Tuesday, 12 April 2016

A Stuart Prince - Rupert of the Rhine IX

Duke of Modena
In Between Times

Rupert left his cousin’s court in the late spring of 1655. For the next few years Rupert drifted; he spent some time back in Heidelberg and was then employed by the Duke of Modena in a dispute with the Papal States. That ended with Rupert being pushed out of his command by the duke eager for military glory. Rupert’s position was complicated by his cousin’s desire to keep Rupert’s services for himself. The Commonwealth agent in Cologne, where Charles was staying, reported that Charles had requested that;

‘[Rupert] would quit all employments to serve him, and he would endeavour to defer his journey this summer, if handsom conjunction might be procured with all parties, he would serve him with all his interest, either in men, money, arms and friends.’[i]

During this period Rupert spent time not only on his scientific experiments, but also expanding his skills as an artist, working with the new mezzotint medium.
The Great Executioner by Rupert
He also found time to persuade Charles to back an attempt to assassinate Cromwell, now the Lord Protector of England. The would-be assassins were caught and tried[ii]. Cromwell died on 3rd September 1658 and his son Richard was made Lord Protector in his place. Richard was not cut from the same cloth as his father and resigned the post on 25th May 1659[iii], unable to cope with the vicious infighting from the extremists.

One of Cromwell senior’s favourite generals, General George Monck[iv], caught the mood of the day when he marched down from Scotland. His soldiers stood guard as the House of Commons was reconstituted in February; its members included those purged by Cromwell. They voted to restore the monarchy, a decision applauded by many of the populace tired of extreme Puritanism.

A New World

Rupert returned to England in September 1660, his return recorded by Samuel Pepys, Clerk of the Acts on the Navy Board;

‘This day or yesterday I hear Prince Robt. [Rupert] is come to Court, but welcome to nobody.’[v]

Pepys was not privy to the delight of the king at the return of his heroic older cousin. Charles allowed Rupert the generous pension of £4,000 per annum[vi].

the Winter Queen
In September 1660, the death from smallpox of Charles’ 21 year old brother Henry, Duke of Gloucester, left Rupert the third most important member of the royal family after the king and his brother James. Restless without a role in England, in April 1661 Rupert travelled to Vienna to explore the possibility of serving Ferdinand III against the Ottoman Turks. It came to nothing and Rupert decided to move permanently to England. In November 1661 Rupert came over with his hounds and horses and large quantities of his favourite Moselle wine.

Rupert’s mother Elizabeth returned to her homeland in May 1661; she died the following January, leaving Charles Louis, with whom she had bitterly quarrelled over his non-payment of all her debts, only her debts. The bulk of what remained she left to Rupert who was also her executor. Charles Louis’ agents tried to seize Elizabeth’s possessions but were foiled by Rupert. This quarrel over their mother’s affairs left the two brothers permanently estranged.

In April 1662 Rupert was made one of Charles’ Privy Councillors. And the following month Rupert rode with Charles down to Portsmouth where Charles was met his new bride Catherine of Braganza. The deeply religious[vii] Catherine was much mocked at court; when she turned out to be barren into the bargain there was a lot of pressure on Charles to divorce her to provide the kingdom with an heir[viii].

Fascinating Hobbies

The three cousins Charles, James and Rupert shared a passion for tennis and country sports, and an interest in scientific innovation. Rupert frequently played against Charles at tennis. Pepys wrote;

‘I went to see a great match at tennis between Prince Rupert and one Capt. Cooke against Bab. May[ix] and the elder Chichly, where the King was and Court, and it seems are the best players at tennis in the nation.’[x]

Gresham College, home of the Royal Society
Rupert was one of the founding members of the Royal Society, coming third on the list after Charles and James. He was one of the 21 councillors who oversaw the workings of the society which included Robert Boyle, John Evelyn and Robert Hooke among the 119 fellows. Rupert was more than happy to get his hands dirty conducting scientific experiments. One of the first demonstrations to the society was of Prince Rupert’s Drops[xi]; an innovation Rupert introduced to England.

Rupert’s inventions had a mainly military bent, although he introduced a device to help judge perspective. In March 1663 Rupert wrote a short treatise ‘To make small shot of different sizes.’ In July the same year he shared with the Royal Society ‘A Description of the Way of Making Good Gunpowder.’

