John Lilburne and the Levellers (Commentary)

John Lilburne and the Levellers (Commentary)

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This commentary is based on the classroom activity: John Lilburne and the Levellers

Q1: Study sources, 1, 5 and 10. Which one was used to argue for freedom of speech?

A1: Source 5 shows John Lilburne in prison. It was an attempt to let people know that imprisonment would not stop Lilburne from writing pamphlets.

Q2: Select information from this unit that suggests that Elizabeth Lilburne supported her husband's political campaigns?

A2: Elizabeth Lilburne was arrested and examined by a House of Commons committee for circulating John's books in February 1647. Two years later she published A Petition of Women (source 6) where she argues for political equality and the release from prison of her husband and other Levellers.

Q3: Who was Robert Lockyer? Why was his funeral an important event in the history of the Leveller movement?

A3: Robert Lockyer led a Leveller rebellion in April, 1649. He was executed and his funeral proved to be a dramatic reminder of the strength of the Leveller organization. Ian J. Gentles (source 9) reports that about 4,000 people accompanied the corpse wearing Leveller ribbons.

Q4: In 1640 John Lilburne was a strong supporter of Oliver Cromwell. In 1650 Lilburne strongly opposed Cromwell. Why did Lilburne change his mind about Cromwell?

A4: In 1640 Cromwell shared Lilburne beliefs on religious freedom and played an important role in his release from prison. However, when Cromwell became leader of the country he changed his mind on certain issues. Cromwell now disagreed with Lilburne about the need for political and religious freedom. For example, in source 8, Cromwell shows he is opposed to Lilburne's views on democracy. By 1650 the two men were bitter enemies.

Q5: Explain why John Lilburne is considered to have played an important role in the development of the parliamentary government that we use in Britain today.

A5: John Lilburne was one of the first people in England to argue that most adult males should be allowed to vote in elections. Government persecution of Lilburne and other Levellers meant that the movement was eventually destroyed. However, many of Lilburne's pamphlets survived. For the next 250 years his political ideas inspired others to fight for the right to vote. Eventually, in 1918 all adult males were given the vote.

Q6: Describe John Lilburne's beliefs. Explain why he held these beliefs.

A6: John Lilburne thought it was unfair that the vast majority of the population had no say in how the country was ruled. Lilburne argued that a much larger number of adult males should be allowed to elect the government. As A. L. Morton (source 13) points out Lilburne argued for parliamentary elections every two years by "all males over the age of twenty-one with the exception of those receiving wages". The reason for this was the "wage-earning class... were regarded as servants of the rich, who would be under their influence and would vote at their dictation".

Lilburne was also a supporter of religious toleration. He believed that people should be free to preach or publish their religious beliefs without the fear of punishment or persecution. The first time he got into trouble with the government was when he began smuggling religious books into England.

Lilburne wanted freedom for all religious groups, whereas most people were only interested in freedom for their own particular group. At first Lilburne supported the Presbyterians when they were persecuted by the Anglicans. However, when the Presbyterians controlled the government they persecuted other groups like the Anabaptists. This made Lilburne very angry and he always supported religious groups that were persecuted.

The Levellers

One of the most tumultuous periods of English history took place between 1642 and 1651, resulting in the execution of King Charles I and the temporary abolition of the monarchy.

The English Civil War divided the country, with people and families split between their values and opinions on power, human suffrage and political freedom.

Emerging out of the violence, turbulence and chaos were the Levellers, a political movement which preached ideas of equality, religious tolerance, suffrage and sovereignty.

The name itself was a derisory term for rural rebels and although members would have preferred to have been referred to as “agitators”, the name “levellers” stuck.

As an emerging political movement, particularly important figures in the group included Richard Overton, John Lilburne and William Walwyn, figures who would end up imprisoned for their views and actions.

John Lilburne

In July 1645, Lilburne found himself incarcerated for accusing MPs of living luxuriously whilst the army fought for their supposed causes.

The Levellers arguments soon gained traction, particularly with the discontented members of the army and the English Civil War fast became a breeding ground for this group to emerge.

The Levellers gained most recognition after the first period of fighting in 1646, appealing to those who had been ignored, unappreciated and been suffering in silence.

In many ways, the Levellers embodied a populist movement and exercised further control and influence through a well-thought out propaganda mechanism which involved pamphlets, petitions and speeches, all of which connected the group with the general public and conveyed their message.

William Walwyn

Together with the infamous Thomas Cromwell they campaigned for a new political landscape which would emphasise freedom and inclusiveness, principles which would many years later be adopted by the revolutionaries of France and later America.

Whilst Cromwell and the Levellers were initially on the same page with regards to their principles and goals, they soon fell out over method and approach and began to work against one another.

In the summer of 1647, the group began to formalise their plans which involved a sweeping democratising process for both England and Wales which would have revolutionised and contested the accepted authority of parliament.

In doing so, they quickly lost the necessary backing they would have required in order to bring about such radical changes. Without the support of people within the very institution they were defying, their goals would be difficult to achieve.

In June 1647, growing support for the Levellers came from the army who had expressed discontent on a range of issues, which the political movement would use to gain their support. This included monetary problems with pay arrears and a possible new campaign to be launched in Ireland.

Meanwhile, the Levellers delivered their key list of demands to Parliament, calling for sweeping changes and radical reform. Some of these changes included the dissolution of the Long Parliament with a new assembly elected in its place. Another key proponent in the Levellers philosophy included extending suffrage so that a wider group would elect the new assembly. It was also made clear that if none of these demands could be met, then Parliament would be dissolved by the force of the army if necessary.

Whilst the Levellers had believed they had done enough to secure the support of the army, they had in fact miscalculated. In fact, the result of such a threat led the Grandees of the army to come out in support of the Long Parliament, a loyalty which was exhibited by a demonstration in London.

The fight however was far from over division still existed and the army was far from being won over by either side.

In October of the same year, the influential soldier and politician Major John Wildman published a document which contained the demands from the army, based on well-known grievances and stated how revolutionary political action could bring about these desired changes.

The document was called, “The Case of the Army Truly Stated” and contained within it many radical ideas such as the restriction of the power of MPs, elections every two years, the guarantee of certain political rights such as religious tolerance and the emphasis that power should ultimately lay in the hands of people, an early indication of universal suffrage (although the concept was not fully formed or stated in these terms yet).

This revolutionary document was eventually edited and the publication became known by the slightly catchier name of, the “Agreement of the People”. The message of the document was simple: power to the people!

The political movement advocated such an idea based on its Christian origins and the belief that everyone has the ability to use reasoning to make informed decisions for themselves.

