A Biography of Prince Maurice Palatine
By Bob Giglio from ECWSA Collections
The majority of ECW historians are of the opinion that Prince Maurice Palatine (1620-52) was only the insignificant and boorish younger brother of the brilliant Prince Rupert. Naturally, Prince Maurice's own reputation has certainly suffered from constant comparison with his elder brother. Accounts of the Civil War usually give some mention of Prince Maurice's principal actions, and a brief summary of his character, taken without challenge from the vitriolic passage by Clarendon in his History of the Great Rebellion (Vol. IV, Appendix A), is as follows:

"The prince had never sacrificed to the Graces, nor conversed amongst men of quality, but had most used the company of ordinary and inferior men, with whom he loved to be very familiar. He was not qualified with parts of nature, and less with any acquired; and towards men of the best condition, with whom he might very well have justified a familiarity, he maintained at least the full state of his birth, and understood very little more of the war than to fight very stoutly when there was occasion."

Clarendon may have been correct in saying that Prince Maurice's behavior was not always that expected of a prince, since as a youth he was undoubtedly not of gentlemanly conduct. For Example, Prince Maurice, along with a group of other young gallants, regularly got drunk and roamed The Hague at night. This was a very great annoyance for its decent citizens. On one of these rowdy occasions the prince was involved in a duel that resulted in the death of one assailant. Maurice's mother, the exiled Queen of Bohemia, then decided to send her wayward son, along with his younger brothers Edward and Phillip, to the University of Paris, so they could improve their conduct. Prince Maurice returned from Paris just over two years later and took up service in the Swedish Army, where much of his newly learned etiquette was no doubt abandoned.

It is often suggested that Prince Maurice was merely Prince Rupert's shadow, following him around, but contributing little himself. In fact, Prince Maurice's military career, both before and during the Civil War, saw him acting quite independently of his brother. For example, at the age of seventeen Prince Maurice served at the siege of Breda during the Thirty Years War. Where together with Prince Rupert, then daringly crept up to the enemy's siege works and listened to the conversations of the soldiers within, gaining valuable intelligence of the Spanish garrison's plans to breakout of the fortress.

In January 1639, Lord Leicester remarked to King Charles I that Prince Maurice, having returned from Paris, should take a command in Duke Bernhard's Army, as follows:

"For...besides that he has a body well-made, strong, and able to endure hardships, he hath a mind that will not let it be idle if he can have employment. He is very temperate, of a grave and settled disposition, but would very fain be in action.... If Duke Bernhard should die, the army, in all likelihood would obey Prince Maurice."

The King seems to have been impressed with this, because in late 1640, Prince Charles Louis wrote from England to his mother Elizabeth of Bohemia that King Charles would "seek to get money for Maurice, and then he may go to what army he pleases." Prince Maurice chose service in the Swedish Army under Baner, where it should be noted that he fought without Prince Rupert.

By the time he had decided to follow his brother in becoming involved in the English Civil War, it was obvious that Prince Maurice was also going to follow him in becoming a professional soldier. However, Prince Maurice, although devoted to his brother, was very loyal to his uncle, King Charles. This is borne out when during the King's quarrel with Prince Rupert after his surrendering of Bristol, Prince Maurice deftly managed to support his brother without losing favor with the King. On September 20th, 1645, King Charles sent Prince Maurice a letter in which he assured the prince:

"I know you to be so free from his (Rupert's) present misfortune that it no way staggers me in that good opinion which I have ever had of you; and, so long as you shall not weary of your employments under me, I will give you all the encouragement and contentment that lies in my power."

Richard Atkyns, who served under Prince Maurice, was also impressed by the prince's devotion to the King, and wrote:

"Prince Maurice had such an entire affection to the King, that (not regarding his own dignity) he took a commission under the Marquis (of Hertford), rather than the King's cause should fail."
This basically meant that Prince Maurice took a minor rank, one which was not truly befitting of a prince, rather than forsake the Royalist cause just because of Prince Rupert's misfortunes.

It was not long, however, before this arrangement proved to be unsatisfactory. In the taking of Bristol, the Marquis of Hertford complained that both princes had acted independently of him, and then attempted to reassert his authority by appointing Lord Hopton as governor of the city while Prince Rupert asked the King to appoint him to the governorship instead. The King removed the Marquis of Hertford from command, and Prince Maurice became the new General of the Western Army in his place.

