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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.

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.

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.