The Levellers

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F. D. Dow (essay date 1985)

SOURCE: "The Levellers," in Radicalism in the English Revolution, 1640-1660, pp. 30-56. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1985.

[In the following essay, Dow studies the political factors leading to the emergence of the Leveller party. He also discusses various intellectual, religious, and philosophical influences on Leveller ideology, examines the primary goals of the party, and reviews the strengths and weaknesses of Leveller organization.]

In recent times the Levellers have enjoyed a diminishing reputation among historians of seventeenth-century England. Once hailed as the champions of a democratic revolution who were defeated only by the political turncoats in the New Model Army, and still referred to by some present-day politicans as the founding fathers of the working-class movement, the Levellers have been severely cut down to size by the current triumph of the revisionists. Their significance in the English Revolution, it is now claimed, has been seriously overestimated by writers such as H. N. Brailsford and Christopher Hill. Marxist as well as conservative historians would now question the extent of their support, their impact on events (especially in the heady days of the army revolt in 1647), and the true nature of their apparently radical and democratic programme. None the less, despite the reservations about the movement which many historians now share, it is hard to deny that, in comparison with the parliamentarians and republicans whom we have examined so far, the Levellers broke new ground in several ways. They went farther than other groups in tackling the problem of building a new constitution instead of merely tinkering with the balance of institutions in the old. They sought to extend active political rights well beyond the charmed circle of the elite, and to develop new mechanisms for enforcing the accountability of the governors to the governed. They grounded their programme on a new ideological basis by developing arguments based on the doctrines of natural rights and of popular sovereignty. And they mobilized support for their movement by employing sophisticated modern techniques of propaganda and organization.

Disagreement among historians on the essential nature of the movement has been compounded by ambiguities in its composition and in its ideology, which in turn spring from the circumstances in which the Leveller party was formed and the way in which its policy was formulated. Rising out of the immediate political and religious turmoil of 1646-9, but tapping also longer-term social and economic grievances, the Leveller movement throve on the very fact that it had a multifaceted appeal and could for a brief period represent many things to many men. Both ideologically and socially it was, as the Baptist Henry Denne described it, a very heterogeneous body. Its rapid rise and fall, its relatively short life, the fact that the leaders and their followers were thrown together by the crisis of the moment, all this meant that intellectual coherence suffered at the hands of an urgent need to hammer out a programme. The Levellers were not like a revolutionary party which had had a long period in opposition or in exile during which to assimilate and integrate various strands in its political thinking. Some historians have chosen to see a fundamental distinction between, on the one hand, those allegedly more moderate or 'constitutional' Levellers who concentrated on political reform and were less interested in social and economic restructuring and, on the other hand, the more radical wing of the movement, the 'true Levellers', which concerned itself with social democracy and economic problems and which had real affinities with the Diggers (Hill, 1975). This distinction seems much too arbitrary, and tends to obscure the...

(This entire section contains 24872 words.)

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rather more confused reality of the Leveller movement, where there was great internal flux and issues were seized upon and then abandoned as the political climate demanded. Changing external circumstances, especially relations with the New Model Army, dictated that policies (for example, on the franchise) should be modified and altered on grounds of expediency; and the individual concerns of particular leaders (such as Lilburne's interest in London's affairs or Overton's concern with social problems) might lead to specific issues being aired for a time without being fully and clearly integrated into the main platform. Policy documents designed to enlist mass support—the major petitions to parliament in March 1647 and September 1648 and the three Agreements of the People in November 1647, December 1648 and May 1649, for example—are a sure guide to the Leveller programme, but are not necessarily the fullest statements of Leveller views. To these must be added the writings of a veritable host of prominent figures in the movement: Lilburne himself was the author of eighty pamphlets, and Richard Overton wrote forty between September 1645 and July 1649 alone (Greaves and Zaller, 1983).

The embarrassment of riches which this vast outpouring of pamphlet literature presents to the student of Leveller ideology raises a further difficulty about the composition and membership of the movement. The presentation of such a wide range of issues, together with the mass propagandist techniques which were used to procure subscriptions to petitions and a large turnout at demonstrations, makes it tempting to overestimate the strength of the party as such. As we shall see, expressions of sympathy with the attitudes the Levellers struck were numerous and vocal, especially in parts of London and the south-east, but it is not certain that this generalized sympathy was translated into widespread committed, consistent and sustained support for all the details of the party programme. Even in London, active party membership was probably much smaller than the numbers who turned out to Leveller spectacles, such as Lilburne's trial or Rainsborough's funeral, would suggest. Identification with the grievances the Levellers articulated was undoubtedly more widespread than active support for the remedies they espoused. Conservative historians would particularly demur at the suggestion that the radical ideology of the Leveller leaders was typical even of those social groups from which most support for the movement came. Clubmen, not Levellers (or Diggers), were arguably the true representatives of the wishes of the middling sort.… The Levellers' failure to build up solid grassroots commitment to the party and its official programme outside a limited section of the population of the south-east was, as we shall see, one of the main reasons for the downfall of the movement.

None the less, the difficulty of determining the nature of the Leveller programme or the extent of its support should not blind us to an appreciation of just how remarkable a phenomenon the Leveller movement of mid-seventeenth-century England was. 'Nowhere else', G. E. Aylmer writes, 'before the 1760s, or even perhaps before 1789, do we find the combination of radical journalism and pamphleteering, ideological zeal, political activism, and mass organization that prevailed in England from 1646 to 1649' (Aylmer, 1975, p. 9).

Origins and Influences

In explaining the background to and the origins of the Leveller movement we can look at three main sets of factors. First, there were particular grievances which the Levellers could exploit and which provided them with the issues on which to focus: these grievances encompassed both long- and short-term economic and social factors, the exceptional political conditions of the mid-1640s, and the religious disputes into which the nation had been plunged by the dismantling of episcopacy. Secondly, there was the intellectual heritage on which the Levellers could draw to establish the ideological underpinning for their programme of reform: this included the legacy of radical Protestantism; the doctrines of natural law and popular consent, which were ripe for extension into theories of natural rights and popular sovereignty; and particular interpretations of the course of English history since 1066. And third, there were models of popular participation, examples drawn from the actual political and religious experiences of Leveller leaders and supporters, which could inspire the party as it strove to develop practical solutions to the ills of the time.

The socio-economic preconditions for the rise of a movement like the Levellers had been created by long-term changes in landholding and in manufacturing. Those changes which had adversely affected the status and prosperity of the urban and rural 'middling sort of people' were especially important in providing potential supporters for the Levellers, who were to become principally the spokesmen for the 'industrious sort'. Pressure on the smaller peasant farmer who lacked the resources of his larger neighbour to benefit from an expanding market and rising prices; the discontent of the insecure copyholder subject to rack-renting; and the fear of the small cottager or husbandman at the prospect of enclosure, produced dissatisfaction which the Levellers could tap and issues on which they could take a stand. Of even greater significance were the problems of the small craftsmen and tradesmen, particularly in the towns, whose independence seemed threatened by large-scale merchants and entrepreneurs. The existence of such problems in London was crucially important, for the capital was to provide the core of the Leveller movement. Here a large pool of discontent existed among journeymen unable, because of changes in the structure of manufacturing, to find the resources to set up as masters in their own right. Anger smouldered among small tradesmen and merchants chafing at the alleged oppression of the guilds, the livery companies and, above all, the Merchant Adventurers; and indignation reigned among all those London householders who felt their economic rights and political interests threatened by corruption and oligarchy in the municipal government itself.

Many of these long-term economic grievances were felt throughout the early seventeenth century, but discontent was seriously exacerbated by the particular distress of the years from 1646 to 1649. The dislocations of war had seriously disrupted trade, unemployment increased, prices rose but wages failed to keep pace and at the end of the decade harvests were extremely poor. To add to this distress, parliament's imposition of taxes to pay for the army, especially the hated excise, had raised the price of consumable goods even further, again to the particular annoyance of the London tradesmen. In January 1648 a pro-Leveller pamphlet entitled The Mournfull Cryes of many thousand poor Tradesmen, who are ready to famish through decay of Trade gave vent to this collection of grievances:

Its your Taxes, Customs, and Excize, that compells the Countrey to raise the price of food, and to buy nothing from us but meer absolute necessaries; and then you of the City that buy our Work, must have your Tables furnished, and your Cups overflow; and therefore will give us little or nothing for our Work, even what you please, because you know we must sell for moneys to set our Families on work, or else we famish: Thus our Flesh is that whereupon you Rich men live, and wherewith you deck and adorn yourselves. (quoted in Shaw, 1968, p. 118)

London was, therefore, important to the Levellers because it was the scene of much economic distress for the small trader and artisan, but it was also significant because it was the focus of political and religious debate.

By 1646 the fighting in the Civil War had ended, but peace brought its problems no less profound than war. Between 1646 and 1649 the fundamental question of what to do with the King and what sort of political settlement to erect in the wake of parliamentary victories had to be resolved. An important consideration in all this was not simply how to preserve the gains made against the King, but also how to reach a settlement which would justify the sacrifices of ordinary people. Fears that these gains and sacrifices might be abandoned by parliament formed an essential backdrop to Leveller activities. As a developing issue, the quest for a settlement, coupled with radical suspicions of parliament's intentions, played a key part in determining the Levellers' relations with the officers and soldiers of the New Model Army. These relations in turn were crucial in determining how much influence the Levellers could exercise on the course of political events. In time it was to become very clear, not least in the Putney Debates of October-November 1647 and the Whitehall Debates of December 1648, that the Levellers and the Grandees (or senior officers) of the army differed on the nature of the political and religious settlement that should be reached with the King, and on the distribution of political power that should obtain in the new order. But in the immediate aftermath of the war it was also clear that both sides had good reason to fear and distrust the intentions of the dominant Presbyterian faction in parliament, that they shared a belief that a generous, compromise agreement should not be concluded with the King, and that by mid-1647 the Levellers had recognized that the army should have a large say in shaping the eventual settlement. The possibility of collaboration between the Levellers and the army Grandees would probably not have been seriously mooted, however, had it not been that the grievances and aspirations of the Levellers found such echoes among the rank and file that the Grandees had to take note in order to preserve the discipline and unity of the army. The radicalization of sections of the rank and file did not happen solely, or even directly, because of Leveller influence; it happened because the soldiers' perception of their own ill-treatment at the hands of the Presbyterian majority produced a political consciousness on which the Levellers could capitalize. The Levellers thus acted as a catalyst in forcing the soldiers to recognize and articulate their own role in producing a political settlement, but they were never powerful enough to make the Grandees dance entirely to the Leveller tune (Kishlansky, 1979a, 1979b). However, the Presbyterians' treatment of the army had provided the Levellers with an additional issue to exploit, an extra source of support on which to draw, and a lever with which to propel themselves into the political spotlight.

