Escutcheons of Science
 Prinz der Pfalz

Prince Rupert of the Rhine  (1619-1682)
Prince Rupert Drops  &  Prince Rupert's Cube

Ecartelé en 1 et 4 de sable, au lion d'or, armé, lampassé et
couronné de gueules et, en 2 et 3, fuselé en bande d'azur et d'argent.

 Coat-of-arms of Prince Rupert

Few historical figures of the seventeen century are more colorful than  Prince Rupert.  For the sake of clarity,  we'll tell his multi-faceted story by presenting his family and the historical circumstances first,  followed by what's mostly a  chonological  account of the events in his life.

Prince Rupert of the Rhine (1619-1682)  was the fourth of the thirteen children born to  Frederick V of the Palatinate (1596-1632)  and his wife Elizabeth Stuart (1596-1662)  the second child and eldest daughter of  King James I  of England  (James IV  of Scotland).  Rupert  was born in Prague during the brief period  (1619-1620)  when his parents held the Crown of Bohemia,  at the onset of the  Thirty Years' War (1618-1648).

Frederick V  had inherited the title of  Count Palatine  at the age of  14  upon his  father's death  (1610)  along with the prestigious dignity of  Elector Palatine  (German:  Prinz der Pfalz).  He owned a palace in  Heidelberg,  where he added a new wing  (the English wing)  and commissioned the  Hortus Palatinus  for his new wife.  He was a staunch  Calvinist,  which had made him a suitable prospect for the vivacious young Elizabeth  (then known as the  Pearl of Britain)  who was only  seven days  older than him.  Both were just  17  when they got married.  Although their marriage was clearly a political one,  the two youngsters were very much in love with each other.  They had a new child almost every year.

For the wedding of his daughter,  King James  threw atypical lavish celebrations.  On that occasion,  William Shakespeare (1564-1616)  released  The Tempest,  reportedly the last play he wrote alone.

The Winter Kingdom :

Frederick  was head of the  Protestant Union  formed by his late father.  He was persuaded by his powerful Dutch uncle Maurice of Orange-Nassau (1567-1625)  to accept the crown of Bohemia from the group of insurgents responsible for the  Defenestration of Prague (23 May 1618)  the event which precipitated thirty years of religious wars throughout Europe.

The majority of Bohemia was  Protestant.  In 1617,  the Bohemian Crown had gone to  Ferdinand of Styria,  who was a proponent of the  Catholic  Counter-Reformation.  In 1619,  Ferdinand was elected  Holy Roman Emperor  as  Ferdinand II.  The Protestant insurgents removed him  (illegally)  from the Bohemian throne by crowning  Frederick in his place on  4 November 1619.  The Czech remember the ensuing short reign as the  Winter Kingdom  and Rupert's father is derisively called the  Winter King.

That crowning escalated the conflict.  Besides the Prince of Orange himself,  all of Frederick's potential allies were now reluctant to help the cause of a 23-year old illegitimate king against the Catholic forces marching against him.  He had to flee with his family and a few  courtiers,  hours after his defeat at the  Battle of White Mountain,  which took place at  Weissen Berg  (now part of the city of Prague)  on 8 November 1620.  Crying  baby Rupert  was thrown by a courtier into the luggage compartment of the very last departing carriage...

Exile in Holland :

To crush the  Protestant Union  and its young leader,  Tilly,  the victor at  White Mountain,  went on to capture Heidelberg itself  in 1622.  Duke Maximilian then ordered part of the famous  Heidelberg library  sent to the Vatican  (where it stayed for two centuries under the name of  Palatine Library).  The rest served as straw for Tilly's stables.

Under  Imperial ban  since 1621,  Frederick V  lost for good the Palatinate and his electoral dignity,  which were formally transferred to  Maximilian of Bavaria (1573-1651)  at the  Diet of Regensburg (25 February 1623).  The  Peace Treaty of Westphalia (1648)  would later return the  Rhenish Palatinate  and a newly-created electoral vote to Rupert's older brother  Charles Louis (1617-1680)  sixteen years after the death of their father.  However,  the  Upper Palatinate  remained a province of Bavaria.

After their Bohemian episode,  the growing Palatine family took refuge at the court of the aforementioned  Maurice of Orange (1567-1625)  who was the uncle of Rupert's father.  Since 1585,  Maurice  (Morits)  had progressively become Stadtholder  (effective head of state)  of all provinces of the new  Dutch Republic,  except  Friesland.  He had become  Prince of Orange  on  20 February 1618.  Previously,  he was known as  Maurice of  Nassau  and his court was in  Breda.

