Thursday, 21 April 2011

One Man and His Dog


Rupert of the Rhine, son of Elizabeth of Bohemia and nephew of King Charles I was renowned for his love of animals, a curious and rather endearing trait in a man also known for his ferocity in battle! In this he was said to take after his mother who, as I mentioned in my previous blog post, was recorded as “preferring her dogs, her hunting and her monkeys to her children, in that order,” according to her youngest child Princess Sophie. Perhaps this explains why Elizabeth was estranged from all her children at one time or another.

It was said that when Rupert was little more than a boy and captured during one of the battles in the Thirty Years War he had a pet hare to keep him company in prison and trained it to open the door of his cell. Now that I would have liked to have seen... Given that Rupert also had a pet dog at the time, it would have been interesting to see how the dog and the hare interacted.

The most famous of Prince Rupert’s dogs was a standard poodle called Boy or Boye, who ran with his cavalry. Boy was a particular target for the Roundheads, who became obsessed with the idea that he was Rupert’s familiar and attributed various magic powers to him, including that he was fluent in several languages, that he was invulnerable in battle and that he could put a spell on the enemy. Boy began to feature in Roundhead propaganda. In a pamphlet of 1643, “Observations upon Prince Rupert’s Dogge called Boy” the writer reported that Boy sat beside Rupert in council meetings and that the King himself allowed Boy to sit on the throne. Boy attended church services most… doggedly. After one Royalist victory it was said that Prince Rupert and his officers sat up all night drinking in celebration and raising a toast to Boy. The Roundheads tried both poison and prayer to destroy “this Popish profane dog, more than halfe a divill, a kind of spirit.” Although the dog was a white poodle they depicted him as black in the propaganda pictures in order to identify him with the traditional colour of the devil.

Almost inevitably, Boy fell prey to a Roundhead bullet at the Battle of Marston Moor. The Puritans claimed in another pamphlet, “A Dog’s elegy, or Rupert’s Tears” that Boy had been “killed by a valiant soldier who had skill in Necromancy.” The verse ran:

“Lament poor cavaliers, cry, howl and yelp,
For the great losse of your malignant whelp.”

In an age of superstition it is easy to see why men might attribute magic powers to such a creature and also why the enemy might use it as a symbol of the Royalist cause. To the cavaliers, Boy was a talisman and they mourned his loss very deeply. Boy went down in the Army records as the first official British Army dog.

15 comments:

lostpastremembered said...

Oh no, how could they? Imagine thinking that a dog was a familiar just because his owner was very fond of his pet??? I'd be a witch for sure with my fondness for my St. Bernard.

Great story... Rupert was pretty gorgeous as well as being an animal lover... must look him up... is he the son that let the little lord Craven handle his estate???

margaret blake said...

Cant beat a man who likes dogs! And as to Rupert having a spot spot for pets, I do believe you have a soft spot for him! (Can't say I blame you).

Nicola Cornick said...

I think some of them genuinely believed the dog was a familiar because of the superstitiousness of the times. Others just used it as propaganda! But certainly Rupert was known as "Le Diable" so I suppose it makes sense he would have a familiar!

Nicola Cornick said...

Margaret, you've spotted my obsession! It's true that I do think Rupert was a very charismatic man. The Charles Spencer biography of him is particularly interesting in giving a good insight into his character.

Nicola Cornick said...

I forgot to mention that at Ashdown we also have a picture of Rupert that features a dog. It is the conversation piece by William Dobson dating from the Civil War. I'll blog about it separately as it's an interesting picture but in it the dog has P.R. painted on his collar and is sitting looking at Rupert with that expression of "I love you!" that dogs so often have and cats do not.

Nicola Cornick said...

Lostpastremembered - Yes, Rupert and Craven were great friends as well as comrades in arms (another blog topic.) Craven was Rupert's executor and also guardian to his illegitimate daughter with Peg Hughes. Rupert must have trusted him implicitly, I think. Another interesting insight into Craven's loyalty.

margaret blake said...

Oh Nicola! My Eddie (cat) looks at me adoringly, he even kisses my hand! Of course he does not quite have the look my late, much lamented dog, Nell, did but he comes pretty close, after all cats are very clever at hiding their feelings, a lot like romantic heroes. LOL!

Alison said...

I love Rupert, and Spencer's biography of him. I'd be interested to see the Dobson picture of him, I don't think I've seen that one and yes, I love Dobson too!

Poor old Boy though, must have been a peculiar sight a standard poodle on a battle field.

Nicola Cornick said...

You're very lucky, Margaret! Our cat will look very lovingly at us as a prelude to biting! I suppose I just meant that I don't believe cats have quite the level of unconditional love for us that dogs do but I am willing to believe that yours is a paragon!

Nicola Cornick said...

A battlefield is no place for a dog!! Apparently Boye was tied up but escaped that day. Even so, Rupert should have left him way back behind the lines!

Anthony said...

I was a member of the English Civil War Society for many years and am now reading the novel about Boye, WITCH DOG by John & Patricia Beatty, which is breaking my heart. I would love to have a print of Princess Louise`s painting and would willingly pay a fee to have one in colour to frame. I am currently promoting among interested parties the idea of a permanent memorial to Boye.

Nicola Cornick said...

Thank you for your comment, Anthony. I am looking forward to reading the new book about Boye very much. The idea of a permanent memorial to Boye is a lovely one which I am sure would garner a great deal of support.

Anthony said...

Thank you. Actually, WITCH DOG was published in 1968. The new book, just out, is called THE BLACK LEGEND OF PRINCE RUPERT`S DOG, and is very pricey, plus its attention is on the witchcraft angle rather than Boye himself. WITCH DOG, however, is a tribute to his life. At odds with the sensitive portrayal by this novel and the account which has Boye killed in the battle, is another account quoted by Cohen in THE PAWPRINTS OF HISTORY. This says that Roundhead commandos sought Boy deliberately at the Royalist campsite while the men were fighting and slaughtered him cruelly. In other words it was deliberate premeditated murder and the body had several musket shots and stab wounds.
By the by, I`m joining Prince Rupert`s Bluecoat foot regiment in the Sealed Knot. Don`t suppose you know, then, where to get a print of Princess Louise`s painting from?

Nicola Cornick said...

I hadn't realised that there was an earlier book, Anthony. The story of Boye is a fascinating, albeit very distressing one. I have the Pawprints of History book but I thought that the "official" version of Boye's death was that he had been tied up but escaped and was shot as a result. Bad enough but not as bad as being targeted by Roundhead commandos. Horrible to contemplate for any dog lover.

How wonderful that you are joining Prince Rupert's Bluecoat Foot regiment!

For some reason I thought the portrait of Boye was in the V&A but I couldn't find it when I searched the collection. I will see if I can find a record and let you know.

Anthony said...

Many thanks if you could. "Pawprints of History" ought to give its reference for this; it`s an unbearable thought. "Witch Dog" gives the standard account but adds a fictional element: a servant of Rupert`s is jealous, so deliberately untethers Boye, who is then shot. The Bluecoats and Sealed Knot are putting forward my idea for a permanent memorial/plaque to Boye.