|Colonel Thomas Rainsborough|
Wapping London, England
|Died||29 October 1648
Pontefract, Doncaster, South Yorkshire England
|Resting place||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 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. 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.
Member of Parliament MP for Droitwich
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. This grievance was due to the fact that Rainsborough wanted his soldiers in the Army to have a vote in the new Parliament. His view was that without it their fighting had been for nothing. However this was a new radical idea at the time. No universal suffrage was heard of at this time. Strictly only men of means , of land or property got the vote. Not ordinary people such as soldiers. 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. 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 bloodier than the first.
Death and Controversy
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 disfavor, 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. However Royalist Propaganda may also have played a part in all the rumours.
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.
Had he and the Levellers succeeded and the New Model Army won the great struggle within the Parliamentary side, then we would be talking about the English Revolution today, and not the French Revolution - which of course came over 150 years later in any event. Of course if we lived in France there would probably be a 'Rainsborough Day' and he would be a national hero!
Look at what Rainsborough and the Levellers were demanding in the 1640's. Quite extraordinary!
1) A single Chamber Parliament. elected annually 2) Manhood Suffrage, except for servants and paupers 3) Constituencies delimited according to population 4) Separation of the legislature from the Executive 5) Freedom of belief and worship (as well as freedom of speech) 6) Equality before the law 7) Abolition of capital punishment except for murder and treason 8) Abolition of of imprisonment for debt 9) Free trade 10) Freedom of person to refuse to answer incriminating questions (as in the US Fifth amendment).
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)
- 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
- Thomas Rainborowe (c. 1610-1648): Civil War Seaman, Siegemaster and Radical by Whitney R.D. Jones (Boydell Press, 2005)