The Rainborowes

Written by Adrian Tinniswood
Review by Neville Firman

Who were the Rainborowes? To those well versed in the history of the English Civil War, they were the family of Thomas Rainborough, or Rainborowe – as is often the case with names of this period, the spelling varies – who argued for manhood suffrage at the Putney Debates. He was a radical and the only member of the high command of the New Model Army to support the Levellers.

But even apart from this, the Rainborowes are a fascinating Puritan family of the period. They were among those Puritans who settled the Atlantic seaboard of America. Essentially they were a family of sailors who lived beside the Thames in Wapping, but more than sailors – ship owners sometimes, captaining their own ships. Thus Thomas’s father William rose in importance and commanded the expedition against the North African pirates of Sallee. The menace of these pirates, who threatened the shipping, seizing sailors and on occasion even landing on the English coast, taking captives who like the sailors, would be sold as slaves, was one of the main reasons for Charles I’s ship money tax. William’s expedition was a success, and the King seems to have been genuinely impressed by William’s abilities. Yet as the country moved towards Civil War between Crown and Parliament, William became an MP who supported the King’s enemies, as he was bound to do. For it was the Puritan Rainborowes and their kind who were to become the backbone of Parliament’s support.  The activities of the Rainborowes throughout the Civil War are detailed. As a whole, the book gives a vivid insight into a little known aspect of the period. For this alone it is well worth a look.