Integral to the confused politics of 1646-9 was the fact that a religious settlement also had to be hammered out in the wake of the destruction of episcopacy. In 1646 this issue came to a head when parliament prepared to erect a presbyterian system of church government. This attempt to set up a national church, to preserve the links between church and state and to impose discipline and unity on the godly, spurred into action those who wished to see a more tolerant system developed, with freedom for separatist churches and a loosening of the bonds between church and state. Many future Leveller supporters and leaders had already become convinced of the case for religious toleration in the early 1640s, and their desire to advance this cause was a key factor in the formation of the Leveller movement. The relationship between political and religious radicalism was very close, especially in London. Many separatist congregations or gathered churches had been formed in the very suburbs of the city where craftsmen and traders of the middling sort were suffering under the prevailing economic conditions. Each of the major Leveller spokesmen, including Richard Overton, William Walwyn and John Lilburne, had been involved in the struggle for religious freedom and had several years of pamphleteering and agitation behind them before they came together as a group in 1645. Religious toleration was a major issue in the Leveller campaign and occupied a vital position in their programme throughout the life of the party. The movement was crucially dependent for its strength on support from the gathered churches, and its appeal to radical elements in the army was likewise based in part on shared beliefs in toleration and liberty of conscience. In some ways the Leveller policy of political and social reform 'amounted to an expression of the aspirations of the sectarian community at large' (Tolmie, 1977, p. 149). Although the withdrawal of much sectarian support was eventually to cripple the Leveller movement, in its early days the large coincidence of views and the overlap in personnel between Levellers and religious radicals was crucially important in promoting and shaping the party.

Economic and social distress, concern over the political settlement with the King, and anxiety about the imposition of an oppressive religious system, provided both the context for the emergence of the Leveller movement and the issues on which its programme could focus. But the definition and elaboration of that programme did not only depend on the immediate practical concerns of its supporters. Its ideological content and its political language reflected the intellectual heritage of the leaders of the movement. Leveller ideology was based on three principal sets of ideas. Each of these had been prefigured in the parliamentarian ideology we examined in chapter 2, but whereas the parliamentarians had interpreted these notions in a restrictive, conservative manner, the Levellers developed and extended them in a liberal, radical and democratic direction.

The first major strand in Leveller thinking was the influence of radical Protestantism, which some writers would wish to define more narrowly as the influence of Calvinistic Puritanism. Certainly the Levellers owed a great debt to Puritanism, but by 1646 their leaders and many of their supporters had abandoned an orthodox Calvinist position. None the less some Calvinist notions were eminently transferrable, psychologically as much as theologically, from the religious to the secular sphere, and the ambiguities inherent in Calvinism could be exploited in a variety of ways (Woodhouse, 1974). The doctrine of predestination, for example, with its distinction between the elect and the reprobate, might immediately suggest an elitist, hierarchical view of society, but in Leveller hands a stress on equality within the elect could be used to support more egalitarian notions. Similarly, the Puritan emphasis on inner spiritual worth and godly virtue suggested new criteria for the exercise of power: the challenge to traditional notions of leadership and rank could be transmuted into a demand for the monopoly of the elite on political power to be broken. The Puritan belief in a person's direct relationship with God and individual responsibility in biblical interpretation and other matters, linked to the intensely personal experience of knowledge of one's own salvation, undoubtedly influenced the highly in-dividualistic temper of the Leveller movement. So too did the Puritan stress on activism, on the duty of the godly to act out God's purposes in the world, which encouraged a belief in the ability and right of the common people to control their own destiny through active political participation. Furthermore, the voluntarist principle, which enjoined the godly to gather together in separate congregations, not only led to demands for religious toleration, but influenced the Levellers' concept of self-government.

The Levellers' propensity to develop the doctrines of radical Protestantism in a liberal direction was extended and reinforced by the second major influence on their thought: this was a cluster of ideas stemming from what G.E. Aylmer calls the 'rationalist, optimistic temper of the Renaissance, and more specifically the neoclassical idea of Natural Law' (1975, p. 12). The Levellers built on doctrines of natural law to produce a radical theory of the natural rights of man. The idea of 'natural law' (which had been used by Henry Parker) implied a set of principles implanted in nature by God which were knowable by and consonant with reason; since man himself was a rational creature he could discern these principles which, the Levellers now claimed, included certain natural rights. In 1646, in The Free Man's Freedom Vindicated, John Lilburne expressed this concept thus: 'All and every particular and individual man and woman, that ever breathed in the world, are by nature all equal and alike in their power, dignity, authority and majesty, none of them having (by nature) any authority, dominion or magisterial power one over and above another' (Shaw, 1968, p. 100).

The principle of reason and the belief in equal natural rights led the Levellers to espouse theories of popular consent and popular sovereignty (they believed in fact that only consent could give scope to reason). Hence also their emphasis on 'trust', that is their belief that those who governed did so on the basis of trust between themselves and the people to whom they were accountable. Where the Levellers differed radically from theorists like Henry Parker was in their insistence that sovereignty resided in the people and had not been delegated to parliament, and in their consequent desire to establish active political rights for the people and to restrict the powers of the legislature (Frank, 1955; Tuck, 1979; Woodhouse, 1974; Zagorin, 1954).

The third major intellectual influence on Leveller ideology was a set of ideas about English history and English law. Like the 'ancient constitution' theorists before them, the Levellers relied on a historical myth to defend their claim to be restoring chosen liberties, but in their case it was the rights of the people, not the privileges of parliament, which principally concerned them. Their attitudes here were in some ways highly ambivalent. On the one hand they appealed to Magna Carta, statute law and the principles of the common law to defend their claims about the legal rights of the individual, yet at the same time they subscribed to the historical myth of the 'Norman Yoke'. In their view, far from the principles of the law and the constitution having been handed down in an unbroken line since time immemorial, the Norman Conquest of 1066 had marked a decisive break in English history: for them the Conquest represented the enslavement of a free English people and the repression of Anglo-Saxon representative institutions. They regarded the law itself as part of the Norman bondage, and despite appeals to Magna Carta and other enactments they believed the mainstream of the common law had been corrupted and that wide-ranging legal as well as political reform would be necessary to restore the lost rights and liberties of the people. Arguments based on the notion of lost liberties were not entirely consistent with those based on natural rights; the first argument focused on the recovery of rights which used to exist, the second on the pursuit of rights because they ought to exist (Hill, 1958). This reflects the transitional nature of much Leveller thinking, and their Janus-like use of extant political theories to point in new radical and even progressive directions.

The Levellers certainly did combine an appeal to history with an appeal to reason, but the emphasis lay most heavily on the latter. They had therefore moved away from using an adherence to tradition or a reliance on precedent as legitimizing arguments in themselves, and in their use of rationalist arguments they looked forward to Locke and Paine rather than back to the parliamentarians. Overall, indeed, the Levellers had made significant leaps forward in the development of a radical political ideology. It was a major advance to move from the spiritual equality of the elect to the equal political rights of saints and sinners alike, and from the rights of the godly to the liberties of all Englishmen, just as it was of crucial importance to progress from an appeal to precedent towards an appeal to reason. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Levellers do not always score highly in terms of logic and intellectual coherence. But as political activists and innovators, they pushed forward the frontiers of political debate, expressed the aspirations and grievances of sections of the population who had been ignored by many parliamentarian writers, and prefigured the radical agitators of the later eighteenth century.

It must also be remembered that the Leveller programme was the result not only of thought, but also of experience. This was certainly true of the leaders, especially John Lilburne. The issues on which the Levellers focused reflected almost exactly the problems of Lilburne's own career. Like John Wilkes in the 1760s, Lilburne managed to establish his personal history as a paradigm of national injustice and oppression. He had a boundless capacity for identifying his own sufferings with the cause of liberty: his tirades against the Merchant Adventurers' trading monopoly, the corruption of the government of London, and arbitrary methods of trial and imprisonment reflected his own personal disasters as well as matters of general concern. In particular, he was able to use his repeated arrest and imprisonment by the authorities to generalize about oppression in a way which struck a responsive chord among his listeners, and provided a focus for agitation by the London crowd. Economic disaster, religious persecution and legal oppression: Lilburne had suffered them all. For this reason he was the ideal leader of a movement which reflected the grievances of the middling sort (Greaves and Zaller, 1983; Gregg, 1961).

