RAINBOWE, Edward (1608-84)

RAINBOWE, Edward (1608–84)

cons. 10 July 1664 bp. of CARLISLE

First sat 24 Oct. 1666; last sat 26 Jan. 1680

b. 20 Apr. 1608, s. of Thomas Rainbowe, vic. Blyton, Lincs, and Rebecca, da. of David Allen, rect. Ludborough, Lincs. educ. Westminster sch.; Corpus Christi, Oxf. 1623; Magdalene, Camb. BA 1627, MA 1630, fell. 1633-42, BD 1637, DD 1643. m. 1652, Elizabeth (d.1702), da. of Dr Henry Smith deceased, master of Magdalene, Camb. d.s.p. d. 26 Mar. 1684.

Chap. to Charles II 1660.

Master of Kirton school, 1630; cur. Savoy 1632; vic. Childerley Cambs. 1637; chap. to Theophilus Howard, 2nd earl of Suffolk bef. 1640; rect. Gt. Easton, Essex 1648-50, Little Chesterford, Essex 1652-9, Benefield, Northants. 1659-64; dean, Peterborough 1661-4

Master, Magdalene, Camb. 1642-50, 1660-4; v.-chan. Camb. 1662-3.

Also associated with: Blyton, Lincs.

Likenesses: line engraving by J. Sturt, NPG D29553.

The son of a Lincolnshire vicar and the daughter of a Lincolnshire rector (his mother was taught Latin, Greek and Hebrew by her father), Rainbowe profited from his father’s friendship with John Williams, later bishop of Lincoln, who would help Rainbowe secure a place at Westminster School. He also had an introduction to court circles through the Wray family, based at Wharton, in Blyton parish. Rainbowe’s godfather was Edward Wray, groom of the bedchamber to James I, and married to Elizabeth, Baroness Norreys of Rycote. It was through the Wray connection – the dowager countess of Warwick, Edward Wray’s aunt and widow of Robert Rich, earl of Warwick – that he secured a scholarship to Magdalene College, Cambridge. Sir John Wray, Edward’s older brother, also secured him his first job, schoolteaching in Lincolnshire.1

Whilst a fellow at Magdalene Rainbowe proved to be a successful tutor, including amongst his pupils the sons of Theophilus Howard, 2nd earl of Suffolk, and of Francis Leke, Baron Deincourt. The earls of Suffolk would become additional influential patrons: his biographer boasted of how he was linked to four aristocratic families – the earls of Warwick, Suffolk, Northumberland (in 1642 he performed the marriage ceremony of Algernon Percy, 4th earl of Northumberland to the daughter of the 2nd earl of Suffolk) and Orrery (Roger Boyle, earl of Orrery [I] then Baron Broghill [I], married another of Suffolk’s daughters in 1641). In 1642 he received the mastership of Magdalene at the hands of James Howard, 3rd earl of Suffolk, who also, after Rainbowe’s ejection from Magdalene in 1650, came to his rescue with an Essex living between Cambridge and Audley End. Under the protection of his influential friends, Rainbowe read a modified Anglican liturgy throughout the Interregnum without interference from the authorities. In 1659 Charles Rich, 4th earl of Warwick, presented him to the living of Benefield, avoiding the requirement for approval of the Triers through the influence of Broghill.2

Reinstalled at Magdalene after the Restoration, and vice-chancellor of Cambridge in 1662, in 1664 Rainbowe was elevated to the bishopric of Carlisle, a region where the Howards of Naworth shared political dominance with the Musgraves of Edenhall. He settled in his diocese where his biographer credited him with instituting regimes of strict household piety and liberal charitable giving.3 His efforts to contain nonconformity were rather less successful; In April 1669 Isaac Basire, archdeacon of Northumberland, complained about the problems of dealing with Nonconformist leaders who ‘by flitting between Newcastle and Carlisle, situated in 2 dioceses, avoids the jurisdiction of the bishops and justices in both places’.4 The state of the bishop’s palace at Rose Castle, damaged in the civil wars and Interregnum, involved him – reluctantly, according to his biographer – in ‘unbecoming’ litigation with his predecessor, also his diocesan, Richard Sterne, archbishop of York, which dragged on for years.5

