Prince Rupert

A nephew of Charles I, the son of the king’s sister Queen Elizabeth of Bohemia, Rupert served in the Protestant forces in Europe in the 1630s and was captured at the Battle of Eiberg in 1638. He spent three years in prison before being ransomed by Charles I. In 1642 he arrived in England with his younger brother, Prince Maurice. Charles I appointed him general of Horse and in this role the prince was in action from mid-August onwards. During September Rupert and the Horse patrolled the Midlands between the king’s forces and those of the earl of Essex’s parliamentarian army. On 23 September 1642 the first major clash between the two armies at the Battle of Powick Bridge was won by Rupert. At the Battle of Edgehill Rupert’s devastating charge drove the parliamentarian left flank from the field. A flaw in Rupert’s tactics was revealed, however: his own forces became so disordered by such a charge that they too took some time to be reorganised and useful again.

Rupert played an important role in many of the major battles of the First Civil War, including the Battle of Chalgrove Field, the First Battle of Newbury, and the Battle of Newark in 1644. In May of that year he left his base in the Marcher counties, where he had been reorganising the royalist war effort to launch a campaign to rescue the marquis of Newcastle, who was trapped in York. This latter campaign ended in Rupert’s defeat at the Battle of Marston Moor. In the late summer Rupert was appointed commander-in-chief of the king’s army but set about strengthening the royalist hold on Bristol and the west.

In 1645 Rupert, Prince Maurice, and Lord Loughborough worked to try and regain control of the northern Wales marches south of Cheshire, a campaign they were all deflected from when the king marched out of Oxford to mount an attack on the forces besieging Chester. After the siege of Chester ended as the king marched in its direction, the army turned on Leicester, which was captured at the end of May. A bare fortnight later, Rupert, as commander of the army, was defeated at the Battle of Naseby by Sir Thomas Fairfax and the New Model Army (qq.v.). In the wake of this defeat Rupert returned to Bristol, but surrendered the port in September. For this defeat the king dismissed him, although a court-martial cleared Rupert of any wrong-doing. Rupert and Maurice went into exile in Europe.

During the Second Civil War Rupert served in the small royalist fleet, a role that he was to continue into the 1650s. Rupert returned to England at the Restoration. He did not become involved in government, although he was a stockholder in colonial ventures, especially the Hudson’s Bay Company, which took over land named after the prince. Rupert also became an experimental scientist, a member of the Royal Society, the inventor of an early form of bullet-proof glass, and a developer of surgical instruments.

The Cavalry Leader

The royalists may have wrecked the taverns, but the parliamentarians desecrated the churches. The climate of war turns men into animals. It was said that, when troops were quartered in a church or hall, the smell they left behind was frightful. They pissed and defecated in corners. They often brought with them contagious diseases that became known as ‘camp fever’.

Many of the soldiers had of course volunteered out of genuine conviction. The parliamentary soldiers often chanted psalms as they marched, and the ministers preached to them upon such texts as the sixty-eighth psalm, ‘Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered . . .’ More secular rivalries also animated them; it was reported that the men of Herefordshire fought against the men of Gloucestershire, the Lancastrians against the Northumbrians.

The men carried pikes or muskets, but some were still armed with bows and arrows in the old fashion. The pike itself was supposed to be 18 feet long, with a steel head, but many of the soldiers cut it down as too cumbersome; the pikemen were also armed with a short sword. The muskets were charged with weak gunpowder and the men were advised to shoot only when the weapon was close up against the body of the enemy; since there were no cartridges, the musketeer held two or three bullets in his mouth or in his belt. They had to load and then fire with a lighted cord known as a ‘match’. Others preferred to shoot arrows from their guns. They wore leather doublets and helmets that looked like iron pots.

Not all of the troops, however, were untrained or ill-prepared. There were professional soldiers among them who had fought in France, Spain and the Low Countries. Mercenaries were also used on both sides. Many of the commanders had seen service on the European mainland. These were men who had perused such manuals as Warlike Directions or Instructions for Musters and Arms; they were the leaders who would have to give basic training to their troops. ‘Turn the butt ends of your muskets to the right . . . Lay your muskets properly on your shoulders . . . Take forth your match. Blow off your coal. Cock your match . . . Present. Give fire.’

A first skirmish or encounter took place near Worcester. Essex had moved his army towards the town and, on hearing the news, the king sent Prince Rupert to support the royalist stronghold. Rupert of the Rhine was the king’s nephew and, at the age of twenty-three, had already enjoyed great success as a military commander. His expertise, and his experience, were considered to be invaluable. He was high-spirited and fearless; he was also rash and impatient. Yet on this occasion, in a limited engagement, he routed the parliamentary cavalry and killed most of its officers.

