Prince Rupert: Admiral and General-at-Sea, by Frank Kitson, Constable, $40.
This is a pricey but first-class treatment of a top-flight warrior. From his first battle as an eleven-year-old observer in 1630 to his last as an admiral in 1673, Prince Rupert, Count Palatine, Duke of Bavaria, and later right arm of Charles II of England, grew to become a leading figure of seventeenth-century naval and ground combat.
In this, his second and concluding volume detailing the life of the prince, General Sir Frank Kitson details Rupert’s long naval experience and last years of service to Britain (1648-1682). Thankfully, the reader does not have to have read the first volume to understand this one as Kitson skillfully weaves in the relevant factors of his subject’s earlier life. The author points out that Rupert’s transition from commander of Royalist land forces during the English Civil War to senior admiral of the exiled king’s navy was not an uncommon seventeenth-century professional switch. However, Kitson makes it clear that Rupert was no ordinary naval leader. In comparing Rupert’s performance during one battle of the Second Anglo-Dutch War to Lord Nelson’s at the Battle of Trafalgar, the author notes the prince commanded some eighty-nine ships of the line, defeating eighty-eight, while Nelson only handled twenty-seven in besting thirty-three of his opponents.
Prince Rupert succeeded in learning the naval profession in a sea extension of the English Civil War that ranged from the North Atlantic to the Mediterranean and the Caribbean. After the Royalist defeat on land Rupert took charge of a few European-based British warships and crews loyal to the Crown. Beginning with this small force the Prince engaged in commerce raiding, gaining prize ships and booty for Charles II. Vigorously pursued by a substantial Commonwealth navy, the Prince was normally without communications with the king and his advisers and thus had to develop and execute his own strategy. Together with his growing grasp of seamanship, Rupert arrived in Restoration England with a well-earned reputation for skill in every aspect of naval warfare.
It is, however, Rupert’s contributions to naval doctrine that provide his most important legacy to the art of war. The prince was a controlling personality in the development of the Royal Navy’s Fighting Instructions, a set of maneuvers, signals, contingency game plans, and standing advisories. Many features of this doctrine served England for more than two hundred years after they were established. The author explains all this and more.