Rainbowe did not attend the parliamentary sessions in the autumn of 1664 and 1665 and took his seat in the House only on 24 Oct. 1666. Of the 17 sessions in which he was entitled to sit, he was present at only eight, yet for the five sessions between the September 1666 and October 1673, he attended for more than three-quarters of all sittings. In his first session he attended 82 per cent of sittings and was entrusted with the proxy of Gilbert Ironside, bishop of Bristol on 27 Oct. 1666 (vacated at the end of the session). In the course of the session he was named to more than a dozen committees, including the northern borders bill and the lead mines bill involving Philip Wharton, 4th Baron Wharton. On 3 and 16 Jan. 1667 he chaired two sessions of the select committee on Wharton’s leases of Durham lead mines; on the 16th the lords temporal outnumbered the bishops on the committee and had secured advantageous conditions for Wharton when Gilbert Sheldon, archbishop of Canterbury arrived and acted to protect the Church’s interest by threatening to oppose the bill in its entirety.6

During the debate on a naturalization bill on 23 Jan. 1667, Rainbowe was outraged by the suggestion that the name of Isaac Basire be left out because he had not prayed for Charles II in his capacity as king of France. James Stuart, duke of York, leapt to Basire’s defence, supported by George Morley, bishop of Hereford, Archbishop Sterne and the earl of Carlisle. Sterne insisted that the accusation was grounded in the malice of the Whartons who resented Basire’s opposition to their recent bill and the accusation was withdrawn. Rainbowe himself did not contribute to the debate, believing that as a very new Member of the House, his ‘modesty and reverence of that assembly’ prevented him from speaking unless absolutely necessary.7

In May 1667 Rainbowe was being tipped for the vacant bishopric of Lincoln.8 Samuel Pepys regarded him as the most worthy candidate, but Rainbowe’s prospects were ruined by falling foul of Lady Castlemaine, whose friendship he had rebuffed when she ‘forfeited his esteem … by the prostitution of her honour’.9 Castlemaine then angled for the appointment of Henry Glemham, who became bishop of St Asaph; Sheldon ensured that William Fuller, was appointed to Lincoln instead, leaving Rainbowe to worry that the king might have formed ‘sinister impressions’ of his own character.10

Rainbowe cultivated his allies, often by sending devotional material to female members of noble households. By the 1670s his extensive networks encompassed Arthur Capell, earl of Essex (linked by marriage to the Howards of Naworth) and Philip Herbert, 7th earl of Pembroke, for whose wife Anne he preached a funeral sermon in 1676. He had also gained the approbation of Lady Thanet, the wife of Nicholas Tufton, 3rd earl of Thanet.11 In his own bishopric, where dynastic feuding informed political life, Rainbowe was concerned to form alliances with the main political players. He appointed as his archdeacon Thomas Musgrave, son of Sir Philip Musgrave (‘a notorious opponent of all sectaries’).12 He was also on very close terms with Musgrave’s longstanding enemy, Charles Howard, earl of Carlisle, the dominant political magnate in the region, and kept Carlisle informed of affairs in the locality while the earl was adventuring in the Caribbean.13

In the parliamentary session that opened on 10 Oct. 1667 (at which Sheldon had compelled attendance), Rainbowe attended over 80 per cent of sittings.14 He was named to some 16 committees and helped to manage the conferences on the committal of Edward Hyde, earl of Clarendon, on 15 and 19 Nov. 1667. He attended on 20 Nov. 1667 for the final vote on the Clarendon impeachment, and on 10 Dec. 1667 managed the conference on freedom of speech in Parliament. He received the proxy of Francis Davies, bishop of Llandaff on 6 Feb. 1668 (vacated at the end of the session).

