Today’s entry in the Royal Occultist Compendium takes a look at one of the earliest holders of the office – Prince Rupert of the Rhine, 1st Earl of Holderness, Duke of Bavaria, soldier, admiral, scientist, slave-trader and sportsman.
Rupert was the holder of the offices of Royal Occultist during the turbulent period of history known as the English Civil War. It is unknown what incident marked Rupert’s elevation to the office of Royal Occultist not long after his arrival in England, but he soon proved his aptitude for the esoteric during the Affair of the Buckinghamshire Devil in 1642.
With the broken remains of the eponymous devil buried beneath an innocuous field, Rupert set about proving his worth as both a military commander and the Queen’s Conjurer. However, his career as Royal Occultist was fraught, to say the least. The civil war was a period of mass chaos, marked by witchcraft and necromancy on an unprecedented scale as dark forces sought to take advantage of the troubles.
From the renegade alchemist O’Neill to the degenerate d’Amptons of Derbyshire, Rupert’s opponents were too numerous to properly record. Even so, he managed to assemble one of the largest occult libraries in the Occident, as well as a not inconsiderable arsenal of mystical artefacts over the course of his tenure, and he is known to have developed and refined a number of rituals still used by the holder of the offices to this day.
Despite this, his conduct during his tenure was not without blemish – Rupert was not above attempting to turn the horrors he faced to his own advantage, such as his attempt to bind the monstrous Knights of St. George to the Royalist cause or his association with a certain mysterious ‘Lapland lady’, who often accompanied him on his investigations in the shape of a white dog.
Indeed, Rupert is known to have used vile sorceries against the King’s enemies on no less than two occasions, and is rumoured to have made an attempt on Oliver Cromwell’s life through mystic means.
Rupert was stripped of the offices in 1655, and soon after, his quarrels with the Royalist court-in-exile sent him to the Germanies, where he is known to have consulted with a certain Baron Vordenburg of Styria on the matter of the Devil Ferenczy, as well as the Circus of Night. He re-assumed the post briefly in 1660 following the Restoration in order to combat the machinations of the Kind Folk, but, weary and disinterested, soon stepped aside, in favour of his former apprentice, the aptly-named John Cadmus.
Like Dee, Rupert’s influence is strongly felt throughout the series, despite only appearing in a single short story (“Scholar’s Fire”) thus far. He’s one among a number of historical personages that I tapped early on to be former holders of the office of Royal Occultist. I thought that by interweaving real and imaginary people, I could give the stories a bit of grounding.
Too, Rupert, like John Dee, is interesting in and of himself. Scientist, artist, statesman…Rupert was a Renaissance man in the truest sense of the word. Though like many such individuals, Rupert had his dark side – his participation in the slave trade, for instance. While his willingness to use black magic against his enemies is something I added, I feel it’s in keeping with Rupert’s character, especially after his return to England during the Restoration. A battered Rupert, weary, sick in body and soul, makes for almost as interesting a Royal Occultist as the dashing young cavalier. Especially when you add the taciturn John Cadmus into the mix.
I envisage the Rupert/Cadmus relationship as a bit like that of Archie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe, albeit with more sinister overtones. I’d like to write more stories with the two – that period of history is full of interesting nooks and crannies to explore.
If you’re interested in learning more about Rupert, I recommend Charles Spencer’s book, Prince Rupert: The Last Cavalier (2007).