Holland was in the midst of the  Dutch War of Independence  against  Habsburg Spain.  This was first known as the  Dutch Revolt  (French:  Révolte des gueux)  and it would go down in history as the  Eighty Years' War  (1568-1648).  Preliminaries had begun as early as 1566.  The upraising against the Spaniards  (and their regent in Bruxelles)  had great popular support at first.  However, it soon crystallized along geographical and religious lines and became a conflict between Catholics in the South,  who turned around to support the regime,  and insurgents in the North.  Not all insurgents were Protestants but most of them were.  The Catholics of the south affirmed their support for the Habsburgs with the  Union of Arras  (6 January 1579) in reaction to which the  Union of Utrecht  came about  (23 January 1579)  ultimately morphing into the  Dutch Republic,  the  confederacy  whose formation  (1588)  escalated the War.  The Habsburgs didn't even acknowledged the  Dutch Republic  until what's now known as the  Twelve Years' Truce  (signed in  Antwerp  on 9 April 1609).  Hostilities resumed in the wake of the  Thirty Years' War  and the two conflicts would be settled together by the  Treaty of Westphalia (1648).

The  Palatine  family became pensioners of the Dutch.  They lived in a house which had little to do with the splendor of their former Heidelberg palace.  The children coped by regularly enacting a return to Heidelberg by carriage,  using chairs from the living-room as props.

All in the Family :

Rupert's younger sister  Sophia (1630-1714)  would go down in History as the mother of  King George I of Great Britain  (1660-1727).

Born in  Hanover  and ratified  Prince-elector  of Hanover in 1708,  George I  ascended the  British throne  in 1714  (at age 54)  as the closest living  Protestant  relative of the late  Queen Anne (1665-1714).  The  Act of Settlement of 1701  had removed Catholics from the line of succession,  thereby promoting his mother Sophia to the position of  heir presumptive.  (She would have been Queen if she had lived two more months!)  The current British monarch descends directly from  George I.

Prince Rupert himself never married but he had two illegitimate children by two different women:

Ironically,  if Rupert  had  married,  one of his hypothetical legitimate descendants  (possibly  Ruperta)  would have qualifted for the Throne in 1714,  ahead of his younger sister's son  (who then duly became King George I).  Alternately,  if Rupert had outlived Queen Anne,  he would have ascended the Throne himself,  at age 95!

Legacy :

Prince Rupert  was  Prince of Bohemia  and  Prince of England, Scotland and Ireland.  In 1644,  he was also made  Duke of Cumberland  and  Earl of Holderness  by the grace of his  uncle  Charles I (1600-1649)  King of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 1625 until his execution at the end of the  English Civil War  (under Oliver Cromwell).  Rupert was never  Count Palatine of the Rhine  (the title went to his older brother).  In German,  he's known as  Rupert von der Pfalz.

The highest British honors were bestowed upon Prince Rupert:  He was a  Knight of the Order of the Garter (KG, 1642)  and a  Privy Counsellor (PC, 1662).  His signature is the  third one  on the  first royal page  of the  Royal Society's Charter Book,  underneath that of the first patron,  King Charles II.  Rupert became an  honorary member  in  1664  and made a point to share with the  Royal Society  his many inventions,  mostly related to military technology.

He also played a crucial rôle in perfecting  mezzotint  printmaking,  whose invention is usually credited to the contemporary German amateur engraver  Ludwig von Siegen (1609-1680)  who inaugurated the  "light to dark"  technique in 1642 and produced a mezzotint portrait of Ruppert's own mother  Elizabeth  in 1643.  Prince Rupert invented the mezzotint rocker and was the first to use the  "dark to light"  approach;  the two-step method preferred by many modern artists.

Besides that lasting contribution and the puzzlung properties of  Prince Rupert's drops  (the prelude to  tempered glass,  discussed  below)  Prince Rupert is also remembered,  among scientists and recreational mathematicians at least,  for his  wager  that a cube could pass through a hole carved into a slightly smaller one.  The story was recounted in  1693  by  John Wallis (1616-1703)  who put forth the reasoning which settled the issue in favor of Rupert.

Prince Rupert is buried in  Westminster Abbey.

 Prince Rupert  

Chronological Biography of Prince Rupert :

Rupert  (Robert)  was born on 17 December 1619 in Prague,  during the short  Winter Kingdom  period when his young parents ruled Bohemia.  He was thus born  Prince of Bohemia.  The family was soon exiled to the court of the husband's uncle,  the  Prince of Orange (1567-1625).

Rupert's mother  Elizabeth Stuart (1596-1662)  was the second child and eldest daughter of King James,  the reigning monarch of England,  where Rupert would end up spending some of his youth and the last part of his life  (after the Restoration, in 1660).

In 1629, the oldest brother of Rupert drowned at sea in tragic circumstances.  His once over-confident father lost the will to live and died from a trivial illness in 1632.

As refugees in the court of an embattled prince,  young Rupert and his brothers naturally took an overriding interest in the military.  In 1633,  at age 14,  Rupert accompanied the  new (1625)  Prince of Orange  (Frederick Henry, 1584-1647)  on the siege of Rheinberg.  In 1635,  he joined the lifeguard of the Prince in the invasion of Brabant.

In 1636,  he accompanied his older brother Charles Louis to the royal court of their uncle Charles I in England.  By then,  the  17-year old Rupert was already a handsome tall young man  (he grew to be  6'4'')  who made quite an impression with the ladies of the court.

The young prince then fought again with the Prince of Orange.  He was present at the fifth siege of Breda (1637).

