Thomas Rainsborough

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Colonel Thomas Rainsborough
Born 1610
Wapping London, England
Died 29 October 1648(1648-10-29) (aged 38)
Pontefract, Doncaster, South Yorkshire England
Resting place
St. John's Church, Wapping, London
Occupation Parliamentarian, Leveller, Politician
Known for Political radicalism Levellers
Signature Thomas Rainsborough Signature1.jpg

Thomas Rainsborough (1610 – 29 October 1648), or Rainborough or Raineborough or Rainborowe or Rainborrowe or Rainbow or Rainsboro, was a prominent figure in the English Civil War, and was the leading spokesman for the Levellers in the Putney Debates.


He was the son of William Rainsborough, a captain and Vice-Admiral in the Royal Navy, and Ambassador to Morocco (for his services to end white slavery he was offered a baronetcy, which he declined).[1] Before the war, Thomas and his brother, William Rainsborowe, were both involved in an expedition to the Puritan Providence Island colony, off the coast of Nicaragua.[2] Rainsborough commanded the Swallow and other English naval vessels in the first civil war.At the outbreak of the English Civil War, Rainsborough was a Roundhead. His portrait shows this clearly as Roundhead's shaved the cranial top of their heads and facial hair, to distinguish them from Cavaliers. By May 1645, he was a Colonel in the New Model Army, taking an active part in the battles at Naseby and at Bristol. Later that year, he captured the symbolic stronghold of Berkeley Castle. In 1646, he helped conclude the Siege of Worcester.

MP for Droitwich[edit]

In January 1647, Rainsborough became a member of parliament for Droitwich, Worcestershire, England.

Putney Debates[edit]

He was the highest ranking supporter of the Ranters in the New Model Army and one of the speakers for the Leveller side in the Putney Debates (Oct 1647), where he opposed any deal with the King. He also came with a sense of personal grievance against Oliver Cromwell.[3] This grievance was due to the fact that Rainsborough wanted his soldiers in the Army to have a vote for members in the new Parliament. His view was that without it their fighting had been for nothing. At the time only men of means, of land or property got the vote. Another grievance was his ambition to be made Vice-Admiral of the British Navy. Rainsborough was not a popular choice due to his Leveller convictions. However it was Cromwell who finally relented and publicly supported him for the role of Vice-Admiral. Rainsborough's flaghip was the 720-ton English ship Constant Reformation (1619), a ship built in James I time, equipped with forty guns and a crew of 250. While the new Parliament and the Army were at loggerheads as to how to proceed, in Cromwell's new English Republic; King Charles I made a secret deal with Scotland and the Royalists. This led to the Second Civil War more bloody than the first.

Death and controversy[edit]

In October 1648, Rainsborough was sent by his commander, Sir Thomas Fairfax, to the siege at Pontefract Castle, where he was killed by four Royalists during a bungled kidnap attempt. Cromwell's disfavour, as well as tensions between Rainsborough and the commander he was displacing, Henry Cholmeley, who later defected to the Royalists, led many at the time, and some historians today, to question whether there was some Parliamentary complicity in his death.[4] However Royalist Propaganda may also have played a part in all the rumours.

Funeral 1648[edit]

His funeral was the occasion for a large Leveller-led demonstration in London, with thousands of mourners wearing the Levellers' ribbons of sea-green and bunches of rosemary for remembrance in their hats. He was buried in St John's Churchyard Wapping. After his death, his brother, William Rainsborowe continued in the Ranter cause.


In popular culture[edit]

Thomas Rainsborough is portrayed by Michael Fassbender in the Channel 4 drama, The Devil's Whore.

He plays a minor but crucial role in Traitor's Field by Robert Wilton, published in May 2013 by Corvus, an imprint of Atlantic Books.

Wapping plaque unveiling 2013[edit]

The Sealed Knot, the English Civil War re-enactment group, has had a Rainsborough's Company since the early 1980s that honours the memory of Colonel Thomas Rainsborough. It continues today as one of the alternative identities portrayed by the Tower Hamlets Trayned Bandes. In May 2013 it participated in the unveiling of a plaque in memory of Rainsborough at St John's, Wapping.

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ The Medallic History of England
  2. ^ The Surnames of Scotland, Their Origin, Meaning, and History - by George Fraser Black, Ph.D. (1866-1948)
  3. ^ James R. Jacob; Margaret C. Jacob (1984), The Origin of Anglo American Radicalism, New Jersey, USA: Humanities Press, ISBN 0-391-03703-X, 0-391-03703-X 
  4. ^ Thomas Rainborowe (c. 1610-1648): Civil War Seaman, Siegemaster and Radical by Whitney R.D. Jones (Boydell Press, 2005)

Further reading[edit]