He gained, then lost it all

MAJOR-GENERAL JOHN LAMBERT
1619 TO 1684

John_Lambert_painting_s

Lambert was born the same year as Rupert of the Rhine and, like Rupert, would have been just twenty-three years old when the Civil War began. I’ve always had a sneaking fondness for him – which anyone who has read Garland of Straw, where he features as Gabriel’s superior officer, will already know. And he’s back in The King’s Falcon – this time as Eden’s commander between Scotland and Worcester.

Some of the Roundheads – such as Cromwell, for example – who were leading players in the conflict were born around the turn of the seventeenth century and didn’t achieve prominence until they were well into their forties. Others, like Ireton and Lilburne, died before reaching that age. By the time John Lambert was forty, he had achieved everything and lost it all … and he spent his remaining years in prison.
How did that come about?

Lambert was born in West Yorkshire.  He began his military career as a Captain in Fairfax’s cavalry and was a Major-General by the young age of twenty-eight – a swift rise which reflects his strategic brilliance.  He fought at Marston Moor in 1644, Preston in 1648, Dunbar in 1650 and played a vital role in the victory at Worcester in 1651. He was popular with his own men and the Cavaliers disliked him less than most of the other Roundhead leaders – probably because he was less Puritanical. He kept his religious views to himself, was a cynical realist and combined ambition with a gift for intrigue.  He lived in style with his wife, Frances, at Wimbledon House where his hobby was cultivating tulips – on which he spent a great deal of money.

Having covered it in detail in Garland, I’ll pass over Lambert’s involvement in the complex politics of 1647-49 and simply say that he had no sympathy at all with the radicals and wasn’t one of the regicides. But in 1653, he engineered the dissolution of the Barebones’ Assembly and produced the first draft of a document which led to the establishment of the Protectorate. This is interesting because I get the impression that he didn’t particularly like Cromwell – and Cromwell clearly didn’t understand Lambert at all, describing him as ‘bottomless’. Certainly Lambert opposed the move to make Cromwell king or the Protectorate hereditary – a stand which led to his dismissal.

In May 1659, after the death of Cromwell and the overthrow of his son, Richard, Lambert regained his previous military commands when the Rump was recalled.

But this is where everything seems to have gone awry.

Following [yet another] quarrel between Parliament and the Army, Lambert repeated history by expelling the Rump. This drew General Monck down from Scotland to restore civil authority and – inexplicably, to me at least – Lambert’s troops deserted him rather than fight. The result was that he was captured and put in the Tower. He escaped, tried to rally the Army in a last ditch attempt to prevent the Restoration – and was recaptured. In 1662, he was tried, condemned to death, reprieved and sentenced to life imprisonment. He spent his remaining twenty-two years as a captive – first on Guernsey and then on Drake’s Island in Plymouth Sound.

Perhaps Lambert’s tragedy was that he reached his peak too soon and couldn’t accept that his meteoric rise might come to an abrupt end. It’s true to say that, if he had been less ambitious, he might not have begun the troubles of 1659 which resulted in the Restoration; but equally, if his principles had been of the more flexible kind, he might have gained further honours by betraying his friends and throwing in his lot with Charles the Second.

At the end, Lambert plainly did what he’d always done – he stuck to his guns. And for two decades, the intelligence and courage of a natural leader were utterly wasted.

In the words of one of the great Cavalier heroes, horribly murdered nine years before the return of the King …

He either fears his fate too much or his deserts are small,
Who puts it not unto the touch, to win or lose it all.

James Graham, Marquis of Montrose

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One of the ‘Roaring Boys’?

Lord George Goring 1608 to 1657

When he was twenty-one years old, George Goring married the daughter of the millionaire Earl of Cork. She brought him an impressive dowry of £10,000 – which he soon squandered on cards, dice and debauchery before taking military service in Holland. By the time he was thirty, he had acquired a reputation as a gambler, a libertine and a soldier.

George_Goring,_Baron_Goring_after_Sir_Anthony_Van_Dyck

The famous siege of Breda in 1637 left Goring with a shattered ankle, a permanent limp – and presumably also permanent pain – but he didn’t let this stand in his way and, when he returned to England, he accepted the post of Governor of Portsmouth.

