Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Happy Birthday, Prince Rupert!

Yes, it's the birthday of everybody's favourite cavalier, Prince Rupert of the Rhine! He'd have been 394 years old today, bless him. Famed for his swarthy looks (much like his cousin, Charles II), and for carrying his faithful dog, Boy, into battle with him, Prince Rupert was commander-in-chief of his Uncle Charles I's army from 1644. 

Already a charismatic leader after leading the rout of the parliamentary army in the very first cavalry engagement of the English Civil War at Powick Bridge, Rupert became the stuff of Royalist legend very early on - and, perhaps consequently, the stuff of Parliamentary scorn and derision. 

The most hilarious, to me, of this derision must be the Black Legend of Rupert and Boy. While it was generally remarked that his dark complexion made him look 'like a black man', the link was not far from being made with the devil himself. Accusations of shape-shifting and demon-summoning were rife. But the worst was saved for the poor hunting poodle, Boy. Said by some to be leonine in proportions, this tremendous war-beast was purported to save his master by catching bullets in his teeth, changing shape at will, etc etc. 

Boy was killed at Marston Moor, perhaps having an off-day from his usual bullet-catching tricks, but Rupert made it through the war, having left England following the fall of Oxford in 1646. He continued his uncle's cause following a brief stint fighting for Louis XIV of France against Spain. Earning a reputation as a privateer, he worked across the Atlantic harrying English shipping to cripple Oliver Cromwell's economy. Following the Restoration in 1660, Rupert was made Duke of Cumberland, was effectively Lord High Admiral, developed a number of military innovations for gun locks and gunpowder, created a new form of brass that was subsequently used to imitate gold ('Prince's Brass'), funded an expedition to Canada (Rupert Land is named after him), and was the fourth-best tennis player in England, according to Pepys. He died in 1682.