Your RDA of Irony

December 17th: Happy Incompetence Day

Happy Birthday to Prince Rupert!

Every family has an idiot; but among the Stuarts it was a challenge to be conspicuously stupid. Yet Prince Rupert (1619-1682) achieved it. Oliver Cromwell should have written him thank-you notes. Rupert was the nephew of Charles I and, as a commander of his uncle’s army, the prince repeatedly would grasp defeat from the jaws of victory.

Rupert was unquestionably brave. He would have made a splendid corporal. Unfortunately, as the King’s nephew, he was a general by birth–not ability. He did have a sense of theatrics, if not tactics, riding into battle accompanied by his poodle. (We can only guess how embarrassed the dog must have been.) Commanding the royal cavalry, the dashing Rupert would lead irrelevant charges while the rest of the royal army was left to face Cromwell. Yes, Rupert won skirmishes but the Royalists lost the battles. After a series of such grandstanding calamities, the surviving members of the King’s court wanted Rupert to be courtmartialed. He certainly was no longer Uncle Charlie’s favorite nephew. Rupert was banished; at least he found France a pleasant alternative to Cromwell’s England. Uncle Charlie wasn’t that lucky.

During his years in exile, Rupert took up new careers and hobbies, including piracy and painting. Although only a mediocre buccaneer, it still was an improvement over his soldiering. And he actually turned out to be a good artist. (If only Charles I had entrusted his nephew with a palette instead of the cavalry….) At least Charles II held no grudges against his incompetent cousin. Upon the restoration of the monarchy, Prince Rupert received properties, an annuity and the rank of admiral. (Commanding the British navy, he did lose one war to the Dutch–but only one.) Rupert also served on corporate boards, lending his royal patronage to such enterprises as the Hudson Bay Company. A number of Canadian cities and locales are named for the dashing dolt if only as an English alternative to French or Inuit.

Today in Britain the name Rupert has become a synonym for a reckless show-off. Here in America his legacy endures. While no American graduate schools are named for him, Rupert obviously is the role model for every MBA.

  1. Susan Lieberman says:

    Now that was a delightful little birthday present. Thanks for a couple of good chuckles on this morning-after of my day to add a year and lose more brain cells.

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