The Earl of Clarendon [who plainly didn’t like him!] declared that, ‘he would have broken any trust or done any act of treachery to satisfy an ordinary passion or appetite.’ A severe criticism perhaps, but not unjustified. Goring’s actions between 1640 and 1642 don’t do him much credit. He managed to convince Parliament of his loyalty whilst making Portsmouth a base for the King; he was deeply involved in the Army Plots of 1641 but betrayed both of them to the Commons; and when the Civil War began, he declared openly for Charles 1 but surrendered Portsmouth within a month and decamped for Holland.

He didn’t remain abroad for long. Once back in England, he distinguished himself as a cavalry leader in the north, was taken prisoner in 1643 and released in 1644. He commanded a wing of the Royalist Horse at Marston Moor where he acquitted himself well against Fairfax only to be routed by Cromwell – and it was at this point that the rot seems to have set in. Goring had always been unreliable and was notorious for letting his men run amok. But after Marston Moor he appears to have started hitting the bottle with serious regularity whilst going out of his way to become a thorn in Prince Rupert’s side.

In the latter, he was ably assisted by Lords Wilmot and Digby – the three of them joining forces to intrigue against Rupert and to obstruct him at every turn. Inevitably, this constant ill-feeling and the resulting arguments was to eventually prove disastrous to the King’s cause.

In August 1644, Goring – now Captain of Horse in the West Country – let the Roundhead cavalry slip through his fingers at Lostwithiel but redeemed himself with a gallant showing at the battle of Newbury two months later. However, the following year saw him refusing to join Rupert before the battle of Naseby, preferring to spend his time in idle, largely drunken resentment – occasionally punctuated by bursts of action. During the next few months, he lost Taunton and caused a local rebellion by letting his men loot homes and kill livestock. By the time the Roundheads wiped him out at Langport in July 1645, he was widely regarded as ‘the evil genius of the war in the West‘.

With the King’s cause past saving, Goring went to the Netherlands and, from there, to command English regiments in Spanish service. He was to spend the rest of his days there, dying in Madrid in 1657.

So what do we make of this man who, both during his lifetime and long after it, was either loved or reviled? Egotistical, charismatic, pleasure-seeking, wasteful, intelligent, quarrelsome, brave? All of those things, probably. He had a way with the ladies and was the kind of rakehell more commonly found after the Restoration. He diced and whored and drank … but he also had a natural military talent and the ability to inspire men. He was wildly ambitious – and equally wildly irresponsible; and though he possessed the potential for brilliance, he rarely achieved it.

Nowadays, a lot of people probably consider swaggering, hard-drinking, sword-out-at-the-drop-of-a-hat George Goring to be a typical Cavalier. I don’t think this is true. He was more than those things – and many of his contemporaries were none of them. But there seems little doubt that he was one of the Roaring Boys.

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The just, the valiant and the true?

                                                                                                                                                                              COLONEL  THOMAS  RAINSBOROUGH 1610 to 1648
Col._Thomas_Rainsborough

I should start by saying that the picture worries me. Rainsborough is described as a tall, powerfully-built man and we can see by his dates that he was only 38 when he died. So can this portrait really be him? I’d imagined him as being dark, dynamic and a little fierce. Instead, he looks calm and cuddly – rather like a favourite uncle. Ah well.

Rainsborough’s family had connections with New England – in fact, two of his sisters married Winthrops of Massachusetts. Thomas himself was brought up to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a sailor. After the onset of the Civil War, he served as Vice-Admiral for a while in 1643 but was then commissioned as a Colonel and spent the remainder of the war serving Parliament on land.

He became known for stern discipline, skill at breaking sieges and ferocity towards the enemy. He commanded a regiment in the New Model, fought at Langport, Naseby, Bridgewater and Bristol – where, on taking Prior’s Hill Fort, he put every man inside it to the sword.

But Rainsborough’s interest for us today lies less in his military career than in his part in the Putney Debates of 1647. [See Garland of Straw] He was the only field officer in sympathy with the views of John Lilburne and the Levellers. He opposed continued negotiation with the King aimed at reconciliation and demanded a new constitution with an extended franchise and political equality. Basically, he argued the case for ‘one man, one vote’. Since, at that time, only landowners had the right to vote this radical idea found immense favour amongst the common soldiers and none at all amongst Rainsborough’s fellow officers.

