Prince Rupert had a varied career. He was a soldier from a young age, fighting against Spain in the Netherlands during the Eighty Years' War (1568–1648), and against the Holy Roman Emperor in Germany during the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648). Aged 23, he was appointed commander of the Royalist cavalry during the English Civil War, becoming the archetypal Cavalier of the war and ultimately the senior Royalist general. He surrendered after the fall of Bristol and was banished from England. He served under Louis XIV of France against Spain, and then as a Royalist privateer in the Caribbean. Following the Restoration, Rupert returned to England, becoming a senior English naval commander during the Second and Third Anglo-Dutch wars, engaging in scientific invention, art, and serving as the first governor of the Hudson's Bay Company. Rupert died in England in 1682, aged 62.
Frederick had allied himself with rebellious Protestant Bohemian nobility in 1619, expecting support from the Protestant Union in his revolt against the Catholic Ferdinand II, the newly elected Holy Roman Emperor. This support was not forthcoming, resulting in a crushing defeat at the hands of his Catholic enemies at the Battle of White Mountain in 1620. Rupert's parents were mockingly termed the "Winter King and Queen" as a consequence of their reigns in Bohemia having lasted only a single season. Rupert was almost left behind in the court's rush to escape Ferdinand's advance on Prague, until Kryštof z Donína (Christopher Dhona), a court member, tossed the Prince into a carriage at the last moment.
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 he was acting as a military lifeguard to Prince Frederick. 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 Charles Louis to try and regain the electorate as part of a joint French campaign. Rupert was placed in command of a Palatinate cavalry regiment, and his later friend Lord Craven, an admirer of Rupert's mother, assisted in raising funds and accompanied the army on the campaign. The campaign ended badly at the Battle of Vlotho (17 October 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'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.
After the end of the First English Civil War Rupert was employed by the young King Louis XIV of France to fight the Spanish during the final years of the Thirty Years' War. Rupert's military employment was complicated by his promises to the Holy Roman Emperor that had led to his release from captivity in 1642, and his ongoing commitment to the English Royalist faction in exile. He also became a Knight of the Garter in 1642. Throughout the period Rupert was inconvenienced by his lack of secure income, and his ongoing feuds with other leading members of the Royalist circle.
Rupert's reputation never truly recovered, and in subsequent sieges and attacks he was frequently accused of acting without restraint. Birmingham, a key arms producing town, was taken in April 1643, and Rupert faced allegations—probably untrue—of wilfully burning the town to the ground (see the battle of Camp Hill). Shortly afterwards Rupert attempted to take the town of Lichfield, whose garrison had executed Royalist prisoners, angrily promising to kill all the Soldiers inside. Only the urgent call for assistance from the King prevented him from doing so, forcing him to agree to more lenient terms in exchange for a prompt surrender. Towards the end of the war, practices were changing for the worse across all sides; a rebellious Leicester was retaken by the Prince in May 1645, and no attempt was made to limit the subsequent killing and plunder.
In November 1644 Rupert was appointed General of the entire Royalist army, which increased already marked tensions between him and a number of the King's councillors. By May 1645, and now desperately short of supplies, Rupert captured Leicester, but suffered a severe Reversal at the Battle of Naseby a month later. Although Rupert had counselled the King against accepting battle at Naseby, the opinions of Digby had won the day in council: nonetheless, Rupert's defeat damaged him, rather than Digby, politically. After Naseby, Rupert regarded the Royalist cause as lost, and urged Charles to conclude a peace with Parliament. Charles, still supported by an optimistic Digby, believed he could win the war. By late summer Rupert had become trapped in Bristol by Parliamentary forces; faced with an impossible military situation on the ground, Rupert surrendered Bristol in September 1645, and Charles dismissed him from his Service and command.
Rupert responded by making his way across Parliamentary held territory to the King at Newark with Prince Maurice and around a hundred men, fighting their way through smaller enemy units and evading larger ones. King Charles attempted to order Rupert to desist, fearing an armed coup, but Rupert arrived at the royal court anyway. After a difficult meeting, Rupert convinced the King to hold a court-martial over his conduct at Bristol, which exonerated him and Maurice. After a final argument over the fate of his friend Richard Willis, the governor of Newark, who had let Rupert into the royal court to begin with, Rupert resigned and left the Service of King Charles, along with most of his best cavalry officers. Earlier interpretations of this event focused on Rupert's concern for his honour in the face of his initial dismissal by the King; later works have highlighted the practical importance of the courts martial to Rupert's Future employability as a mercenary in Europe, given that Rupert knew that the war by this point was effectively lost. Rupert and Maurice spent the winter of 1645 in Woodstock, examining options for employment under the Venetian Republic, before returning to Oxford and the King in 1646. Rupert and the King were reconciled, the Prince remaining to defend Oxford when the King left for the north. After the ensuing siege and surrender of Oxford in 1646, Parliament banished both Rupert and his brother from England.
