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Prince Rupert of the Rhine, Duke of Cumberland, (December 17, 1619 – November 29, 1682) was a German-British army officer, admiral, scientist and colonial governor. He first came to prominence as a Cavalier, commander of a cavalry unit during the English Civil


Parents and ancestry

His father was Friedrich V of the Palatinate, of the Palatinate-Simmern branch of the House of Wittelsbach. He was the Elector Palatine of the Rhine in the Holy Roman Empire from 1610 to 1623, and reigned as King of Bohemia from 1619 to 1620. He was forced to abdicate both roles, and the brevity of his reign in Bohemia earned him the derisive sobriquet “the Winter King.” As Elector Palatine, Friedrich was one of the most important princes of the Holy Roman Empire. He was also head of the Protestant Union, a coalition of Protestant German states. The Palatinate was a wealthy state, and Friedrich lived in great luxury.

Friedrich’s mother, Countess Louise Juliana of Nassau, was daughter of Willem the Silent, Prince of Orange and sister of Maurice, Prince of Orange, who as stadtholders of Holland and other provinces were the leaders of the Dutch Republic.

His mother was Elizabeth of England and Scotland daughter of King James I-VI of England, Scotland and Ireland. Thus Rupert was nephew of King Charles I of England, and first cousin of King Charles II of England, who made him Duke of Cumberland and Earl of Holderness. His sister Electress Sophia was the mother of George I of Great Britain.

Rupert was named in honour of Rupert, King of Germany, a famous Wittelsbach ancestor.

Rupert (right) with his brother, Charles I Ludwig, Elector Palatine (left), in a 1637 portrait by Anthony van Dyck

As a child, Rupert was at times badly behaved, “fiery, mischievous, and passionate” and earned himself the nickname Robert le Diable, or “Rupert The Devil”. Nonetheless, Rupert proved to be an able student. By the age of three he could speak some English, Czech, and French, and mastered German while still young, but had little interest in Latin and Greek. He excelled in art, being taught by Gerard van Honthorst, and found mathematics and science easy. By the time he was 18 he stood about 6 ft 4 in (1.93 m) tall.

Friedrich set about convincing an alliance of nations—including England, France and Sweden—to support his attempts to regain the Palatinate and Bohemia. By the early 1630s Frederick had built a close relationship with the Swedish King Gustaf II Adolph, the dominant Protestant leader in Germany. In 1632, however, the two men disagreed over Gustaf’s insistence that Friedrich provide equal rights to his Lutheran and Calvinist subjects after regaining his lands; Friedrich refused and set off to return to The Hague.

Friedrich V Palatine of the Rhine died of a fever along the way and was buried in an unmarked grave. Rupert had lost his father at the age of 13, and Gustaf’s death at the battle of Lützen in the same month deprived the family of a critical Protestant ally. With Frederick gone, King Charles I of England, Scotland and Ireland proposed that the family move to England; Rupert’s mother declined, but asked that Charles extend his protection to her remaining children instead.

Prince Rupert as a teen

Rupert spent the beginning of his teenage years in England between the courts of The Hague and his uncle King Charles I, before being captured and imprisoned in Linz during the middle stages of the Thirty Years’ War. Rupert had become a soldier early; at the age of 14 he attended the Dutch pas d’armes with the Protestant Frederick Henry, Prince of Orange. Later that year he fought alongside him and the Duke of Brunswick at the Anglo-German siege of Rheinberg, and by 1635. Rupert went on to fight against imperial Spain in the successful campaign around Breda in 1637 during the Eighty Years’ War in the Netherlands. By the end of this period, Rupert had acquired a reputation for fearlessness in battle, high spirits and considerable industry.

In between these campaigns Rupert had visited his uncle’s court in England. The Palatinate cause was a popular Protestant issue in England, and in 1637 a general public subscription helped fund an expedition under his brother Charles Ludwig to try and regain the electorate as part of a joint French campaign. Rupert was placed in command of a Palatinate cavalry regiment. The campaign ended badly at the Battle of Vlotho (October 17, 1638) during the invasion of Westphalia; Rupert escaped death, but was captured by the forces of the Imperial General Melchior von Hatzfeldt towards the end of the battle.

Rupert was imprisoned in Linz and his mprisonment was surrounded by religious overtones. His mother was deeply concerned that he might be converted from Calvinism to Catholicism; his captors, encouraged by Emperor Ferdinand III, deployed Jesuit priests in an attempt to convert him. The Emperor went further, proffering the option of freedom, a position as an Imperial general and a small principality if Rupert would convert. Rupert refused.

Rupert’s imprisonment became more relaxed on the advice of the Archduke Leopold, Ferdinand’s younger brother, who met and grew to like Rupert. Rupert practised etching, played tennis, practised shooting, read military textbooks and was taken on accompanied hunting trips. He also entered into a romantic affair with Susan Kuffstein, the daughter of Count von Kuffstein, his gaoler. He received a present of a rare white poodle that Rupert called Boy, or sometimes Pudel, and which remained with him into the English Civil War.

Despite attempts by a Franco-Swedish army to seize Linz and free Rupert, his release was ultimately negotiated through Leopold and the Empress Maria Anna; in exchange for a commitment never again to take up arms against the Emperor, Rupert would be released. Rupert formally kissed the Emperor’s hand at the end of 1641, turned down a final offer of an Imperial command and left Germany for England.

Part II on the life of Prince Rupert will coincide with the articles I will be doing on Charles I and the English Civil War and his subsequent trial.