Rupert improved the methods for laying and detonating mines, improved the locks on firearms and presented a handgun with rotating barrels, an explosive charge that could be powered through water towards its target and a gun that fired repeated rounds at high speed. Rupert also developed a ‘diving engine’ to retrieve sunken objects from under water. By 1671 Rupert was experimenting with a new substance to improve the effectiveness of naval artillery.

Commerce Reigns

Cromwell and the Parliamentarians had expanded the navy from 39 ships to 156 by 1660 but had made enemies of the Dutch. At the restoration the navy’s debts totalled £1.3 million[xii]. The navy was to be used to expand England’s colonial empire and James, Duke of York, as Lord High Admiral looked to the sea to provide a meaningful role in his brother’s administration. Rupert too was given a role in the administration of Tangiers.

In the summer of 1661 one of Rupert’s mother’s correspondents wrote to her of the concerns of the Dutch about Robert Holmes presence off the coast of Guinea;

‘It is believed that in England a design has been hatched on the river Guiana, following on information given by His Highness Prince Rupert.’[xiii]

Gold ore and slaves were the principal targets of the investors; slaves could be transported to serve in the sugar plantations of Jamaica, sold at £18[xiv] per person. In January 1663 a joint stock company was formed in London; the Royal African Company. James was its governor and Rupert was one of the company’s patentees and councillors.  

New Amsterdam and the Hudson River valley
n August 1664
New Amsterdam was captured from the Dutch and renamed New York. Earlier in the year Robert Holmes was sent to Africa to protect English commercial interests there. Holmes overran Dutch trading stations, despite the fact that the two countries were not at war. The Dutch authorised punitive action on Holmes.

The Dutch admiral de Ruyter was sent to Africa with six ships to deal with Holmes small fleet and retake Cormantine Castle[xv], captured by Holmes. Because of Rupert’s previous experience in Africa;

‘Prince Rupert was ordered, with twelve men of war and six company ships of, at least, forty guns each: and the fleet sailed about the middle of October.’[xvi]

Rupert was not only looking for action against the Dutch, but was due to undertake scientific experiments for the Royal Society. Rupert’s fleet got no further than Portsmouth; as a full scale war was in the offing James had decided to take over active control of the navy.


Prince Rupert of the Rhine – Maurice Ashley, Purnell Book Services Ltd 1976
Samuel Pepys, the Man in the Making – Arthur Bryant, Collins Clear Type Press 1948
The Later Stuarts – George Clark, Oxford University Press 1985
Charles II – Christopher Falkus, Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1972
Cromwell – Antonia Fraser, Phoenix Paperback, 2001
The Shorter Pepys – Robert Latham (ed), Penguin Books 1987
Prince Rupert of the Rhine – Patrick Morrah, Constable & Company 1976
Man of War – Richard Ollard, Phoenix Press 2001
Prince Rupert – Charles Spencer, Phoenix Paperback 2008

[i] Prince Rupert of the Rhine – Morrah
[ii] Two were executed, warning their audience prior to their deaths that the true king would return; the other was reprieved as he was truly repentant
[iii] He left England in July 1660 for France and did not return, spending the rest of his life wandering around Europe
[iv] Later the Duke of Albemarle; Samuel Pepys patron
[v] The Shorter Pepys – Latham
[vi] In 2014 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £536,300.00 economic status value of that income or wealth is £21,350,000.00 economic power value of that income or wealth is £144,700,000.00 www.measuringworth.com
[vii] And Catholic into the bargain which was to cause Charles problems later in his reign
[x] The Shorter Pepys - Latham
[xi] Globules of green glass dropped into cold water while still molten to form elongated bubbles with a thin tail, these globules could be hit with a small hammer and not break. But breaking off the tail of the bubble caused the glass to shatter into small pieces.
[xii] In 2014 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £174,300,000.00 economic status value of that income or wealth is £6,940,000,000.00 economic power value of that income or wealth is £47,020,000,000.00 www.measuringworth.com
[xiii] Prince Rupert - Spencer
[xiv] In 2014 the relative: real price of that commodity is £2,460.00 income value of that commodity is £78,520.00 www.measuringworth.com
[xvi] Prince Rupert - Spencer

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