Clarendon wrote that the incident ‘gave his troops great courage and rendered the name of Prince Rupert very terrible, and exceedingly appalled the adversary’; he added that ‘from this time the Parliament began to be apprehensive that the business would not be as easily ended as it was begun’. Oliver Cromwell himself had grave reservations about the conduct of the parliamentary army. He told his cousin, John Hampden, that ‘your troopers are most of them decayed serving men and tapsters, and such kind of fellows, and their [royalist] troopers are gentlemen’s sons, younger sons, and persons of quality’. Cromwell believed that if parliament were to prevail, a new and more glorious force should be formed.

There was perhaps still one way to avert the conflict. The parliamentarian grandee of Worcestershire, Lord Brooke, declared that he wished ‘to avoid the profusion of blood’. So he offered his royalist counterpart in the county, the earl of Northampton, to ‘try the quarrel by sword in single combat’. A duel might therefore have decided the course of the civil war. It was a medieval expedient but it emphasizes the extent to which this war was essentially still seen as a baronial combat. Yet the political and social world had changed since the fifteenth century.

The king moved with his army to Shrewsbury, only 50 miles away from the parliamentary forces. For three weeks both sides remained close to one another, but neither made any move. No one was eager for battle. Charles decided to press the issue and advance towards London. Essex was obliged to prevent him. The earl also wished to present a petition to the king, but Charles refused to see him. Why should he parley with a traitor?

The king moved forward slowly towards London, but Essex remained on his trail. The first battle of the civil war took place at Edgehill, in southern Warwickshire, where the royalist forces had rested on the evening of 22 October; the parliamentary army was only a short distance away and Charles had decided to attack from the summit of a range of hills that gave him the advantage. It was an uncertain struggle, with Rupert’s cavalry for a while in the ascendant but the parliamentary infantry holding its own. Both sides claimed the victory, when in truth neither prevailed. The number of the dead amounted to a little over 1,000. A trooper wrote to his mother that ‘there was a great deal of fear and misery about that field that night’.

It was the first experience of battle for most of the participants, and it came as a salutary shock. The soldiers had been badly organized and Rupert’s cavalry, in particular, had run out of control. Many of the men and some of the commanders, weary and disgusted at the slaughter, fled for their homes. The king, never before in a war, was himself horrified by the death of some of his most loyal commanders. He seems also to have been alarmed by the extent of the enemy, and murmured before the battle that he did not expect to see so many arrayed against him. The earl of Essex was equally dismayed. He had hoped that one great battle would resolve the issue, but the result had been bloody and uncertain. Might this be a harbinger of the whole war? He had raised his standard against his sovereign, however, and there was no easy way forward.

The king was urged by Rupert immediately to march upon London, but instead Charles rode with his men 20 miles south to Oxford, where he had determined to establish his headquarters. It was from here, at the beginning of November, that he once more set out for the capital. On the news of his approach the terrified citizens took up whatever weapons they possessed; parliament sent a delegation to the royal camp to open negotiations but the king, while giving gracious words, still pressed forward. Prince Rupert attacked a parliamentary force at Brentford, 8 miles out of London, and then proceeded to fire some of the houses in the town; the word ‘plunder’ now entered the English vocabulary. It was to be the prince’s method throughout the war.

The citizens of London decided, under the direction of their parliamentary masters, to make a stand. The apprentices and trained bands, to the number of 6,000, were assembled in Chelsea Field near the village of Turnham Green in Chiswick. The earl of Essex went into the city and pleaded for more men, until eventually a ragged army of 24,000 Londoners advanced to Turnham Green close to the royalist army. On Sunday 13 November, the two forces stood face to face without giving way. The king, fearing any grievous loss of life, withdrew to Hounslow. Even his most ardent supporters would have hesitated before launching a general assault upon the city itself. Yet he had lost his best, and last, chance to defeat his enemies. He was not given the credit for his mercy, however, and his withdrawal at the last minute was considered to be a public humiliation. Thus it was presented, at least, in the printing presses controlled by parliament.

A pause in hostilities prompted calls from some quarters for peace and accommodation. Parliament raised four proposals for the attention of the king; it already knew that he would reject them. A crowd of Londoners approached the common council calling for ‘Peace and truth!’ whereupon someone shouted out, ‘Hang truth! We want peace at any price!’ Demands for an end to hostilities were frequent throughout the course of the war but, at each stage of the process, the activists won their cause over their more diffident colleagues. The more combative members of parliament, for example, believed that a peace with the king would amount to capitulation. Instead they began to make approaches to Scotland in an attempt to gain military aid.

