|The Battle of Lowestoft|
Fighting on the High Seas
Rupert fell ill with complications to the head wound he had received in fighting during the Thirty Years’ War. He did not recover to take part in active duty until late 1664 when he accompanied James on an inspection of the fleet. The inexperienced James was overcome with the might of the English fleet and acquiesced when Parliament pressed Charles to declare war on the Dutch and voting £2.5 million[i] to prosecute the 2nd Anglo-Dutch War[ii].
The most important causus belli was trade; the English were treading on the tails of the Dutch in America, Africa and the East Indies. Rupert was Vice-Admiral of the fleet and Admiral of the Second Squadron under James’ leadership. James strategy was to blockade the enemy ports until the Dutch fleets were forced to make a dash for the open seas, to defend their trade routes.
The Battle of Lowestoft on 7th June 1665 was a victory for the English sinking 20 Dutch warships and with four enemy admirals dead. But due to an untimely intervention by Henry Brouncker[iii] the Dutch fleet escaped. Rupert later reported to parliament;
‘I shall only say, in short, if the Duke’s orders, as they ought, had been strictly observed, the victory which was then obtained had been much greater, nay, in all probability the whole fleet of the enemy had been destroyed.’[iv]
|Sir Robert Holmes (R) with Sir Frescheville Holles|
During the battle Rupert’s Rear Admiral, Robert Sansum died; to replace him Rupert nominated his friend Robert Holmes. James preferred his own man John Harman[v].
‘The Duke went aboard the Royal James to see Prince Rupert, who kept to his chamber of a sore leg......but his Royal Highness thought more fit to give that flag to Capt. Harman.’[vi]
Rupert’s man Holmes then resigned his commission; he was however well able to support himself with the civil and military appointments already gifted to him[vii].
Henrietta Maria was horrified by the English losses during the fighting and persuaded Charles that it was not suitable for the heir to the throne to put himself in harm’s way. Accordingly James was confined to shore. Charles offered a joint command to Rupert and the Earl of Sandwich, one of Rupert’s old adversaries. Rupert felt that a divided command was worse than useless and declined. Sandwich was put in overall control but was soon found guilty of taking bounty from Dutch merchantmen and sent off to Spain as the English ambassador.
The Four Days Battle
|the Four Days' Battle|
In early 1666 command of the navy was divided between George Monck[viii] and Rupert. The country now faced the prospect of fighting not only the Dutch but also France; Louis XIV had decided to oppose his cousin’s expansionist policies. The Netherlands and France were joined by Denmark in the war against the English.
Monck and Rupert set about tightening discipline and demanded adequate and appropriate ammunition for the fleet, now down to 66 ships[ix]. James ordered that the fleet be divided between the two commanders. So when the French, under the Duke of Beaufort, left Toulon, Rupert sailed to intercept him and Monck was left on his own to attack the Dutch.
The Four Day’s Battle begun twenty miles off Ostend. On 1st June Monck and his men were caught between two lines of fire; the following day, reduced to 40 ships Monck attempted to sail back to the English coast. He was joined by Rupert and his fleet on the afternoon of 3rd June and the two admirals agreed to attack the following day. Pepys records that Monck[x];
‘By and by spied the Prince’s fleet coming......the Prince came up with the Generall’s[xi] fleet, and the Dutch came together again and bore towards their own coast.’[xii]
The End of a Tumultuous Year
A further battle took place on 24th July off Orford Ness, victory going to the English by a narrow margin. On 9th August Robert Holmes, back with the navy, raided the islands of Vlieland and Terschelling, off the Zuider Zee. He claimed to have burnt 150 merchantmen at anchor on the islands, costing the Dutch £1 million[xiii].
In early September Monck was diverted back to London to help deal with the consequences of the Great Fire in London.
