Friday, July 28, 2017

The overshadowed brother

by Anna Belfrage

It is difficult to study the period of the English Civil War without encountering Prince Rupert of the Rhine. This handsome nephew to King Charles pops up here, he pops up there, one of his uncle’s most loyal and competent commanders. So often does Rupert appear one could be forgiven for believing he was King Charles’ only loyal nephew. That, however, is not true. Rupert had an equally dashing and loyal brother, Maurice.

Rupert and Maurice came from a large family. Their mother, Princess Elizabeth Stuart, had wed Frederick of the Palatinate back in 1613 and for a little while the newlyweds had also been King and Queen of Bohemia, a venture that ended rather disastrously when the Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand II, decided to oust the Protestant pretender from Prague. Whatever hopes Frederick and Elizabeth may have had of remaining on the Bohemian throne were ground to dust at the Battle of the White Mountain in November of 1620. (Read more about Elizabeth here)

In effect, Frederick and Elizabeth thereby became homeless, a royal couple without a throne. Catholic forces had invaded Frederick’s hereditary lands so they really had nowhere to go. Must have caused some concern, especially as Elizabeth was a most fertile lady. Baby Maurice was born in 1621, the fifth of thirteen children. By then, the family was installed in The Hague, which is probably why the baby was named after the then Prince of Orange.  Some say Elizabeth named her fourth son after the brave and ferocious Prince of Orange because he too would have to grow up to be a soldier and fight for what he wanted.

A very young Frederick
In 1632 Frederick rode off to join the Swedish warrior king Gustavus Adolphus on the battlefield, hoping to enlist his help in regaining his hereditary lands. A not-so-successful meeting ended with Frederick deciding to return to The Hague, but along the way he sickened and died. Elizabeth was left with a huge brood (albeit somewhat decimated: three had already died) to raise. By all accounts, she was utterly devastated by the loss of her husband. Her brother, Charles I, offered her a home in England but Elizabeth refused. She had to stay on the continent and fight for the rights of her eldest surviving son, Charles Louis.

Charles Louis and Rupert
Our Maurice grew up in The Hague. Where Charles Louis and Rupert were shipped off to their English royal uncle for extended visits, Maurice was mostly kept at home by his doting mama. Maurice had a habit of partying too hard which did not please the upright citizens of The Hague, even less so when on one occasion Maurice ended up fighting a duel which led to the death of one of his assailants. Elizabeth decided it was time her son learnt manners and sent him off to Paris to study at the University. I’m not all that sure this worked – partying in Paris must have been much more fun than in The Hague- and two years later Maurice decided he wasn’t cut out for studies and went to join the Swedish Army instead.

Over the coming years, Maurice saw a lot of action. He distinguished himself on the field, was considered a brave and competent leader of men. He was only seventeen when he served at the Siege of Breda, a resounding triumph for the Protestant forces. He fought for years under the Swedish Field Marshal Johan Banér. By the time the English Civil War began, our Maurice was a very young but battle-hardened warrior, as competent as his much more famous older brother.

King Charles welcomed Maurice to England with open arms. He needed commanders – loyal commanders – and in Rupert and Maurice he had two such men, experienced enough to be able to face the Parliamentarian forces. The older brother, Charles Louis, was, however, persona non grata at the English Court. Where both Rupert and Maurice were royalists to their core, Charles Louis found much merit in the Parliamentarian cause, going so far as to sign the Solemn league and Covenant in 1644. (As to why he did this, I imagine Charles Louis had his eyes on the bigger prize, hoping the Parliamentarians might enthrone him instead of his uncle. To give Charles Louis his due, though, he was utterly shocked when Charles was executed in 1649)

Maurice served his king capably and loyally. Often in the company of Rupert, he was dismissed as being nothing but his older brother’s shadow, a good-for-nothing that lacked the skills to act independently. This was not the case, and there are various occasions during the Civil War when Maurice’s command and personal bravery resulted in won battles.

No matter how bravely and effectively Maurice fought, his reputation in England was destroyed by the debacle of the Siege of Lyme in 1644. Prince Maurice had been in the west for some time, successfully regaining ground from the Parliamentarian forces until only Plymouth, Poole and Lyme remained under Parliamentarian control.

Maurice was ordered to besiege and take Lyme – a walk in the park according to the other royalist officers. Turns out it wasn’t. Not only was Lyme kept in food and water by Parliamentarian ships sneaking into its harbour, but it was defended by men who fervently believed in the Parliamentarian cause. Maurice’s mercenaries were not as passionate, and things weren’t helped by nature itself, steep cliffs making it difficult for Maurice to deploy his artillery. In desperation, Maurice ordered the town to be stormed. Didn’t work. He did it again. Didn’t work. By now, Maurice’s men were less than enthusiastic about the whole thing and when they had news of the Earl of Essex advancing to relieve the town, Maurice had no choice but to pull back.