His most-often-quoted and therefore most famous speech included these words:-

I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest he; and therefore, truly, I think it’s clear that every man that is to live under a government ought first by his own consent to put himself under that government.

Nicely-put and perfectly true – but a cause of huge disagreement in the Debates. Frequently hot-tempered, Rainsborough at one point became so incensed with Cromwell that he shouted, ‘One of us must not live!’ The quarrel was smoothed over but it is unlikely that they ever became bosom friends.
At the start of the second Civil War, Rainsborough was again appointed Admiral of the fleet – probably in order to remove his dissenting presence from the Army Council. Unfortunately, his Leveller views were unpopular with the Navy which mutinied and refused to let him board his ship. Back to fighting on land, he was sent to help break the siege of Colchester – where he was responsible for the summary executions of Lucas and Lisle.

His next posting in the autumn of 1648 was another siege – this time at Pontefract where the Cavaliers had been holding out since the early summer. A quartet of Royalists attempted to kidnap him from his quarters in Doncaster but the attempt went awry and Rainsborough was killed.

His funeral at Wapping was attended by some three thousand Levellers wearing sea-green ribbons in his memory; and the younger radicals, to whom Rainsborough was a great hero, called him ‘the just, the valiant and the true’.

Thomas Rainsborough’s voice is not the most well-known – though I’ve seen numerous references to him just recently – but it is a powerful one.

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THE GODLY CAVALIER

Sir William Compton

1625 to 1663

Sir_William_Compton_by_Sir_Peter_Lely

Portrait by Sir Peter Lely

William was the third son of Spencer Compton, the 3rd Earl of Northampton. He attended Eton between 1634 and 1636 and presumably went from there to either Oxford or Cambridge – though I haven’t been able to establish which. When the Civil War broke out, William was just seventeen years old but he fought with his father’s regiment at Edgehill and, when Banbury Castle fell to the Cavaliers four days later, Major Sir William Compton – assisted by Lieutenant-Colonel Anthony Greene – became the Castle’s titular Governor. He also assembled a regiment of Foot under his father’s name … and, in a sense, they still exist today. Go to any Civil War battle re-enactment and you’re likely to find Lord Northampton’s green-jackets have set up camp.

I won’t go too deeply into Will’s time at Banbury. A large part of the garrison’s job was to keep Oxford supplied by raiding enemy convoys which made it a particular thorn in Parliament’s side and, even then, the town was a by-word for Puritanism. But until the summer of 1644, life in the Castle remained fairly quiet; mundane … possibly even tedious. And then the Parliament’s first serious attempt to re-take it changed all that.

The Great Siege of Banbury Castle lasted for fourteen weeks while 3,500 Parliamentarians threw everything they’d got against the 320 strong garrison. By the time the King sent help, the Cavaliers had neither powder, shot nor food and had eaten all but two of the horses. Read the full story of this and what happened afterwards in A Splendid Defiance.

After the death of Lieutenant-Colonel Greene in December ’44, William was raised to the rank of Colonel and got full Governorship of the Castle He was nineteen.
So what was this rather remarkable young man really like? Plainly, he had physical determination and courage; equally plainly, he possessed sufficient intelligence and authority to make men follow him despite his youth; and, in addition, he seems to have enforced a code of behaviour born of basic Anglican piety on the garrison – doubtless no easy task. But there is one particular incident which speaks of a passion for fairness … and that was his reaction to the attempt of his elder brother [now the 3rd Earl] to cashier Captain Tyrwhitt in 1645. William took up the cudgels in Tyrwhitt’s defence, defying his brother and stating that no officer of his would be cashiered in his absence for an unproven offence. He didn’t win – but, by God, he tried.

The Castle was besieged again in January of 1646 – this time by Colonel Whalley – and the Cavaliers held out until the King’s surrender made their own inevitable. William seems to have spent a large part of the next two years travelling abroad … probably in France and the Low Countries, perhaps even fighting in the Thirty Years War. He doesn’t re-emerge until 1648, when we hear of him settling on the estate in Kent granted to him by his grandfather. And the reason I’m featuring him in my Who’s Who now is because he pops back on to my pages in Garland of Straw.

