The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana
by Jess Nevins
Prince Rupert the Buccaneer (1901)
copyright © Jess Nevins 2022
Prince Rupert the Buccaneer was written by C. J. Cutcliffe Hyne. The British Hyne (1866-1944) wrote widely, producing still-remembered books of fantasy (The Lost Continent in 1900), science fiction (Empire of the World in 1910) and secret service/adventure stories (his Major Colt series, collected in The Escape Agents (1910)). Hyne was one of the most prolific writers of early magazine science fiction. He was a skilled and entertaining writer and in no way deserves his current obscurity.
There was a historical Prince Rupert (1619-1682), Count Palatine of the Rhine and the Duke of Bavaria. He fought against Oliver Cromwell and for the restoration of King Charles II to the throne of England.
Prince Rupert is set during the years (1649-1660) when Rupert sailed as a pirate on behalf of Charles II, raising funds to help the eventual Restoration. In Prince Rupert Rupert sails to Tortuga with a fleet of three ships. Rupert’s plan is to rescue the soldiers and sailors who fought against Cromwell. After being captured these men were sold to the Spanish as slaves (“We call them engagés here: it's a genteeler style”1). Unfortunately, once in Tortuga Rupert discovers that the men have been scattered about the Caribbean and that the venal Governor of Tortuga, Monsieur D'Ogeron, is disinclined to help Rupert round them up. The Governor only agrees to help Rupert in exchange for the six month loan of Rupert’s ships. At this point in time Tortuga is a hotbed of pirates, and the Governor intends to use the English ships for piracy and to line his own pockets. Rupert dislikes this but has no choice and agrees to the deal, remaining behind in Tortuga with his Secretary as the Governor's “guests.” But during an orgy Rupert's dislike for the Governor overwhelms his diplomacy, and Rupert engineers his own freedom. Rupert and his Secretary travel to Hispaniola to find some of the slaves, some of whom have escaped from the Spanish and turned buccaneer. Rupert and his Secretary succeed, finding and befriending a group of land-based pirates who are waging a guerrilla war on the Spanish. Rupert and his Secretary aid the buccaneers in a fight against the Spanish and are sworn into the Brotherhood of the Coast. After that, Prince Rupert is one pirate adventure after another, from the storming of carracks to imprisonment at the hands of the Inquisition, until finally Prince Rupert, his Secretary, and the men Rupert came to Tortuga to free all return home to England.
Prince Rupert the Buccaneer is not in any sense historically significant. The novel is not important, and it is not Art. The novel is just a great deal of fun. Prince Rupert is a classic bit of pirate fiction, full of scurvy sea dogs, villainous Spanish, the boarding of ships, dawn assaults on Spanish fortresses deep inside the Venezuelan jungle, sword fights, Spanish gold, fetching damsels, broadsides, and all the rest of the trappings of piracy which can be so much fun in the right hands. It is all great good fun: colorful, wryly told with the proper amount of irony and wit, and a narration that winks at the reader in all the right places. Prince Rupert is well-researched, and Hyne is careful to show a life of the pirates which is not romanticized and is full of blood, starvation, torture, and quick deaths. But Hyne was also clearly enjoying himself no end in writing the book, and his enjoyment is easily transmitted to the reader. There is no great depth or subtlety of characterization in Prince Rupert, but the two dimensions the characters have are enjoyable, and the roguish Monsieur D'Ogeron steals every scene he is in. Catholicism and the Spanish come off badly, but that is to be expected in a novel like this, and there is enough hyperbole in the text to render the Spanish-bashing inoffensive.
Hyne also throws in some amusing plot twists. When the disguised Prince Rupert is wooing Donna Clotilde, the beautiful niece of the Governor of Caracas, while at the same time holding Caracas itself hostage through a clever piece of chicanery, he has the tables turned on him by Clotilde, who proves herself to be Rupert’s match in ingenuity and his superior in honor and patriotism. Prince Rupert further has a subplot of Rupert's Secretary, “Stephen” Laughan, who is actually Mary Laughan in disguise. Mary is desperately in love with the Prince and accompanies him on his trip, fighting by his side, saving his life, and sharing his perils. Mary is the narrator of Prince Rupert, and her descriptions of the Prince's character are so obviously colored by her love for him that the reader can't help but laugh as she launches into yet another description of his perfection. It may sound tiresome, but it is just the opposite; the reader sees Hyne winking through these monologues and enjoys them all the more.
Prince Rupert is excellent light entertainment, a perfect soufflé of action and wit.
Print: C.J. Cutcliffe Hyne, Prince Rupert the Buccaneer. London: Forgotten Books, 2015.
1 C.J. Cutcliffe Hyne, Prince Rupert the Buccaneer (London: Methuen, 1901), 1.