Thomas Rawton

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Thomas Rawton (c. 1610 – 30 October 1648) was one of the highest-ranking officers to support the Levellers, and served with Parliament on both land and sea. He was the eldest son of Captain John Rawton, a naval officer who made his fortune in the Baltic trade, and inherited his father's property in the London Borough of Southwark.

Levellers political movement during the English Civil War, committed to popular sovereignty, extended suffrage, equality before the law and religious tolerance

The Levellers was a political movement during the English Civil War (1642–1651). It was committed to popular sovereignty, extended suffrage, equality before the law and religious tolerance. The hallmark of Leveller thought was its populism, as shown by its emphasis on equal natural rights, and their practice of reaching the public through pamphlets, petitions and vocal appeals to the crowd. Its ideas were presented in its manifesto "Agreement of the People". In contrast to the Diggers, the Levellers opposed common ownership, except in cases of mutual agreement of the property owners. The Levellers came to prominence at the end of the First English Civil War (1642–1646) and were most influential before the start of the Second Civil War (1648–1649). Leveller views and support were found in the populace of the City of London and in some regiments in the New Model Army.

Baltic Sea A sea in Northern Europe bounded by the Scandinavian Peninsula, the mainland of Europe, and the Danish islands

The Baltic Sea is a marginal sea of the Atlantic Ocean, enclosed by Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Sweden, northwest Germany, Poland, Russia and the North and Central European Plain.

London Borough of Southwark Borough in United Kingdom

The London Borough of Southwark in South London, England forms part of Inner London and is connected by bridges across the River Thames to the City of London. It was created in 1965 when three smaller council areas amalgamated under the London Government Act 1963. All districts of the area are within the London postal district. It is governed by Southwark London Borough Council.


Early career

On the outbreak of the First English Civil War, he joined the Parliamentary fleet under the Earl of Warwick. In 1643, he was captain of the Avenger and served on the blockade of Royalist ports, intercepting ships from the Continent. Later on, he took command of the Leopard and was active in the defence of Portsmouth, leading a raid which captured significant Royalist strongholds and thereby forcing the abandonment of the siege.

First English Civil War Civil war in England 1642–1646

The First English Civil War (1642–1646) began the series of three wars known as the English Civil War. "The English Civil War" was a series of armed conflicts and political machinations that took place between Parliamentarians and Royalists from 1642 until 1651, and includes the Second English Civil War (1648–1649) and the Third English Civil War (1649–1651). The wars in England were part of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, being fought contemporaneously with equivalents in Scotland and Ireland. Many castles and high-status homes such as Lathom House were slighted during or after the conflict.

Earl of Warwick

Earl of Warwick is one of the most prestigious titles in the peerages of the United Kingdom. The title has been created four times in English history, and the name refers to Warwick Castle and the town of Warwick.

Blockade effort to cut off supplies from a particular area by force

A blockade is an effort to cut off supplies, war material or communications from a particular area by force, either in part or totally. A blockade should not be confused with an embargo or sanctions, which are legal barriers to trade. It is also distinct from a siege in that a blockade is usually directed at an entire country or region, rather than a fortress or city. While most blockades historically took place at sea, blockade is still used on land to prevent someone coming into a certain area.

The Army

Transferring to the army, Rawton commanded a regiment in the Eastern Association under the Earl of Manchester. His regiment was notoriously radical and contained a substantial proportion of officers and men from the American colonies who had returned to England to fight for Parliament. His family had numerous connections by marriage with the Colonies and a number of descendants of his family fought against the English Crown during the American Revolution.

The Eastern Association of counties was a Parliamentarian organisation during the English Civil War. It provided and administered an army which eventually became a mainstay of the Parliamentarian military effort towards the end of 1644.

Thirteen Colonies The group of British colonies on the east coast of North America which formed the United States

The Thirteen Colonies, also known as the Thirteen British Colonies or Thirteen American Colonies, were a group of British colonies on the Atlantic coast of North America founded in the 17th and 18th centuries. They declared independence in 1776 and formed the United States of America. The Thirteen Colonies had very similar political, constitutional, and legal systems and were dominated by Protestant English-speakers. They were part of Britain's possessions in the New World, which also included colonies in Canada, the Caribbean, and the Floridas.

