ix] Later capitulated by the Governor Sir Francis Godolphin
[x] A friend of Cromwell’s
[xi] Over 3,500 people, defenders and civilians were killed
[xii] Prince Rupert of the Rhine - Morrah
[xiii] Objecting to the piracy undertaken by Rupert’s fleet
[xiv] This English ship carried Portuguese merchandise, so upsetting both the Parliamentarians and the Portuguese. Another time two of Rupert’s ships gave chase to a French ship which was captured by Blake’s fleet
[xv] Prince Rupert - Spencer

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Rupert of the Rhine VI

Raglan Castle
The Loss of Bristol

At a council of war at Hereford Charles and Rupert decided to base themselves in the southwest to rebuild their forces. The Prince of Wales had moved himself and his council from Bristol to Barnstaple. Charles relaxed at Raglan Castle and refused to commit himself to any course of action.

On 10th July 1645 the Royalists were defeated at the Battle of Langport where Goring’s troops lost to those under Fairfax’s command. Fairfax then prepared to invest Bristol. Hereford was in danger from the Scots; nevertheless Charles roused himself from his torpor at Raglan Castle and managed to force Leven to raise the siege and entered the town on 4th September.

On the same day Fairfax called on Rupert to surrender Bristol and save his men whose loyalty to their commander was exceptionally strong. Fairfax, knowing the divisions between the two men, drew a line between Rupert and Digby that must have resonated with Rupert. Rupert was well aware that refusing to surrender would mean risking not only the lives of him and his men, but also the citizens of Bristol. Charles had demanded that Rupert defend the city to the death.

Plan of Bristol Castle
Charles was en route to relieve the city when the Parliamentarians began their attack on 10th September, Charles was unaware that his army was being shadowed by General Sydenham Poyntz. Rupert had insufficient men to fend off the New Model Army and the Royalists were beaten back to the centre of the town. One Parliamentarian eyewitness said;

‘Ours being made masters of the most part of the Town Rupert fled into the Castle; our men being about to plant pieces [of artillery] against it, Rupert sent for a parley to them: the soldiers were unwilling, but the General out of his noble resolutions to spare the Town, Rupert having fired it in three small places, condescended to it.’[i]

Rupert and his men were allowed to march off, fully armed, unimpeded to any Royalist stronghold within 50 miles radius. The sick and wounded would be permitted to follow when they were able; the citizens would be unharmed and the artillery were to be left in place.

Accusations of Treason

Charles the Warrior
Charles was furious at this disregard for his orders. That Rupert had saved the lives of seasoned soldiers, at a time when the Royalists were desperately looking for more troops, was ignored by his uncle.

One of Fairfax’s officers commanded the escort for Rupert who chose to march to Oxford, rather than Worcester where Maurice was sick with the plague. Colonel John Butler[ii] was impressed by Rupert;

‘I am confident that we are much mistaken in our intelligence concerning him. I find him a man much inclined to a happy peace, and will certainly employ his interest with His Majesty for the accomplishing of it…….He could not have held it [Bristol], unless it had been better manned.’[iii]

This encomium was far kinder than anything Rupert’s colleagues were to say about his conduct. Digby accused Rupert of surrendering Bristol for the sum of 8,000 gold coins[iv] and claimed that he and the pro-Parliamentarian Charles Louis were in treacherous correspondence; accusations Rupert strongly denied.

Rupert had lost his uncle’s ear and Digby was able to drip feed poison into Charles who removed all Rupert’s military commands and disbanded his infantry and cavalry lifeguards. Charles then ordered Rupert to leave the kingdom. If he failed to go he was to be imprisoned. Rupert was subject to vilification by both his uncle’s enemies and his uncle’s friends, the result of which was to prove disastrous for Charles in both the long and short term.

Court Martial

Burghley House
To avoid Rupert having any access to the impressionable Charles, Digby took the king to Newark. But Rupert refused to leave the accusations of treason unanswered and rode across enemy territory with eighty companions including Maurice, Lord Molyneux, Sir John Vavasour and Lord Hawley.

The band arrived at Burghley House where the Parliamentarian garrison was headed by one of Rupert’s former soldiers. He ordered an attack on Rupert and his companions. The turncoat was killed in the mêlée that followed, but it drew the attention of both Royalists and Parliamentarians to Rupert’s embassy. The Parliamentarians sent 1,500 men to track Rupert down while Digby[v] sent frantic messages in the king’s name forbidding Rupert from coming any closer.

Rupert and his men were involved in a further two clashes with Parliamentarians before arriving in Newark. The governor of the town, Sir Richard Willys[vi], was a friend of Rupert and allowed him access to his uncle, who ignored him and only spoke to Maurice. Rupert’s demand for a court martial was approved and set for the following day; 18th October. The court martial declared Rupert innocent of cowardice and treachery, but Charles still maintained that Rupert should not have surrendered Bristol.

‘We did not believe our said nephew to be guilty of any of the least want of courage or fidelity to us, in the doing thereof; but withal, we believed that he might have kept the castle and fort a longer time.’[vii]

Map of Oxford
Rupert’s friend Willis was removed from the governorship of Newark and given command of the Horse Guard, a promotion Willis and Rupert believed was a deliberate slight. On 6th October Rupert, Willis, Maurice and a number of others confronted Charles as he returned from church. Charles refused to rescind his order and Rupert and his companions were given passes out of the kingdom.

