At the battle of Marston Moor on 2 July, 1644, the combined forces of Parliament and the Scottish Covenanters defeated the Royalist army, commanded by Prince Rupert of the Rhine and the Marquess of Newcastle. It was the first time during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms that Rupert, Charles I’s impressive but impetuous soldier nephew, had been decisively beaten. The battle cost the King control of the North of England; Rupert lost a battle, his invincible reputation… and his dog, Boye.
Rupert was an iconic figure. Young, handsome, brave and dashing, he was the archetypal Cavalier and was portrayed as such in both Royalist and Parliamentarian propaganda. He appears to have taken Boye with him into battle on several occasions. Perhaps it’s no surprise that Rupert’s dog shared his master’s fame – or notoriety. Which is why a white poodle still lives in the public imagination 375 years after his death on a Yorkshire moor.
In the early months of the Civil Wars, stories about Boye grew and multiplied with the same uncritical voracity as a fake news tweet enjoys. A 1643 anonymous pamphlet claimed that he was bullet-proof (or not, as it turned out).
He could predict the future. He could make himself invisible. He could speak, in “a mixt language, somewhat between Hebrew and High dutch”. He even taught the royal children to swear (in English, presumably), and was to be given the rank of Sergeant-Major-General in the Royalist army. He was, in short, “no Dog, but a Witch, a Sorceresse, an Enemy to Parliament… a meer Malignant Cavalier-Dog”.
A sorceress? Oh, yes. Boye was also a handsome “Lapland Lady” in disguise (a sort of Lapp-dog?). This area of (then) northern Sweden, home of the Sami people, was infamous for its witches in 17th-century Europe, and some of Boye’s magical talents were those attributed to the witches of Lapland.
Not only that; “this Devil-Dogg” behaved in a “very Loose, and Strumpet-like” way with Rupert, kissing him in public and sharing his bed, where the two of them lay “sometimes the Prince upon the Dog, and sometimes the Dog upon the Prince”. The insinuation is clear, but it’s not just one of bestiality. One of the defining characteristics of witches was their familiars, devilish ‘imps’ in animal form that guided them, fed from them and had sex with them. Boye was Prince Rupert’s familiar, and Rupert was therefore also a witch.
What makes these stories even more bizarre is that they come from a Royalist pamphlet: Observations Upon Prince Rupert’s white Dog, called Boy, ostensibly written by TP, a spy in the pay of wealthy London citizens. The City was firmly for Parliament, and the pamphlet was a joke ridiculing Puritan superstition and belief in witches.
Historian Mark Stoyle suggests that Observations built on a previous tongue-in-cheek portrait of the supernatural poodle written by the Royalist poet John Cleveland. In his poem To Prince Rupert, Cleveland wrote that Rupert’s enemies “fear/ Even his Dog, that four-legg’d Cavalier” who would lift his leg and pee when he heard the name of the Parliamentarian leader John Pym, could smell out “intelligence” like a spy, and was
… a Devill without doubt:
For when he would lie downe, he wheels about,
Makes circles, and is couchant in a ring;
And therefore score up one for conjuring.
But why would TP use bizarre claims about a poodle to satirise Parliamentarians’ superstitious beliefs? Because the dog belonged to Rupert. And Rupert was, in 1643, the Roundheads’ bete noir.
The prince, son of Charles I’s sister Elizabeth of Bohemia, arrived at his uncle’s court in September 1642, shortly after the King had raised his standard on 22 August in Nottingham.
Rupert had begun his military career in 1633, at the age of 13, during the Thirty Years’ War – which had deprived his father, Frederick, Elector Palatine and, briefly, King of Bohemia, of his crown.
Despite three years’ imprisonment at Linz, in Austria, Rupert brought with him an experienced soldier’s confidence (some would say arrogance) and was a great asset to Charles’s cause.
He also brought a large white hunting poodle, a rare breed, given to him by the Earl of Arundel to keep him company in prison. Perhaps not surprisingly, prince and dog were inseperable.
Appointed General of Horse, Rupert established a reputation as an unbeatable leader in the early months of the war. He became a hero to many Royalists, and anathema to Parliament’s supporters, who began a pamphlet war against him.
When Rupert’s troops took Birmingham, in April 1643, they set fire to several houses in the town. Parliamentary presses were quick to respond with their latest salvos in the propaganda war.