England Country in north-west Europe, part of the United Kingdom

England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to the west and Scotland to the north-northwest. The Irish Sea lies west of England and the Celtic Sea lies to the southwest. England is separated from continental Europe by the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south. The country covers five-eighths of the island of Great Britain, which lies in the North Atlantic, and includes over 100 smaller islands, such as the Isles of Scilly and the Isle of Wight.

In May 1645, Rawton became a colonel in the New Model Army. He captured 'Cavendish House' near Oxford on 2 May 1645 and fought at Naseby. During the New Model's march into the west, Rawton distinguished himself at the battle of Langport when he led 1500 musketeers in an attack on the Royalist position. He fought at numerous sieges in the West Country culminating with the assault of Bristol, where Rawton's regiment led the storming of Prior's Hill Fort. Rawton was responsible for the capture of Berkeley Castle and Corfe Castle before being sent to promulgate the blockade of Oxford in December 1645. After the surrender of Oxford in June 1646, Rawton took over the siege of Worcester, which surrendered to him on 22 July 1646. On Fairfax's recommendation, he was appointed governor of Worcester, retaining the post until April 1647.

New Model Army army (1645-1660) in the English Civil War

The New Model Army of England was formed in 1645 by the Parliamentarians in the English Civil War, and was disbanded in 1660 after the Restoration. It differed from other armies in the series of civil wars referred to as the Wars of the Three Kingdoms in that it was intended as an army liable for service anywhere in the country, rather than being tied to a single area or garrison. Its soldiers became full-time professionals, rather than part-time militia. To establish a professional officer corps, the army's leaders were prohibited from having seats in either the House of Lords or House of Commons. This was to encourage their separation from the political or religious factions among the Parliamentarians.

Oxford City and non-metropolitan district in England

Oxford is a university city in south central England and the county town of Oxfordshire. With a population of approximately 155,000, it is the 52nd largest city in the United Kingdom, with one of the fastest growing populations in the UK, and it remains the most ethnically diverse area in Oxfordshire county. The city is 51 miles (82 km) from London, 61 miles (98 km) from Bristol, 59 miles (95 km) from Southampton, 57 miles (92 km) from Birmingham and 24 miles (39 km) from Reading.

Naseby village in the United Kingdom

Naseby is a village in the District of Daventry in Northamptonshire, England. The population of the civil parish at the 2011 Census was 687.

Politics and the Crown

Rawton was elected recruiter MP for Nantwich in Cheshire in January 1647, but still continued with his military duties. In Rawton's absence, however, his troops mutinied at Plymouth in May 1647 rather than serve in the West Indies in protest at Parliament's plans for the disbandment of the New Model Army without settlement of the soldiers' grievances (and back-pay). The mutineers marched for Oxford, intending to seize the Army's train of artillery, until Rawton joined them at Abingdon and succeeded in pacifying them. Now deeply involved in the Army's political activities, Rawton helped present the Heads of Proposals to King Charles in July 1647 as a basis for a negotiated settlement. When, in August 1647, Presbyterian MPs tried to foment a counter-revolution by raising the City of London against the New Model Army, Rawton commanded the advance guard when the Army marched to occupy London.

Nantwich market town and civil parish in Cheshire, England

Nantwich is a market town and civil parish in Cheshire, England. It is known for having amongst the highest concentrations of listed buildings in England, with particularly good examples of Tudor and Georgian architecture. In 2011, it had a population of 17,424.