Prince Maurice then came into conflict with the Earl of Carnarvon, who left the Western Army after Prince Maurice's troops fell to plundering, which directly violated the articles of capitulation which the Earl had made with Dorchester, Weymouth and Portland for their surrender. The cause of the plundering was the perennial problem of soldiers' pay being in arrears. The historian, Robert Ashton, claims the princes, "brought to the conduct of civil warfare some of the ruthlessness and savagery associated with the Thirty Years War in Germany." However, excluding his hanging of a Parliamentarian sea captain in the series of reprisals that took place in the summer of 1644, there seems to be little evidence to support this claim. In addition, at the taking of Bristol, the defeated Parliamentary Governor, Colonel Nathaniel Fiennes, testified to the princes' determination to stop their troops from plundering the city.

Prince Maurice did, however, reward his men if their conduct deserved it. Richard Atkyns describes how Prince Maurice, wounded and captured at battle of Chewton, was rescued by Atkyns' groom, who dismounted and gave the prince his horse on which he then escaped. Prince Maurice would not return the horse until his rescuer had been brought to him. On meeting the groom Prince Maurice promised him "any preferment he was capable of." During the Civil War Prince Maurice was present at many major and minor battles, stormings, sieges and engagements, with his most notable successes being at the battles of Little Dean, Ripple Field (where he defeated Sir William Waller), and Roundway Down.

In 1642, Parliament had been victorious in the West, but by the following year the situation was in the King's favor. By September 1643, when the town of Exeter fell to Prince Maurice, the Royalists almost dominated the area with Plymouth, Poole and Lyme being the only towns held for Parliament in the West. King Charles quickly ordered Prince Maurice to give up his siege of Plymouth and instead to besiege Lyme Regis, which he began to besiege in March 1644. The poor landward defenses had caused the task to be underestimated by the Royalist Council of War as, "but a breakfast job." Instead, many problems arose during the siege of Lyme. Firstly, Prince Maurice's Army was made up of foreign mercenaries and impressed men while Lyme was garrisoned by local men who were very loyal to the Parliamentarian cause, as well as being religiously motivated.

Secondly, the town was also very well supplied from the sea by Parliament. Prince Maurice had successfully destroyed all the small craft in Lyme harbor, but the steepness of the cliffs prevented him from covering the harbor with his artillery, and because of this fresh supplies continued to reach the town through the port. Thirdly, Prince Maurice himself was still recovering from a serious attack of influenza, "the new disease," and as such he was not directly in the field to observe most of the proceedings. Finally, as his army did not have any initial success against Lyme, the prince became desperate, ordering the town stormed several times, and also attempting to set fire to it as well. Eventually, Prince Maurice's Army was finally forced to draw off on the night of June 14th, when he heard news of the approach of the Earl of Essex, which eventually led to the Lostwithel campaign. The failure of the siege has been regarded as the ruining of Prince Maurice's reputation.

After the aborted siege of Lyme, Prince Maurice continued to be active in the war. During the King's Army 1644 campaign, near Lostwithel, he was in charge of storming Beacon Hill, which he did quite successfully. He was also present at the storming of Leicester, the battle of Naseby, and the relief of Hereford. Prince Maurice was perfectly capable of commanding a body of horse, such as that which formed the Royalist right wing at the battle of Naseby, however, had he been given that command Prince Rupert could have performed his job of General of the Army properly, rather than leading the right wing of horse himself. The outcome of the battle, it is easy to judge, would no doubt have been very different for the King.

When Prince Maurice and Prince Rupert left England, Maurice continued his military career, serving in Flanders with the French Army. He rejoined Prince Rupert in 1648 as his Vice-Admiral, and in September 1652, his ship, the Defiance, was lost in a storm off the Virgin Islands. One person present on the voyage with Prince Rupert wrote Prince Maurice: "Many has more power, few more merit; he was snatched from us in obscurity, lest, beholding his loss would have prevented some from endeavoring their own safety; so much he lived beloved, and died bewailed." Prince Rupert was heartbroken at the loss of his favorite brother, and for many years after his disappearance, he continued to follow up reports that Prince Maurice had survived.

Elizabeth of Bohemia decided to name her fourth son Maurice, after the martial Prince of Orange, "because he will have to be a fighter." Indeed, Maurice followed a military career, and devoted his skill and energy to it as well. He came to England in August 1642, with a solid military experience behind him and a great loyalty for the King, although not having a grasp of the politics of the situation. During the Civil War he proved a courageous and tireless commander, but faced many of the same problems of any military leader in the war, regardless of which side they on, as well as the fact of his own age and origin.

Sources & Recommended Reading

ECW Notes & Queries Caliver Books/Partizan Press.
Memoirs of Prince Rupert & the Cavaliers Eliot Warburton.
Memoirs of Richard Atkyns Peter Young (editor).
Prince Rupert of the Rhine Patrick Morrah.
The King's War C. V. Wedgwood.
The Siege of Lyme Regis Chapman.
The Vindication of Thomas Atkyns 1643.


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