“It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog” – Mark Twain
At the 1644 Battle of Marston Moor in a wild meadow west of York, Royalist Sergeant Major General Boye was summarily executed by the Parliamentarians with a silver bullet. As one of the largest battles of the First English Civil War, with over 4000 Royalist casualties, and the subsequent abandonment of Northern England by Royalist forces, one might argue that such are the fortunes of war where brave men are stuck down in their prime, and in the aftermath of the carnage, the victors exact their vengeance. Except, Boye was a white hunting poodle. Given, he was the battle-hardened, dogged canine companion of cavalier and future General of the Royalist Army Prince Rupert of the Rhine, but dogs are not known for strategic planning of combat operations or strict adherence to political ideologies. Mostly, they follow their noses. Boye, on the other hand, was widely reputed to be Rupert’s shapeshifting, demonic familiar, credited with strange occult powers from invulnerability to prophecy. And a fondness for bones. Preferably those of his enemies trampled beneath his feet.
Rupert, Count Palatine of the Rhine, Duke of Bavaria, 1st Duke of Cumberland, 1st Earl of Holderness, commonly referred to as Prince Rupert of the Rhine (1619-1682) was a 17th Century soldier of fortune, fighting in the Netherlands against Spain during the Eighty Years’ War and in Germany against the Holy Roman Empire in the Thirty Years’ War. As a younger son of German prince Frederick V, Elector Palatine and the eldest daughter of King James the 1st of England, this made him a close relative of the British monarchy, which explains how he wound up as a Royalist cavalryman and eventually a general during the English Civil War. After the Royalists were defeated and he was banished from England, he hadn’t seen enough war, so he went off to fight for France against Spain, and then as a Royalist privateer in the Caribbean, returning to England after the Restoration of the monarchy, serving as a senior naval commander in the Anglo-Dutch Wars. In short, despite an undeniably aristocratic upbringing and propensity for wearing frilly shirts, Prince Rupert was a badass. At the tender age of fourteen, rather than worrying about the pubescent perils of high school, Rupert was busy knocking heads at the Battle of Vlotho in an attempt to recapture the Rhenish Palatinate in southwest Germany for Charles Louis, Elector Palatine. Unfortunately, Rupert was captured and tossed into prison in Linz. In the 17th Century, being a royal prisoner was not such a bad gig. Rupert spent his time exercising his artistic inclinations, hunting, and reading military textbooks (clearly assuming he would be called upon to spill blood somewhere else), and even had a torrid affair with the daughter of Count von Kuffstein, his official host/jailer during his three years of imprisonment. And it was here that Rupert met Boye. Boye was a rare white hunting poodle and they quickly became fast friends (or as some say, partners in infernal crime). Boye accompanied Rupert on campaign, and was renowned to have rather bizarre religious behaviors that branded him as something more than a dog.
We find him also, punctually fulfilling his religious duties and attending the services in the cathedral, while we know from the literature which began to grow up round Boye, that as the dog ‘never missed prayers,’ his master’s habits must have been identical. Boye, who had been abused as a ‘ devil dog,’ had now acquired a new reputation as a Papist; as well as eating cannon balls in battle and acting as Rupert’s familiar, he also scandalised the godly by that attention to ceremonial which made the Puritans, with incomprehensible logic, dub their adversaries as atheists. The four-legged Cavalier was said by some of Rupert’s friends, who composed a pamphlet on this subject, to behave most ‘cathedrally ‘ and ‘popishly’ in church, trotting up to the east end directly he entered and following the service with such attention that he might have been expected to make notes of the sermons, like the ladies. He was a dog of parts too, for he had several accomplishments such as sitting up for the King, showing his contempt for Pym and barking for the Parliament. He sat by the King’s chair at dinner and was fed by his hand; indeed, he was often rebuked for sitting in his chair when he got a chance. The ‘reprobate dogg’ liked to abuse the Roundheads and it was noticed that all talk on the subject of peace ceased in the council when he made his entry (Erskine, 1910, p143-144).