Another type of experience also found its expression in the Leveller creed. The solutions they propounded to remedy their grievances were rooted in and inspired by actual models of popular participation. Many writers have noted that not merely the ideology of Puritanism but also the practice of the separatist churches influenced the Levellers in their ideal view of state and society: the actual experience of a small, relatively democratic and egalitarian religious community produced perhaps a more powerful image of society for many Leveller supporters than did intellectual theorizing. Likewise there were some practical precedents for political participation by the middling orders. Keith Thomas has drawn attention to the model of local government, with its opportunities for service as constable, churchwarden and juryman, and to the extension of the franchise to some of the middling sort before 1640, and has argued that such participation at 'village level' was 'a familiar enough experience to make its extension to the parliamentary sphere seem by no means unreasonable' (1972, p. 61). The expansion of the electorate in the early seventeenth century, the increase in contested elections in 1640, and the existence of a few constituencies like Westminster with a fairly broad franchise certainly meant that the Levellers' vision of wider political participation had something on which to build. But the most forceful model of popular action was surely the involvement of the common people in the Civil War: not merely their contribution to the fighting (although service in the New Model Army was clearly for some an energizing and radicalizing experience), but also their involvement with and influence upon political debate and decision-making, especially in London. It was not the Levellers but the parliamentarian preachers who first encouraged the belief that the common people should act out God's purposes and shift from a passive to an active role. It was not the Levellers who first brought the crowds on to the streets of London: there was precedent aplenty for the expression of popular opinion in the demonstrations outside parliament in 1641-2 and in the continuing pressure from all kinds of petitioners (including massive peace demonstrations) since the outbreak of war. Heightened political expectations and heightened political activity were as much the cause as the consequence of the formation of the Leveller movement in London; and it was in part to make sense of and ensure some gains from this degree of popular participation that the Leveller programme arose.

Beliefs and Programme

The Levellers' intellectual heritage combined with the fruits of practical experience to produce a political programme which had as its main theme a belief in the rights and liberties of the individual. Their concept of freedom, however, was cast in terms of 'freedom from restraint' as well as 'freedom to act'. Therefore, although they put forward positive claims for active political rights to be granted to the people, the thrust of many of their proposals had a more negative aspect. They certainly supported the liberty of the people, but this was cause and consequence of the fact that they were against the power of oligarchy and monopoly in government, in the economy, in the legal system and in religion. This combination of the positive and the negative was well expressed by Lilburne. In 1648 he wrote that those 'nicknamed Levellers are the supporters and true defenders of liberty and propriety, or anti-grandees, anti-imposters, anti-monopolists, anti-arbitrarians and anti-[economic] Levellers' (quoted in Greaves and Zaller, 1983).

The Levellers' political and constitutional proposals were designed to express their belief that government originated in a social contract, that the actions of government required the consent of the people, and that ultimate sovereignty resided in the people. They argued that in England in the later 1640s legitimate government had in effect been dissolved: parliament had so denied the liberties of the people that it had forfeited its right to govern. Therefore government (and indeed society) would have to be reconstituted by a new social contract. Hence the Levellers espoused an 'Agreement of the People' which all citizens would subscribe and which would both reconstitute political society and define the fundamental principles of the new political system (Frank, 1955; Zagorin, 1954). Those printed manifestos entitled on 'Agreement of the People' (published in November 1647, December 1648 and May 1649) are therefore to be construed literally: they were conceived as mechanisms for establishing the consent of the people to a new form of government which could ultimately be endorsed by all citizens. In setting out what that new form of government should be, whether in the Agreements themselves or in other declarations of policy, the Levellers addressed themselves to two main questions. First, given the inherent sovereignty of the people, how could that sovereignty be actively and continuously expressed; and second, who exactly, for political purposes, were 'the people'? The first question was answered by designing a series of devices to ensure the accountability of parliament to the electorate, and by proposals to 'reserve' certain crucial powers to the people, to curtail executive power and to achieve a large measure of decentralization in government. The second problem, which was probably less important to Levellers than was the first, produced proposals for the extension of the franchise.

The Levellers wanted a parliament which could be made frequently and easily responsive to the popular will. For this reason they were hostile to the political power of the monarchy and the House of Lords, and were confirmed in this belief by their view that the King and the aristocracy had been the chief beneficiaries of that Norman Yoke which had been placed on the necks of the common people in 1066. Some Leveller writings did contain a theoretical defence of republicanism, and calls were clearly made for the abolition of monarchy and the House of Lords. Other spokesmen, however, were prepared to retain these institutions so long as neither had a 'negative voice' (or veto) over legislation. The real aim of policy on this issue was to ensure that popular sovereignty should be reflected, untrammelled by any other body, in a one-chamber assembly which exercised the sole legislative power in the state. To ensure the accountability of this assembly to the electorate, the Levellers also demanded frequent elections (either every one or every two years) and measures to reduce patronage and oligarchical influence both at elections and in the Commons itself. In this vein they wished to exclude lawyers from the Commons and to award MPs a modest salary to free them from economic dependence on rich patrons. A redistribution of parliamentary seats and an extension of the franchise would promote the same end.

These checks on the power of parliament were not deemed sufficient in themselves to translate the sovereignty of the people into a continuous political reality. The Levellers' experience gave them ample reason to be suspicious of men once they were in power and to fear the growth of corrupt, self-interested faction in the legislature. Their bitterness was vividly expressed in this cri de coeur in 1649: 'we have', they wrote 'by wofull experience found the prevalence of corrupt interests powerfully inclining most men once entrusted with authority, to pervert the same to their own domination, and to the prejudice of our Peace and Liberties' (quoted in Aylmer, 1975, p. 164). To counteract this they proposed that certain powers should be forever 'reserved' to the people; that is, certain subjects were declared to be so fundamental to the liberties of the people that they were put beyond the normal legislative competence of parliament. How decisions could be taken on these subjects if the need arose was never clearly spelled out, but probably the Levellers envisaged that the people would voice an opinion through some sort of referendum. The number and nature of these reserved powers varied according to the circumstances in which the Levellers found themselves. There were only five in the first Agreement of the People in November 1647, including religious toleration and equality before the law, both of which remained fundamental to this part of the Leveller programme; but by the third Agreement in May 1649, the number of reserved powers had been considerably expanded to include other matters of a less important legal and fiscal nature.

The Levellers' antagonism to those who held the reins of power also led to a desire to limit the executive in their new system of government. This is most noticeable in their pronouncements in 1649, after they had been bitterly humiliated by the army Grandees. In late 1648 the Leveller leaders had been outwardly courted by Cromwell and Ireton and invited to talks at Whitehall, but after the execution of the King in January 1649 it was clear that they had outlived their usefulness to the army command and could be summarily disposed of. Realizing this, and believing that the new republican regime was no more a friend to liberty than the old, the Levellers published bitter attacks on their new masters in Englands New Chains Discovered (two parts, February and March 1649), and in The Hunting of the Foxes (21 March 1649). They were also led to make more explicit their hostility to executive power as such. The Levellers seem to have assumed that when parliament was actually sitting, it would exercise full executive authority, subject to the checks which would normally operate on the competence of the legislature. When parliament was not in session other arrangements would have to be made: either a Council of State would be formed which would include MPs, or else a committee of MPs would exercise authority 'limited and bounded with express instructions, and accountable to the next section [session]' (Shaw, 1968, p. 79). The Levellers were clearly concerned to prevent the concentration of power in a few hands, and therefore did not wish to have an executive either powerful in itself or with the independent resources to fill parliament with its own supporters.

In various ways, then, Leveller insistence on the sovereignty of the people had led them to rethink the details of the political structure at national level. But equally important to their belief in government by popular consent was their keen interest in the local structure of authority and the decentralization of power. Indeed, there is no doubt that the Levellers imagined that, once their new system was in operation, power in the provinces would be much more important than government at the centre. Their demand for the election of officeholders by local communities was therefore crucial: in this way, public officials could be made responsible and responsive to the popular will in communities small enough to make that democratic control effective. The Levellers' proposals here overlapped with their demands for legal and judicial reform, for, in common with general opinion, the administration of justice and the enforcement of the law was in their view a large part of the work of government (Manning, 1976). Hence the desire for locally elected judicial officals and locally based law courts. The Earnest Petition of January 1648 demanded that 'some chosen Representatives of every Parish proportionably may be the Electors of the Sheriffs, Justices of the Peace, Committeemen, Grandjury men, and all ministers of Justice whatsoever' (Wolfe, 1944, p. 269). Decentralization was a consistent theme in many parts of the Leveller programme: it also influenced their demands for a locally trained and recruited militia in place of a centralized professional army, and it was reflected in their espousal of the independent rights of 'local' congregations. The revitalization of the small community—whether it be parish, borough, guild or church—was deemed essential to curb the power of oligarchy in law, politics, trade and religion. Decentralization was not merely as important as democracy: it was the indispensable condition for the democratization of the whole political system in church and state.

Among historians, Leveller plans for the devolution of power have received comparatively little emphasis compared with the close attention that has been given to the Leveller debate on the franchise. Despite various attempts to impose a spurious consistency on Leveller pronouncements on this subject, most writers would prefer simply to accept that the movement gave different answers at different times to the question 'who are the people?', and that there was always internal division on this issue. Therefore apparent shifts in opinion in the Levellers' public pronouncements are most usefully taken at face value. The logic of the Levellers' belief in the equal natural rights of every man and woman ought in theory to have impelled them towards the advocacy of universal suffrage. No one followed this path to the extent of calling for votes for women, but some Levellers clearly did demand universal manhood suffrage, although even this most radical group would have temporarily excluded men such as 'delinquents' (or former royalists). At the other end of the spectrum some moderate Levellers would have settled for a franchise restricted in the main to male heads of households owning modest amounts of property. In between, a case could be made for the exclusion of various types of working people. In The Case of the Armie Truly Stated (15 October 1647) Leveller influence in the army had produced the demand that 'all the freeborn at the age of 21 years and upwards, be the electors'. A few weeks later, however, when the Levellers came to debate the first Agreement of the People with the army Grandees at Putney, it was clear that there was a significant internal difference in the movement between those who believed that literally 'every man that is to live under a government ought first by his own consent to put himself under that government', and those who felt that only those 'that have not lost their birthright' ought to vote in elections (Woodhouse, 1974, p. 53). The notion of loss of birthright could open the way to some far-reaching exclusions from the franchise. The demands of political expediency and pressure from the Grandees also began to erode the case for universal manhood suffrage. In December 1648, in the second Agreement of the People (entitled Foundations of Freedom), the Levellers would have limited the franchise to 'Natives or Denizens of England, such as have subscribed this Agreement; not persons receiving Alms but such as are assessed ordinarily towards the relief of the poor; not servants to, or receiving wages from any particular person' (Wolfe, 1944, p. 297). This was a considerable, and perhaps untypical, retreat from the public position the Levellers had held in 1647, but by May 1649 the third Agreement restored the franchise to all men over 21 'not being servants, or receiving Alms, or having served the late King in Arms or voluntary Contributions' (Aylmer, 1975, p. 162).