Throughout these five sessions of intensive parliamentary attendance, Rainbowd’s dilapidations suit over Rose Castle dragged on.15 Suing his predecessor, Richard Sterne, who as archbishop of York was now the ultimate authority in the province, Rainbowe petitioned the king for a special commission to decide the issue.16 His petition, delivered to Henry Bennet, Baron Arlington, was mislaid for over a year, almost certainly a delay of convenience prompted by Sterne’s opposition to the suit.17 After a period of consultation the petition was granted and a commission established ‘with all powers of coercion used in ecclesiastical causes’. Rainbowe feared that Sterne would claim privilege of parliament to obstruct proceedings, but there is no evidence that he did so. The commission appointed a subcommission of surveyors drawn from regional Commons’ members and magnates (including Sir Daniel Fleming and Sir George Fletcher). Fleming supported the repair programme and the subcommission found in Rainbowe’s favour.18 Sterne paid £400 towards repairs, but Rainbowe spent over £1,100 making the palace fit for episcopal hospitality.19

Rainbowe was present in the House on 19 Oct. 1669 for the start of business and attended every sitting of the session. He was again named to several select committees, including that to consider the bill for the charity set up by John Warner, late bishop of Rochester. Rainbowe’s attitude towards the comprehension projects of 1668 and 1669 is unknown. In an undated letter that probably belongs to circa 1660 he had written of ‘a spirit of moderation and discretion, which has always suited best with my temper’, but moderation in religious matters is unlikely to have been welcome in a region where the ruling families were so hostile to nonconformity; it seems equally unlikely that he would have risked upsetting the Church hierarchy.

In the session that ran from 14 Feb. 1670 to 22 Apr. 1671, Rainbowe again attended 80 per cent of sittings and was named to 47 committees, including the lead mines bill involving John Cosin, bishop of Durham. Despite his presence in the House on 17 Mar. 1670, Rainbowe did not join the 12 bishops who dissented from the second reading of the divorce bill for John Manners, Lord Roos (later 9th earl and duke of Rutland). Perhaps anxious to avoid confrontation he absented himself from the third reading of the bill on 28 Mar., yet attended the following day to be named to the committees on the rebuilding of London and the mansion house for the dean of St Paul’s. On 6 Apr. he managed the conference on the highways bill. On 21 Oct. he again received the proxy of Francis Davies which he held for the remainder of the session.

In the parliamentary session that assembled on 4 Feb. 1673, Rainbowe attended nearly 79 per cent of sittings and was named to ten select committees. With gout now affecting his health, he was absent from the winter session of 1673. On 1 Dec. 1673 he entered his proxy in favour of John Pearson, bishop of Chester for the whole of the spring 1674 session. In the spring 1675 session, when he attended for less than one third of the sittings, he arrived on 30 Apr. 1675 (after the contentious vote on the ‘no alteration’ test promoted by Thomas Osborne, earl of Danby), and was named to only three committees. On 21 Oct. 1675, he again gave his proxy to Pearson for the whole of the autumn 1675 session. Throughout 1677 and 1678 Rainbowe’s proxy was held by Thomas Lamplugh, bishop of Exeter.

Rainbowe did not attend the opening days of the first Exclusion Parliament in spring 1679, but arrived on 12 Apr. and then attended for 38 per cent of sittings. In the division on the attainder of Danby on 14 Apr., Rainbowe was one of the six bishops (including Nathaniel Crew and his two former proxy-holders Lamplugh and Pearson) who defied the king and left the chamber rather than vote in a matter of blood.20 Two days later he was in attendance when the bishops asked leave to withdraw from the trials of the five Catholic lords. It is perhaps significant that one of Rainbowe’s patrons, Essex, argued strongly against the bishops’ right to vote.21 Given the existence of local rivalries and the extent to which these interacted with factionalism at court and in the Church, Rainbowe may have had great difficulty in balancing his loyalties. In 1676 in the course of a patronage dispute, Sir Philip Musgrave quoted the bishop himself as admitting that he dare not oppose the demands of Secretary Sir Joseph Williamson.22