As a Kentish land-owner, William automatically became involved in the risings that were part of the second Civil War. Now a Major-General, he fought at Maidstone and was an officer in Lord Norwich’s small, ill-fated army on the miserable journey [dogged every step of the way by Colonel Whalley] that eventually meandered its way to Colchester. After Banbury, William must have hoped never to find himself in a siege situation again … but to his superior officers [notably Sir Charles Lucas and Sir George Lisle] his experience must have been invaluable. Colchester held out from July 2nd to August 24th before surrendering to Sir Thomas Fairfax. Lucas and Lisle were put against a wall and shot. Sir William ended up in the Tower of London.

In 1651, Will married Elizabeth Tollemache and settled down in Cambridgeshire. He doesn’t appear to have taken part in the Worcester campaign – but he doesn’t appear to have retired from Royalist activities either. During 1652, he joined five other erstwhile Cavalier gentlemen in forming a secret society whose sole aim was the restoration of Charles 11. This clandestine group called themselves the Sealed Knot and made at least eight unsuccessful attempts over the next seven years. But, as time passed, four of Will’s co-conspirators concluded that a fifth member – Sir Richard Willys – had become a double-agent and was betraying them. Once again, William refused to accept a man’s guilt without solid evidence – and was excluded from the Knot as a result.

In 1660, Sir William sailed to Holland to escort King Charles 11 back from exile. He became an active member of the first two Cavalier Parliaments, serving on various committees and, we are told, often providing the voice of reason. Sadly, he died at his home in Drury Lane after a short and apparently sudden illness on October 18th, 1663. He was thirty-eight years old.

Samuel Pepys wrote of Sir William that ‘all of the world was saying he was one of the worthiest men and best officers of state in England‘ and also added that ‘no man ever spoke ill of him.

But who, after his conduct at Colchester, christened him The Godly Cavalier?
A surprise here.
It was Oliver Cromwell.

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The ‘Real’ Lady de Winter?

                                                                                                                                                                                       Lucy Hay, Countess of Carlisle 1599 to 1660

lucy-percy-countess-of-carlisle-van-dyck-1637

                                                                                                                                                                                              Portrait by Anthony van Dyck, 1637

I’ve always felt a sort of sneaking dislike for Lucy Carlisle based on the few things I knew about her. In certain respects, I may have done her an injustice; in others, not so much. Certainly, having taken the time to dig a little deeper, she’s a more interesting woman than I previously suspected.

Lucy was extremely well-connected.  Her mother was the daughter of the 1st Earl of Essex – and therefore the aunt of the Great Cuckold.  Her father was the 9th Earl of Northumberland; the so-called Wizard Earl, known for his interest in alchemy, who spent seventeen years in the Tower of London following the Gunpowder Plot, though it’s unlikely that he had any personal involvement in it.

In 1617, Lucy married James Hay – a match her father actually offered her £20,000 to refuse!  The following year, she had a son who died within a month and, in 1622, she suffered a near-fatal miscarriage – the result being that she never had children.  It was in that same year that James Hay was created 1st Earl of Carlisle and Lucy acquired the title that we know her by.

In 1625 when Henrietta Maria came to England to marry Charles 1, Lucy – already famed at Court for her beauty and wit – was having an affair with George Villiers, the 1st Duke of Buckingham.  This didn’t endear her to the new [and very moral] Queen and, for a time, Henrietta refused to have Lucy in her household.  It’s also possible that Carlisle and Buckingham hoped that Lucy might ensnare the King – though Buckingham, at least, ought to have known how unlikely that was.  At all events, Lucy’s affair with Buckingham – along with their friendship – ended abruptly when he became besotted with the Queen of France.

And this is where Lucy becomes entangled with fiction.  Alexandre Dumas based The Three Musketeers on an anecdote written by La Rochefoucauld – a gentleman who would have known both Lucy and Buckingham.  Rochefoucauld told of the theft of a diamond necklace belonging to the French Queen and implied that the thief was Lucy.  This, since one can easily imagine Lucy having all the fury of a woman scorned and taking her revenge, is not impossible … and it’s supposedly what led Dumas to base Milady de Winter on Milady Carlisle.

