|Colonel Thomas Rainsborough|
Wapping London, England
|Died||29 October 1648
Pontefract, Doncaster, South Yorkshire England
|St. John's Church, Wapping, London|
|Occupation||Parliamentarian, Leveller, Politician|
|Known for||Political radicalism Levellers|
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). 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. 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. 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
On hearing all arguments Rainsborough famously said; "It seems to me that the smallest He that is in this kingdom hath a life to live as the greatest He."
Death and controversy
In October 1648, Rainsborough was sent by his commander, Sir Thomas Fairfax, to the siege at Pontefract Castle. Whilst he was in nearby Doncaster, he was killed by four Royalists during a bungled kidnap attempt. The site is still marked today by a plaque outside of the House of Fraser. As Rainsborough was under Cromwell's disfavour and there were tensions between Rainsborough and the commander he was displacing, Henry Cholmeley, who later defected to the Royalists, many at the time wondered whether there was some Parliamentary complicity in his death, as do historians today. However Royalist Propaganda may also have played a part in all the rumours. The four Royalists involved in the bungled kidnap, crossed the River Don at Mexborough and hid out at Conisborough Castle before their failed attempt.
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
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
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
- The Medallic History of England
- The Surnames of Scotland, Their Origin, Meaning, and History - by George Fraser Black, Ph.D. (1866-1948)
- Thomas Rainborowe (c. 1610-1648): Civil War Seaman, Siegemaster and Radical by Whitney R.D. Jones (Boydell Press, 2005)