The Admiral

In March 1673, the Commons passed a measure that became known as the Test Act. All aspirants to office or to a place of trust were to swear the oath of royal supremacy as well as the oath of allegiance, thus placing king before pope; they were also obliged to take the sacrament according to the rite of the Church of England and to swear that ‘I declare that I believe there is not any transubstantiation in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, or in the elements of bread and wine, at or after the consecration thereof by any person whatsoever’. This struck at the heart of Catholic belief. When the king gave his assent to the Test Act a ‘great hum’ of approval arose in parliament. Charles was heard to say that he would now purge his court of all Catholics except his barber, ‘whom he mean[s] to keep in despite of all their bills, for he was so well accustomed to his hand’. The remark had a point; the king trusted the Catholic who put a razor to his throat.

The first casualty was James, duke of York, who was obliged to retire from public life. He resigned as lord high admiral and command of the fleet was entrusted to Prince Rupert, who last appeared in these pages as the leader of the royalist cavalry during the Civil War. It was therefore advertised to the world that the king’s brother and heir apparent was a Roman Catholic; immediately rumour and innuendo began to surround him. It was widely believed, for example, that the lord chancellor himself, the earl of Shaftesbury, was plotting against him in an effort to exclude him from the throne. When James did not receive communion with his brother in the royal chapel John Evelyn wrote in his diary that it ‘gave exceeding grief and scandal to the whole nation, that the heir of it, and the son of a martyr for the Protestant religion, should apostatize. What the consequence of this will be, God only knows, and wise men dread.’

One of the king’s principal councillors and one of the original ‘cabal’, Thomas Clifford, also resigned all of his posts. He was a secret Catholic, and it had been suggested that the Test Act was in part formulated by his rivals precisely in order to remove him from office. He died soon after. Confidence now flowed to yet another of Charles’s ministers. Thomas Osborne, soon to become the earl of Danby, was a staunch Anglican who had opposed the Dutch war; he had also been a signal success as an administrator and, on Clifford’s resignation, he was appointed to be lord treasurer.

The preparation for another year of hostilities with the Dutch was not undertaken with any great enthusiasm; the discovery of James’s Catholicism called into further question the alliance with papist France and the attack upon a fellow Protestant state. The king himself is reported to have been vacillating and inconsistent, ready to prosecute war on one day and ready to retire from conflict on the next. Shaftesbury said of his master that ‘there is not a person in the world, man or woman, that dares rely upon him or put any confidence in his word or friendship’.

In July Charles ordered Rupert to avoid any naval confrontation unless he could be sure to win it decisively. He had already returned to negotiations with the Dutch, and simply wished to apply pressure upon them. No such clear outcome emerged from the last sea battle of the war, the battle of the Texel, when the Dutch and English vessels fought a long and inconclusive struggle that left the waters filled with wreckage and floating bodies. It was notable, also, for the inactivity of the French fleet that simply stood apart and watched. Prince Rupert wrote later of the French admiral’s reluctance to become involved that ‘it wanted neither signal nor instruction to tell him what he should then have done; the case was so plain to every man’s eye in the whole fleet’. It was now believed by many that Louis XIV was happy to watch the two maritime nations destroy one another’s navies, thus adding more fire to the anger of the English against their nominal allies.


Cavalrymen were organised first and foremost into troops, which like infantry companies were led by a captain and generally mustered anything between thirty and a hundred men. Although many operated as independent formations, it was normal for them to be brigaded together to form regiments ideally comprising about six troops. The Royalists certainly appear to have aimed at such an establishment with three of the troops commanded by field officers; colonel, lieutenant colonel and major, and three or sometimes four captains commanding the others. For example at Cropredy Bridge on 29 June 1644 Lord Wilmot’s Brigade comprised four regiments, the Lord General’s and Prince Maurice’s, each mustering seven troops, Colonel Thomas Howard’s with eight and Colonel Gerard Croker’s with only two. Parliamentarian units were similarly organised save that their establishment included a colonel and major, but no lieutenant colonel.

John Cruso, in his magisterial Militarie Instructions for the Cavallrie divided that arm into two classes, heavy cavalry which comprised lancers and cuirassiers, and light cavalry which comprised harquebusiers, carbines and dragooners. Both of the former wore three-quarter armour, while the latter were much more lightly mounted and equipped. While Cruso’s book certainly appears to have been used by the Parliamentarians at least as an unofficial manual – it was reprinted at Cambridge in 1644 – there was inevitably perhaps some considerable divergence from his ideal. There were, for example, no lancers. Although they had appeared in comparatively large numbers at Trained Band musters as recently as 1637, the anonymous ‘J.B.’ who contributed a supplement on cavalry to the 1661 edition of Barriffe dismissed lancers with the comment that they were not used at all. Fully equipped cuirassiers were nearly as scarce, and most Civil War cavalrymen probably looked like harquebusiers or carbines. In theory the two should have been distinguished by the first wearing a corselet while the latter relied upon his buff-coat alone, but in practice no such distinction was possible and many a harquebusier rode forth protected only by a buff-coat.