Rather unsurprisingly, the Long Parliament were less than receptive to such changes, nonetheless a consensus of opinion concluded that a debate should take place in which to discuss the Levellers’ key demands.

The support for the Levellers within the New Model Army was quite strong. Formed in 1645, the army included veterans and other conscripts who held deeply religious beliefs. In this respect, they differed greatly from the regular army and their dissenting support for the Levellers created concern for the likes of Cromwell and his men.

Oliver Cromwell

The airing of these grievances took place in the late autumn at Putney Church where the two main speakers stated their claims. On the side of Parliament was Henry Ireton, an English general, who also happened to be the son-in-law of Oliver Cromwell. Well-known for his dislike of extremism, he argued for a more moderate approach as anything more radical, such as suggested by the Levellers, was destined to have disastrous effects on society.

On the other side of the argument, “the Agitators” spoke on behalf of the Levellers, representing the more radical opinions within the army.

Whether or not these two groups could find any common ground remained to be seen. On the issue of franchise, the Levellers believed in universal male suffrage whilst Ireton made the case for suffrage based on ownership and property, which would have excluded large swathes of working men who were guilty only of being poor.

The Putney Debates raged on until November, when indecision and lack of agreement began to concern Cromwell who anticipated the army splitting over such issues.

The Agitators wanted to ascertain what would be done about the king. This lead to further discussions which were interrupted on 11th November when King Charles I escaped from his captivity at Hampton Court Palace, bringing the debate to an abrupt end.

The New Model Army now had an impending threat to deal with, fearing that Charles I might succeed in rallying forces if he made it to France.

Whilst the debate was abandoned for more immediate concerns, the General Council presented a new manifesto which included a clause which maintained that the army would declare loyalty both to the Council and Lord Fairfax, the army general and Parliamentary Commander-in-Chief.

Thomas Lord Fairfax

With such events unfolding, Parliament and its supporters in the army were able to seize their chance to secure discipline in the ranks. Both Fairfax and Cromwell wanted to suppress the dissenting voices in the army and imposed the Heads of Proposals as an Army Manifesto which had to be signed by each officer.

Rather than the proposed Leveller’s “Agreement of the People”, the new army manifesto secured loyalty to Fairfax by ensuring that the back payments many officers had been owed would be honoured.

Nevertheless, a small mutiny did occur on 15th November known as the Corkbush Field Mutiny, when a handful of soldiers refused to sign, rebelled and were arrested, whilst the ringleader, Private Richard Arnold was shot.

It was at this moment that the Levellers really lost their sway with the army whilst Cromwell and his supporters were able to rally the troops in order to begin a second round of fighting.

The Levellers had been outmanoeuvred by Cromwell and their opposition their ideas had proved too radical and the incentives were simply not enough to entice the army.

A new revised edition of the “Agreement of the People” was produced but sadly amounted to nothing, put to one side and ignored by Parliament.

However support for the Levellers was not completely dispelled, it was simply silenced, with some small pockets of subversion emerging, especially after the execution of Charles I in January 1649.

In April, only three months after the king’s death, the Bishopgate Mutiny took place, leading to a certain Robert Lockyer, a supporter of the Levellers, being executed by firing squad.

After the Grandees of the army banned petitions by soldiers to Parliament, many of the Levellers still serving in the army were outraged, however they were treated with draconian force.

In May 1649 around 400 troops, all of whom adhered to the ideas of the Levellers and led by Captain William Thompson, gathered in Banbury and marched towards Salisbury. Whilst a mediator had been sent to deal with the matter, on 13th May Cromwell chose to launch a surprise attack leading to several of the Leveller mutineers being killed in the process. This became known as the Banbury Mutiny.

This was the final blow to the Leveller movement and its power base in the New Model Army they had been crushed. Cromwell was now the main orchestrator for the rest of the English Civil War whilst the Levellers’ attempts fell by the wayside, lost to the shadows of history.

*Since 1975, on the Saturday nearest to 17th May the town of Burford has commemorated Levellers’ Day in memory of the mutineers executed there.

Jessica Brain is a freelance writer specialising in history. Based in Kent and a lover of all things historical.

John Lilburne and the Levellers

John Lilburne (1615–1657), or 'Freeborn John' as he was called by the London crowd, was an important political agitator during the English Revolution. He was one of the leading figures in the Levellers, the short-lived but highly influential radical sect that called for law reform, religious tolerance, extended suffrage, the rights of freeborn Englishmen, and a new form of government that was answerable to the people and underpinned by a written constitution.

This edited book assesses the legacy of Lilburne and the Levellers 400 years after his birth, and features contributions by leading historians. They examine the life of Lilburne, who was often imprisoned and even tortured for his beliefs, and his role as an inspirational figure even in contemporary politics. They also assess his writings that fearlessly exposed the hypocrisy and self-serving corruption of those in power – whether King Charles I or Oliver Cromwell. They look at his contribution to political ideas, his role as a revolutionary leader, his personal and political relations with his wife Elizabeth, his exile in the Netherlands, his late decision to become a Quaker, and his reputation after his death.

This collection will be of enormous interest to academics, researchers, and readers with an interest in the English Civil War, seventeenth-century history, and the contemporary legacy of radical political tradition.

Roundhead Soldier

W hen the First Civil War broke out, Lilburne enlisted for Parliament as a captain in Lord Brooke's regiment of foot and fought at the battle of Edgehill. In November 1642, his regiment defended Brentford against an attack by Prince Rupert and Lord Forth during the Royalist advance on London. Lilburne was taken prisoner and sent to the King's headquarters at Oxford. As one of the first Roundhead officers to be captured, the Royalists intended to try Lilburne for treasonous rebellion. His wife Elizabeth petitioned Parliament on his behalf and provoked an emergency debate in the House of Commons, which led to Parliament threatening to execute Royalist prisoners in reprisal if Lilburne were to be hanged as a traitor. Elizabeth courageously delivered the message from London to Oxford herself. The trial was called off and Lilburne was exchanged for a Royalist officer in May 1643.

At Oliver Cromwell's instigation, Lilburne was commissioned in the Eastern Association army as a major in Colonel King's regiment of foot. In May 1644, he was promoted lieutenant-colonel of the Earl of Manchester's regiment of dragoons. Lilburne fought with distinction at Marston Moor in July 1644 but like many other Eastern Association officers, he grew frustrated at Manchester's inaction in the weeks following the battle. Hearing that Tickhill Castle was on the point of surrendering to Parliament, Lilburne asked Manchester's permission to march against it but was dismissed as a madman. Taking this as permission, Lilburne negotiated the surrender of Tickhill without a shot being fired, and returned to be angrily berated by his general in front of his astonished Royalist prisoners. Infuriated further by Manchester subsequently taking the credit for the surrender of Tickhill, Lilburne was one of Cromwell's witnesses when he denounced Manchester before the House of Commons in November 1644.

