The Royal Navy had fought on the Parliamentarian side in the first Civil War under the Earl of Warwick. Warwick was replaced by William Batten who deplored the capture of the king and in 1648 it was planned to replace Batten with an extremist, Colonel Thomas Rainsborough.
Ten warships, stationed at the Downs mutinied in May 1648 after the second Civil War broke out. They sailed to Hellevoetsluys where they were met by Prince Rupert and the Prince of Wales. Batten arrived later in the Constant Warwick, an armed merchantman that he part owned.
Rupert favoured the small fleet sailing to the Isle of Wight and rescuing Charles who was held prisoner in Carisbrooke Castle. By the time the fleet sailed in July under Prince Charles’ command and Baron Willoughby of Parham as Vice-Admiral, there were 18 ships in the fleet. Merchant ships departing the Thames estuary were taken as prizes and two attempts to stop the recapture of Deal and Walmer castles were unsuccessful. Rupert noted;
‘Upon this repulse disorders and discontents increasing in the fleet, and all disadvantages being artificially improved, it was thought.....best to return to Holland.’[i]
The Earl of Warwick was reappointed to head up the navy and Prince Charles challenged him to a battle. Warwick refused to fight and shortages of supplies and ammunition forced the fleet to return to the Netherlands. Batten sailed off with his ship, having received a pardon from Warwick.
A Naval Career
Warwick’s fleet blockaded the Royalists in Hellevoetsluys for several weeks, but the two fleets could not come to blows as the Dutch navy under van Tromp was interposed between them. They could not stop Warwick’s men infiltrating the town and trying to bribe the Royalist sailors.
Ashore Rupert clashed with one of Prince Charles’ more fiery tempered advisers, Lord Culpepper. When Culpepper objected to the inclusion in an expedition of one of Rupert’s friends Sir Robert Walsh, both men became embroiled in an argument and Culpepper challenged Rupert to a duel.
Prince Charles asked Culpepper to apologise, but he refused and it was only several days later, after discovering that he had no support from his fellow courtiers, that he finally did so. Rupert accepted the apology despite the active efforts of one Sir Edward Herbert, the manipulative Attorney General, who then worked Walsh into such a rage that Walsh punched Culpepper in the face. He drew his sword, only desisting when he realised his opponent was unarmed[ii].
As news trickled in of Royalist losses Rupert was unable to stop defections from his men and the Royalist fleet gained a reputation for aggression and wildness, drawing protests from the Dutch authorities. Eventually the bulk of the Royalist ships joined the Parliamentarian fleet leaving Rupert with only eight ships.
Warwick’s ships left at the end of the year and Rupert sent raiding parties out. The Parliamentarian ambassador extraordinary to the Court at den Haag, Walter Strickland wrote to the Speaker of the House of Commons William Lenthall;
‘I am sorry what I must tell to you that the revolted ships come in daily with great prizes......it is no great joy to me to see our merchants beggared.’[iii]
Times of Sorrow
|Execution of King Charles|
Rupert was made admiral of the fleet on 5th January 1649, a command he accepted with the proviso that James, Duke of York[iv] be the Lord High Admiral. Rupert had Maurice as his Vice-Admiral and Sir John Mennes[v] was appointed Rear-Admiral. Rupert had the small fleet refitted early in 1649[vi]; the only crumb of comfort for Royalists at a time when King Charles, having been tried and found guilty, was executed on 30th January.
Culpepper was one of many attempting to undermine Rupert; the Stuart court in exile unable to join together in attempts to prosecute the war. But one of Rupert’s detractor’s Edward Hyde was impressed by Rupert’s efforts;
‘The preservation [of the fleet] whereof must be entirely ascribed to Prince Rupert, who seriously hath expressed greater temper and discretion in it than you can imagine.’[vii]
Rupert took his small undermanned fleet to Kinsale where the news of his uncle’s death awaited him. Charles had partially filled the space left by the loss of Rupert’s father and Charles’ nephew undoubtedly sincerely mourned the loss of the uncle he loved.
Rupert’s siblings were also hit by the death of their uncle, Elizabeth becoming seriously ill. Rupert also had to calm down his volatile mother; her upset not so much at her brother’s death but more caused by the entry of her daughter Louise[viii] into the Cistercian convent, Maubisson Abbey as a novice in March. Prince Charles now declared himself King Charles II, but he was strapped for cash and he too looked to his cousin to provide.
From Kinsale Rupert managed to supply the Royalists holding out in the Scilly Isles[ix]. The fleet lost the Charles in a fog, which was then taken by the enemy. But the depredations caused by Rupert’s ships forced Parliament to institute a convoy system to protect the fleets carrying troops to aid Cromwell’s ruthless campaign in Ireland.
