He might have been invented by Daphne du Maurier or Rafael Sabatini. He was outlandishly handsome and a lover of women; he was an aristocrat of the best blood, which he shed from other men’s veins in floods, as he was a soldier. He lived to old age and died in his bed.
As a result of the many mixed European marriages arranged in the seventeenth century, he was a German-born prince, son of Frederick V, Palatinate in Bohemia, where he was born. He was also nephew to the poor doomed Charles I of England, which is why he travelled to England, flourishing his best chairman accent, and joined the Royalist side just in the time for the outbreak of the English Civil War in 1642. He was just twenty-three years old.
A superb horseman, he soon became a commander of cavalry. On at least three occasions, cheerfully leading his men, he was victorious, but then he met the New Model Army trained by Oliver Cromwell at Marston Moor (1644), where he lost, and Naseby (1645) where he was thrashed, losing almost all his horses and his men. But of course he was dashing and very young, and popular with both sides in this ridiculous civil war, and he used his own horse to escape from the field, riding hell-for-leather for the coast. Here he found a boat and got himself over the Narrow Seas to France.
Rupert lived in France, working for the King, until 1660 and the Restoration of Charles II (q.v.). The English had by then cut off the head of their king in one of the most disgraceful episodes in British history but establishing a precedent, whereby parliaments made up of supposedly loyal subjects murdered their monarchs as an act of judicial revenge. Mary Queen of Scots, Louis XVI of France, Nicholas of Russia and his entire family were treated thus, which tells us a lot about politics and politicians. You will be able to add many others who received the same treatment, deserved or undeserved. Not to paraphrase Machiavelli, ‘put not your trust in someone who chose politics for a living’.
To return to our handsome hero: Rupert had somehow converted himself from soldier and cavalry leader to sailor and navigator, and Charles II rapidly made him commander of part of his Navy, fighting the Dutch (no mean task, especially at sea) for a period of four years.
In 1670 at the age of fifty-one Prince Rupert, loaded with honours and trusted implicitly by the usually doubting and suspicious English king, became the first Governor of the Hudson Bay Company in Canada, an important post that he carried out with his usual vim and vigour, travelling thousands of miles across Canada in a small carriage equipped for his needs, or on horseback. He was profoundly interest in science, as well knowing a great deal about fine art. It was Rupert who was responsible for the introduction into England of mezzotint engraving.
Rupert died in 1682 at sixty-three, after a full and adventurous life. His early life is surely an ideal subject for books and films, and yet surprisingly little is known about this Anglo-German prince who managed almost to span the dangerous and unpredictable seventeenth century without too much trouble (except for Marston Moor and Naseby) and with his honour unimpaired. Charles Spencer has written a readable biography of our subject called Prince Ruper, the last cavalier, and the actor Timothy Dalton who resembles Rupert in an uncanny way, played him in the 1970 film Cromwell.
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