In April 1645, Lilburne resigned his commission after refusing to sign the Solemn League and Covenant, which was required of New Model Army officers following Parliament's alliance with the Scots. He clashed with his former heroes Prynne and Bastwick in a pamphlet defending liberty of conscience over their Presbyterian orthodoxy and was imprisoned from July to October 1645 for denouncing MPs who lived in comfort while the common soldiers fought and died for Parliament. Lilburne also became embroiled in a bitter dispute with MPs who had promised him compensation for his persecution by Star Chamber in 1638, but who showed no sign of paying it. In July 1646, Lilburne was sent to the Tower of London for denouncing his former commander the Earl of Manchester as a traitor and Royalist sympathiser. Whilst in the Tower, he continued to write a stream of inflammatory pamphlets, which were smuggled out to be published by his friends and supporters.


  1. Pauline Gregg, Freeborn John: The Biography of John Lilburne (London, 1961) H. N. Brailsford, The Levellers and the English Revolution (Nottingham, 1983), first published 1961 John Rees, The Leveller Revolution (London, 2016).Back to (1)
  2. Jason Peacey, ‘John Lilburne and the Long Parliament’, The Historical Journal, 43, 3 (September 2000), 625–45.Back to (2)
  3. Rees, Leveller Revolution, p. 23, p. 199 Mark Kishlansky, ‘The army and the Levellers: the Roads to Putney’, The Historical Journal, 22, 4 (1979), 796.Back to (3)
  4. Austin Woolrych, Commonwealth to Protectorate, (London, 1982), p. 250.Back to (4)

The author is grateful to the reviewer for this clear and sympathetic review and for his suggestions about where discussion might now focus.

Fresh Perspectives on the Levellers

A convincing account of early modern political organisation gives voice to lesser-known figures.

John Rees’ new work on the Levellers is a different beast from the average academic monograph. While the core argument of Rees’ 2014 doctoral thesis, that the Levellers represented an ‘organised group of political activists’, remains in place, the analytical and thematic approach of a dissertation has been abandoned. Instead, Rees offers an absorbing and fluent narrative of the political life of the foremost radical group to emerge during the English Revolution.

The book is much needed. While academic research on the Levellers has gone through something of renaissance, we have to go back to H.N. Brailsford’s The Levellers and the English Revolution (1961) for a book-length study of the subject aimed at a general readership.

Rees’ objective is not simply to provide an updated overview of the Levellers but also to shift the focus of research upon the group. He notes that recent studies of the Levellers, such as Rachel Foxley’s The Levellers: Radical Political Thought in the English Revolution (2013), have tended to approach them from the perspective of the history of ideas/intellectual history. Without being dismissive of this scholarship, Rees suggests that it can give us a false sense of the intentions of the Levellers: the concerns of men such as John Lilburne were not largely philosophical or intellectual. They were activists, not utopian theorists, and they wrote and campaigned to achieve political change.

To non-specialists, the claim that the Levellers represented an organised political movement may seem uncontroversial. However, historians of the 17th century have been generally sceptical of the degree to which labels such as ‘Leveller’ mapped onto real political and religious organisations. Recent work on individuals such as Lilburne, Richard Overton, William Walwyn and John Wildman has tended to place them within broader alliances of army and civilian radicals during the 1640s, suggesting that they represented less of a movement in their own right. In contrast, Rees contends that only ‘something that is itself a distinct current can create alliances and solicit support from other political forces’.

Rees traces the growth of this Leveller movement through the involvement of the printers William Larner and Richard Overton in the production of illicit anti-episcopal works in the late 1630s. These print networks were also critical to the mass petitioning strategies of the early 1640s, directed against the crown’s religious policies. Rees shows that the Levellers were innovators in the use of printed media, notably early newspapers, in combination with petitions. Rees, a historian of London, demonstrates that spaces for political discussion were also important. The capital, the ‘Great Leveller’ as he describes it, provided inns and taverns such as the Mouth, the Windmill and the Whalebone, where the Levellers’ campaigns were organised and their texts drafted and disseminated. It was also the centre for England’s separatist churches, with London’s Baptist churches being a particularly fruitful recruiting ground for the movement.

While Rees’ book features those individuals most commonly associated with the Levellers (Lilburne, Overton, Walwyn and Wildman), he also devotes considerable space to lesser-known figures, such as the soap-boiler and Baptist preacher Thomas Lambe, the governor of Poole John Rede and the cheesemonger and Leveller treasurer William Prince. Rees also makes clear the significant contribution that women such as Katherine Chidley, Elizabeth Lilburne and Mary Overton made to the movement. By broadening his focus beyond those writers and activists more familiar to the general public, Rees conveys the full spectrum of the Leveller movement, from its core membership to fringe sympathisers, while using the lives of these individuals to offer fresh perspectives on the Levellers’ history.

Rees’ narrative largely stops in 1649 with the imprisonment of leading Levellers and the crushing of the army mutinies, though there is a coda exploring John Rede’s post-revolutionary career. As a result, the reader gets less of a sense of whether the Leveller organisation had any impact on later political culture, even though some historians, notably Tim Harris, have plausibly suggested their strategies helped shape the form of post-Restoration politics. Equally, while Rees’ criticism of recent work on the Levellers as too intellectually focused may be fair, his concentration on political organisation just occasionally has the converse effect of obscuring exactly that for which the movement was agitating. Nonetheless, this is an impressive work that delivers a convincing picture of how a radical early modern political organisation was fashioned, without losing sight of the experiences of the men and women whose personal fortunes rose and fell with it.

The Leveller Revolution: Radical Political Organisation in England
John Rees
Verso Books 512pp £25

Ted Vallance is Professor of Early Modern Political Culture at the University of Roehampton.

Leveller Tracts - Bibliography

Table of Contents

Additional Information on the Levellers.