Rupert became romantically engaged to Frances Bard (1646–1708), the daughter of the English Explorer and Civil War veteran Henry Bard. Frances claimed to have secretly married Rupert in 1664, although this was denied by him and no firm proof exists to support the claim. Rupert acknowledged the son he had with Frances, Dudley Bard (1666–86), often called "Dudley Rupert", who was schooled at Eton College. In 1673, Rupert was urged by Charles Louis to return home, marry and establish an heir to the Palatinate, as it appeared likely that Charles Louis's own son would not survive childhood. Rupert refused, and remained in England.
Rupert first travelled to the Royal court in exile at St Germain but found it still dominated by the Queen and her favourite, Rupert's enemy Digby. Instead, Rupert moved on, accepting a well paid commission from Anne of Austria to serve Louis XIV as a mareschal de camp, subject to Rupert being free to leave French Service to fight for King Charles, should he be called upon to do so. In 1647 Rupert fought under Marshal de Gassion against the Spanish. After a three-week siege, Rupert took the powerful fortress of La Bassée through quiet negotiations with the enemy commander—an impressive accomplishment, and one that won him favour in French court circles. Gassion and Rupert were ambushed shortly afterwards by a Spanish party; during the resulting fight, Rupert was shot in the head and seriously injured. Afterwards, Gassion noted: "Monsieur, I am most annoyed that you are wounded." "And me also," Rupert is recorded as replying. Gassion was himself killed shortly afterwards, and Rupert returned to St Germain to recuperate.
In 1648, the relatively brief Second English Civil War broke out, and Rupert informed the French King that he would be returning to King Charles' Service. The Parliamentary navy mutinied in favour of the King and sailed for Holland, providing the Royalists with a major fleet for the first time since the start of the civil conflict; Rupert joined the fleet under the command of the Duke of York, who assumed the rank of Lord High Admiral. Rupert argued that the fleet should be used to rescue the King, then being held prisoner on the Isle of Wight, while others advised sailing in support of the fighting in the north. The fleet itself rapidly lost discipline, with many vessels' crews focussing on seizing local ships and cargoes. This underlined a major Problem for the Royalists—the cost of maintaining the new fleet was well beyond their means. Discipline continued to deteriorate, and Rupert had to intervene personally several times, including defusing one group of mutinous sailors by suddenly dangling the ringleader over the side of his vessel and threatening to drop him into the sea. Most of the fleet finally switched sides once more, returning to England in late 1648.
For much of the 17th century, England was embroiled in conflict with commercial rival Holland through the Anglo-Dutch Wars. Rupert became closely involved in these as a senior Admiral to King Charles II, rising to command the Royal Navy by the end of his career. Although several famous admirals of the day had previously been army commanders, including Blake and Monk, they had commanded relatively small land forces and Rupert was still relatively unusual for the period in having both practical experience of commanding large land armies and having extensive naval experience from his campaigns in the 1650s.
The second phase of the campaign then began. Rupert crossed back into the Atlantic and, during 1651, cut west to the Azores, capturing vessels as he went. He intended to continue on to the West Indies, where there would be many rich targets. Instead he encountered a late summer storm, leading to the sinking of the Constant Reformation with the loss of 333 lives—almost including Rupert's brother, Prince Maurice, who only just escaped—and a great deal of captured treasure. Turning back to regroup, repair and re-equip in early 1652, Rupert's reduced force moored at Cape Blanc, an island near what is now Mauritania. Rupert took the opportunity to explore and acquired a Moorish servant boy, who remained in his Service for many years. Rupert also explored 150 miles up the Gambia River, taking two Spanish vessels as prizes and contracting malaria in the process.
Rupert then finally made a successful crossing into the Caribbean, landing first at Saint Lucia, before continuing up the chain of the Antilles to the Virgin Islands. There the fleet was hit by a terrible hurricane, which scattered the ships and sank the Defiance, this time with Prince Maurice on board. It was a while before Maurice's death became certain, which came as a terrible blow to Rupert. He was forced to return to Europe, arriving in France in March 1653 with a fleet of five ships. It became clear, as the profits and losses of the piracy campaign were calculated, that the venture had not been as profitable as hoped. This complicated tensions in the Royalist court, and Charles II and Rupert eventually split the spoils, after which Rupert, tired and a little bitter, returned to France to recuperate from the long campaign.