Demoted and humiliated, Maurice still continued to fight for his uncle, now mostly under the command of his brother, like at the Battle of Naseby.  He was also with Rupert at the disastrous Siege of Bristol where Rupert had to give up. King Charles angrily accused his nephew of cowardice and borderline treason and ordered Rupert to leave his service—immediately.

Rupert wasn’t having it. Neither was Maurice. Somehow they made their way back to the king where Rupert demanded he be court-martialled for the events at Bristol. He was cleared of any duplicitous behaviour but the relationship between the king and his fiery nephew was permanently damaged – even more so when both Rupert and Maurice tried to make King Charles see he had no choice but to negotiate with the Parliamentarians.
“Over my dead body,” Charles likely said (most unfortunately, given how things turned out) but he grudgingly allowed the brothers to remain in his service which they did until they were exiled by the Parliamentary forces in 1646.

Maurice didn’t exactly twiddle his thumbs once he’d left England. He found a new army to serve, new battles to fight, joining the French in Flanders. But when big brother Rupert suggested he return to serve under him in 1648, Maurice eagerly did so, enamoured, no doubt, by Rupert’s plans to crush the Parliamentarian forces at sea now that most of the Parliamentarian vessels had defected to the royalist cause.

Things didn’t work out quite as intended, mainly because fighting at sea was a totally different animal than fighting on land, and neither Rupert nor Maurice had any experience in managing naval forces. Plus, of course, the Parliamentarian navy had one of the better admirals around, a Robert Blake who soon enough had Rupert’s fleet fleeing for its life, away from England, away from Europe.

By the time 1650 rolled in, Rupert and Maurice were down to six ships or so but determined to regroup and return in force to England, there to push the claim of their young cousin, Charles II. Their uncle was dead, beheaded no less, and the royalist cause had little going for it. There was no money, no men, no leadership. It was Rupert’s hope that his ships would be able to sort the money issue by resorting to piracy, and for a while there things went rather well. Until a storm sank one of the ships and most of the treasure. Maurice almost drowned in the debacle but was pulled to safety at the last moment.
A short-lived reprieve as it would turn out. In 1652, the little fleet was hit by a hurricane in the West indies and one of the ships went down. This time, Maurice went down with it and no matter how his brother searched for him, he was never found. A devastated Rupert returned home to Europe. For years, he held out hope that Maurice had somehow survived, but Maurice never did reappear, stuck no doubt in a very watery grave somewhere in the Caribbean.

Maurice was thirty-one when he died, a veteran of military campaigns on the Continent, in England and at sea. He never married, left no children, and in the history books his life is forever overshadowed by that of the gallant and charming Prince Rupert. But Maurice was more than a shadow, as gallant and brave as his brother. And in my opinion he was also by far the handsomest of the two – but that is neither here nor there.

All pictures in public domain and/or licensed under Wikimedia Creative Commons


Had Anna Belfrage been allowed to choose, she’d have become a professional time-traveller. As such a profession does not exist, she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests, namely history and writing.

Presently, Anna is hard at work with The King’s Greatest Enemy, a series set in the 1320s featuring Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures and misfortunes in connection with Roger Mortimer’s rise to power. And yes, Edmund of Woodstock appears quite frequently. The first book, In The Shadow of the Storm was published in 2015, the second, Days of Sun and Glory, was published in July 2016, and the third, Under the Approaching Dark, was published in April 2017.

When Anna is not stuck in the 14th century, she's probably visiting in the 17th century, specifically with Alex(andra) and Matthew Graham, the protagonists of the acclaimed The Graham Saga. This is the story of two people who should never have met – not when she was born three centuries after him.

More about Anna on her website or on her blog!


  1. Fantastic post! Poor Maurice. He was overshadowed in life by his older brother. His death was pretty dramatic, being entangled with a hurricane.

  2. All three brothers were good looking Stuarts. Tall dark and handsome. As I recall Rupert was 3rd and Maurice 4th in line to Charles II's throne until James had children, so they were Very Important Princes.

  3. Actually, there was a fourth brother who married for love despite having to convert to catholicism to do so. He was rather good looking too :)

  4. Thanks, Anna, fascinating post! I had heard of Maurice, but it's true that Rupert is the one we hear about most. Rupert has even appeared as the hero of A Midsummer Tempest, a novel by Poul Anderson, set in a universe in which Shakespeare was known as the Great Historian and Rupert must go to the island from The Tempest to retrieve Prospero's book and use it to save his uncle.
    Of Doctors And Regeneration: Some Silly Thoughts


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