The best-known of these pamphlets is A True Relation of Prince Rupert’s Barbarous Cruelty against the Towne of Brumingham, which had a frontispiece showing the burning town in the distance and Rupert, on horseback, firing his gun – with what looks like a small lion standing dangerously close to the rearing horse’s hooves.
That lion was Boye.
He was now such a familiar symbol of Rupert that, though the towns of Daventry and Birmingham neeeded to be named, Boye’s presence in the woodcut was enough to label the horseman as the Royalist general.
Boye looks more like a hunter and killer here and less like what we imagine when we think of a sweet, pom-pom-like poodle – or even the fluffy but knowing dog Rupert’s sister Louise is said to have painted.
He also starred in his own Cavaliers v Roundheads pamphlet, the snappily-titled A dialogue, or, Rather a parley betweene Prince Ruperts dogge whose name is Puddle, and Tobies dog whose name is Pepper, &c. (In typical 17th-century style the title continues for two more paragraphs.)
In this Boye, here called Puddle – poodle – squares up to the Puritan dog Pepper in an exchange of insults (and far too many puns about being dogged, plus a fart joke) which echoes many of Cleveland’s supernatural stories: Puddle, says Pepper, was invisible at the battle of Edgehill, where he controlled who the bullets should hit; he was a shape-shifter who took on human form to spy for the Royalists; and was “either whelpt in Lap-land, or else in Fin-land; where there is none but divells and Sorcerers live… a witch in the shape of a white Dogge.”
In the end, though, Pepper joins Puddle as a Cavalier in order to learn his magic tricks. Which is perhaps no surprise, since the Dialogue was written by the Royalist poet, waterman and pamphleteer John Taylor, the ‘Water-Poet’.
But the devil-dog’s celebrity career was nearing its end. On 1 July, 1644, Rupert’s troops relieved the beseiged Royalist city of York, held by the Marquess of Newcastle. On the following day, Rupert and Newcastle took up their positions on Marston Moor, west of York, and waited for battle. Little happened during the day, but in the early evening the combined Parliamentarian and Covenanter forces under Lord Fairfax, the Earl of Manchester, and the Earl of Leven mounted a surprise attack. With more troops and better discipline, they won a decisive victory over the Royalists.
Rupert’s horse was shot under him and he took cover in a bean field. Accounts differ, but it appears that Boye, who had been tied up safely in the Royalist camp, got free and went to find his master. But he never reached the bean field.
According to a pamphlet published later that month, “a Valiant Souldier, who had skill in Necromancy” saw Boye and killed the dog, possibly shooting him with a brass button (an early form of silver bullet?).
Rupert escaped to York, grieving the lost battle and the dead dog. And Boye, presumably, lay where he’d been killed, bullet-proof no more.
Parliamentarian pamphleteers could hardly resist the story. The image at the top of this article, in which Boye is now a black dog – a true sign of his satanic origins – is from the best-known publication, A Dog’s Elegy, or Rupert’s Tears, published on 27 July. It recycles the (by now) usual stories of doggish devilry and adds a few more.
Boye had gone to Rome and sat on “the Prelates Chaire”. He’d been responsible for the Armada, the Gunpowder Plot and Prince Henry‘s death, and had poisoned James VI and I. But after a few shots at “Traytors, and Papists… and Irish Rebells” the pamphleteer ran out of ideas and concluded:
To tell you all the pranks this Dogge hath wrought,
That lov’d his Master, and him Bullets brought,
Would but make laughter, in these times of woe…
And that was the end of Boye in 17th-century popular culture. Dead, he was of no more use to either side in the propaganda war.
Woodcut from A Dog’s Elegy, or Rupert’s Tears © 2019 Yale University: Beinecke Digital Collections
Boye, traditionally by Rupert’s sister Louise: via Wikimedia
Observations Upon Prince Rupert’s white Dog, called Boy: via Google Books
Portrait of Rupert by Gerrit van Honthorst: via Wikimedia
A True Relation of Prince Rupert’s Barbarous Cruelty against the Towne of Brumingham: via Wikimedia
A dialogue, or, Rather a parley betweene Prince Ruperts dogge whose name is Puddle, and Tobies dog whose name is Pepper, &c.: via Wikimedia
Frances Owen is editor of Historia, the magazine of the HWA.