The following material on the English Revolution is available at the Online Library of Liberty:

  • 1. The English Revolution topic page: </groups/68>.
  • 2. Key Documents of Liberty: 17th Century England </pages/key-documents>.
  • 3. Joyce Lee Malcom, The Struggle for Sovereignty: Seventeenth-Century English Political Tracts, 2 vols, ed. Joyce Lee Malcolm (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1999). < /titles/1823>.
  • 4. Samuel Rawson Gardiner, The Constitutional Documents of the Puritan Revolution, 1625-1660, selected and edited by Samuel Rawson Gardiner (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1906). < /titles/1434 >.
  • 5. Arthur Sutherland Pigott Woodhouse, Puritanism and Liberty, being the Army Debates (1647-9) from the Clarke Manuscripts with Supplementary Documents, selected and edited with an Introduction A.S.P. Woodhouse, foreword by A.D. Lindsay (University of Chicago Press, 1951). < /titles/2183 >.
  • 6. Sir William Clarke, The Clarke Papers. Selections from the Papers of William Clarke, Secretary to the Council of the Army, 1647-1649, and to General Monck and the Commanders of the Army in Scotland, 1651-1660, ed. C.H. Firth (Camden Society, 1901). 4 vols. < /titles/1983 >.

For additional information about the authors and texts we recommend the following works for their useful introductions, scholarly footnotes, and commentaries. A number of them reproduce the texts in facsimile form so readers can see what the original texts looked like.

Primary Sources

Catalogue of the Pamphlets, Books, Newspapers and Manuscripts Relating to the Civil War, the Commonwealth and Restoration, collected by George Thomason, 1640-1661, G.K. Finlayson (London: Trustees of the British Museum, 1908), 2 vols.

  • Vol. 1. Catalogue of the Collection, 1640-1652
  • Vol. 2. Catalogue of the Collection, 1653-1661. Newspapers. Index.

The Clarke Papers. Selections from the Papers of William Clarke, Secretary to the Council of the Army, 1647-1649, and to General Monck and the Commanders of the Army in Scotland, 1651-1660, ed. C.H. Firth (Camden Society, 1901). 4 vols.

The English Levellers, ed. Andrew Sharp (Cambridge University Press, 2004).

Freedom in Arms: A Selection of Leveller Writings, edited and with an Introduction by A.L. Morton. Foreword by Christopher Hill (New York: International Publishers, 1975).

Leveller Manifestoes of the Puritan Revolution, Edited, with an introduction and commentaries by Don M. Wolfe. Foreword by Charles Beard (New York: Humanities Press, 1967). (Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1944).

H.N. Brailsford, The Levellers and the English Revolution, edited and prepared for publication by Christopher Hill (Manchester: Spokesman Books, 1976).

The Leveller Tracts, 1647-1653, edited by William Haller and Godfrey Davies (Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1964). (New York: Columbia University Press, 1944).

Marie Gimelfarb-Brack, Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité, Justice: La vie et l’oeuvre de Richard Overton, Niveleur (Berne: Peter Lang, 1979).

Puritanism and Liberty: Being the Army Debates (1647-9) from the Clarke Manuscripts with Supplementary Documents, selected and edited by A.S.P. Woodhouse. Foreword by A.D. Lindsay (University of Chicago Press, 1951).

Tracts on Liberty in the Puritan Revolution 1638-1647, edited, with a Commentary, by William Haller. Volume I. Commentary. Volume II. Facsimiles, Part I. Volume III. Facsimiles, Part II. (New York: Octagon Books, Inc., 1965) (Columbia University Press, 1934).

The Writings of William Walwyn, ed. Jack R. McMichael and Barbara Taft. Foreword by Christopher Hill (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1981).

Secondary Sources

Jonathan Scott, Algernon Sidney and the English Republic, 1623-1677 (Cambridge University Press, 2004).

Biographical Dictionary of British Radicals in the Seventeenth Century, 3 volumes, ed. Richard L. Greaves and Robert Zaller (Brighton, Sussex: The Harvester Press, 1983).

Carl Watner, “ ‘Come What, Come Will!’ Richard Overton, Libertarian Leveller,” The Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. IV, no. 4 (Fall 1980), pp. 405-432,

Brian Manning, The English People and the English Revolution (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1978).

Christopher Hill, The Experience of Defeat: Milton and Some Contemporaries (New York: Penguin, 1985).

P. Zagorin, A History of Political Thought in the English Revolution (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1966).

Christopher Hill, Intellectual Origins of the English Revolution (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982).

David Wootton, “Leveller democracy and the Puritan Revolution,” in The Cambridge History of Political Thought, 1450-1700, ed. J.H. Burns with the assistance of Mark Goldie (Cambridge University Press), pp. 412-42.

Joseph Frank, The Levellers: A History of the Writings of Three Seventeenth Century Social Democrats, John Liburne, Richard Overton, William Walwyn (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1955).

Richard A. Gleissner, “The Levellers and Natural Law: The Putney Debates of 1647,” The Journal of British Studies, vol. 20, no. 1, (Autumn 1980), pp. 74-89.

William Haller, Liberty and Reformation in the Puritan Revolution (New York: Columbia University Press, 1955).

Christopher Hill, Milton and the English Revolution (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1979).

A. Sharp, Political Ideas of the English Civil War 1641-1649 (London: Longman, 1983).

C.B. MacPherson, The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism: Hobbes to Locke (Oxford University Press, 1975).

Politics and People in Revolutionary England, ed. C. Jones M. Newitt, and S. Roberts (Oxford: Blackwell, 1986).

Michael B. Levy, “Property and the Levellers: The Case of John Lilburne,” The Western Political Quarterly, vol. 36, no. 1 (March 1983), pp. 116-33.

The Putney Debates of 1647: The Army, the Levellers and the English State, ed. Michael Mendle (Cambridge University Press, 2001).

L. Solt, Saints in Arms: Puritanism and Democracy in Cromwell’s Army (Stanford University Press, 1959).

Christopher Hill, Some Intellectual Consequences of the English Revolution (The University of Wisconsin Press, 1980).

Three British Revolutions: 1641, 1688, 1776, ed. J.G.A. Pocock (Princeton University Press, 1980).

Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974).

John Lilburne and the Levellers (Commentary) - History

Political firebrand who began his career as a martyr for Puritan doctrine, became a champion of the Levellers and political democracy, and ended his days as a Quaker and pacifist.