Rupert prepared a detailed report on the campaigning season, blaming poor intelligence about the intentions of the French fleet, the intentions of the Dutch and finally the whereabouts of Monck when Rupert’s fleet was ordered to join them to give battle. Rupert referred to ‘intolerable neglect’ in provisioning and maintenance of the ships. He also recommended that Harwich’s defences should be upgraded along with those of Sheerness. The Duke of York’s decision to ignore this advice was to cost the country dear.
|Barbara, Lady Castlemaine|
Pepys and the Navy Board retaliated to Rupert’s complaints by asserting that Rupert brought the fleet home in bad condition at the end of the fighting season. At a meeting on 7th October Rupert informed a meeting that;
‘Whatever the gentleman [Pepys] said, he had brought home his fleet in as good a condition as any fleet was ever brought home.’[xiv]
Pepys and the Navy Board were at cross purposes with Rupert. The navy was suffering from underfunding; Pepys had asked for £100,000[xv] to keep the fleet afloat, he was given £5,000[xvi] by Charles who was far happier to lavish money on his mistresses, especially the voracious Lady Castlemaine who held the king in thrall.
During the winter Rupert underwent two trepanning operations on his head to alleviate the problems caused by his head wound. The second was to alleviate many of the problems caused by the botched first operation. Rupert was having problems sleeping and the constant pain in his head was worsening. Rupert believed that he would die, but Pepys wrote;
‘Since we told him that we believe he would overcome his disease, he is as merry and swears and laughs and curses, and do all the things of a man in health, as ever he did in his life.’[xvii]
Pepys believed that Rupert’s illness was a result of the clap[xviii] having gone to Rupert’s head.
News of Rupert’s death were rumoured on the Royal Exchange on 16th February, but Pepys was able to rectify the stories. Rupert used his convalescence to create refined versions of the surgeon’s tools used in his operation.
The Earl of Clarendon and his cronies were now responsible for the fatal decision to lay off sailors and lay up the larger warships; made because they believed the war almost won When he heard of the decision and was off his sickbed Rupert protested to Charles.
|Battle of the Medway|
Early in June 1667 de Ruyter’s men captured Sheerness. The majority of the Dutch fleet remained off Sheerness but a force under Willem van Ghent attacked the Chatham navy yards in the Battle of the Medway. Van Ghent fired six warships and sailed off with James’ flagship, the Royal Charles and the Unity; a PR disaster for both Charles and the Navy Board. Pepys wrote;
‘Our hearts do now ake; for the news is true, that the Dutch have broken the Chain[xix] and burned our ships, and particularly the Royal Charles; other perticulars I know not, but most sad to be sure.’[xx]
Rupert was called upon to assist James and Monck as they summonsed troops to Upnor Castle[xxi]. Rupert deployed a battery of artillery at Woolwich, where he knew the enemy would have to pass. Lord Arlington[xxii] wrote;
‘On Thursday they came on again with 6 men of war and 5 fire ships.....but were so warmly received by Upper (sic) Castle and battery on the shore that they were forced to retire, with great damage beside the burning of their 5 fire ships.’[xxiii]
The Dutch were at point blank range when Rupert, in his element, gave the first order to fire. The Dutch retired to the mouth of the Thames and maintained control of the Channel for the next few weeks.
In December 1667 Pepys proposed that any officer wishing to be made a lieutenant should have served in the navy for three years, have a certificate from his captain and passed an exam in navigation and seamanship at the Navy Office. Rupert opposed this radical change, but the flag officers and Charles approved.
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
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
Samuel Pepys – Claire Tomalin, Alfred A Knopf 2002
[iii] One of James’ courtiers
[iv] Prince Rupert - Spencer
[v] Later Admiral
[vi] Man of War - Ollard
[vii] Deputy Governor of the Isle of Wight, Governor of Sandown Fort and Captain of his own Independent Company of Foot
[viii] Now Duke of Albemarle
[ix] The previous year’s plague had killed off many sailors
[x] Pepys’ patron; Pepys had a low opinion of Rupert
[xi] De Ruyter
[xii] The Shorter Pepys - Latham
[xiv] Rupert of the Rhine - Ashley
[xvii] Prince Rupert - Spencer
[xix] Across the channel of the Medway
[xx] The Shorter Pepys - Latham
[xxi] An Elizabethan fort outside the Chatham dockyards
[xxii] An ally of Barbara Castlemaine’s against Clarendon; Arlington was one of those charged with management of the war
[xxiii] Prince Rupert - Spencer