Rupert, Prince

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Rupert, Prince (1619–82). Prince Rupert had two military careers, as an army officer until 1646 and as a naval commander thereafter. Son of Elizabeth, queen of Bohemia, a grandson of James I, and first cousin to Charles II, he was born in Prague just before his parents were driven out at the start of the Thirty Years War. In his teens he gained military experience in Holland, but was taken prisoner by the Austrians in 1638 and spent nearly three years in captivity. Within months of his release, he travelled to Nottingham and placed himself at the service of his uncle Charles I. For the next four years he was the toast of the royalists, the terror of the roundheads, and the mainstay of the king's war effort, more sober than Goring, more resourceful than Hopton. His forte was the cavalry raid, surprising outposts, sweeping down on garrisons, catching the enemy off guard. He fought in the first skirmish of the war at Powick Bridge, commanded the right wing at Edgehill, led the daring raid which culminated in Chalgrove Field, and harassed Essex at the first battle of Newbury. His relief of York in 1644 was a tactical masterpiece and his subsequent defeat at Marston Moor was probably due to his understanding that the king had given him ‘peremptory’ orders to engage, though heavily outnumbered. He took overall command of the royal forces in November 1644 when it was too late and was defeated at Naseby in June 1645. Sent to hold Bristol, he surrendered in September 1645, causing a bitter breach with the king, who reproached him for ‘so mean an action’. Rupert left the country in July 1646.

The next few years were spent commanding small naval squadrons. He took a fleet to Ireland in 1649 but was outgunned by Blake, and from 1650 to 1652 cruised in the Mediterranean and West Indies, preying on parliamentary shipping and attempting by privateering to improve royal finances. His chance to exercise high naval command came after the Restoration, when he returned to England and shared responsibility in the second and third Anglo-Dutch wars with Monck (Albemarle) and James, duke of York. Confronted by tough and experienced Dutch admirals, his triumphs were less heady than on land, though the action off Lowestoft in 1665 was an important victory.

After the Restoration, Rupert was prominent at the court of Charles II. He retained his reputation as a dashing leader of men, yet he was already a figure from the past, solemn among the wits and gallants of the new generation. He suffered from a head wound gained fighting for the French against the Spaniards in 1647 and survived two operations for trepanning. The combination of high rank, strong views, and a life spent in camps and on board ships made him forthright, though he was not devoid of political judgement. A lifelong servant of the Stuart cause, he is buried in Westminster abbey.

J. A. Cannon

Rupert, Prince

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Rupert, Prince (1619–82) British military commander, b. Bohemia and raised in the Netherlands. His uncle, Charles I, made him commander of the cavalry in the English Civil War. Rupert was undefeated until Marston Moor (1644). He was dismissed after the Royalist defeat at Naseby (1645). Rupert surrendered at Bristol. He led raids against English shipping during the Protectorate period and, after the Restoration, he served as an admiral in the Dutch Wars.

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Prince Rupert (person)

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