“. If the World was emptied of all but John Lilburne, Lilburne would quarrel with John, and John with Lilburne. ”

John Lilburne, c.1615-1657 : J ohn Lilburne was born in Sunderland , the third son of a minor country gentleman. After attending schools in Bishop Auckland and Newcastle-upon-Tyne , he was apprenticed to Thomas Hewson, a London clothier and Puritan. He remained with Hewson from around 1630 to 1636. During his apprenticeship, Lilburne immersed himself in the Bible, Foxe's Book of Martyrs and the writings of the Puritan divines. In 1636, he was introduced to the Puritan physician John Bastwick, an active pamphleteer against episcopacy who, with William Prynne and Henry Burton, was persecuted by Archbishop Laud in a famous case in 1637. From: British Civil Wars, Commonwealth and Protectorate 1638-60

John Lilburne: The First English Libertarian : He became known to his contemporaries as "Freeborn John." He described himself as "a lover of his country and sufferer for the common liberty." His biographer Pauline Gregg concluded: He could be called the first English Radical — a great-hearted Liberal — a militant Christian — even if the spirit of his teaching were taken fully into account, the first English democrat. But it is better to leave him without a label, enshrined in the words he spoke for his party: "And posterity we doubt not shall reap the benefit of our endeavours, what ever shall become of us." His courageous campaigns for liberty resulted in him spending much of his life in prisons. These included Fleet prison in London , Oxford Castle , the notorious Newgate prison also in London , the Tower of London , Mount Orgueil Castle in Jersey, and Dover Castle . When Lilburne was brought before the court of Star Chamber, he refused to take the oath. "It is this trial that has been cited by constitutional jurists and scholars in the United States of America as being the historical foundation of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. It is also cited within the 1966 majority opinion of Miranda v Arizona by the U.S. Supreme Court." The late United States Supreme Court Judge Hugo Black, who often cited the works of John Lilburne in his opinions, wrote in an article for Encyclopaedia Britannica that he believed John Lilburne's constitutional work of 1649 was the basis for the basic rights contained in the U.S. Constitution. By: Peter Richards at

The Levellers:The Levellers were a group of political activists in the 17th century, who campaigned for radical change, by writing and distributing pamphlets, petitions and manifestos and by arranging meetings in taverns to spread their ideas. Among their leading writers and pamphleteers, besides John Lilburne, were Richard Overton, William Walwyn, Thomas Prince, and John Wildman. Probably the most famous document compiled by the Levellers is one entitled An Agreement of the People. The demands listed included regular elections, religious freedom, equality before the law, an end to conscription for war service, equal electoral districts according to population, and universal manhood suffrage. By: Peter Richards at

Selected Works of the Levellers: The Levellers were a group of English reformers mainly active during the period from 1645 through 1649, who originated many of the ideas that eventually became provisions of the U.S. Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights. Inspired by the Petition of Right of 1628, and led by John Lilburne, beginning as a lieutenant of Oliver Cromwell, they initially supported the Protectorate, but then turned against it when Cromwell failed to make the reforms they demanded. The response was the prosecution of most of its leaders, who were either imprisoned or executed. Their proposals continued, however, to inspire political philosophers and future generations of reformers. They appear to have influenced their contemporary, Thomas Hobbes, and later writers such as James Harrington and John Locke. Their proposals were revived during the Revolution of 1688 to produce the English Bill of Rights in 1689, which led to the Whig party in Britain that supported many of the reforms for Britain sought by the Americans during the War of Independence. During the period of their greatest activity, the Levellers produced a number of political documents, which have been gathered and published by various editors. We present several of those collections here, which have some overlap in their contents.

“Agreement of the Free people of England ”: This manifesto for constitutional reform in Britain paved the way for many of the civil liberties we cherish today: universal vote, the right to silence in the dock, equal parliamentary constituencies, everyone being equal under the law, the right not to be conscripted into the army, and many others. This particular version was smuggled out of the Tower of London , where Lilburne and the others were being held captive. All Leveller soldiers, and they were the majority in many regiments, carried this agreement proudly tucked into their hat-band.

British History Online: This searchable database provides full text access to the proceedings and documents of the House of Lords and Commons during the time of John Lilburne’s trials. Search : John Lilburne

Journal of the House of Lords: Volumes 4 – 10, 1629-1649

Journal of the House of Commons: Volumes 1 – 12, 1547-1699

Star-Chamber February, 1637: “Information was preferred in Star-Chamber by the King's Attorney-General, against John Lilburne and John Warton, for the unlawful Printing and Publishing of Libellous and Seditious Books, Entituled News from Ipswich, &c. they were brought up to the Office, and there refused to take an Oath to answer Interrogatories, saying it was the Oath ex Officio, and that no free-born English man ought to take it, not being bound by the Law to accuse himself, (whence ever after he was called Free-born John ) his offence was aggravated, in that he printed these Libellous and Seditious Books, contrary to a Decree in Star-Chamber, prohibiting printing without License: which Decree was made this Year in the Month of July, and was to this effect.”

From: 'Historical Collections: 1637 (3 of 5)', Historical Collections of Private Passages of State: Volume 2: 1629-38 (1721), pp. 461-481.

Star Chamber ‘Condigne Punishment’ of John Lilburne – 1637:

“Ordered ye 18th Touching Lilburne Prison[e]r in the Fleete: Where as John Lilburne Prison[e]r in the Fleet by Sentence in Starr Chamber did this day suffer condigne Punishment for his sev[er]all offences, by whipping at a cart and standing in the pillory and as their Lo[rdshi]pps were this day informed, during the time that his Body was under the said execution, audatiously and wickedly not only utter sundry scandalous and seditious speeches, but likewise scattered sundry Copies of seditious Bookes amongst the people that beheld the said execut[i]on for w[hi]ch very thing amongst other offences of like nature hee had beene censured in the said co[u]rt by the foresaid Sentence It was thereupon ordered by their Lo[rdshi]pps That the said Lilburne should bee Layed alone w[i]th Irons on his hands and Leggs in the wardes of the Fleete, where the basest and meanest sorte of Prison[e]rs are used to bee putt, And that the Warden of the Fleete take especiall care to hinder resort of any p[er]son whatsoever unto him, and p[ar]ticularly that hee bee not supplyed w[i]th any hand, And that hee take especiall notice of all L[ette]res Writings and Books brought unto him, and seaze and deliver the same unto their Lo[rdshi]pps, And take notice from time to time, who they bee that resort to the said Prison to vissitt the said Lilburne or to speake w[i]th him, and informe the Board. And it was lastly ordered, that hereafter all p[er]sons that shalbee p[ro]duced to receave Corporall punishm[en]t according to Sentence of that Court or by order of the Board, shall have their Garment[e]s searched before they bee brought forth, and neither writing nor other Thing suffered to bee about them, and their hands likewise to bee bound during the time they are under punishm[en]t, whereof (together w[i]th the other p[re]mises) the said Warden of the Fleete, is hereby required to take notice and to have especiall care, that this their Lo[rdshi]pps order bee accordingly observed.”

