Posted by: internationalroutier | December 18, 2009

Rupert the German, his childhood.

Submitted by Captain Brew…(and therefore full of smart stuff and the wonders of book learnin’)

Today is the three hundred and ninetieth birthday of Prince Rupert, the eponymous hero of our friends in Brisbane. Happy birthday, Rup.

In the English-speaking world Rupert is remembered chiefly as a dashing and successful Royalist cavalry general in the English Civil War, but of course he has close connections also with our society’s origin in the German wars.

Rupert’s mother, Elizabeth, was the eldest daughter of James VI of Scotland, who became James I of England when she was six. Her then-baby brother Charles would later stir up a good deal of trouble south of the border after he took over in 1625 from his father at the head of the two kingdoms, and we will return to Rupert’s career under his uncle later. Rupert’s father, Frederick, was Elector Palatine of the Rhine, traditionally the Imperial Seneschal and one of the Holy Roman Empire’s four most senior secular princes, the others being the King of Bohemia (Imperial Cup Bearer), Duke of Saxony (Imperial Marshal) and the Markgrav of Brandenburg.

In 1617 the Holy Roman Emperor Matthias, who had succeeded his brother Rudolf five years earlier, was seventy years old, not at all well, and anxious to secure his succession. He was without children, and as King of Bohemia he presented to the Bohemian Diet his younger cousin, Ferdinand, as a candidate to succeed him. In adopting this policy he may have been leaned on as representative of the wider Habsburg family by his brother Maximilian, who was a proponent of the counter-reformation, opponent of compromise with the Protestant states of the empire, and champion of Imperial (Catholic) unity in Germany. If Maximilian’s protégé Ferdinand were King-elect of Bohemia (and therefore king on Matthias’ death) it would place him in a strong position to become emperor himself, not least because he would himself be one of the seven electors. The remaining three electors, the Catholic Archbishops of Cologne, Trier and Mainz, could be counted on to support him. Although his candidacy was opposed in Bohemia by those who feared that he would roll back the religious freedoms won earlier from Rudolf, a majority of the Diet saw his election as the lesser evil compared with prompting a schism on the basis of sectarian suspicion. Ferdinand was elected King of Bohemia on 17 June 1617.

Immediately, Protestant fears began to be realised. Ferdinand’s agents were accused of interfering with Protestant building projects and, following a trial by kangaroo court on the night of 22 March 1618, found guilty and flung out a high window of Hradčany castle along with their secretary. The subsequent Bohemian Revolt prompted the rebels to deny the validity of Ferdinand’s election and untimately to offer the crown to Frederick of the Palatinate, in order to gain the support of the Protestant Union of which Frederick was the head. This fulfilled years of plotting by Frederick’s chancellor, Christian of Anhalt, but Frederick’s father-in-law, James, advised him to stay well away. Frederick, though, (led on by Anhalt) was confident that both England and the Protestant princes of Germany would support him when it came to the point, if only to maintain peace in the Empire and the maintenance of Protestant rights. He accepted the offer, and was elected just two days before Ferdinand, whose place he had usurped in Bohemia, was elected Holy Roman Emperor. Frederick arrived in Prague with his countess (now queen) in November 1619. Rupert was born the following month.

The family’s Bohemian adventure ended in tears. Frederick had neglected to actually secure a promise of support from the Protestant Union before accepting the Bohemian crown, and they did not lift a finger to help him as a combined Imperial/Bavarian army invaded Bohemia from the south, and the Spanish army of Flanders marched up the Rhine to secure the Rhenish Palatinate (James did, in the end, send a small English force to help defend the Palatinate on the Rhine, but without local support there was little they could do against Spinola’s veterans). Indeed in July 1620, rather than expose their own states to invasion, the Union hung Frederick out to dry in the Treaty of Ulm. The end came with Frederick’s disastrous defeat at the battle of White Mountain in November. Frederick and Elizabeth fled, via Silesia and Brandenburg, to the Netherlands, taking baby Rupert with them, while Ferdinand placed Frederick under Imperial ban. They arrived in The Hague in April of 1621, five days after the expiration of the twelve years’ truce between the United Provinces and Spain. In Prague, over twenty noble leaders of the rebellion were executed in June, and religious freedom in Bohemia all but abolished.



  1. Great post Andy.

    Is that a regiment of women at 1:04?

  2. Looks like it, the two officers with swords at 1:38 also appear to fight like girls.

    • Oi! I resembles that remark 🙂

      Although as fights go, that was a little on the tepid side.

  3. I’ve got a copy G M Thomson’s “Warrior Prince” and it mentions that baby Rupert was almost left behind when Frederick and Elizabeth fled Prague.

    A fascinating beginning, Andy – looking forward to more.

  4. Quite true, Sue. Frederick, Elizabeth, and their mates were at dinner in Prague when the news came that their army had just been destroyed on the outskirts of town – it was the first they had heard that a battle was happening. They departed in some haste – luckily, they remembered at the last minute to pack the baby and the crown jewels.

    • “it was the first they had heard that a battle was happening”

      That is… amazing. Did they at least know that Tilly was advancing?

      • Oh, yes, they knew he was in the vicinity, but no action was expected until at least the next day. In fact, Frederick apparently thought that his enemies were too weak to dare battle at all, and would presently withdraw. According to Wedgewood, in fact, it was just after dinner that he rode out to do a tour of the army’s position and encourage them with his presence before he went off to bed. As he rode out he met the first fugitives from the defeat streaming back to town.

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