The Marxist historian C. B. Macpherson has argued that even during the Putney Debates the Levellers wanted to deny the vote to all types of wage-earners and anyone who had ever had to rely on poor relief. He believes that the Levellers deemed a man to have lost his birthright when he alienated his labour, as all wage-earners, alms-takers, servants and beggars had done; and that when a man lost his birthright he forfeited his right to vote (1964). Keith Thomas, on the other hand, has argued more plausibly that the Levellers did not, on the whole, take the extreme view that to alienate one's labour was to lose one's birthright, nor did they assume that wage-earners and servants were synonymous categories (1972). Many writers would now accept that when the Levellers excluded servants' they meant only living-in servants and apprentices, not wage-earners with their own homes, and when they mentioned 'alms-takers' they intended that only those permanently in receipt of alms would be excluded from the vote. What is clear, however, is that Levellers set great store by independence, both economic and political, and that their interest lay in enabling a man to cast an independent vote. For this reason, they were prepared to stop short of the logical consequence of their belief in equal natural rights and to retreat from the position of universal manhood suffrage. Here the Levellers showed that they had not transcended traditional patriarchal assumptions about the role of male heads of household, and that their basic desire was to protect the small producer against the power of 'great men'. Their willingness to exclude beggars and servants, for example, could be reconciled with their more radical claims by maintaining that such men could be 'represented in the votes of their masters', and by recognizing Ireton's claim at Putney that those 'who depended on the will of other men' might be incapable of exercising the vote in their own right. To enfranchise dependent men might in these circumstances do more to entrench the power of great men than to restrict it. Such a policy would not enable the small craftsman, artisan, trader or farmer to challenge the power of oligarchy in politics and ensure the election of a representative body responsive to the interests and wishes of the 'middle sort of people' (Manning, 1976; Thompson, 1980).

The Levellers' constitutional and political proposals were detailed and wide-ranging, but they were not the only means by which the movement sought to advance the liberties of the people. Of great importance for the protection of the individual's rights in society were their plans for the reform of the law and the legal system. Full equality before the law, Levellers believed, was the chief protection for the individual's right to life, liberty and property, and the main guarantee that his 'self-propriety' (as Overton called it) would not be invaded by others. The health of the nation depended on swift legal reform, Lilburne had argued in 1645, and 'the Reformation of Courts of Justice, is a worke of absolute necessitye, without which … you shall have no Peace' (Englands Birth-Right Justified, quoted in Aylmer, 1975, p. 60). As well as plans for the local election of justices of the peace and magistrates, calls were made for the simplification of legal procedure so that it might be cheaper and easier to understand. English should be used in legal proceedings, the Levellers demanded, instead of Latin and law French. The Levellers wanted every plain man to be able to defend his interests at law without the help of professional lawyers, whom Lilburne especially detested, likening them to locusts who swarmed over the land devouring and impoverishing it. Mindful of the leadership's personal experience at the hands of various tribunals, the Levellers demanded that every individual should be free from arbitrary arrest, from imprisonment without trial, and from interrogation which might incriminate him. No man was to have special privileges at law because of birth and status. Great emphasis was laid on the role of the jury, an essential institution in Leveller thinking. The jury was the embodiment of the freeborn men of England, men of independent mind who would judge a situation by the light of reason and reject the corrupting influence of faction. The right to trial by jury became a reserved power; and in March 1649 Lilburne bitterly criticized the new regime because the erection of the High Court of Justice meant that 'that great and strong hold of our preservation, the way of tryal by 12 sworn men of the Neighbourhood is infringed' (Englands New Chains Discovered, quoted in Aylmer, 1975, p. 143). The Levellers also wanted the reform of specific laws. Here their most urgent demand was for a change in the laws of debt. This would help, above all, the small trader who was often caught between the burden of defaulting or non-existent customers and the demands of suppliers clamouring to be paid. His 'cash flow' problems could easily land him in gaol, where he had no hope of earning anything to recoup his losses or meet his debts.

The individual's rights at law were crucial. So too was his right to liberty of conscience and worship. The involvement of individual Levellers in the campaign for religious toleration both predated and post-dated the emergence of the Leveller movement; indeed, as we have seen, it was this very issue which had brought several of the leading figures in the movement together for the first time. During its life, the movement's appeal to the sectarian interest was vital to its success, and although many sectarians in the end parted company with and repudiated Leveller ideals for a secular state, many Leveller supporters continued to identify themselves with the cause of radical religion in the 1650s. By 1647, a demand for religious toleration and the abolition of compulsory tithes had been incorporated into the Leveller platform; some Levellers, including Lilburne, had also begun to demand a complete separation of church and state. In the Large (or comprehensive) Petition of March 1647 the Levellers, operating as a mass political movement for the first time, argued that the suppression of allegedly heretical opinions should be stopped lest 'the most necessary truths, and sincere professions thereof may be suppressed'. They also demanded that tithes be abolished and not replaced by any other form of compulsory state maintenance for the clergy. In the first Agreement of the People, of November 1647, religious toleration became a reserved power; thereafter it maintained its clear status as one of the fundamental laws which no mere statute law could infringe. Religious toleration also provided the issue over which the Levellers broke with the Grandees in the Whitehall Debates of December 1648. Cromwell and the officers professed to accept that the state had no power to coerce a man's conscience, but they wished to retain the power to restrict the practices of so-called idolatry or atheism (in effect Roman Catholicism and the 'lunatic fringe' of radical religion). The Levellers felt that even this power was an infringement of religious toleration. None the less, in both the first and second Agreements of the People some kind of state church and non-compulsory form of public worship was still envisaged: in 1647 they were prepared to grant a future parliament 'the publike way of instructing the Nation (so it be not compulsive)'. By the time of the third Agreement in 1649 the Levellers had refined their position: they demanded a complete separation of church and state with no established church, no tithes and no other form of state maintenance for ministers. However, they now recognized a distinction between liberty of conscience and worship, on the one hand, and civil equality on the other. In this way Catholics were to be allowed to worship freely but could not hold public office. In its advocacy of such a broad degree of religious toleration—truly limitless for some Levellers, and including Jews and Muslims as well as Catholics—the movement was shown at its most egalitarian and humanitarian.

In the area of social and economic reform, the Levellers were less united and more ambiguous in their public pronouncements. Specific proposals for schemes of social welfare and for penal reform were popular among some sections of the movement, but they tended to be elaborated more in the writings of individuals than as an integrated part of collaborative policy documents. In 'Certain Articles' appended to an Appeale from the Degenerate Representative Body (1647), for example, Richard Overton argued the case for establishing schools and hospitals for the poor. The economic issues which figured in the Leveller programme tended to be those which particularly affected the urban middling sort. Overall, Levellers assumed that the system of private property would be retained, and officially they were quick to repudiate the notion that they were in the strict sense 'economic Levellers'. In the second and third Agreements, the powers reserved to the people were extended to include this very subject: the future Representative was expressly forbidden to 'levell mens Estates, destroy Propriety, or make all things common' (Wolfe, 1944, p. 301; Aylmer, 1975, p. 167). Here again, the Levellers were shown to be more concerned with the destruction of monopoly than the creation of equality. Mirroring faithfully the grievances of their 'middling' supporters, especially in London, they were content to press for the abolition of those privileged groups like the Merchant Adventurers who had caused so much hardship to the 'industrious people' in the nation, including tradesmen and seafarers. More radically, they were also prepared on occasion to advocate the destruction of enclosures, the return of common lands to the people, and the abolition of 'base' or copyhold tenures. This would have benefited the smaller tenant farmer in the countryside faced with exploitation by a grasping landlord. Economic burdens on the people were also to be relieved by the abolition of the excise tax and by replacing it with more equitable forms of direct taxation. Beyond this, it is clear that only some members of the movement were prepared to countenance more egalitarian economic measures. William Walwyn was certainly one of those who had consistently condemned economic inequality. The Power of Love in 1643 was a particularly compelling statement of his views, but when he wrote A Manifestation in May 1649 on behalf of the other Leveller leaders, he conceded that economic levelling could not be forced on people against their will.

On the whole the. individualistic liberal ideology of the Leveller movement encouraged their belief that political reform, not economic or social reform, would be the fount from which all other blessings for the common people would flow. Just as they believed that the source of the people's suffering was intrinsically political (in the long term the Norman Conquest, in the short term the corruption of parliament), so they believed that the remedies for these ills lay essentially in the political sphere. The economic issues which concerned them were principally those which affected the middling sort, the people to whom all Levellers would have given the franchise. In truth their economic and political thinking was all of a piece. They were against the agglomeration of wealth in a few hands, just as they opposed the concentration of political power in a few hands; conversely, they came out against complete equality of wealth just as they retreated from universal manhood suffrage. As Brian Manning concludes, if the Levellers hated the exorbitantly rich they also feared the very poor. Theirs was the 'characteristic doctrine of meri of an intermediate status in society', the 'industrious' people or the middling sort (Manning, 1976, p. 315).

The Strengths and Weaknesses of the Movement

In attempting to build up the strength of their movement and win support for their programme, the Levellers showed themselves to be shrewd publicists and propagandists. They were very soon able to whip up demonstrations of pro-Leveller feeling in the capital, establish links with aggrieved elements in the counties, and tap feelings of discontent in the army. The use of the press, the organization of petitions and demonstrations, the development of a party structure, and the skilful deployment of the charismatic appeal of its leaders, quickly built up the impression of a mass political movement, especially in London.