Lilburn's Judgement by the House of Lords 1646: . "It is to be remembered, that, the Tenth Day of July, in the Two and Twentieth Year of the Reign of our Sovereign Lord King Charles, Sir Nathaniell Finch Knight, His Majesty's Serjeant at Law, did deliver in, before the Lords assembled in Parliament at Westm'r, certain Articles against Lieutenant Colonel John Lilburne, for High Crimes and Misdemeanors done and committed by him, together with certain Books and Papers thereunto annexed which Articles, and the said Books and Papers thereunto annexed, are filed among the Records of Parliament the Tenor of which Articles followeth, in these Words:

"It was then and there, (that is to say,) the said Tenth Day of July, by their Lordships Ordered, That the said John Lilbourne be brought to the Bar of this House the 11th Day of the said July, to answer the said Articles, that thereupon their Lordships might proceed therein according as to Justice should appertain at which Day, scilicet, the 11th Day of July, Anno Domini 1646, the said John Lilburne, according to the said Order, was brought before the Peers then assembled and sitting in Parliament, to answer the said Articles and the said John Lilburne being thereupon required, by the said Peers in Parliament, to kneel at the Bar of the said House, as is used in such Cases, and to hear his said Charge read, to the End that he might be enabled to make Defence thereunto, the said John Lilburne, in Contempt and Scorn of the said High Court, did not only refuse to kneel at the said Bar, but did also, in a contemptuous Manner, then and there, at the open Bar of the said House, openly and contemptuously refuse to hear the said Articles read, and used divers contemptuous Words, in high Derogation of the Justice, Dignity, and Power of the said Court and the said Charge being nevertheless then and there read, the said John Lilburne was then and there, by the said Lords assembled in Parliament, demanded what Answer or Defence he would make thereunto the said John Lilburne, persisting in his obstinate and contemptuous Behaviour, did peremptorily and absolutely refuse to make any Defence or Answer to the said Articles and did then and there, in high Contempt of the said Court, and of the Peers there assembled, at the open Bar of the said House of Peers, affirm, "That they were Usurpers and unrighteous Judges, and that he would not answer the said Articles" and used divers other insolent and contemptuous Speeches against their Lordships and that High Court: Whereupon the Lords assembled in Parliament, taking into their serious Consideration the said contemptuous Carriage and Words of the said John Lilburne, to the great Affront and Contempt of this High and Honourable Court, and the Justice, Authority, and Dignity thereof it is therefore, this present 11th Day of July, Ordered and Adjudged, by the Lords assembled in Parliament, That the said John Lilburne be fined, and the said John Lilburne by the Lords assembled in Parliament, for his said Contempt, is fined, to the King's Majesty, in the Sum of Two Thousand Pounds: And it is further Ordered and Adjudged, by the said Lords assembled in Parliament, That the said John Lilburne, for his said Contempts, be and stand committed to The Tower of London, during the Pleasure of this House: And further the said Lords assembled in Parliament, taking into Consideration the said contemptuous Refusal of the said John Lilburne to make any Defence or Answer to the said Articles, did Declare, That the said John Lilburne ought not thereby to escape the Justice of this House but the said Articles, and the Offences thereby charged to have been committed by the said John Lilburne, ought thereupon to be taken as confessed: Therefore the Lords assembled in Parliament, taking the Premises into Consideration, and for that it appears by the said Articles that the said John Lilburne hath not only maliciously published several scandalous and libelous Passages of a very high Nature against the Peers of this Parliament therein particularly named, and against the Peerage of this Realm in general, but contrived, and contemptuously published, and openly at the Bar of the House delivered, certain scandalous Papers, to the high Contempt and Scandal of the Dignity, Power, and Authority of this House: All which Offences, by the peremptory Refusal of the said John Lilburne to answer or make any Defence to the said Articles, stand confessed by the said Lilburne as they are in the said Articles charged:

"It is, therefore, the said Day and Year last abovementioned, further Ordered and Adjudged, by the Lords assembled in Parliament, upon the whole Matter in the said Articles contained,

"1. That the said John Lilburne be sined to the King's Majesty in the Sum of Two Thousand Pounds.

"2. And, That he stand and be imprisoned in The Tower of London, by the Space of Seven Years next ensuing.

"3. And further, That he, the said John Lilburne, from henceforth stand and be uncapable to bear any Office or Place, in Military or in Civil Government, in Church or Commonwealth, during his Life."

From: 'House of Lords Journal Volume 8: 17 September 1646', Journal of the House of Lords: volume 8: 1645-1647 (1802), pp. 493-494.

Lilburne on Trial for High Treason: On the October 24, Lieutenant Colonel John Lilburne was charged under the Treason Acts of May 14 and July 17, 1649 — acts passed no doubt with the express purpose of charging Lilburne with high treason. The trial began early on the morning of October 25, after the members of the Extraordinary Commission of Oyer and Terminer, consisting of 40 dignitaries led by the lord mayor, took their places in the Guildhall in London to preside over the case. The courtroom was packed with Lilburne's friends and supporters. Lilburne contested point after point and when the prosecution read out extracts from Lilburne's pamphlets, the public often applauded. After the indictment was read out, Lilburne requested more time to prepare his defense and gather witnesses. He was granted an afternoon's respite only. The court reconvened at 7 AM the following morning. After a long day of listening to Lilburne being subjected to intense questioning, the jury finally retired at 5 PM. Within an hour they reached their verdict: not guilty of all charges. Cheers rang out in the courtroom and celebrations continued all evening. Church bells tolled throughout London , bonfires were lit and feasting was enjoyed by John's many supporters. A special medal was struck to commemorate the occasion, with John's portrait on one side and the names of the members of the jury on the other. John Lilburne was returned to the Tower, his release being delayed until November 8, when his fellow prisoners Walwyn, Overton, and Prince were also discharged. The Levellers held a great feast at the King's Head Tavern in Fish Street to celebrate the occasion.

5 Howell's State Trials 411-412, (1649) Statement of John Lilburne : ‘For certainly it cannot be denied, but if he be really an offender, he is such by the breach of some law, made and published before the fact, and ought by due process of law, and verdict of 12 men, to be thereof convict, and found guilty of such crime unto which the law also hath prescribed such a punishment agreeable to that our fundamental liberty which enjoineth that no freeman of England should be adjudged of life, limb, liberty, or estate, but by Juries a freedom which parliaments in all ages contended to preserve from violation as the birthright and chief inheritance of the people, as may appear most remarkably in the Petition of Right, which you have stiled that most excellent law.‘And therefore we trust upon second thoughts, being the parliament of England, you will be so far from bereaving us, who have never forfeited our right, of this our native right, and way of Trials by Juries, (for what is done unto any one, may be done unto every one), that you will preserve them entire to us, and to posterity, from the encroachments of any that would innovate upon them * * *.‘And it is believed, that * * * had (the cause) at any time either at first or last been admitted to a trial at law, and had passed any way by verdict of twelve sworn men: all the trouble and inconveniences arising thereupon and been prevented: the way of determination by major votes of committees, being neither so certain nor so satisfactory in any case as by way of Juries, the benefit of challenges and exceptions, and unanimous consent, being all essential privileges in the latter whereas committees are tied to no such rules, but are at liberty to be present or absent at pleasure. Besides, Juries being birthright, and the other but new and temporary, men do not, nor, as we humbly conceive, ever will acquiesce in the one as in the other from whence it is not altogether so much to be wondered at, if upon dissatisfactions, there have been such frequent printing of men's cases, and dealings of Committees, as there have been and such harsh and inordinate heats and expressions between parties interested, such sudden and importunate appeals to your authority, being indeed all alike out of the true English road, and leading into nothing but trouble and perlexity, breeding hatred and enmities between worthy families, affronts and disgust between persons of the same public affection and interest, and to the rejoicing of none but public adversaries. All which, and many more inconveniences, can only be avoided, by referring all such cases to the usual Trials and final determinations of law.’

