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

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