Donny’s Darkest Hour – A Call for an Annual “Rainsborough Day”

October 30, 2009

We like being from Doncaster, it has hidden regions, resources, traditions and habitats which make it the perfect place for ‘outsiders’ to thrive; those who know Donny’s secrets can fully understand why Barnsdale* was home and sanctuary to the original Robin Hood. But the town also has it’s darker secrets.

Modern Doncaster is a relatively poor and is still trying to claw it’s way back from the shock of the Miner’s Strike and subsequent pit closures. But during the English Civil Wars it was a reasonably wealthy region with many Royalist sympathisers. In October 1648, Col. Thomas Rainsborough of the New Model Army was stationed at Doncaster on his way to break a siege at Pontefract Castle. (Pontefract Castle had originally been seized from the Royalists; the Royalists tried to take the castle back, but were fought off by the Parliamentarians; then the Royalists gained entry to the castle – and took it back – by disguising themselves as furniture delivery men!) While Rainsborough was staying at an inn in Doncaster’s Market Place, four Royalists broke into his quarters and tried to kidnap him; in the subsequent scuffle Rainsborough was murdered. But there is good reason to believe that Rainsborough was actually the victim of a conspiracy.

Thomas Rainsborough was the highest ranking Leveller in the New Model Army and, as such, was a very influential figure. The Levellers sought complete social and economic equality; a universal levelling of privilege and wealth. As Rainsborough himself said during the Putney Debates of 1647…

If it be a property, it is a property by a law; neither do I think that there is very little property in this thing by the law of the land, because I think that the law of the land in that thing is the most tyrannous law under heaven, and I would fain know what we have fought for, and this is the old law of England, and that which enslaves the people of England, that they should be bound by laws in which they have no voice at all. The thing that I am unsatisfied in is how it comes about that there is such a property in some freeborn Englishmen, and not in others.

Sir, I see that it is impossible to have liberty but all property must be taken away. If it be laid down for a rule, and if you will say it, it must be so. But I would fain know what the soldier hath fought for all this while? He hath fought to enslave himself, to give power to men of riches, men of estates, to make him a perpetual slave. We do find in all presses that go forth none must be pressed that are freehold-men. When these Gentlemen fall out among themselves they shall press the poor scrubs to come and kill each other for them…

Among other things the Levellers called for an end to Parliamentary and Judicial corruption; toleration of religious differences; the translation of law into the common tongue; and an elected judiciary – all of which remain all too relevant today! The Levellers were fighting to empower the people; and neither the Crown nor Cromwell wanted that. It was Cromwell who sent Rainsborough to Doncaster (away from the mutinous Leveller ranks in Oxford and London) and many Leveller’s at the time believed that it was Cromwell who arranged the lethal ‘kidnap’ attempt. Rainsborough’s funeral was attended by 20,000 mourners wearing sea-green ribbons (the colour of The Levellers) and bunches of rosemary for remembrance in their hats.

Our own favourite Rainsborough quote is…

I shall blow up your buildings a little more and be less open with you than I was before. I wish we all truly wanted to change this cesspool we live in. [sic] And, sir, to say because a man pleads that every man hath a voice by right of nature, that therefore it destroys by the same argument all property [sic]. That there’s a property, the Law of God says it; else why hath God made that law, Thou shalt not steal? I am a poor man, therefore I must be oppressed: if I have no interest in the kingdom, I must suffer by all their laws be they right or wrong. Nay thus: a gentleman lives in a country and hath three or four lordships, as some men have (God knows how they got them); and when a Parliament is called he must be a Parliament-man; and it may be he sees some poor men, they live near this man, he can crush them – I have known an invasion to make sure he hath turned the poor men out of doors; and I would fain know whether the potency of rich men do not this, and so keep them under the greatest and your sister too tyranny that was ever thought of in the world. And therefore I think that to that it is fully answered: God hath set down that thing as to propriety with this law of his, Thou shalt not steal. And for my part I am against any such thought, and, as for yourselves, I wish you would not make the world believe that we are NOT for anarchy BECAUSE WE ARE. NOW LET THE WORLD REST IN PEACE AND ANARCHY!

We have been trying for some time to have a plaque erected on the site of Rainsborough’s murder (which is now a bloody Primark of all things!) in the hope of creating an annual ‘Rainsborough Day’ memorial event on or near October 30th each year. Anyone who can offer any help/advice can contact us on verymerrymen[at]gmail.com

ThomasRainsborough

*It was Barnsdale Forest, not Sherwood Forest that was the original home of Robin Hood in the earliest ballads; Barnsdale Forest stretched from Wakefield to Sheffield and covered most of what we now call South Yorkshire. The story also suffered from ‘gentrification’ over the years, the original Robin was a yeoman who rallied against the church, the aristocracy and the state – Barnsdale’s Robin was an anarchist!

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