With his older brother,  he joined an army of Scottish mercenaries led by  James King  (1589-1652, future Lord Eythin)  in an invasion of Westphalia.  They were defeated by Field Marshal Hatzfeldt (1593-1658)  at the  battle of Vlotho  (17 October 1638)  where Rupert was captured  (and held prisoner for  3  years in the castle of Linz, Austria).

During his captivity,  Rupert learned the art of engraving,  studied military textbooks and had a love affair with the daughter of the governor of Linz.  He refused to convert to Catholicism but was eventually released in October 1641 through the diplomatic efforts of Charles I,  on the sole condition that he would never again bear arms against the  Holy Roman Emperor.

Battle-hardened Rupert viewed the outbreak of the  English Civil War (1642-1651)  as an opportunity to resume his military career.  He arrived in England in August 1642 with his younger brother Maurice and an staff of English and Scottish veterans from the European wars,  determined to fight for his cousin King Charles.  He became the archetypal  Royalist Cavalier  fighting the  Parliamentarian Roundheads.  At this time,  Rupert was just 23.  The Order of the Garter was conferred upon him and he was appointed commander of the  Royalist Cavalry.

In November 1644,  Rupert was appointed Captain-General of the Royalist army,  as the Prince of Wales was only nominally commander-in-chief.  He had great successes at first and acquired an aura of invincibility which intimidated his opponents on the battlefield.  In those days,  superstition was everything.  Then the winds turned.  On  10 September 1645,  he surrendered  Bristol  on honorable terms and was escorted to Oxford with his men  (on horseback).  The king believed Rupert was betraying him and dismissed him from service.  At the request of Rupert,  a court martial was convened which cleared his name,  but he had become estranged from the King.  In June 1646,  after the fall of Oxford,  Parliament banished Rupert and Prince Maurice from England.  Rupert was 26.

In the following years and throughout the  Interregnum  (1649-1660)  Prince Rupert kept on fighting...  He first joined the French military against Spain,  under the young  Louis XIV (1638-1715)  of France.  At the siege of La Bassés in 1647,  he sustained a severe head injury,  which left him with chronic pain for the rest of his life.  Two subsequent  trepanations  didn't help,  of course.

What happened next would provide a few colorful scenes in a movie about the life of Rupert.  He became a  Royalist  privateer  in the  Caribbean.  Continuing at sea the battle for the restoration of Monarchy in the British Commonwealth,  now a  "protectorate"  under Cromwell. 

In 1654,  the future  Charles II ... / ...

 Come back later, we're
 still working on this one...

At the  Restoration  (1660)  King Charles II  warmly welcomed Prince Rupert back to England.  He was given a pension and made a member of the  Privy Coucil  in 1662.

Prince Rupert helped form the  Royal Society (1660)  of which he was made an  Honorary Member  in 1664  (his signature appears with that of King Charles on the first page of the  Royal Society Charter Book).

He challenged the Society to explain the strange behavior of the  Dutch drops  obtained by dropping molten glass in water.  Thereafter those things became known as  Prince Rupert's drops  (they became a  YouTube Sensation  under that name in 2013).  This ultimately led to industrial applications and the invention of  tempered glass  in 1874.

From 1668 to his death in 1682,  Prince Rupert was governor of  Windsor Castle  where he set up a laboratory for himself. ... / ...

In 1670,  Prince Rupert became the first governor of the  Hudson's Bay Company  and the huge territory originally granted to the Company was named  Prince Rupert's Land.

From 1673 to 1679,  Prince Rupert  held the office of  Lord High Admiral of England,  titular head of the Royal Navy.

The  Lord High Admiral  is one of nine traditional British ministers of  the Crown  called  Great Officers of State.  Prior to Prince Rupert's term,  that office had been briefly held by  King Charles II (1630-1685).  At the end of Rupert's term,  the office was  put into commission,  which is to say that the  Board of Admiralty  was entrusted with Navy governance,  under the leadership of a commissioner styled  First Lord of the Admiralty.  So it was from 1679 to 1684,  at which point the King formally assumed the title himself again.  From 1528 to 1832,  the day-to-day administration of the  Royal Navy  was the responsibility of the  Navy Board  (also known as the  Navy Office)  which was  resurrected in 1964  with a new structure when  Queen Elizabeth II  assumed herself the historical title of  Lord High Admiral  (which had been vacant since 1828).  In 2011,  she conferred the office upon her husband,  Prince Philip,  Duke of Edimbourg,  on his 90th Birthday.

Prince Rupert passed away at age  62  (on 29 November 1682)  in his home near  Whitehall.  He had a state funeral and was interred in  Henry VIIís Chapel,  at the far eastern end of  Westminster Abbey.

Prince Rupert:  The Last Cavalier   by  Charles Spencer  (2007).
BCW Project:  Prince Rupert of the Rhine

Rupert's Land   |   Prince Rupert, BC   |   Prince Rupert's drops   |   Prince Rupert's cube
Prince Rupert's drop at 130 000 fps (6:38)  by  Destin Sandlin  (2013-03-22)      Prince Rupert of the Rhine  Royal Society
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