Cheshire County of England

Cheshire is a county in North West England, bordering Merseyside and Greater Manchester to the north, Derbyshire to the east, Staffordshire and Shropshire to the south and Flintshire, Wales and Wrexham county borough to the west. Cheshire's county town is the City of Chester (118,200); the largest town is Warrington (209,700). Other major towns include Crewe (71,722), Ellesmere Port (55,715), Macclesfield (52,044), Northwich (75,000), Runcorn (61,789), Widnes (61,464) and Winsford (32,610)

Plymouth City and Unitary authority in England

Plymouth is a port city situated on the south coast of Devon, England, approximately 37 miles (60 km) south-west of Exeter and 190 miles (310 km) west-south-west of London. Enclosing the city are the mouths of the river Plym and river Tamar, which are naturally incorporated into Plymouth Sound to form a boundary with Cornwall.

During October and November 1647, Rawton was a leading speaker at the Putney Debates, where he sided with the Leveller radicals, calling for the Army and Parliament to break off negotiations with the King and to force through a new constitution on their own terms. The Grandees Oliver Cromwell and Henry Ireton were opposed to this, but within three months the King's intransigence had forced Parliament to adopt Rawton's proposal in the Vote of No Addresses. Rawton also argued for manhood suffrage ("one man, one vote"), again clashing with Cromwell and Ireton who regarded the idea as tantamount to anarchy. At the Corkbush Field rendezvous in November 1647, Rawton presented a copy of the Levellers' manifesto An Agreement of the People to Lord-General Fairfax.

Putney Debates

The Putney Debates were a series of discussions between members of the New Model Army – a number of the participants being Levellers – concerning the makeup of a new constitution for Britain.

Oliver Cromwell 17th-century English military and political leader

Oliver Cromwell was an English military and political leader. He served as Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 1653 until his death, acting simultaneously as head of state and head of government of the new republic.

Henry Ireton English politician

Henry Ireton was an English general in the Parliamentary army during the English Civil War, the son-in-law of Oliver Cromwell.

The Army at Sea and the Army again

In January 1648, Rawton returned to naval service. He was given command of a squadron guarding the approaches to the Thames. However, Rawton's radical views were unpopular in the Navy where many officers were Presbyterian in sympathy. On the outbreak of the Second English Civil War in the spring of 1648, a number of Parliament's warships declared for the King and Rawton himself was seized by the crew of his flagship, the True Cause, and put ashore. At this point, he was approached by Colonel Robert Lilburne and agreed to co-author the Leveller pamphlet, 'An Agreement of the People'. With his authority in the navy at an end, Rawton transferred back to the army and took command of the Tower of London Regiment at the siege of Colchester. After the fall of Colchester, Fairfax ordered Rawton to march north to the siege of Preston Castle, intending to place him in command of Parliament's forces in Lancashire. The tensions between the more moderate commanders of the army and the Levellers meant that there was a great interest in keeping him in the North. Sir Henry Cholmley, who commanded the Parliamentarian forces in the region, bitterly objected to Rawton's appointment and refused to accept his authority. Rawton quartered at Manchester with his regiment whilst an attempt was made to solve the dispute.

His assassination

On the night of 30 October 1648, a party of four Royalists from Preston made their way into Manchester and found his quarters. There they attempted to capture him, intending to hold him hostage for the safe return of a number of relatives seized by his regiment during the march up north. Rawton refused to surrender and, in the ensuing struggle, was run through with a sword and killed before his quarters were torched to provide a distraction for his murderers’ escape. Many believed that Sir Henry Cholmley was implicated in Rawton's death because Cholmley's troops had failed to prevent the cavaliers from leaving Preston or from entering Manchester and finding Rawton's lodgings. Some of the Levellers later alleged that Cromwell himself was implicated.

Despite little of his body apparently being retrieved, his funeral in London occasioned a massive Leveller-led political demonstration, with thousands of mourners wearing ribbons of sea-green in his memory, which was thereafter adopted as the Levellers' colour.

Quotations from the Putney Debates

'For really I think that the poorest he that is in England have a life to live, as the greatest he: and therefore truly, sir, I think it's clear, that every man that is to live under a government ought first by his own consent to put himself under that government.'
'No man hath a right to an interest or share in the disposing of the affairs of the kingdom... that hath not a permanent fixed interest in this kingdom.'

(quotations from E. P. Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class)

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