The Levellers contributed in no small measure to the vast outpouring of pamphlets, tracts, treatises and other forms of printed polemic which marked the intellectual and emotional ferment of the 1640s. Although many of their tracts tackled complex issues in considerable detail and often with elaborate citation of biblical and other references, the Levellers also took care to speak directly to the ordinary people in a pungent, witty and cogent manner. Their rhetoric 'intensified the strengths of common speech', and its form was influenced by sources as diverse as plain preaching and popular drama (Heinemann, 1978). Whether it was the witty, vituperative style of Richard Overton's The Baiting of the Great Bull of Bashan (July 1649) or the histrionic appeal of Lilburne's account of his trial in 1649, The Trial of Lieut. Collonel John Lilburne, the Levellers showed they could play to an audience (Erskine-Hill and Storey, 1983). From June 1648 until September 1649 Leveller ideas also found their way into The Moderate, a weekly newsbook run by Gilbert Mabbott which circulated in London and the provinces. Other newsbooks which briefly favoured the Leveller cause were the Perfect Occurrences of Henry Walker, and the short-lived Mercurius Militaris of John Harris, a former professional actor turned printer to the army radicals (Brailsford, 1976).

The drawing up and presentation of petitions to parliament was another tactic shrewdly employed by the Levellers to organize and mobilize public opinion. The circulation of petitions like the Large Petition of March 1647, the Earnest Petition of January 1648, and the Humble Petition of September 1648 (as well as others on single issues like the arrest and imprisonment of the party leaders), enabled the movement to reach out and embrace large sections of public opinion and provided an essential focus and rallying-point for Leveller supporters. These petitions were often publicized and circulated for signature through the gathered churches in London and the provinces. The Moderate also helped to make their existence known. The act of presenting a petition to parliament became an occasion for mass crowd demonstrations in the streets of London. Likewise the arrest and trial of prominent members and the funerals of leading supporters afforded opportunities for shows of strength as well as for consciousness-raising. The funeral of Colonal Thomas Rainsborough on 14 November 1648 was the scene of much emotional drama. Crowds of supporters, many of them women, turned out sporting sea-green colours, which henceforth became a badge of the movement. In April 1649, the funeral of Robert Lockyer, an army Leveller who had been shot for taking part in a mutiny, provoked similar outbursts. Something of a personality cult was indeed an important element in the appeal of the movement. The quality of its leadership, particularly the charismatic appeal of John Lilburne, helps to account for the swift rise in the party's fortunes and its ability to draw large crowds of sympathizers to witness its public acts. Lilburne was well-suited to the role of 'populist and martyr', and his battles with authority provided a focus of identity for ordinary people. The resilience of the leadership after arrest and imprisonment, and their refusal to be silenced, also provided their followers with a model for popular action (Greaves and Zaller, 1983).

Partly to control the organization of public opinion through petitions and demonstrations, a party structure had grown up in London, and to a more limited extent in parts of the Home Counties. The City was divided up into wards, each of which sent representatives to a committee of the parish; in addition, twelve commissioners or agents were elected to act as a central executive committee for the party. Party subscriptions were levied according to a member's means, to support the cost of Leveller publications and other activities, and two treasurers were appointed to look after the party coffers. Various City taverns acted as party meeting-places: the party headquarters was situated in the Whalebone Tavern, and other favoured haunts were the Saracen's Head in Friday Street and the Windmill Tavern.

One method which, on the whole, the Levellers did not espouse was the use of organized violence or armed rebellion. For most of its life the party stuck to its belief in the power of man to judge things by the light of reason and did not abandon its faith in rational argument. Few contemplated the violent overthrow of the regime by an armed citizenry, or even by the New Model Army. Of course, the Levellers sought to influence the army, and radical supporters in the rank and file provoked mutinies, notably at Ware in 1647 and Burford in 1649, but this did not amount to an overall plan for the armed take-over of the regime. A few 'physical force' Levellers did exist, such as Major White and Captain Bray, and one ex-soldier William Thompson advocated armed risings in 1649; but when the party machine did come out in favour of mass armed rebellion in The Remonstrance of Many Thousands of the Free People of England (September 1649), it was merely the last fling of a dying movement (Aylmer, 1975; Hill, 1975).

The shrewd manipulation of issues and the mobilization of public opinion allowed the Levellers to build up support among apprentices, journeymen, small traders, craftsmen and artisans, and among some sections of the rural middling orders. Membership of a separatist congregation and, especially, residence in and around London, were factors which predisposed men towards Leveller ideas. For much of the party's history, a 'typical' Leveller might be a small craftsman, perhaps in the textile trade, who had contacts with a gathered church and lived in one of the poorer suburbs of the capital. Levellers claimed to be able to call on 10,000 supporters in the metropolis and could produce several thousand signatures for a petition in London fairly quickly. But outside this area, and outside the 'middling' social groups, support for the movement was probably much less firm. There were organized Leveller groups in Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Kent, and sympathy for Leveller agitation was expressed in petitions which arrived from much farther afield including at various times Somerset, Yorkshire, Oxfordshire, Leicestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire. The monster petition, The Remonstrance of Many Thousands of the Free People of England, claimed to have 98,064 signatures. In addition, Leveller views attracted considerable attention in the army.

However, it would be misleading to infer from this that England was full of committed party supporters. The superficial strength of the Leveller movement during its petitioning campaigns masked underlying weaknesses. Sympathy with the grievances to which the Levellers gave voice was greater than support for the solutions to those problems which the Levellers advocated. Not all those who shared the Levellers' hostility to the 'powers that be' were prepared to translate their antagonism into demands for radical change; and of those who were prepared to countenance a radical solution, not all agreed that it should be the Leveller one. This last point was crucial to the party's fortunes: the Leveller movement rose in part because it fed on, inspired and became part of a radical coalition of interests in London, in the army and in the counties; when deserted by and isolated from the other elements in this radical coalition, its weaknesses were exposed. The weaknesses were both organizational and ideological. Organizationally, the Levellers were too dependent on the gathered churches; they had not built up their own representative machinery among the rank and file of the army; and they had done little to mobilize the peasantry as opposed to the urban middling orders. Ideologically, their programme was too frightening to the rich, too neglectful of the poor, and too innovative in its assumptions to embrace all the godly 'middling sort'. A closer look at some key episodes in Leveller history will illustrate these points.

First, it is clear that in 1647 the Levellers failed to capture the lasting support of the 'honest radicals' in the counties, although for a time support for the army against parliament was a unifying issue. The 'honest radicals' were the 'godly party' in the counties, the connection between honesty and godliness being universally assumed (Underdown, 1978). The rank and file of those radicals for a while espoused a 'proto-Leveller' or Leveller-inclined position. Between March and June 1647, 'honest radicals' petitioned in support of the army. The first 'Leveller' petition came from Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire and was presented to parliament along with a request for the release of Lilburne and Overton, who were at that time in prison. Other petitions to Fairfax followed in June from Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk, with Essex making explicit reference to the Norman Yoke and Hertfordshire calling for the abolition of tithes and the relief of copyholders from arbitrary fines. But these proto-Leveller documents revealed two major weaknesses from the Leveller point of view: they did not have the backing of the upper echelons of the godly party, the 'establishment' radicals who might hold power in the county committees which had grown up to administer parliament's war effort in the localities, and geographically their spread was very uneven. The Levellers' appeal clearly diminished the farther from London one went, and in Underdown's opinion Bristol was the only place any distance from London from which 'genuinely Leveller' petitions have survived from 1647 (1978, p. 198). Later in the year, when Levellers embarked on a countrywide campaign to collect signatures for the first Agreement of the People, they were unable to build up a truly national organization. Despite reports of proselytization as far away as Nottinghamshire and Rutland, only in places close to London like Dartford in Kent were Leveller cells established.

In September 1648 the Levellers had another opportunity to canvass a wide spectrum of the radical interest. Their Humble Petition of 11 September reputedly had 40,000 signatures and sparked off responses from the tin-miners of Cornwall, the grand jury of Somerset, some farmers in the north, citizens in Newcastle, Bristol, Hull and York and the counties of Yorkshire, Oxfordshire, Leicestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire (Brailsford, 1976, p. 355). As has been indicated, these petitions demonstrated support for the Levellers in a negative rather than a positive sense: they were engendered by the fear that a personal treaty would be concluded with the King (the Newport negotiations were currently taking place) and that all the gains of the war would be lost. They were not necessarily motivated by a strong commitment to all the details of the Leveller programme (Tolmie, 1977). Once the problem of the King was disposed of, there was no guarantee that other radicals would subscribe to a Leveller future. As David Underdown has remarked, the events of late 1648 and early 1649 were to show 'how few of the honest party were committed Levellers' (1978, p. 203).

The loss of support among the leaders of the sectarian community was extremely serious for the Levellers. The Levellers' stand on religious toleration had been an important part of their appeal to other radical groups, but not all sectarians were prepared to go further along the road towards accepting the secular state as a 'legitimate sphere of moral action in its own right' (Tolmie, 1977, p. 144). They were not willing to make the full transition from Christian liberty and virtue to equal natural rights. As early as the autumn of 1647, although the movement had already gained the allegiance of many individual sectarians and much organizational help from some of the gathered churches in London (including Particular and General Baptists), the enemies of the Levellers in the 'generality of congregations' publicly declared themselves. A Declaration by Congregational societies in and about the City of London argued against the Levellers' alleged attempt to make all men 'equal in power'. It was supported by several pastors, like the Baptists William Kiffin and Hanserd Knollys whom Lilburne had counted among his associates. None the less, throughout 1648 Levellers and sectaries continued to make common cause. But by 1649 a great rift had opened up between the Levellers and the Baptist pastors. The latter had decided to come to terms with the new regime in return for toleration, and formally dissociated themselves from the Levellers in March. Meanwhile the presence of the army in London had allowed the Grandees to win access to the separatist churches and to gain the loyalty of many religious radicals. Thereafter, it was difficult for the Levellers, reeling from other blows, to assume the role of political spokesmen for the godly (Tolmie, 1977).

