by Ella Gibson
Last year I did a week’s work experience in the University Library and Lincoln Cathedral Library’s Exchequer Gate. During this time, I was lucky enough to view some original civil war material from the Wren Library and one item that particularly stood out to me was about Prince Rupert’s dog.
The English Civil War (1642-1660) split the country in half, Parliamentarians and Royalists fighting over the governing of their country.
Prince Rupert began his military career at the age of thirteen. He was born during the Thirty Years War, which tore his nation apart, therefore conflict was all many people of the time knew, including Rupert. He was a strong military leader until an unfortunate failed expedition, which landed him in prison in Austria. Due to his high status and romantic affiliation with his captor’s daughter, he received special treatment, such as books and then most notably the gift of his white hunting poodle ‘Boy’.
Upon returning to England, there was initial fear and superstition surrounding the dog, who was said to accompany Rupert everywhere, including into battle. Descriptions of their close relationship can be found in this pamphlet, which suggests ‘they lie perpetually in one bed’,
although the descriptions of the dog as a bullet proof witch may seem humorous to a modern audience, it reveals the superstition of the time.
Furthermore, this fear was not only of the supernatural but is intrinsically linked to the fear of women, who were blamed for all manner of failures. The words ‘woman’ and ‘witch’ are used interchangeably as explanations as to why Prince Rupert’s dog is working for the devil, revealing to us the ideologies of the time surrounding women and witchcraft.
Ultimately Boy was not weapon-proof as the pamphlet describes, as he died after being shot on the battlefield of Marston Moor, leaving a bereft Prince Rupert to mourn his loss.
The Wren Library is undergoing ceiling repairs, so the Civil War tracts are not currently available. However, Newark’s Civil War Museum is currently open see National Civil War Centre, Newark.
In 2022 during a Fake News exhibition a replica of Boy’s collar, ID tag, lead and paw print were on display.