Charles left Oxford on 27th April 1646 to try his luck with the Scots and on 1st May Fairfax laid siege to Oxford. Rupert fought to defend the indefensible and suffered his only wound of the war. The Royalists laid down their weapons on 20th June.

Leaving England’s Fair Shores

Prince Maurice
Rupert and Maurice now had to obtain leave from parliament to depart England. They were given permission to meet with Charles Louis for a family conference to discuss the future of the Palatinate; the Thirty Years war was grinding to a conclusion. They met at Guildford on 1st July. Parliament then decided that Fairfax had overstepped his authority by allowing the three to meet so close to London and Maurice and Rupert were given 10 days to leave the country. Rupert took a boat to Calais and Maurice left a few days later with Admiral Tromp.

On 14th July arrived at St Germain-en-Laye where Henrietta Maria held court with the exiles who included her elder[viii] son and Edward Hyde[ix]. Henrietta Maria was persuaded to treat her nephew with civility by her sister-in-law Anne of Austria, Regent of France for her son Louis XIV. Henrietta Maria was also influenced by a letter from her husband in Newcastle where he was close confined by the Scots.

Rupert was offered the position of Maréchal du Camp[x] by the French to fight in a campaign against the Spanish on the Flemish borders. He accepted with the proviso that he receive his uncle’s permission.

It was not until the summer of 1647 that Rupert finally took to the field with his 7,000 English troops; he was ordered to relieve Armentières under siege by 20,000 Spanish troops. Rupert advised against direct action and the Spanish were allowed to take the town. The Spanish then marched off to La Bassée, shadowed by the French force. Rupert and the French commander Jean, Comte de Gassion, were trapped by Spanish troops and were only rescued by Rupert’s subordinate Robert Holmes[xi] and Mortaigne his Gentleman of the Horse.

‘The enemy endeavouring to pass a little river that was betwixt them, three or four of them were got over, but beaten back again by Mr. Mortaigne....and Sir Robert Holmes, who was then Page to His Highness.’[xii]

Holmes was wounded in the leg during the skirmish and his horse killed under him. Rupert and Mortaigne returned to rescue Holmes.

Fighting Abroad

Comte de Gassion
Rupert was then sent by the French to the besieged stronghold of Landrecy to cover the withdrawal of French troops under the command of the excitable Gassion. Rupert extracted the men from the Spanish and then marched to La Bassée where he foiled an attempt by Lord Goring[xiii] to reinforce the town.

After three weeks the Spanish garrison surrendered to Rupert; a success that was to destroy the relationship between himself and Gassion. Gassion was not interested in listening to any further advice from Rupert, ten years his junior. An opportunity to take Lens was passed up because Rupert suggested it.

Gassion decided on an expedition to Eyster and their troop of 80 was attacked by 100 Spaniards. Gassion suddenly rode off, leaving Rupert and the rest of the men exposed to attack from the Spanish. Rupert suffered a serious head wound in the attack. While convalescing in Paris Rupert received a letter from his uncle, now a prisoner at Hampton Court, relieved that he was recovering from his wound and assuring his nephew that;

‘All your actions have more than confirmed the good opinion I have of you. Next to my children I shall have the most care of you or have your company.’[xiv]

Digby had arrived at the court of exiles and his intrigues so angered Rupert that in October 1647 he challenged his enemy to a duel. Henrietta Maria sent Lord Jermyn[xv] to stop the fight. Digby was so rude to Jermyn that he immediately went to Rupert to offer himself as Rupert’s second in the duel. Before the duel could start Prince Charles arrested his adored cousin Rupert and his supporters. Rupert later fought and wounded Lord Percy, one of Digby’s intimates.


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

The English Civil War – Robert Ashton, Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1989

Charles the First – John Bowles, Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1975

Charles I – Christopher Hibbert, Penguin Books 2001

The Civil Wars of England – John Kenyon, George Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1989

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

Man of War – Robert Ollard, Phoenix Press 2001

The English Civil War – Diane Purkiss, Harper Perennial 2007

Prince Rupert – Charles Spencer, Phoenix Paperback 2008

The Thirty Years War – CV Wedgewood, Folio Society 1999

[i] Prince Rupert - Spencer
[ii] Of the Army of the Southern Association
[iii] Prince Rupert - Spencer
[iv] In 2014 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £1,163,000.00 labour earnings of that income or wealth is £17,890,000.00 economic status value of that income or wealth is £49,160,000.00 economic power value of that income or wealth is £334,400,000.00 www.measuringworth.com
[v] Whose military career was inglorious
[vi] Alleged betrayer of the Sealed Knot
[vii] Prince Rupert of the Rhine - Morrah
[viii] A devoted admirer of his cousin’s since Edgehill
[xi] To become one of Rupert’s closest friends
[xii] Man of War - Ollard
[xiii] Now fighting for the Spaniards
[xiv] Prince Rupert - Spencer