In 1654, Rupert appears to have been involved in a plot to assassinate Oliver Cromwell, an event that would then have been followed by a coup, the landing of a small army in Sussex, and the restoration of Charles II. Charles himself is understood to have rejected the assassination proposal, but three conspirators—who implicated Rupert in the plan—were arrested and confessed in London. Rupert's presence at the royal court continued to be problematic; as in 1643, he was regarded by Edward Hyde (later Earl of Clarendon) and others as a bellicose figure and an obstacle to peace negotiations; in 1655 Rupert left for Germany.
In 1656 relations between Rupert and Charles Louis deteriorated badly. Rupert had fallen in love with Louise von Degenfeld, one of his sister-in-law's maids of honour. One of Rupert's notes proffering his affections accidentally fell into the possession of Charles Louis' wife Charlotte, who believed it was written to her. Charlotte was keen to engage in an affair with Rupert and became unhappy when she was declined and the mistake explained. Unfortunately, von Degenfeld was uninterested in Rupert, but was engaged in an affair with Charles Louis—this was discovered in due course, leading to the annulment of the marriage. Rupert, for his part, was unhappy that Charles Louis could not endow him with a suitable estate, and the two parted on bad terms in 1657, Rupert refusing to ever return to the Palatinate again and taking up employment under Ferdinand III in Hungary.
By then, however, Rupert's attention had turned to North America. The French explorers Radisson and des Groseilliers had come to England after conducting a joint exploration of the Hudson's Bay region in 1659; there their account attracted the attention of the King and Rupert. Rupert put an initial investment of £270 of his own money into a proposal for a fresh expedition and set about raising more; despite setbacks, including the Great Fire of London, by 1667 he had formed a private syndicate and leased the Eaglet from the King for the expedition. The Eaglet failed, but her sister vessel, the Nonsuch, made a successful expedition, returning in 1669 with furs worth £1,400. In 1670, the King approved the charter for "The Governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson's Bay" that would form the Hudson's Bay Company, which was granted a trading monopoly in the whole Hudson Bay watershed area, an immense territory named Rupert's Land, with Rupert appointed the first Governor. Rupert's first company secretary was Sir James Hayes and Radisson named the Hayes River, in present-day Manitoba, in his honour. The company continued to prosper, forming the basis for much of the commercial activity of colonial Canada. Rupert's role in colonial commerce was marked by his being asked to lay the cornerstone of the new Royal Exchange in 1670, and being made one of its first councillors.
Towards the end of his life Rupert fell in love with an attractive Drury Lane Actress named Peg Hughes. Rupert became involved with her during the late 1660s, leaving his previous mistress, Frances Bard, although Hughes appears to have held out from reciprocating his attentions with the aim of negotiating a suitable settlement. Hughes rapidly received advancement through his patronage; she became a member of the King's Company by 1669, giving her status and immunity from arrest for debt, and was painted four times by Sir Peter Lely, the foremost court Artist of the day.
Rupert was appointed to the King's Privy Council in 1662, taking roles on the Foreign Affairs Committee, the Admiralty Committee and the Tangier Committee. Accounts vary of Rupert's role in all these committees of government. Samuel Pepys, no friend of Rupert's, sat on the Tangier Committee with him and later declared that all Rupert did was to laugh and swear occasionally: other records, such as those of the Foreign Affairs Committee, show him taking a full and active role in proceedings.
Many of Rupert's inventions were military. After designing the Rupertinoe naval gun, Rupert erected a water-mill on Hackney Marshes for a revolutionary method of boring guns, however his secret died with him, and the enterprise failed. Rupert enjoyed other military problems, and took to Manufacturing gun locks; he devised both a gun that fired multiple rounds at high speed, and a "handgun with rotating barrels". He is credited with the invention of a form of gunpowder, which when demonstrated to the Royal Society in 1663 had a force of over ten times that of regular powder; a better method for using gunpowder in mining; and a torpedo. He also developed a form of grapeshot for use by artillery. Rupert also focussed on naval inventions: he devised a balancing mechanism to allow improved quadrant measurements at sea, and produced a diving engine for retrieving objects on the ocean floor. While recovering from his trepanning treatment Rupert set about inventing new surgical equipment to improve Future operations.
Rupert had a characteristic style as an admiral; he relied upon "energetic personal leadership backed by close contact with his officers"; having decided how to proceed in a naval campaign, however, it could be difficult for his staff to change his mind. Recent work on Rupert's role as a commander has also highlighted the progress the Prince made in formulating the way that orders were given to the British fleet. Fleet communications were limited during the period, and the traditional orders from admirals before a battle were accordingly quite rigid, limiting a captain's independence in the battle. Rupert played a key part in the conferences held by the Duke of York in 1665 to review tactics and operational methods from the first Dutch war, and put these into practice before the St James Day battle. These instructions and supplementary instructions to ships' captains, which attempted to balance an adherence to standing orders with the need to exploit emerging opportunities in a battle, proved heavily influential over the next hundred years and shaped the idea that an aggressive fighting spirit should be at the core of British naval doctrine.