By the time Buckingham was assassinated in 1628, Lucy had managed to ingratiate herself with Henrietta Maria and though, since they had very little in common, their relationship had its ups and downs, she was one of the Queen’s favourites.   At this time, Lucy also established a salon where writers, poets and men with political influence gathered about her.

In 1635, Lord Carlisle [having Irish lands and monopolies] sent his wife to secure the goodwill of Thomas Wentworth, Lord Deputy of Ireland.  Once again, rumour suggests that Lucy achieved this by becoming Wentworth’s mistress.  And when, in the following year, Carlisle died and Lucy inherited his Irish holdings, the Lord Deputy’s favour presumably became even more useful to her.

As Civil War approached, Wentworth became one of Charles 1’s closest advisers and was created Earl of Strafford.  When Parliament sent him to the block in May of 1641, Lucy did something I find inexplicable.  She embarked on an affair with John Pym.  And when the King planned to arrest the five Members in January 1642, she passed on the information to her cousin, the Earl of Essex, so that Pym and the others could remove themselves from the House.  Why?  Did she blame Charles for signing Strafford’s death-warrant even though she must have known that he was forced into it by the very man she was now sleeping with?  Was she merely hedging her bets for the coming conflict? Or was she merely enjoying a little intrigue?  I have no idea.  I can only say that it casts her in a very poor light.

Throughout the first Civil  War, Lucy allied herself with the likes of Denzil Holles and the Earls of Holland and Essex – men who hoped to halt the growing influence of the Independents and the Army by making peace with the King.  And in 1648, during the second war, she redeemed herself a little by pawning a pearl necklace to finance Lord Holland’s ill-fated rising in Kingston-on-Thames.

After the execution of Charles 1 in 1649, Lucy’s anti-Cromwellian activities resulted in her spending eighteen months in the Tower but failed to damage her status as one of the most politically influential women of her day.  She appears to have been motivated – largely but not completely – by self-interest and, unlike many of her female contemporaries, she was never awash with religious fervour.  Whether one likes her or not, there’s no doubting that she lived life to the full and was a force to be reckoned with.   She died on the anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot and was buried at Petworth in Sussex.

Dorothy Osborne wrote that the Countess of Carlisle’s letters should act ‘as models for wit and good breeding’ but added, ‘I am a little scandalised that she uses the word faithful – she never knew how to be so in her life.

Perhaps that says it all.

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September 3rd

Just this once, I’m stepping outside the normal Who’s Who purely because of today’s date and it’s significance to Oliver Cromwell.

1649 Cromwell arrives at Drogheda in Ireland with 10,000 men. The storming and massacre took place eight days later

1650 Cromwell routs the Scots at the Battle of Dunbar

1651 Cromwell routs the combined army of Charles 11 and the Scots at the Battle of Worcester – the last battle of the Civil War

Read about Eden Maxwell at the Battle of Dunbar and Eden, Ashley Peverell and Francis Langley at the Battle of  Worcester  in The King’s Falcon – coming soon.

1654 Cromwell, having been Lord Protector for nine months, opens his first Protectoral Parliament. One guesses that the choice of date was no accident

1658 Cromwell dies at 4pm at the Palace of Whitehall

Celebrate or mourn – depending on your point of view.

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The Great Cuckold – Soundhead

Robert Devereux,  3rd Earl of Essex   1591-1646

You have to feel a bit sorry for Lord Essex.  His father was Elizabeth 1’s well-known favourite and it must have been hard to  live up to all that glamour and panache – particularly as Robert Junior doesn’t seem to have inherited any of it.   Solid, solemn and cautious are the words most often used to describe the third Earl.  His unfortunate nickname is even more well known – and I’ll be coming to that later.

Like most other militarily experienced soldiers of the English Civil War, Essex had fought in what we now know as the Thirty Years’ War [1618-48] though his career was not especially distinguished.  He commanded a company of volunteers in the Palatinate in 1620,  was Vice-Admiral of the ill-fated Cadiz expedition in 1625 and was second-in-command during the so-called Bishops’ War of 1639.  So far, so good.  But when Civil War became imminent, Essex chose to support the Parliament.  Clarendon tells us he did this through ‘a weak judgement and a little vanity and much of pride’.  I tend to think his lordship was out of charity with the Crown for more personal reasons.