The attitude of the sectaries was also vital for the all-important question of Leveller strength in the New Model Army. On this topic the work of Mark Kishlansky has recently commanded much attention (1978, 1979a, 1979b). Kishlansky argues that at its formation the New Model Army was not inherently radical. Its entry into politics and its espousal of radical causes in and after 1647 arose from its own material grievances, and from the desire to vindicate its own honour vis-à-vis parliament, not principally because of Leveller agitation and influence. Although by the beginning of the summer of 1647 the concerns of the army and of the Levellers were strikingly similar, Kishlansky maintains that the two movements had not yet made common cause. This probably did not reflect any reluctance on the Levellers' part. On 18 April a pamphlet entitled A New Found Stratagem, probably written by Richard Overton, had called on the army to rescue the people 'from sudden vassalage and slavery'. Around the same time contacts were made between individuals in the army and Levellers in London. Edward Sexby, a trooper in Lord General Fairfax's regiment of horse, had already been in touch with Lilburne, and other soldiers who were to become the elected agents or Agitators of their regiments had Leveller connections. By June, the Levellers had increased their pleas to the army and by late July, Kishlansky surmises, Leveller ideas were beginning to have some impact on the soldiery. This is not to say, however, that when the General Council of the Army met during the summer the Levellers were really pulling the strings, or even that all Agitators were necessarily Levellers. The Levellers may have lent to army radicals a certain brand of political rhetoric, but their capacity to infiltrate and organize the rank and file was much more limited.

In September and October, however, the Levellers made a further effort. New Agitators were elected who were closer to the Leveller cause, and they agreed to recommend to the rank and file that the Leveller-inspired The Case of the Armie Truly Stated be accepted as a true statement of the army's grievances. The Case was redrafted in shortened form as an Agreement of the People, and it was this document which was then debated in the General Council of the Army at Putney between Grandees, Agitators and specially invited Leveller spokesmen. At first glance, the Putney Debates may seem to mark the high-water mark of Leveller influence, with the Grandees forced on to the defensive, their arguments subjected to close scrutiny by the radicals, and a high-ranking officer, Colonel Thomas Rainsborough, lending his passionate advocacy to the Leveller cause. Yet the Levellers lost at least some of the argument at Putney, and most of the action afterwards. They were outwitted at various points by Henry Ireton's intellectual skill (Tuck, 1979), and forced to concede ground on the franchise. Afterwards, their attempts to adopt direct action failed miserably and their inability seriously to disrupt army discipline was revealed. A small mutiny at Corkbush Field near Ware in Hertfordshire on 15 November was easily suppressed, and the Grandees reasserted their control over the army. The Grandees were helped in this by a split between the Levellers and the sectarian interest in the army, which mirrored the growing estrangement between the two movements in London. At Ware sectarian officers, especially the Particular Baptists, supported the Grandees and continued to do so throughout 1648 and 1649 wherever Leveller agitation threatened. Leveller ideas in general did not lose their impact among the rank and file, but, as we have seen, organizationally the Levellers were seriously weak. They had relied too much on the efforts of sectarians to organize the lower ranks (it was they who were behind the election of the first Agitators), instead of building up their own network; therefore when Leveller and sectarian interests diverged, the Levellers were denied this support and were unable to build up an organization of their own (Tolmie, 1977).

The suppression of the Ware mutiny may have marked the end of a chapter in the history of the army Levellers, but it did not entirely destroy their influence. In November 1648, when attempts to reach a settlement with Charles I had come to naught, Cromwell and Ireton again made overtures to Lilburne, but, as we have seen, despite the closeness of the two sides on some issues, the negotiations on a new joint Agreement of the People foundered on the question of religious toleration. The Levellers' next chance came when unrest in the army once again opened up the possibility of direct action. Mutinies were started in April-May 1649, the first of them in London resulting in the execution of Robert Lockyer. In May further mutinies which had started at Banbury (involving 1,000-2,000 men) and at Salisbury (involving two regiments) failed to make contact with each other. The Salisbury men tried to make their way along the Thames valley but were defeated at Burford. Thereafter, civilian Levellers still continued their agitation in London, but in truth the heart had gone out of the movement. Its best and perhaps only chance of gaining political power, support from the army, had completely disappeared. The protests over Lilburne's trial in London in 1653 could not revive these chances, and in 1659 when the collapse of the Republic was imminent, those Levellers who were still active (Lilburne had died in 1657) adopted a position very similar to the Harringtonian republicans. The Leveller programme as a whole was not relaunched: although religious toleration and equality before the law were still demanded, the franchise issue was dropped, and Levellers now put greatest stress on respect for law and order, the sanctity of property rights and on hostility to arbitrary rule (Hill, 1984).

In their heyday, then, it is clear that the Levellers exhibited great flair in exciting the popular imagination and dramatizing public events, but ideologically and organizationally their movement was severely flawed. The Levellers alienated key groups above them in the political and social structure (the ruling classes generally, the Grandees of the army, and the establishment radicals of the 'honest party'). They failed to consolidate their appeal to the middling orders whose interests they especially represented (they could not hold on to the allegiance of the godly party, and they did not capitalize on the grievances of the middling peasants). They also neglected or were actively hostile to those below them in the social scale (those without property were to be excluded from the franchise and social and economic reforms were limited). The Levellers both went too far and not far enough in their espousal of a new political and social order: in the end, their ideological and organizational base proved too narrow to achieve political success.

The historical significance of the Levellers must, however, be recognized. It is true that far from envisaging a completely democratic or egalitarian paradise, they were anxious to retain property, patriarchy and hierarchy. Their creed was that of liberalism and individualism, not socialism or equality. They wished to make the world safe for the people of the middling order, whose economic and political independence was their prime goal. Their economic and social vision was in some ways reactionary rather than progressive: they wanted to protect a vanishing world of small independent proprietors and traders, rather than look forward to the burgeoning of the middle class in a capitalist society. Their ideal of small communities and of a glorious Anglo-Saxon past were also symptoms of emotional nostalgia.

Nevertheless, they made significant ideological advances. Unlike other parliamentarians and republicans who were also wrestling with questions of sovereignty and trust, the Levellers developed their doctrines of popular sovereignty and trusteeship into a claim for the broad extension of active political rights. They went far beyond the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty to place real and continuing power in the hands of the 'people', if not the 'poor'. Their stress on decentralization, and the individualistic emphasis of many of their social, economic and legal proposals, were deeply threatening to the ongoing concentration of wealth, status and power in the hands of a small elite. To support their programme, the Levellers advanced a radical theory of natural rights which looked forward to the later eighteenth century. Their political ideology was also notable for its rationalist and secularist aspects. Their appeal to reason was innovative, for although they combined this with a vision of the past as the locus of lost rights, they did not have the same view of history-as-precedent or of the sanctity of tradition as their more conservative contemporaries. Finally, although they made heavy use of religious arguments and sanctions for their views, their anticlericalism, their desire to separate church and state and to treat saints and sinners alike as equal citizens gave political theory 'a push … in the direction of avowed secularism' (Frank, 1955, p. 246). In sum, the Levellers' contribution to the political and religious ferment of the 1640s was immense.


Aylmer, G.E. 1975: The Levellers in the English Revolution. London.

Brailsford, H.N. 1976: The Levellers and the English Revolution. Edited by Christopher Hill. London.

Frank, Joseph 1955: The Levellers. New York. Greaves, Richard L. and Zaller, Robert (eds) 1983: Biographical Dictionary of British Radicals in the Seventeenth Century, vol. II: G-O. Brighton.

Heinemann, Margot 1978: 'Popular Drama and Leveller Style—Richard Overton and John Harris'. In Maurice Cornforth (ed.), Rebels and their Causes, London.

Hill, Christopher 1958: 'The Norman Yoke'. In his Puritanism and Revolution, London.

Hill, Christopher 1975: The World Turned Upside Down (Penguin edn). London.

Kishlansky, Mark 1978: 'The case of the army truly stated: The creation of the New Model Army'. Past and Present, 81, 51-75.

Kishlansky, Mark 1979a: 'The Army and the Levellers: The Roads to Putney'. Historical Journal, 22, 795-824.

Kishlansky, Mark 1979b: The Rise of the New Model Army. Cambridge.

Macpherson, C.B. 1964: The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism (paperback edn). Oxford.

Manning, Brian 1976: The English People and the English Revolution. London.

Shaw, Howard 1968: The Levellers. London.

Thomas, Keith 1972: 'The Levellers and the franchise'. In G.E. Aylmer (ed.), The Interregnum: The Quest for Settlement 1646-1660, London.

Tolmie, Murray 1977: The Triumph of the Saints. Cambridge.

Tuck, Richard 1979: Natural Rights Theories. Cambridge.

Underdown, David 1978: ' "Honest" radicals in the counties, 1642-1649'. In Donald Pennington and Keith Thomas (eds), Puritans and Revolutionaries, Oxford.

Wolfe, Don M. (ed.) 1944: Leveller Manifestoes of the Puritan Revolution. New York.

Woodhouse, A.S.P. 1974: Puritanism and Liberty (2nd edn with a preface by Ivan Roots). London.

Zagorin, Perez 1954: A History of Political Thought in the English Revolution. London.

Maurice Goldsmith (essay date 1986)

SOURCE: "Levelling by Sword, Spade and Word: Radical Egalitarianism in the English Revolution," in Politics and People in Revolutionary England: Essays in Honor of Ivan Roots, edited by Colin Jones, Malyn Newitt, and Stephen Roberts, pp. 65-80. Oxford: Blackwell, 1986.

[In the following essay, Goldsmith maintains that despite the emphasis many modern critics place on the differences between the Levellers, the Diggers, and the Ranters, all three radical groups used the same type of rhetoric to argue for mankind's equality and freedom.]

Despite, or because of, much recent work on the radicals of the English Revolution, there are many disagreements about the meaning of their views and proposals. The prevailing orthodoxy tends to emphasize the distinctions among various sorts of radicals, spreading them out along a spectrum from left to right. On this view, the Levellers, or some of them, turn out to be petit bourgeois, not-quite democrats, and their clash with the Grandees at Putney in 1647 a squabble over the enfranchisement of a few thousand voters.1 However, notwithstanding differences in style and programme, Levellers, Diggers and Ranters shared a core of basic values and spoke a common language.