John Lilburne - Leveller l eader: On 26 October 1649, amid tumultuous scenes at Westminster , a high-profile political trial ended in chaos. A jury had acquitted John Lilburne, the charismatic leader of the Levellers, of a charge of high treason against the recently formed English Republic . Within days a commemorative medal had been struck, bearing Lilburne's image and the names of the jury. This dramatic episode and the media frenzy with which it was surrounded encapsulate the romance of the Leveller movement and the potency of the threat which Lilburne was perceived to represent to the political establishment. Although he was acquitted in 1649, Lilburne became a marked man. He was soon exiled to the Continent and then, upon his illegal return in 1653, was subjected to another set-piece trial and further imprisonment. The Levellers, with Lilburne broken in body and spirit, disintegrated as a political force, and Lilburne himself died a Quaker in 1657. However, Leveller ideas would resurface in different forms over the ensuing centuries and 'Lilburnism', a dramatic new form of political activism, never disappeared. From the National Archives:

Judgment a gainst Lilburne, 1652: According to former Order, Lieutenant Colonel John Lilburne was this Day brought to the Bar in the Parliamenthouse, to receive the Judgment given against him by the Parliament: And, being at the Bar, he was commanded to kneel but he obstinately denied to kneel at the Bar and thereupon was commanded to withdraw.

From: 'House of Commons Journal Volume 7: 20 January 1652', Journal of the House of Commons: volume 7: 1651-1660 (1802), pp. 74-75.

An Intercepted Letter 1653:
“The last weeke John Lilbourne was five times at his triall at the sessions-house, where he most couragiously defended himselfe from Mr. Steele the recorder his violent assaults, with his old buckler, magna charta soe that they have let him alone, although he be not yeat quitted. Cromwell thought this fellow soe considerable, that during the time of his triall he kept three regiments continually in armes about St. James. There were many tickets throwne about with these words

And what, shall then honest John Lilbourn die?

Threescore thousand will know the reason why.

Lilbourne encountred Prideaux with soe many opprobrious termes, that he caused him absolutely to quit the field. Titus was one of Lilbourne's accusers, and the duke of Buckingham's name is much used therein. Sir, I had almost forgot to acquaint you, that that arch-villaine Bampfield hath bin lately with Cromwell but as for the particulars of his business I shall deferr untill another my next, not having time to enquire it out throughly, especially since I keepe my chamber, being in some seare of the vertigo. I believe you have senn the new declarion of the representative, otherwise you should have receaved it from, For Mr. Edwards theise are. Sir, your ever faithfull and obedient servant, Peter Richardson.”

From: 'State Papers, 1653: July (4 of 5)', A collection of the State Papers of John Thurloe, volume 1: 1638-1653 (1742), pp. 363-376 .

Resolved, by the Parliament, Nov. 1653 , That the Lieutenant of the Tower of London be enjoined and required to detain and keep the Body of Lieutenant John Lilburne in safe Custody, in the Tower of London, and not to remove or carry him from thence, notwithstanding any Habeas Corpus granted, or to be granted, for that Purpose, by the Court of Upper-Bench, or any other Court, until the Parliament take further Order.

From: 'House of Commons Journal Volume 7: 26 November 1653', Journal of the House of Commons: volume 7: 1651-1660 (1802), pp. 358.

From The Dutch ambassadors at London to the States General 1653.

High and mighty Lords. we do presume that the government here hath had some notice of some secret correspondence and designs for king Charles for which several persons of quality are put into the tower. Lieutenant col. Lilburne was likewise put there but since he is sent to the islands of Man, Guernsey , or Sorlings, there to evaporate his turbulent humours whereof he is full, as they say here. 'Tis believed, that the twelve sworn jury-men, who did clear and discharge him, will not escape unpunished either in bodies or estates. The fleet of this state, which is said to be an hundred sail strong, or thereabouts, are most of them at sea although others do assure us of the contrary. We were glad to receive your lordships resolutions concerning the poor prisoners here, and we shall govern ourselves therein for the best advantage of the state. My lords, Westminster , 12/2 Sept. 1653. your lordships humble servant.

From: 'State Papers, 1653: September (1 of 6)', A collection of the State Papers of John Thurloe, volume 1: 1638-1653 (1742), pp. 445-455.

The Just Defense of John Lilburne 1653 : Written while on trial for his life. An activist for nearly twenty years, and advocate for radical legal reforms, John Lilburne was accused of treason and tried in a hugely important trial. (When the jury refused to convict, he was re-arrested and imprisoned on the Isle of Jersey, out of reach of habeas corpus protections – shades of Guantanamo after 9/11.)

Fear of Public Reaction to Lilburne’s Trial 1653: “The business of lieutenant col. Lilburne hath been for these three days continually upon hearing, and after a pleading of twelve or sixteen hours long, was the day before yesterday ended in the night, and pronounced to his advantage and discharge, without being released out of prison: notwithstanding it is thought, that they will not leave him so, but bring him before a high court of Justice, and there accuse him of treason and other crimes yea it is very certain, that many of the parliament are very bitter against him, and irritated the more by his book written in prison, wherein he doth grosly exclaim against them and their government.

Out of fear of insurrections and commotions, three regiments of foote and one of horse were sent for to town, who marcht through the city on Saturday last and here were some libells scattered up and down not long since, that if Lilburne doe suffer death, there are twenty thousand, that will die with him. What further will be done with him, shall be advised to your excellency by the next.”

From: 'State Papers, 1653: August (5 of 5)', A collection of the State Papers of John Thurloe, volume 1: 1638-1653 (1742), pp. 435-445.

