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Col. Thomas Rainsborough.

Thomas Rainsborough (1610 – 30 October 1648), or Rainborough or Raineborough or Rainborowe or Rainbow or Rainborow, 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. 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.

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

Putney Debates

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 (July 1647), where he opposed any deal with the King. He also came with a sense of personal grievance against Oliver Cromwell.[3]

In early 1648, he was due to return to the Navy as a Vice-Admiral, but his Leveller sympathies were unpopular with some officers, and a mutiny ensued. He was returned to Army service.


In October, 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.[4] 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 as St John's church, Wapping. After his death, his brother, William Rainsborowe continued in the Ranter cause.

In popular culture

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

Plaque installed in Wapping 12 May 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

  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. "The Origin of Anglo American Radicalism". Humanities Press. 1984. 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

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