Tuesday, 8 March 2016

The Stuart Prince - Rupert of the Rhine IV

Mary, Duchess of Richmond
The Enemy Within

Rupert was feared and the Parliamentarians found him odious; they made good use of PR, with leaflets circulating cataloguing his crimes. They painted him as sexually incontinent and accused him repeatedly of having a love affair with Mary[i], Duchess of Richmond, the wife of his closest friend[ii]. Mary and her husband James were Rupert’s staunch supporters at court, protecting him against the infighting of less favoured of Charles’ courtiers.

As the war progressed Rupert found it ever more difficult to fight for a cause wherein he found so many of the protagonists unsympathetic. Rupert loathed men like Digby, Wilmot and Goring and he found himself opposing the queen’s rigid sense of right and wrong.

Bristol Castle
Three Parliamentarian peers, the earls of Bedford, Clare and Holland, came to Oxford to beg forgiveness from Charles for fighting against him. Henrietta Maria told her husband to send the men back to the Parliamentarians; there should be no pardon for those who dared to rise up against their monarch.

Rupert was more pragmatic; pardoning the three men would reduce the numbers supporting the enemy and hopefully induce more men to cross the divide. Charles agreed with his nephew and pardoned the earls, upsetting his wife. Rupert had used up most of his goodwill with the royal couple; Charles was very reliant on Henrietta Maria who was not a fan of Rupert’s.

Following the fall of Bristol Rupert was awarded the governorship of the city. His enemies within the Royalist camp backed the Marquess of Hertford’s recommendation to give Sir Ralph Hopton the prize in return for his three victories. Charles was in a quandary, writing to Hopton;

‘We too much esteem our Nephew P. Rupert, to make him a means of putting any disrespect upon any Gentleman, especially one we esteem so much as you, than to give you any distaste.’[iii]

Rupert was allowed to remain governor, while Hopton was made his deputy; secretly Rupert allowed Hopton to govern the city as he saw fit.

Gloucester and More

Charles moved his army to Gloucester and told Rupert to demand the city’s surrender from the rebel commander, Colonel Edward Massey[iv]. Massey refused and the army set down to besiege the town. Rupert was not convinced of his uncle’s strategy, believing that it might be prudent to skirt the town and move onwards towards London.
Queen Henrietta Maria
Henrietta Maria blamed Rupert because her husband went to Gloucester with his army; she believed Rupert was stopping Charles returning to London. Henrietta felt isolated alone in her lodgings at Merton College, Oxford and was hurt by her impeachment on 21st June. Like Rupert she was very unpopular, not least for her religion, to which the queen hung as a lifeline. She saw it as her duty as a good Catholic to try and save those around her; something which had disastrous results.

A poor influence on her husband Henrietta Maria was also vilified by the Parliamentarian broadsides;

‘Who went to the Brokers with the Jewels of the crown, and the cupboard of gold plate? Who bought pocket-pistols, barrels of powder, and many such pretty toys to destroy the Protestants Was it Queen Mary? The very same.’[v]

Gloucester remained defiant and the siege was not lifted until early September when the Royalists learned that the Earl of Essex was en route to relieve the town with an army of 14,000. Rupert tried pressed an attack on the relief army at Stow-on-the-Wold, but was repulsed.

Essex slipped into Gloucester and managed to persuade Charles that he intended to return to London via Worcestershire. Charles obligingly moved his army to Evesham and Essex moved quickly over to Cirencester and retook the town Rupert has taken earlier in the year. Essex then began his return journey to London. Rupert caught up with the Parliamentarians at Aldbourne Chase[vi] but was beaten off. Rupert’s troops sped to reach Newbury first and occupied the town.

Newbury and Beyond

Newbury and surrounding countryside
Charles brought up his army to Newbury and resolved to fight the next day; 20th September. His optimism was reinforced by the arrival of fresh troops from Oxford. The battle on the morrow resulted in a conclusive victory for Essex, who was aided by the opposing side’s shortage of ammunition[vii]. Rupert’s cavalry were hampered by the hedges and hillocks around the site of the battle.

‘The Earl of Essex did break both the head and the heart of the King’s Army at Newbury.’[viii]

Rupert had opposed the fighting, knowing the problems his men faced and aware that Essex’s men would make the most of the terrain. The battle was one of the turning points of the war and Charles would never again be in a position to defeat the opposition in the field and give himself a clear run on London.

