RUPERT, PRINCE, Count Palatine of the Rhine and Duke of Bavaria (1610-1682), third son of the elector palatine and “winter king” of Bohemia, Frederick V., and of Elizabeth, daughter of James I. of England, was born at Prague on the 17th of December 1619. A year later his father was defeated at the battle of the Weisser-Berg, near Prague, and driven from Bohemia. After many wanderings the family took refuge in Holland, where Rupert's boyhood was spent. In 1633 the boy was present at the siege of Rheinberg in the suite of the Prince of Orange, and in 1635 he served in this prince's bodyguard. In 1636 he paid his first visit to England, was entered as an undergraduate, though only nominally, at St John's College, Oxford, and was named as the governor of a proposed English colony in Madagascar. But this scheme did not mature, and Charles sent his nephew back to Holland, having, however, formed a high opinion of his energy, talent and resolution. In 1637 he was again serving in the wars, and in 1638, after displaying conspicuous bravery, he was taken prisoner by the imperialists at the action of Vlotho (17th October) and held in a not very strict captivity for three years. In 1641 he was released, and, rejoining his mother in Holland, was summoned to England to the assistance of his uncle, for the Great Rebellion was about to break out.
In July 1642 he landed at Tynemouth. Charles at once made him general of the horse and independent of Lord Lindsey, the nominal commander of the whole army. From this point until the close of the first Civil War in 1646 Prince Rupert is the dominant figure of the war. His battles and campaigns are described in the article Great Rebellion. He was distinctively a cavalry leader, and it was not until the battle of Marston Moor in 1644 that the Royalist cavalry was beaten. The prince's strategy was bold as well as skilful, as was shown both in the Royalist movements of 1644 which he proposed, and in the two far-ranging expeditions which he carried out for the relief of Newark and of York. In November 1644, in spite of the defeat at Marston Moor, he was appointed general of the king's army. But this appointment, though welcome to the army, was obnoxious to the king's counsellors, who resented the prince's independence of their control, to some of the nobility over whose titles to consideration he had ridden roughshod, and to some of the officers whose indiscipline and rapacity were likely to be repressed with a heavy hand. These dissensions culminated, after the prince's surrender of Bristol to Fairfax, in a complete break with Charles, who dismissed him from all his offices and bade Rupert and his younger brother Maurice seek their fortunes beyond the seas.
Rupert's character had been tempered by these years of responsible command. By 1645, although the parliamentary party accused him not merely of barbarity but of ingratitude for the kindnesses which his family had received from English people in the days of the Palatinate War, Rupert had in fact become a good Englishman. He was convinced, after Marston Moor, that the king's cause was lost, in a military sense, and moreover that the king's cause was bad. When he surrendered Bristol without fighting to the uttermost, it was because Fairfax placed the political issue in the foreground, and after the capitulation the prince rode to Oxford with his enemies, frankly discussing the prospect of peace. Already he had deliberately advised Charles to make peace, and had come to be suspected, in consequence, by Charles's optimistic adviser Digby. But to Charles himself the news of the fall of Bristol was a thunderbolt. “It is the greatest trial to my constancy that has yet befallen me,” he wrote to the prince, “that one that is so near to me in blood and friendship submits himself to so mean an action.” Rupert was deeply wounded by the implied stain on his honour; he forced his way to the king and demanded a court-martial. The verdict of this court smoothed over matters for a time, but Rupert was now too far estranged from the prevailing party at court to be of any assistance, and after further misfortunes and quarrels they separated, Charles to take refuge in the camp of the Scots, Rupert to stay, as a spectator without command, with the Oxford garrison. He received at the capitulation a pass from the parliament to leave England, as did also his faithful comrade Maurice.
For some time after this Rupert commanded the troops formed of English exiles in the French army, and received a wound at the siege of La Bassée in 1647. Charles in misfortune had understood something of his nephew's devotion, and wrote to him in the friendliest terms, and though the prince had by no means forgiven Digby, Colepeper and others of the council, he obtained command of a Royalist fleet. The king's enemies were now no longer the Presbyterians and the majority of the English people but the stern Independent community, with whose aims and aspirations he could not have any sympathy whatever. A long and unprofitable naval campaign followed, which extended from Kinsale to Lisbon and from Toulon to Cape Verde. But the prince again quarrelled with the council, and spent six years (1654-60) in Germany, during which period nothing is known of him, except that he vainly attempted (as also before and afterwards) to obtain the apanage to which as a younger son he was entitled from his brother the elector palatine. At the Restoration he settled in England again, receiving from Charles II. an annuity and becoming a member of the privy council. He never again fought on land, but, turning admiral like Blake and Monk, he bore a brilliant part in the Dutch Wars. He died at his house in Spring Gardens, Westminster, on the 29th of November 1682.
Apart from his military renown, Prince Rupert is a distinguished figure in the history of art as one of the earliest mezzotinters. It has often been said that he was the inventor of mezzotint engraving, but this is erroneous, as he obtained the secret from a German officer, Ludwig von Siegen. One of the most beautiful and valuable of early mezzotints is his “Head of St John the Baptist.” He was also interested in science, experimented with the manufacture of gunpowder, the boring of guns and the casting of shot, and invented a modified brass called “prince's metal.”
Prince Rupert was duke of Cumberland and earl of Holderness in the English peerage. He was unmarried, but left two natural children; one a daughter who married General Emmanuel Scrope Howe and died in 1740, and the other a son, whose mother (who claimed that she was married to the prince) was Frances, daughter of Sir Henry Bard, Viscount Bellamont. The son was killed in 1686 at the siege of Buda.
See E. Warburton's Life of Pr. Rupert (London, 1849) and additional authorities quoted in the memoir by C. H. Firth in the Dict. Nat. Biog.