At the start of the war, he was appointed General-in-Chief of the Parliamentary army and, though he did his best, he wasn’t a particularly successful commander.  He lacked initiative and exerted no authority over his fellow generals – most notably, Oliver Cromwell who was instrumental in getting rid of him.  He also set off on campaign with his coffin strapped to the back of his coach – a sight which I doubt did much to improve the morale of his troopers!

He failed to win a decisive victory at Edgehill but did manage to hold the defences of London at Turnham Green; he was victorious at the first battle of Newbury in 1643, took Reading and relieved the siege of Gloucester.  But 1644 brought disaster.  He allowed himself to be trapped at Lostwithiel in Cornwall and, though he himself escaped by sea, he left six thousand men behind with no alterative but surrender.

By now you’re probably wondering why I’m choosing to talk about this wholly uncharismatic figure.  It’s partly because  his name crops up over and over again in my writing – but I don’t believe I’ve ever actually introduced him in person.But mostly, I felt it was time to explain why the poor man was known throughout the country as The Great Cuckold. When he was fourteen years old, young Robert was married to pretty, spoiled, self-willed Frances Howard – and, soon after, was sent off on the usual grand European tour.

Not unnaturally, he left before consummating his marriage and, during his absence, Frances began a passionate affair with Robert Carr – one of the ‘special’ favourites of James 1. When Essex returned from his travels, Frances petitioned for an annulment of her marriage on the grounds of her husband’s impotence.  The resulting trial was hugely public.  Essex maintained that he was perfectly capable with other women and only impotent with his wife because she reviled him and called him names.  Needless to say, this was when people first started sniggering.  Frances didn’t escape scot-free either, having been foolish enough – despite her well-known liaison with Robert Carr – to claim that she was still a virgin.  By the time the annulment was granted in September 1613, Essex was a national joke. Although it’s another story altogether, it’s worth mentioning here that Frances subsequently married Robert Carr [now created Earl of Somerset] and the two of them were brought to trial for their part in the poisoning of Sir Thomas Overbury.  Essex was one of the judges in the case and pushed for the death penalty.  He eventually got it – but the sentence was never carried out.  It’s possible that this was one of the reasons Lord Essex chose Parliament over the Crown.He married again when he was forty to Elizabeth Paulet – and  this marriage was also a failure.  The Countess bore a son who died of plague within a month  and who Essex openly doubted was his own issue. At any rate, he immediately petitioned for a judicial separation on the grounds of his wife’s adultery.  [ A point of interest here is that, unlike Scotland, divorce was not an option in England at that time.] Elizabeth denied it, of course, claiming the was the innocent victim of a conspiracy by his lordship’s friends who feared her great influence over him.  The court didn’t agree and Essex got his separation.

Unfortunately, what he also got was the nickname by which we now know him.

The Great Cuckold.

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Prince Rupert of the Rhine – Shagamuffin

Rupert, Count Palatine of the Rhine, Duke of Bavaria, 1st Duke of Cumberland, 1st Earl of Holderness
(17 December 1619 – 29 November 1682)

Portrait by Gerrard von Honthurst

Rupert’s parents were Frederick V, Elector Palatine and Elizabeth Stuart, the elder sister of Charles 1. Both were strongly Protestant and it was this that led Frederick to accept the throne of Bohemia – a poisoned chalice which wiser men had already refused because there was no chance that Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand was going to tolerate a Protestant ruler in one of his territories.

Nor did he. Frederick and Elizabeth arrived in Prague in October 1619 to a rapturous welcome and, in December, were blessed with a second son – Rupert. The following November, the Emperor sent an army against Prague which routed the Protestant defenders and forced Frederick and his family to flee. Their departure was so frenzied that it was only as the last coach was drawing away and a ‘bundle’ was thrown into it that anyone realised little Prince Rupert had almost been left behind.

Frederick V’s year as King of Bohemia cost him the Palatinate as well, so Rupert and his growing tribe of brothers and sisters [excluding the three who died in infancy, he had nine siblings!] grew up in The Hague, relying on the charity of family and friends.