In 1668, the King appointed Rupert to be the Constable of Windsor Castle. Rupert was already one of the Knights of the Garter, who had their headquarters at the castle, and was a close companion of the King, who would wish to be suitably entertained at the castle. Rupert immediately began to reorder the castle's defences, sorting out the garrison's accommodation, repairing the Devil's Tower, reconstructing the real tennis court and improving the castle's hunting estate. Rupert acquired his own apartments in the castle, which were recorded as being "very singular" with some decorated with an "extraordinary" number of "pikes, muskets, pistols, bandoliers, holsters, drums, back, breast, and head pieces", and his inner chambers "hung with tapisserie, curious and effeminate pictures". King Charles II and Rupert spent much time together over the years hunting and playing tennis together at Windsor, and Rupert was also a close companion of James, the Duke of York. Rupert was considered by Pepys to be the fourth best tennis player in England.
Rupert also played a prominent role in the Third Anglo-Dutch War (1672–74). This time Louis XIV of France was a key English ally against Holland, and it was decided that the French would form a squadron in a combined fleet. The English fleet had been much expanded, and Rupert had three ships, HMS Royal Charles, HMS Royal James and HMS Royal Oak, equipped with a high-specification, annealed and lathe-produced gun of his own design, the Rupertinoe. Unfortunately the cost of the weapon—three times that of a normal gun—prevented its wider deployment in the fleet. The French role in the conflict proved a Problem when Charles turned to the appointment of an admiral. Rupert's objection to the French alliance was well known, and accordingly the King appointed the Duke of York to the role instead. Rupert was instead instructed to take over the Duke's work at the Admiralty, which he did with gusto. The Allied naval plans were stalled after the Duke's inconclusive battle with the Dutch at Solebay.
Despite being encouraged to do so, Rupert did not marry Hughes, but acknowledged their daughter, Ruperta (later Howe), born in 1673. Hughes lived an expensive lifestyle during the 1670s, enjoying gambling and jewels; Rupert gave her at least £20,000 worth of jewellery during their relationship, including several items from the Palatinate royal collection. Margaret continued to act even after Ruperta's birth, returning to the stage in 1676 with the prestigious Duke's Company at the Dorset Garden Theatre, near the Strand in London. The next year Rupert established Hughes with a "grand building" worth £25,000 that he bought in Hammersmith from Sir Nicholas Crispe. Rupert seems rather to have enjoyed the family lifestyle, commenting that his young daughter "already rules the whole house and sometimes argues with her mother, which makes us all laugh."
After Rupert's retirement from active seafaring in around 1674, he was able to spend more time engaged in scientific research and became credited with many inventions and discoveries, although some subsequently turned out to be the innovative introduction of European inventions into England. Rupert converted some of the apartments at Windsor Castle to a luxury laboratory, complete with forges, instruments and raw materials, from where he conducted a range of experiments.
Rupert died at his house at Spring Gardens, Westminster, on 29 November 1682 after a bout of pleurisy, and was buried in the crypt of Westminster Abbey on 6 December in a state funeral. Rupert left most of his estate, worth some £12,000, equally to Hughes and Ruperta. Hughes had an "uncomfortable widowhood" without Rupert's support, allegedly not helped by her unproductive gambling. Presents from Rupert such as his mother's earrings were sold to the Duchess of Marlborough, while a pearl necklace given by Elector Frederick to Electress Elizabeth was sold to fellow Actress Nell Gwynn. Hughes sold the house in Hammersmith to two London merchants: Timothy Lannoy and George Treadwell—it was then purchased by the Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach and became known as Brandenburg (or Brandenburgh) House.
Other parts of Rupert's scientific work lay in the field of metallurgy. Rupert invented a new brass alloy, slightly darker in hue than regular brass involving three parts of copper to one part of zinc, combined with charcoal; this became known as "Prince's metal" in his honour—sometimes also referred to as "Bristol Brass". Rupert invented the alloy in order to improve naval artillery, but it also became used as a replacement for gold in decorations. Rupert was also credited with having devised an exceptional method for tempering kirby fish hooks, and for casting objects into an appearance of perspective. He also invented an improved method for Manufacturing shot of varying sizes in 1663, that was later retained by the scientist Robert Hooke, one of Rupert's Royal Society friends during the period.