In May 1649 a Parliamentarian fleet, under the command of Robert Blake[x], appeared outside Kinsale harbour and blockaded the Royalists. Rupert was refused permission to attack and the fleet was kept penned in. Rupert lost William Legge when his frigate was seized outside the harbour.
Charles II and his court repaired to St Helier in mid-September; infighting and Charles’ inherent laziness kept them there. It was there that the news of Cromwell’s victories at Wexford and Drogheda[xi] reached them.
|King John IV of Portugal|
Winds finally dispersed Blake’s fleet and on 17th October Rupert and his ships set sail for Portugal, following an invitation from King John IV. On the voyage the ships lost contact with one another, as Rupert explained to his cousin;
‘It happened in the night by mistake of a fight alle our Fleete except Sir Jo: Menes lost me......Wee therefore plyed as much to windward as wee could......wee made early in the morning 7 shipps to windward wee gave chase to them & they to us which proved to be our Fleete.’[xii]
The little fleet sailed up the Tagus to Lisbon in mid-November having taken three or four prizes en route. Hardly had they arrived before the English government lodged protests followed shortly by the Dutch and the Spanish[xiii]. Rupert sold off some of his prizes, including the Roebuck[xiv] which caused a storm in Lisbon.
Blake’s fleet followed the Royalist ships in March 1650; Blake carried an ambassador who demanded that Rupert, Maurice and the ships be handed over or forced into open waters. Despite pressure from his advisers John refused and was informed that Blake and his fleet would feel free to attack Portuguese shipping. There was a split in the court and John’s adviser, the Count de Miro, was all for throwing Rupert and his men to the wolves.
Rupert concentrated his energies on the clergy who sympathised with his plight; they preached the shame of the Christian king treating with the rebels. Rupert also made sure to show himself to the people of Lisbon; he had always been easy dealing with people from all backgrounds.
Rupert rode to the hounds every day and the Parliamentarians, reduced to skulduggery, attempted to kidnap Rupert and his brother on one such expedition. The brothers managed to ride off, evading capture.
Rupert received a letter from his cousin Charles, begging for financial aid. The naïve Charles told Rupert to raise the money by privateering. An attempt in July to break through Blake’s blockade failed when the mast of Rupert’s ship was struck in a fight. A second attempt in September was foiled when one of de Miro’s men informed Blake of Rupert’s plans.
Blake ordered a refit in Cadiz; having worn out their welcome. The Royalist fleet decided to take
advantage of the absence of the Parliamentarian blockade.
‘The King.....victualled our fleet , and fitted us with such other stores as were necessary for us, giving the Princes many thanks for their endeavours to preserve the fleet, and assured them of his friendship.’[xv]
They were sent on their way; Rupert’s ships were to rendezvous in Formentera. But eager for booty the majority of his captains delayed and were caught by the return of Blake’s ships. The Royalists dashed to Cartagena, hoping for sanctuary. But Blake’s men fired on them. In desperation the captains ran their ships ashore after the crew of the Henry went over to the enemy. Only Rupert and Maurice’s ships remained of the little fleet.
Prince Rupert of the Rhine – Maurice Ashley, Purnell Book Services Ltd 1976
The English Civil War – Robert Ashton, Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1989
Charles the First – John Bowles, Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1975
Cromwell – Antonia Fraser, Phoenix Paperback, 2001
Charles I – Christopher Hibbert, Penguin Books 2001
The Civil Wars of England – John Kenyon, George Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1989
Prince Rupert of the Rhine – Patrick Morrah, Constable & Company 1976
Man of War – Richard Ollard, Phoenix Press 2001
The English Civil War – Diane Purkiss, Harper Perennial 2007
Prince Rupert – Charles Spencer, Phoenix Paperback 2008
[i] Prince Rupert - Spencer
[ii] Walsh was banned from Den Haag
[iii] Rupert of the Rhine - Ashley
[v] A very experienced naval officer
[vii] Prince Rupert - Spencer
[viii] Like her brother Louise was a talented artist and she converted to Catholicism in December 1657, having fled to France
[x] A friend of Cromwell’s
[xi] Over 3,500 people, defenders and civilians were killed
[xii] Prince Rupert of the Rhine - Morrah
[xiii] Objecting to the piracy undertaken by Rupert’s fleet
[xiv] This English ship carried Portuguese merchandise, so upsetting both the Parliamentarians and the Portuguese. Another time two of Rupert’s ships gave chase to a French ship which was captured by Blake’s fleet
[xv] Prince Rupert - Spencer