Between April 1679 and the dissolution on 27 May, Rainbowe was named to only one committee: than on the habeas corpus bill on 17 April. He was absent when the House went into committee on the subject of bishops’ votes in capital cases and was excused attendance at a call of the House on 9 May. Yet he appeared the following day to register his protest in favour of the appointment of a joint committee of both Houses to consider a method of proceeding against the impeached lords, the only bishop apart from Nathaniel Crew, bishop of Durham to do so. Rainbowe’s alliance with his more senior colleagues at Durham now seemed to be something of a settled arrangement.

Rainbowe attended the House for the formal prorogation on 26 Jan. 1680 but did not return thereafter. In October 1680, receiving daily medical treatment at Rose Castle, he wrote to Sheldon asking for leave of absence from the House. On 30 Oct. 1680 he was duly excused. Hoping to attend the Oxford Parliament in 1681, he solicited the help of university friends for accommodation before suffering a relapse of gout; he asked Sheldon to intervene with the king for leave of absence until the warmer weather.23 There was no further session of Parliament held in Rainbowe’s lifetime.

By 1684 Rainbowe had become seriously ill. Determined to survive beyond Lady Day (25 Mar.) so that his wife would receive the quarter-day revenues, he died on the evening of 26 March. At his own request he was buried quietly in the churchyard of Dalston parish church in Cumberland, leaving £200 to the poor of eight parishes and £20 to the relief of French Protestants.24 He was succeeded as bishop of Carlisle by his dean Thomas Smith.


  • 1 J. Banks, Life of the Right Reverend Father in God Edward Rainbowe DD (1688), 1-12.
  • 2 Banks, 29-51.
  • 3 Banks, 69, 106-7.
  • 4 CSP Dom. 1668-9, pp. 259, 269.
  • 5 Banks, 62-3.
  • 6 Durham UL, Cosin letter bk. 1b, 119, 164.
  • 7 Basire Corresp. 252-4.
  • 8 Bodl. Rawl. Letters 113, f. 54; CSP Dom. 1667, p.121.
  • 9 Pepys Diary, viii. 365; Banks, 71-72.
  • 10 Bodl. Add. C 305, f. 46.
  • 11 Stowe 201, f. 271; Sermon Preached at the Funeral of the Rt. Hon. Anne Countess of Pembroke (1677); Add. 29584, f. 16.
  • 12 VCH Cumb. ii. 98-99; CSP Dom. 1668-9, p. 259.
  • 13 HP Commons 1660-1690, iii. 122; Sloane 2724, ff. 121-2.
  • 14 Bodl. Add. C 308, f. 101.
  • 15 Add. 72520, ff. 32-33; H.J. Todd, Account of the City and Diocese of Carlisle, 16.
  • 16 Bodl. Add. C 302, ff. 256-66; HMC Le Fleming, 80; Nicolson andBurn, Hist. Westmld. and Cumb. (1777), ii. 290; CSP Dom. 1665-6, p. 169; 1668-9, p. 379; Bodl. Add. C 304a, f. 39.
  • 17 CSP Dom. 1668-9, p. 75.
  • 18 Bodl. Add. C 302, ff. 256-66; CSP Dom. 1665-6, p. 169; 1668-9, pp. 379, 414; HMC Le Fleming, 80, 84.
  • 19 Nicolson and Burn, ii. 290-91.
  • 20 Add. 29572, f. 112.
  • 21 Burnet, ii. 209.
  • 22 CSP Dom. 1676-7, p. 327.
  • 23 Bodl. Tanner 37, ff. 151, 261; Carte 81, f. 364.
  • 24 Banks, 77-78, 108-9.