Princes_Palatins_Van_Dyck

Rupert and his younger brother, Maurice, by Van Dyck

Rupert was a boisterous, active child whom those around him, perhaps prophetically, nick-named Rupert the Devil. By the age of three, he could speak English, French and Czech; later he also acquired Dutch, German, Italian and Spanish. He was quick to learn and excelled at mathematics, science and art – studying the latter under Gerard von Honthurst. He was tall – six feet four inches – and very athletic. And his constant ambition was to be a soldier
Rupert was fourteen when his Uncle Frederick Henry of Orange took him on campaign in the Spanish Netherlands and gave him his first taste of warfare. Two years later, he visited England and the court of his uncle, Charles 1. He became a particular favourite of Queen Henrietta Maria – sadly, this changed during the Civil War! – and fell completely in love with both England and its way of life. On his return to the Netherlands, he joined the Prince of Orange again and fought in various campaigns until he was captured at Vlotho in 1638 and imprisoned at Linz by the Emperor Ferdinand until 1641. This period of captivity, though comfortable, must have been extremely irksome – and yet it was not without its compensations. He had his dog, Boy, for company, as well – somewhat incredibly – as a tame hare; and the sixteen-year-old daughter of his custodian, Susanne Marie von Kuffstein, was quite possibly his first romantic interest.

I am not going to attempt to chronicle Rupert’s Civil War career.

Prince_Rupert_-_1st_English_Civil_War

It would require a book of its own and I have covered some of his peaks and troughs in A Splendid Defiance and The Black Madonna. Suffice it to say that he fought for Uncle Charles throughout and, in doing so, gained a reputation that was either heroic or demonic – depending on one’s point of view. Between 1649 and 1652 he spent most of his time ‘pirating’ round the Caribbean and he passed the years of the Commonwealth either at Heidelberg with his elder brother or fighting for the King of Hungary. He did not see England again until the Restoration when his cousin, Charles 11, invited him back and settled a pension of £6000 a year on him.
In 1666, he was joint Commander of the Royal Navy during the Second Dutch War (see The Marigold Chain) and remained in active service until 1674. Now, with time on his hands, he was finally able to devote himself to his long-standing passion for science. He became a founder-member of the Royal Society … and, in his fully-equipped laboratory at Windsor Castle, he plunged into a world of invention. He created a new method of mezzotint, a multiple-firing gun, a better-balanced quadrant for use at sea, a new brass alloy and a recipe for gunpowder, ten times stronger than its predecessor. Truthfully, the list goes on. The man was a creative dynamo.

Obviously, although he never married, there were women in his life. His last relationship was with the actress, Margaret Hughes, by whom he had a daughter – somewhat infelicitously named Ruperta.

Back in 1637, Rupert had told Charles 1 that he would like to leave his bones in England. He got his wish. He died of complications following an attack of pleurisy in 1682 and was buried in the crypt of Westminster Abbey. He left the bulk of his estate – valued at around £12,000 – to Margaret Hughes and Ruperta.

So what was he really like … this complex, many-faceted man?

In my opinion, an intriguing blend of enormous strengths and small weaknesses. Energetic, clever and capable of intense focus but also impatient and frequently tactless – his inability to suffer fools gladly probably won him as many enemies as friends. Rupert was far from perfect – and, to me, far easier to like, because of it. He was a remarkable man but endearingly human. He leaves behind a legacy of images as vivid as they are charismataic … the dashing Cavalry leader, the Wizard Prince, the Mad Cavalier … and beyond all these, Rupert the Unswervingly Loyal.

Born nearly 400 years ago, this fascinating character still leaps off the pages of history too boldly to be ignored or forgotten. And, speaking for myself, it really doesn’t hurt that he was also tall, beautifully-proportioned and outstandingly good-looking. I wish – I really wish I could have met him.

Footnote:
The only visible indication of Rupert’s final resting-place is to be found on the floor of the Henry V11 Chapel, squeezed in between the tombs of Margaret Beaufort and Margaret Douglas.
And for anyone interested in further reading, I’d recommend Margaret Irwin’s The Stranger Prince and Prince Rupert of the Rhine by Patrick Morrah.

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