It may seem odd that armoured harquebusiers should have been regarded as light cavalry, but appreciation of this point is necessary to understand why the Royalist horse should at first have been so very much superior to their Parliamentarian opponents. According to Cruso and the other contemporary authorities, the cuirassier was regarded as the heavy, battle-winning cavalryman. His function, in brutally simple terms, was to ride down the opposition by locking up knee to knee and charging ‘in full career’. Harquebusiers on the other hand, as light cavalry, were expected to guard the flanks and rear of the cuirassier formations. Consequently, they were primarily armed with carbines and pistols and expected to use them rather than emulating their heavier comrades by charging home.

Conventionally, the initial superiority of the Royalist horse is attributed to Prince Rupert’s introduction of Swedish tactical doctrines, which supposedly emphasised the use of shock tactics rather than firepower, but the truth of the matter is that they were being employed as cuirassiers, or at least as heavy rather than light cavalry. The Cavalier horse might not have been equipped as cuirassiers, but just as a lack of corselets did not prevent either side from fielding pikemen, a similar shortage of cuirassier arms did not deter the Royalists from fielding heavy cavalry trained to charge home. Parliamentarian officers took rather longer to appreciate that the outward appearance of a trooper need not dictate his role, and at the outset their troops of harquebusiers and carbines tried (with a marked lack of success) to shoot it out instead of charging, but they did come around to it at least by 1644 and Cromwell’s famous Ironsides were certainly cuirassiers in all but name.

Dragoons were neither fish nor fowl in that they were expected to ride to the battlefield and dismount to fight. Consequently, some units were organised in the same manner as infantry regiments, while others adopted a cavalry-based organisation. At the outset of the war they represented a considerable proportion of the cavalry arm on both sides amounting to between a quarter and a third of those taking part in the Edgehill campaign. However, regimental-sized battle-groups were soon recognised to be too unwieldy, and the practice grew up of attaching a small troop of dragooners to some of the larger regiments of horse. Such a troop could provide some local fire-support as and when required, and more prosaically could also act as sentries for the regiment’s quarters and horse-lines. Although at the outset they were intended to serve simply as mounted infantry rather than troopers, having once got on horseback they grew increasingly reluctant to get off again, and while the expedient of attaching a troop of dragooners to a cavalry regiment may have had its advantages, in the long run it served only to blur the distinction between the two.

This gradual alteration in role, which ended with their almost complete assimilation into the horse, was also reflected in their equipment. ‘J.B.’ writing in 1661 declared that:

The other Arming of the Cavalry used in these Modern times, known by the Name of Dragoones, (being only Foot mounted) is a Sword (all) and some Musquets, and some Pikes, both having Leather Thongs fixed to them, whereby they may be the easier carried; his lighted Match and Bridle in his Left hand, having his Right hand at Liberty for the better ordering of his Pike or Musket in their March, as occasion shall require. Yet in these English Wars, it was observed that the Dragoones seldom used any Pikes, and of late times most Snap-haunce Locks.

PRINCE MAURICE, (1621–1652). Younger brother [often forgotten] of Prince Rupert, Maurice accompanied his brother to England in 1642, having likewise served in Protestant forces in Europe. He raised a regiment of Horse for Charles I and fought at the Battles of Powick Bridge and Edgehill. Maurice led a small army in the West Midlands in the spring of 1643 and defeated Sir William Waller at the Battle of Ripple Field on 13 April. Later that year he fought alongside Ralph, Lord Hopton at the Battle of Lansdown and was instrumental in the royalist victory at the Battle of Roundway Down.

Prince Maurice served in the west for the rest of that year, capturing Exeter and Dartmouth, but failed to make inroads against Lyme. In 1644 he was at the Battle of Lostwithiel and fought at the Second Battle of Newbury. In 1645 he commanded the Marcher Association counties and had important success in restoring royalist positions there. He fought at the siege of Leicester and the Battle of Naseby in the summer, and remained with the king’s army that year. After his brother’s surrender of Bristol, Maurice took his part and went into exile with him. In the Second Civil War Maurice embarked on a naval career, continuing into the early 1650s with the royalist fleet, such as it was. He was drowned when his ship sank in 1652.

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