Lilburne Cleared by Jury 1653:

My lord. L. co1. John Lilburn is cleared by a jury. There were six or seven hundred men at his trial with swords, pistolls, bills, daggers, and other instruments, that in case they had not cleared him, they would have imployed in his defence. The joy and acclamation was so great after he was cleared, that the shout was heard an English mile, as is said but he is not yet released out of prison, and it is thought they will try him at a high court of Justice.

Westminster , 26 Aug./5 Sept. 1653.

From: 'State Papers, 1653: August (5 of 5)', A collection of the State Papers of John Thurloe, volume 1: 1638-1653 (1742), pp. 435-445.

Retrial Likely 1653: My lord . The proceedings against Lilburne Saturday last after a pleading of sixteen hours were determined, and he declared not guilty of any crime worthy of death. Since the twelve jurymen have been called to account before the council, to give an account of their verdict and in the mean time he remaineth a prisoner. It seems, they will charge him with further crimes of treason, and will judge him by a high court of justice. There are two or three others of quality put into the tower about some plot for the service of the king and that they should have held correspondence with the said Lilburn. I could with I could find more matter to entertain your lordship. My lord, Westminster , 26 Aug/5 Sept. 1653.

From: 'State Papers, 1653: August (5 of 5)', A collection of the State Papers of John Thurloe, volume 1: 1638-1653 (1742), pp. 435-445.

“The Resurrection” of John Lilburne 1655, Now a Prisoner in Dover-Castle: Two letters by John Lilburne (one to his wife, Elizabeth, quoting a scrap of hers) and biblical analysis, written from prison and published on his instruction to explain to his friends and supporters that he had become a Quaker. Lilburne became a Friend during what was to be his final stay in prison, declaring that "by the spirit and power of life from God, that now aloud again speaks within me . I am at present become dead to my former busling actings in the world, and now stand ready. to hear and obey all things that the lively voice of God speaking in my soul require of me."

Supreme Court of the United States: References to John Lilburne:

Gannett Co. v. DePasquale: 443 U.S. 368 (1979). Sixth amendment right to a public trial. “the first fundamental liberty of an Englishman” The Trial of John Lilburne” 4 How. St. Tr. 1270.

Jenkins v. McKeithen: 395 U.S. 411 (1969). Due process right to a public trial.

Talley v. California : 362 U.S. 60 (1960) re: anonymous pamphlets and press licensing. “John Lilburne was whipped, pilloried and fined for refusing to answer questions designed to get evidence to convist him or someone else for the secret distribution of books in England .”

Barenblatt v. United States : 360 U.S. 109 (1959) re: the House Un-American Activities Committee. “The memory of one of these, John Lilburne – banished and disgraced by a parliamentary committee on penalty of death if he returned to the country – was particularly vivid when our Constitution was written. His attack on trials by such committees and his warning that ‘what is done unto any one may be done unto every one’ were part of thehistory of the times.”

In re Oliver: 333 U.S. 257 (1948) “In 1649, a few years after the Long Parliament abolished the Court of Star Chamber, an accused charged with high treason before a Special Commission of Oyer and Terminer claimed the right to public trial and apparently was given such a trial. Trial of John Lilburne, 4 How.St.Tr. 1270, 1274. ‘By immemorial usage, wherever the common law prevails, all trials are in open court, to which spectators are admitted.’ 2 Bishop, New Criminal Procedure s 957 (2d Ed.1913).”

H.N. Brailsford, The Levellers and the English Revolution, Spokesman, Nottingham , 1983.

Joseph Frank, The Levellers a history of the writings of three seventeenth-century social democrats: John Lilburne, Richard Overton and William Walwyn, Russell & Russell , New York , 1969.

Samuel R. Gardiner, The History of the Great Civil War: 1642�, Longmans, Green and Co., London , 1891.

Mildred Ann Gibb, John Lilburne, the Leveller, a Christian Democrat, L. Drummond, London , 1947.

Pauline Gregg, Free-born John, Phoenix Press, London , 2000.

Roderick Moore, The Levellers: A Chronology and Bibliography, Study Guide No.4, Libertarian Alliance , London .

A.L. Morton (editor), Freedom in Arms: A Selection of Leveller Writings, Lawrence and Wishart, London , 1975.

Dianne Purkiss, The English Civil War: A People's History, Harper Perennial, London , 2007.

Nicholas Reed, John Lilburne: Campaigner for Democracy, Lilburne Press, Folkestone, 2004.

Andrew Sharp ed., The English Levellers, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge , 1988.

David Starkey, Monarchy: From the Middle Ages to Modernity, Harper Press, London , 2006.

A.S.P. Woodhouse (editor), Puritanism and Liberty, J. M. Dent and Sons Ltd, London , 1938.

Austin Woolrych, Britain in Revolution: 1625�, Oxford University Press, Oxford , 2002.

Leveller John Lilburne and the Liberal-Republican Tradition

I locate the Leveller John Lilburne within the broader literature on the history of political thought and I challenge scholars who associate Lilburne's Leveller political thought with Hobbesian liberty, with proto-libertarianism, or with proto-bourgeois political thought. I advance an understanding of Lilburne as creatively merging central tenets of proto-liberalism with central tenets of republicanism. To develop this amalgamation of ideas, I go considerably beyond the Agreement of the People and the Putney Debates to explore the larger Leveller corpus. Through this investigation I articulate Lilburne's account of key concepts in the history of political thought including: liberty, tyranny, rights, rule, political participation, popular sovereignty, civic virtue, self-interest, harmony, antagonism, and institutional design. I conclude by arguing that we should consider the Levellers, particularly John Lilburne, as offering an early example of what has come to be called liberal-republican political thought, a way of theorizing found within the writings of English Commonwealthsmen.


All the movements mentioned in this series had strong ideas about the way society should be organised and they were often printed in manifestos in order to spreads their ideas widely. The Diggers manifesto predates Marx’s Communist Manifesto by hundreds of years, yet it can be seen as pre-cursor to Marx’s idea of communism. The use of manifestos are still very much with us today with as different economic models being proposed, green manifestos highlighting the need to save the planet to the commons movement that is once again arguing for resources to be held in common as Winstanley and the Diggers did in the past.

Diggers songs

Two versions of the World turned upside down song about the diggers the first by Leon Rosselson who wrote the song the second a cover by Billy Bragg.

Talk about the diggers by Gerard Winstanleys distant relative:

Watch the video: Part 1 Rev Hammers Freeborn John: The Story of John Lilburne - The Leader of The Levellers (July 2022).


  1. Ainslie

    Respect for the author. The info turned out to be very useful.

  2. Willy

    What are all these people talking about in the comments? o_O

  3. Odakota

    Who knows it.

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