Prince Rupert was a popular commander, and Boye was much beloved by the Royalist soldiers during the English Civil War, and was unofficially declared a Sergeant Major General. This is very impressive for a canine, but the Parlimentarians were less than amused, maintaining that Boye was at the very least a witches’ familiar, and possibly the devil himself, come to aid the Royalist cause. This did not especially concern Boye, who seemed to think his sole purpose in life was to ensure that Prince Rupert lived to crack a few more skulls open. Rumors of his preternatural powers abounded.
Boye is generally supposed to have been a poodle, and certainly he is so represented in the caricatures preserved of him. But he must have been in truth a remarkable one, for Lady Sussex relates in one of her letters, that when Rupert shot five bucks, “his dog Boye pulled them down.” To this “divill dog” were attributed supernatural powers of going invisible, of foretelling events, and of magically protecting his master from harm. “The Roundheads fancied he was the Devil, and took it very ill that he should set himself against them!” says Sir Edward Southcote. Many of the Puritans did, in truth, imagine him to be Rupert’s evil spirit, and it was reported that the dog fed on human flesh (Scott, 1899, p79).
It is said that at the fateful battle of Marston Moor, Boye had been tied up at the Royalist camp whilst Rupert waded into battle. Undaunted, Boye escaped and charged into the thick of things. As the battle turned against the Royalists, Rupert was forced to flee, but poor Boye was killed.
This “dogge” was afterwards renowned in English civil and controversial warfare. It followed the Prince through many a bloody field uninjured, but was killed at Marston Moor, to the great joy of the Puritans, who, half in jest, asserted that it was Prince Rupert’s familiar spirit. There is a curious and half unintelligible pamphlet in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, called “Observations on Prince Rupert’s dogge, called Boye.” London, 1642. It is very witty, but with what object it was written I know not. It says of this “dogge,” that “it trotted up and down toward the east end of the church, where there is a great painted window above and an altar below, both which (with the rayles) make one great idoll.” “I have kept a very strict eye upon this dogge, whom I cannot conclude to be a very downright divell, but some Lapland ladye, once by nature a handsome white ladye, but now by art a handsome white dogge They have many times attempted to destroy it by poison and extempore prayer, but they hurt him no more than the plague plaister did Mr. Pym”. We are told that the mother’s name was “Puddle!” query, poodle, which it seems to have been (Warburton, 1849, p99).
Tellingly, contemporary pro-Parlimentarian woodcuts depicting the Battle of Marston Moor show a dying Boye on his back, facing musket fire, insisting that a, “Valiant Souldier, skilled in necromancy” fired the fatal bullet that ended Boye’s career. All too often we “let loose the dogs of war”, and then blame the steadfast hounds for the resultant carnage, but perhaps loyal Boye should serve as a reminder, familiar or not, that war is man’s game. Even Napoleon Bonaparte, who had no compunction about ordering men to their deaths, was forever haunted by a singular scene he observed, a dog howling by the body of his master on a moonlit battlefield, commenting, “This soldier, I realized, must have had friends at home and in his regiment; yet he lay there deserted by all except his dog. I looked on, unmoved, at battles which decided the future of nations. Tearless, I had given orders which brought death to thousands. Yet here I was stirred, profoundly stirred, stirred to tears. And by what? By the grief of one dog”.
Erskine, Steuart, Mrs., d. 1948. A Royal Cavalier: the Romance of Rupert, Prince Palatine. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1910.
Scott, Eva. Rupert Prince Palatine. Westminister: [s.n.], 1899.
Warburton, Eliot, i.e. Bartholomew Elliott George, 1810-1852. Memoirs of Prince Rupert, And the Cavaliers: Including Their Private Correspondence, Now First Published From the Original Manuscripts. London: R. Bentley, 1849.