Donnington Castle
Charles lost a number of good men in the fight including Caernarvon, Falkland[ix] and Sunderland. Essex’s army moved off, marching towards London. Rupert and his men harassed the line of march but were checked three miles from Newbury by Parliamentarian musketeers.

Charles ordered Rupert to garrison Donnington Castle, and then he and his nephew returned to Oxford. Ten days later the indomitable Rupert was off to seize Bedford. En route he and his men took Newport Pagnell where Rupert placed Sir Lewis Dyve [x]in charge. At the end of October, after a muddle over ammunition, Dyve withdrew from this key position allowing Essex to occupy the town. Rupert now suggested an attack into East Anglia which was shouted down by his enemies, as being high-risk, which it was despite the pockets of Royalist support in the area.

Late in the year Rupert’s brother, Charles Louis, visited London to pledge his support for the Parliamentarians, who promptly reinstated his pension. The Protestant supporters of the ousted Elector were unhappy that Rupert and Maurice were fighting against the Puritan Parliament. Charles Louis himself strongly believed that regaining the Palatinate was a duty that overrode his duty to his uncle; Parliament believed that Charles Louis’ cause was a Protestant crusade.

Disaster Looms

Frontispiece Solemn League & Covenant
In the late autumn the Parliamentarians and the Scots came to an agreement, signing the Solemn League and Covenant. The Scots agreed to invade; to counter this Charles decided to bring back his troops stationed in Ireland. Rupert pushed to be given command of the influx of soldiers, chafing against the intrigues in Oxford. One of his supporters wrote;

‘The army is much divided and the Prince at true distance with many of the officers of the horse.’[xi]

The gulf between Henrietta Maria and Rupert was widening, but Charles made Rupert a peer on 23rd January 1644; Earl of Holderness and Duke of Cumberland. By this time the Scots had already invaded and the Royalist army in the north was trounced by Sir Thomas Fairfax[xii]. Convinced that the north was to be where the action was Rupert got himself made Commander of Chester, Lancaster, Worcester, Salop and the northern counties of Wales.

Rupert set off north on the 6th February where the Marquess of Newcastle’s army, east of the Pennines, was exposed to attack from the Scots and from a Parliamentarian northern army. Rupert needed to provide cover for them as well as ensure the safety of Oxford which was under constant pressure from Essex’s men. Rupert spent much of the summer of 1644 riding between the two.

Parliament decreed that Charles’ Irish troops were to be executed once captured. Thirteen of Rupert’s men were hanged near Nantwich, classified as Irish Papists although all of them were English. In retaliation Rupert executed thirteen of the enemy, promising thereafter to kill two Parliamentarians for every one of his men executed. His threat stopped further retaliation.

In Oxford the anti-Rupert cabal of Digby, Wilmot and Percy was joined by Sir John Culpeper; they increasingly had the ear of the king, despite their joint lack of military expertise. Rupert’s relief of Newark[xiii] was a counter to their whisperings. Newcastle wanted Rupert to remain in the northern Midlands, but the exigencies of war required him to recruit in the Welsh Marches. In his absence Lincolnshire was taken and Lord Bellasis’ army was defeated at Selby.


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 197529th.

The Diaries of Lady Anne Clifford – DJH Clifford (ed), Alan Sutton Publishing Ltd 1990

Charles I – Christopher Hibbert, Penguin Books 2001

The Grand Quarrel – Roger Hudson (ed), Folio Society 1993

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

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

The English Civil War – Diane Purkiss, Harper Perennial 2007

Prince Rupert – Charles Spencer, Phoenix Paperback 2008

[i] Daughter of Charles’ old friend the Duke of Buckingham
[ii] There is no evidence that the relationship was anything other than platonic
[iii] Prince Rupert - Spencer
[iv] Later to change sides and fight for Charles II
[v] The English Civil War - Purkiss
[vi] Near Swindon
[vii] Ammunition could have been fetched from Oxford but Charles was not prepared to delay
[viii] Prince Rupert - Spencer
[ix] One of Charles’ two Secretaries of State, Falkland was fighting in a conflict he abhorred; he was replaced by Rupert’s enemy Lord Digby
[x] One of Lord Digby’s stepbrothers
[xi] Prince Rupert - Spencer
[xii] Who put down the Leveller revolt in Burford in May 1649
[xiii] A staging post between Newcastle’s army and Oxford

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