Pets, Familiars and Excuses

Part three of Nothing

That damned monkey has led me somewhere I swore I would not go……

NPG 4519; Prince Rupert, Count Palatine attributed to Gerrit van Honthorst

The best-known portrait of the young and dashing Prince Rupert, Count Palatinate (1619 – 16800 by Honthorst, oil on panel, feigned oval, circa 1641-1642. Image: © National Portrait Gallery, London

For the first two years of the Civil War Rupert’s success as a cavalry leader deploying shock tactics dominated the fighting. He seemed to be invincible. The Parliamentarian propagandists instilled the idea into their supporters that his pet monkey was a disguised witch who had sex with the prince, and, along with his other familiar in the shape of a huge white dog, gave the Cavaliers victory through sorcery.


Parliamentary propaganda depicted Prince Rupert’s poodle Boye as his familiar, an agent of black magic. The Roundhead troops who killed the beautiful animal at Marston Moor believed they were destroying the source of Royalist luck, and in particular, the power of the hated foreign general. Woodcut, illustrating a pamphlet called The Cruel Practices of Prince Rupert, 1643. Image: Wikipedia

It was preposterous, hardly anybody believed in witchcraft in normal times during the 17th century, but the 1640s were not normal. It was, after all, the age of Matthew Hopkins, self-appointed Witchfinder-General, exploiting the public’s paranoid fears during a terrifyingly violent and unstable period, when everyday life and relationships had broken down.

Rupert’s personality and appearance made him easy for both sides to demonize to their advantage. He was young and arrogant, tall and handsome, talented and, most significantly, foreign, all of which made him obnoxious to a lot of people, Royalist and Parliamentarian, and inspiring to his own men.

It was well known that he had a diabolical temper: his brothers and sisters called him Rupert the Devil.

It was true that the dog, Boye, was a beloved companion, but not for sexual purposes. He was not the source of a prince’s superpowers, nor even a trained dog of war, just the most famously tragic hunting poodle in history, who was always tied up at the Royalist camp before one of Rupert’s battles.

On only one occasion, Boye escaped his leash, or, terrible to contemplate, Rupert or his servants had forgotten to tie him up, and he instinctively sprang forward with glee, as any dog would, to follow his master.

But when Rupert rode off, it wasn’t to a hunt, it was straight into battle. Boye was killed instantly by enemy fire and hacked to bits in an atrocity fomented by human ignorance and prejudice.


Gijsbrechts, Trompe l’oeil with Christian V of Denmark’s Equipment for Riding to Hounds, 1671. The artist’s power of illusion is applied to the leisure pursuits of the powerful. With thanks yet again to: SMK – Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen for the free use of this image of a painting from their collection.

The “Wrong but Wromantic” Royalist cause was lost, not because a spell was broken, but because of the superiority of Cromwellian strategy, tactics and discipline, and the political and military ineptitude of the king, who didn’t take Rupert’s pragmatic advice the following year, 1645, to start peace negotiations before his position got worse.

(The quote, for anyone neither British nor of a certain age, is from a comic work of genius published in 1930, called 1066 and All That, one of the most truthful books in the spirit of history ever written.)

Credulity and coincidence often make history and still inform election choices in modern democracies. Just because there isn’t an official Witchfinder-General today, doesn’t mean to say there aren’t a lot of them about under different titles. We’re all frightened of one thing or another, all willing to believe in something, even if we call it nothing.

Marston Moor was Rupert’s first and worst defeat as a general and a rite of passage into accountability and remorse. He had suffered before, and been held, aged nineteen, as a prisoner of war in Europe for three years, but after Marston Moor he was never quite the same. All is vanity.

A note for purists of military history and Rupertists: he always maintained that he was misled by ambiguous written instructions from Charles I to seek battle at Marston Moor, a strategically disastrous decision which lost the north of England to Parliament. The letter survives in evidence.

Rupert was a strange (and terribly attractive) mixture of arrogance and fidelity; he had the fatal flaw of many other proud and intelligent Germans of obedience to authority.

And Rupert, the professional European soldier, should never have been so reckless to take his dogs on campaign in England, certainly not without locking up, poor Boye during a battle; civil wars are always fought with savage bitterness outside the rules of engagement of other conflicts.

Maybe he had started believing his own publicity; he was only twenty-four.

A 6’4″ German prince who last breathed in 1682 – a whisker and a whisper ago – has rudely attacked my train of thought – it must be love that makes me tarry –

the journey into Nothing will be continued when I’ve found that monkey….

7 comments on “Pets, Familiars and Excuses

  1. >Credulity and coincidence often make history and still inform election choices in modern democracies.

    You’re too prescient. Still, I will press on, deeper into this beautiful abyss.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. erickeyswriter says:

    Although technically the fine state of North Carolina has not Witchfinder General, there are a number of people I personally know who would seriously consider running for such an office should it come into existence.


    There are a lot of things I love about my adoptive home but many I do not.

    You can get some kick-ass BBQ, for example. And the sweet, Southern smiles can melt the heart of a perverted writer of smutty horror – such as myself – in under 2 seconds.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. PJR says:

    Lelius, you know my mind better than I do – I grope around in the dark for thousands of words, and you find the truth lit up in a single phrase.
    The series is completed; I’m not sure whether it will answer your question or not, but it tries to present the evidence fairly.
    Thank you, as ever.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Lelius says:

    Here is the 6’4″ German prince you are in love with. What a Prince, indeed !
    I agree that he is the opposite of Rimbaud or Keats. Spirituality and romance are not usually what best describes the warrior…
    But, knowing him better today, thanks to you, I understand the strong seduction of the personage : handsome, intelligent, courageous, charismatic, loyal and valued leader, lover of science (mainly science related to the war) and arts… and skilled in both domains. All the specifics, which compose a portrait of the “strong man”.
    But you told me : “a prince who most definitely believed in Something”. Which one ? The fight, the war, the violence ? Please tell me !

    Comes to me this philosophical question, almost metaphysical : what is better, to believe in the force of arms or believe in “nothing” ?

    Please, don’t stop to look for the monkey ! And let us know your research and your discoveries, it is always a highly rewarding pleasure.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. beetleypete says:

    Please don’t apologise for more about the Prince. He is one of the most colouful figures in a war sadly lacking in them.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. PJR says:

    I know; Bristol was a disaster. I’m on dodgy ground because I’m so in love (since aged 11, probably) that I find dramatic tragedy in his flaws, let alone pride in his good qualities BUT I’m not blind to his faults as a strategist and “people-person”, It just makes him more loveable somehow – as with cameras, you either feel the pull or not.
    I’m reassured to read on NAM website that lots of experts/enthusiasts defend his record, and particularly praise him for advising against seeking battle at Naseby, which they agree was the most “important”, decisive, game-changing battle in British history.
    There’s more scheduled about Rupert, I’m afraid.
    Bear in mind how interested in cameras he would have been…he was at the beginning of the road to their invention……………………


  7. beetleypete says:

    As a supporter of the ‘other side’ in that war, I see Rupert’s arrogance and self-belief as the causes of his downfall. Although young, he had experience in European wars, and should really have known better. Charles was no military strategist, but Rupert’s loss of Bristol also lost the only port available to the Royalists. After that, their defeat was just a matter of time.
    I am enjoying this theme very much, and looking forward to the next exploits of that monkey.
    Very best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

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