Thomas Rainsborough

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Thomas Rainsborough
Born (1610-07-06)6 July 1610
Wapping London, England
Died 29 October 1648(1648-10-29) (aged 38)
Doncaster, South Yorkshire England
Resting place St. John's Church, Wapping, London
Occupation Parliamentarian, Leveller, Politician
Known for Political radicalism Levellers

Thomas Rainsborough (6 July 1610 – 29 October 1648), or Rainborowe, 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. 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]

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[edit]

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.[3] 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 murder was the subject of a ballad, published in 1648 called "Colonell Rainsborowes ghost or, a true relation of the manner of his death, who was murthered in his bed-chamber at Doncaster, by three of Pontefract souldiers who pretended that they had letters from Leiutenant Generall Cromwell, to deliver unto him. To the tune of, My bleeding heart with griefe and care."

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.

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. ^ Thomas Rainborowe (c. 1610-1648): Civil War Seaman, Siegemaster and Radical by Whitney R.D. Jones (Boydell Press, 2005)

Further reading[edit]