All these radicals agree that men are by nature equal and free. One of the clearest statements of this principle is in Richard Overton's An Arrow Against All Tyrants:

For by naturall birth, all men are equally and alike born to the like propriety, liberty and freedome, and as we are delivered of God by the hand of nature into this world, every one with a naturall innate freedome and propriety (as it were writ in the table of every mans heart, never to be obliterated) even so are we to live, every one equally and alike to enjoy his Birth-right and priviledge; even all whereby God by nature hath made him free.2

Overton takes this principle to imply substantively equal treatment, for he enjoins Henry Marten and the Commons' committee to be impartial and to 'be no respector of persons, let not the greatest peers in the Land, be more respected with you, than so many old Bellowesmenders, Broom men, Coblers, Tinkers or Chimneysweepers, who are all equally Free borne, with the hudgest men, and loftiest Anachims in the Land'.3

That the Levellers, and not just Overton, generally adhered to this principle is easily illustrated. In The Case of the Armie Truly Stated, probably mainly by John Wildman, the rights and liberties of the free-born commoners to be insisted on include that, in the elections for the annual parliaments, 'all the free born at the age of 21 yeares and upwards, be the electors, excepting those that have or shall deprive themselves of that their freedome, either for some years or wholly by delinquency'.4 Unless we suppose that Overton and Wildman, notwithstanding their being political allies, used the term 'free born' with two quite different meanings, then the freeborn who are to be equally respected must be the same freeborn (with the exception of those who are fighting against parliament) who are to be electors.

The same principle may be discovered in John Lilburne's Regall Tyranny Discovered. His argument against the House of Lords' tyranny relies upon the equality of men under God and by nature; thus all are equally under both the negative and the positive versions of the Golden Rule:

And again seeing nature teacheth me to defend my self and preserve my life; reason teaches me in the negative, that it is but just that I should not do that to another, which I would not have another doe to me; but that in the affirmative I should do as I would be done unto.5

From this basic equality, Lilburne infers both that 'it is not lawfull for any man to subject himself to be a slave' and that among those 'that live in mutual society amongst one another in nature and reason, there is none above or over another against mutual consent and agreement'.6

Similar views are put forward in The True Levellers Standard Advanced; although the governing powers have committed themselves to reform and 'to bring in liberty, every man in his place', yet those who pursue this end are oppressed: 'And all because they stand to maintain an universal liberty and freedom, which is not only our birthright which our maker gave us, but which thou has sworn to restore unto us.'7 They are also to be found in Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, in which it is argued that man, being created after God's image, embodies a pure spirit, reason, that implies right and conscience and so the Golden Rule. From this there follows men's equality:

and the creature Man was priviledged with being Lord over the inferior creatures, but not over his own kinde; for all men being a like priviledged by birth, so all men were to enjoy the creatures a like without proprietie one more than the other, all men by the grant of God are a like free, and every man individuall, that is to say, no man was to Lord or command over his own kinde.8

Again in The Law of Freedom in a Platform, Gerrard Winstanley relies on a basic principle of equality; common action has recovered land and liberties from the oppressor, they having been 'recovered by a joint consent of the commoners, therefore it is all equity, that the commoners who assisted you should be set free from the conqueror's power with you'.9

Equity, or equality, is according to 'Reason' which is frequently identified with God; as it applies to human conduct it stipulates action according to one of the versions of the Golden Rule, that one should not treat others as one would not be treated or that one should treat others as one would be treated. In The Law of Freedom, this principle becomes the first root of law: 'The first root you see is common preservation, when there is a principle in everyone to seek the good of others as himself, without respecting persons.10 All must have equal privileges, equal rights, equal freedoms. Thus the Diggers employ the same words as the Levellers. Winstanley, like Overton, asserts that men by nature possess an equal natural right which implies equal treatment without respect for persons. Winstanley differed from the Levellers in believing that such a right immediately implied equality of property. In fact that inference was so natural that it formed the basis of many arguments used by 'conservatives' in opposing the popular and apparently democratic rhetoric used by parliamentarians early in the Civil War. Sir Simonds D'Ewes asserted in 1642 that:

all right and property, all meum and tuum, must cease in a civil war, and we know not what advantage the meaner sort also may take to divide the spoils of the rich and noble among them, who begin already to allege that all being of one mould there is no reason that some should have so much and others so little.11

Similarly the king's Answer to the Nineteen Propositions warned that parity and independence would be called liberty, and thereby social distinctions destroyed.12

The principle that all must have equal rights had earlier been applied by Overton even to papists and Jews. Lilburne and others used it to denounce the arbitrary actions of the House of Lords (and later the Commons) in imprisoning offenders for no offence against known law and without trial and for demanding that individuals answer questions about their activities on oath. Thus the notion that men are equal is expressed by pointing to the Golden Rule—which is taken to mean that men ought to conform their actions to a rule that holds for themselves as well as others and that there should be no special respect for supposedly superior persons.

The first implication drawn from this principle of equality is that just authority can only be derived from the consent of those who are subject to it. No man is naturally superior to another; equal freedom precludes natural or divinely arranged subordination. This notion lies behind the Levellers' rejection of the authority of the House of Lords and the assertion that only the Commons, as elected representatives of the people, have been entrusted with governing power. It is expressed in the Levellers' dislike of the army officers' proceedings in purging parliament and trying and executing the king before, rather than after, the convening of a truly legitimate assembly, representative of the people. It lies behind their promotion of an 'agreement of the people' as the foundation of government. It rings out in Rainborough's statement at Putney:

For really I think that the poorest he that is in England hath 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; and I do think that the poorest man in England is not at all bound in a strict sense to that government that he hath not had a voice to put himself under.13

And it is equally sharply put by Winstanley's distinction between kingly government and commonwealth government. The first is tyrannical and oppressive—it makes men slaves. The second makes men free—a freedom that Winstanley, like the Levellers, would implement in annually elected parliaments.14

But it was not merely inequality of civil, religious or political rights that was deplored. The Levellers were not merely accused of principles which would produce 'utter confusion' politically; they were accused of principles which would 'deny all property too' and which therefore tended to anarchy.15 Although these allegations were made against the Levellers generally, and at Putney against such supposed moderate, constitutionalist Levellers as Wildman, they are particularly plausible charges against William Walwyn—who is sometimes therefore hailed as further 'left' than the others.

Undoubtedly Walwyn is the most obvious candidate for this charge. It was put forcefully by John Price:

This Mr. Walwyn, to work upon the indigent and poorer sort of people, and to raise up their spirits in discontents and clamours, &c. did one time professe, he could wish with all his heart that there was neither Pale, Hedge nor Ditch in the whole Nation, and that it was an unconscionable thing that one man should have ten thousand pounds, and another more deserving and usefull to the Common-wealth, should not be worth two pence, or to that purpose.

At another time discoursing of the inequality and disproportion of the estates and conditions of men in the world, had words to this purpose, That it was a sad and miserable thing that it should so continue, and that it would never be well untill all things were common; and it being replyed, will that be ever? Answered, we must endeavour it: It being said, That this would destroy all Govern-ment; Answered, That then there would be lesse need of Government, for then there would be no theeves, no covetous persons, no deceiving and abusing of one another, and so no need of Government, &c. but if in such a case they have a form and rule of government to determine cases, as may fall out, yet there will be no need of standing Officers in a Common-wealth, no need of Judges, &c. but if any difference arise, or any criminall fact be committed, take a Cobler from his Seat, or a Butcher from his Shop, or any other Tradesman that is an honest and just man, and let him hear the case, and determine the same, and then betake himself to his work again.16

Price clearly accuses Walwyn not merely of rabble-rousing among the lowest class, but of being in favour of equality of both political and property rights. Indeed it is difficult to tell if he is more scandalized by Walwyn's advocacy of community of property or by his willingness to allow the vulgar, even those so notoriously crude as butchers, to perform civic duties. On this account, Walwyn was no respecter of persons; he was prepared to take as much notice of a cobbler or a chimney sweep as he did of the well-off.

Significantly, neither Humphrey Brooke, Walwyn's son-in-law, in his defence of Walwyn, nor Walwyn himself in Walwyn's Just Defence, denied the charge that Walwyn favoured much greater equality of wealth and even community of property. Brooke excused his father-in-law by passing off the offending words as 'old expressions in the heat of Discourses'.17 Nor did Walwyn repudiate these positions. In fact he goes further than merely avoiding a categorical denial. Having cited a few well-known passages in Scripture which castigate the rich, he reiterates his egalitarianism and refers his detractors to the Levellers' common programme, the Agreement of the People:

And where you charge me, that I find fault that some abound whil'st others want bread; truly I think it a sad thing, in so fruitfull a land, as through God's blessing, this is; and I do think it one main end of Government, to provide, that those who refuse not labour, should eat comfortably; and if you think otherwise, I think it your errour, and your unhappinesse: But for my turning the world upside down, I leave it to you, it's not a work I ever intended, as all my actions, and the Agreement of the People, do sufficiently evince, and doth indeed so fully answer all your remaining rambling scandals, that I shall pray the courteous Reader hereof to reade it, and apply it, and then shall not doubt my full and clear vindication: so far as that is, am I for plucking up of all the pales and hedges in the Nation; so far, for all things common.18

Yet the view that extremes of rich and poor were at least objectionable had already been expressed by Walwyn as early as 1643 in The Power of Love:

Consider our Saviour saith, He that hath this worlds goods, and seeth his brother lack, how dwelleth the love of God in him? Judge then by this rule who are of Gods family; looke about and you will finde in these woefull dayes thousands of miserable, distressed, starved, imprisoned Christians: see how pale and wan they looke: how coldly, raggedly, & unwholsomely they are cloathed; live one week with them in their poore houses, lodge as they lodge, eate as they eate, and no oftner, and bee at the same passe to get that wretched food for a sickly wife, and hunger-starved children; (if you dare doe this for feare of death or diseases) then walke abroad, and observe the generall plenty of all necessaries, observe the gallant bravery of multitudes of men and women abounding in all things that can be imagined: observe likewise the innumerable numbers of those that have more than sufficeth. Neither will I limit you to observe the inconsiderate people of the world, but the whole body of religious people themselves, and in the very Churches and upon solemne dayes: view them well, and see whether they have not this worlds goods; their silkes, their beavers, their rings, and other divises will testifie they have; I, and the wants and distresses of the poore will testifie that the love of God they have not. What is aimed at? (sayes another) would you have all things common? for love seeketh not her owne good, but the good of others. You say very true, it is the Apostles doctrine: and you may remember the multitude of beleevers had all things common: that was another of their opinions, which many good people are afraid of. But (sayes another) what would you have? would you have no distinction of men, nor no government? feare it not: nor flye the truth because it suites not with your corrupt opinions or courses.19

Thus Walwyn's religious views and his account of Christian love lead to his accepting a greater amount of communal sharing than his opponents wished. It also led to his concern for the poor. Expressions of concern for the poor—not simply those not well-off, but those whose children might go hungry, who may not eat very often, who may be reduced to begging—are not confined to Walwyn, who is usually regarded as the most 'left' of the Levellers. Similar concerns may be found in the other, supposedly more moderate, Levellers. For example, take John Lilburne's views, put in very similar words:

Therefore when I seriously consider how many men in the Parliament, and else-where of their associates (that judge themselves the onely Saints and godly men upon earth) that have considerable (and some of them vast) estates of their owne inheritance, and yet take five hundred, one, two, three, four, five, six thousand pounds per annum salaries, and other comings in by their places, and that out of the too much exhausted publick Treasury of the Nation, when thousands, not onely of the people of the world, as they call them, but also of the precious and redeemed Lambs of Christ, are ready to sterve for want of bread, I cannot but wonder with my self, whether they have any conscience within them or no, and what they think of that saying of the Spirit of God: That whoso hath this worlds good, and seeth his brother hath need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, (which he absolutely doth, that any way takes a little of his little from him) how dwelleth the love of God in him? I John 3.1720

Richard Overton was another Leveller not unmindful of the condition of the poor; in The Arraignement of Mr. Persecution, he contrasts the situation of the Presbyterian ministers, who are making a good thing of their inheritance of the state church, with that of those who have to pay for it: 'poor men, that have not bread to still the cry of their children, must either pay or goe in person to the wars, while those devouring Church-lubbers live at ease, feed on dainties, neither pay nor goe themselves, but preach out our very hearts.21

Nevertheless, these Leveller expressions of solicitude may be no more than a few words in passing and the implication that they are speaking on behalf of those who are pale, wan and hungry and who have no bread for a crying child may be mere rhetorical exaggeration. How far are these concerns part of the Levellers' programme? How far is The Agreement of the People for making all things common?

It is usually held that the Levellers were individualists who based freedom on property in one's person and favoured the liberty of small enterprisers to acquire external possessions; they had a notion of community, but it was inconsistent with their conception of individual freedom. They did not reject capitalism; they rejected Winstanley's communism.22

Certainly there is evidence which appears to support this view of the Levellers. In the petition of 11 September 1648, a document frequently cited by the Levellers themselves as an authoritative statement of their programme, they list a number of things which they had 'long expected' from the House of Commons. Among these things are that the House 'would have bound your selves and all future Parliaments from abolishing propriety, Levelling mens Estats, or making all things common'.23 Did not Lilburne repudiate the tenets of the 'poor misguided Diggers'?24

Nevertheless, it is worth examining the Levellers' actual words in A Manifestation, a collective repudiation by Lilburne, Overton, Walwyn and Prince of the calmunies against them.

First, Then it will be requisite that we express our selves concerning Levelling, for which we suppose is commonly meant an equalling of mens estates, and taking away the proper right and Title that every man has to what is his own. This as we have formerly declared against, particularly in our petition of the 11 of Sept. so do we again professe that to attempt an inducing the same is most injurious, unlesse there did precede an universall assent thereunto from all and every one of the People. Nor doe we, under favour, judge it within the Power of a Representative it selfe, because although their power is supreame, yet it is but deputative and of trust, and consequently must be restrained expresly or tacitely, to some particulars essential as well to the Peoples safety and freedom as to the present Government.25

Thus the Levellers' repudiation of levelling is far from absolute. Let the existing House of Commons repudiate it, for no government possesses more than a limited jurisdiction. Nevertheless there is nothing intrinsically sacred about private property; it is not enjoined by God's law. Common property was voluntary among the primitive Christians.26 It must be equally voluntary for seventeenth-century Englishmen. There would be nothing wrong in their abolishing it. But while the Leveller programme did not call for the abolition of private property, it always demanded some sort of effective action so that no one would have to beg.

Levelling and Digging are often contrasted. Yet on this matter, Gerrard Winstanley's views are not far from those of the Levellers: 'I do not say, nor desire, that every one shall be compelled to practise this commonwealth's government; for the spirits of some will be enemies at first, though afterwards will prove the most cordial and true friends thereunto.'27 Apparently for Winstanley, as for the Levellers, true community could only be established voluntarily.

For the Levellers and for the Diggers a Christian society was not just a society outwardly professing Christianity. It was especially not a society imposing a public form of Christian worship. It was, however, a society expressing its Christianity in its actions. For the conscientious Christian in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, some concern about the poor was required. Indeed, many thought true Christianity incompatible with extremes of wealth and poverty. Given the views they published, it was hardly surprising that the Levellers were compared with those they called the 'falsely maligned' Anabaptists of Munster. But even quite conservative divines could denounce the evils of private property and excessive wealth. Robert Crowley felt called upon to denounce 'gredie cormorauntes' who oppressed the poor (as well as rebellious peasants) and preach natural equality:

Which of you can laye for hym selfe any naturall cause whye he shoulde possesse the treasure of this wor[l]de, but that the same cause may be founde in hym also whom you make your slave? By nature (therefore) you claime no thynge but that whiche you shall get with the swet of your faces.… The whole earth therfor (by byrth right) belongeth to the chyldren of men. They are all inheritours therof indifferently by nature.28

Crowley also felt it necessary to deny that he favoured making all things common—although he did think that true Christians ought to sell all and give the proceeds to be common as in the primitive church.29 But Crowley only preached equality to remind well-off Christians that they had duties toward the less well-off.

For the picture of a commonwealth constructed with Christian principles in mind, we may turn to another sixteenth-century thinker, Thomas More. His Utopia is not a society in which men profess Christianity but one in which they act according to its principles. Utopians do believe in a form of natural religion which is consistent with Christian doctrine: they believe in a single, omnipotent god; most believe in rewards and punishments after death. Their society is constructed to promote virtuous conduct and the cultivation of the soul. They despise and reject the enjoyments beloved of wordly men: wealth they treat with contempt; all must work and all who work eat; silver, gold and jewels are the ornaments of criminal slaves. All necessary wants are catered for but property is communal. Power is accorded only to the virtuous by election and brings no overweening position but rather responsibilities to others. Sensual and sexual pleasure are both foreign to Utopians. Thus it is a Christian-like society which does not know that it is Christian. Its tastes and institutions accord with Christianity but it lacks revelation.30

The society advocated by Gerrard Winstanley in his last major work, The Law of Freedom, is very similar to More's Utopia. Both propose to exclude private ownership of land, the enclosing and dividing of the earth's common treasury. Both do without buying and selling, and in both it is less the profession of Christian doctrine that is emphasized than the acting of the precept to love one's neighbour as oneself. (Both muster the whole society's repressive force to ensure that this shall be the case.) Of course there are differences: for Winstanley equality means equality of rights as well as equality of wealth; More's society is an aristocracy, ruled by the virtuous (those noble by nature). For the Diggers all forms of inequality are forms of 'kingly power', usurped tyrannical power of one man over another, power not legitimized by consent. So, it is not surprising that Winstanley should have seen the execution of the king and the proclamation of a commonwealth as something to be taken quite literally as the extirpation of all lordly usurped power.31

Like the Levellers, Winstanley proposed to bring about the changes he advocated by agreement or consent. The Digger communities were gathered out of those who wished to adhere. Even in The Law of Freedom, which sketched a whole commonwealth rather than a gathered community, Winstanley suggested that the landlords would wither away from lack of those to work for hire, not be forcibly expropriated. In all his works he relied on voluntary adherence.

Thus The Law of Freedom presents us with a communistic society as disciplined as More's Utopia. It is a society governed by officers elected annually by universal manhood suffrage, excluding from those eligible for election and from the electorate those who have supported the king by arms or money and those who have purchased confiscated lands. The officers are to be forty years old or older; and Winstanley also suggests that 'uncivil livers, as drunkards, quarrellers, fearful ignorant men', pleasure-seekers and windbags are not fit to be chosen.32 But it is not a secular society: it is a 'platform of commonwealth's government unto you, wherein I have declared a full commonwealth's freedom according to the rule of righteousnesse, which is God's Word'.33 It cannot be seen as a secular ideal—the point of having a commonwealth is to follow God's rule. For those who believe that God is all in all there can hardly be a distinction between what is religious and what is secular. Winstanley's religious commitment was never repudiated; he announced no conversion to a new belief, but shifted from preaching directed at individuals to proposals aimed at a communal reform. Indeed his first five religious pamphlets were reprinted in 1650.34 Both Levellers and Diggers adhered to a principle of men's equality which was both natural and in accord with their conception of Christianity; in their writings they supported these views by citing over and over again the same passages, for example, the Golden Rule and the requirement of charity from I John.

Among the adherents of the principle of equality who expounded their views using the same rhetoric must be counted the Ranters as well as the Levellers and the Diggers. Abiezer Coppe, for example, exhibits the acceptance of the principle of equality in his words and actions. While proclaiming that God's principle was as far from 'sword levelling, or digging-levelling' as 'the East is from the West, or the Heavens from the Earth', he prophesied:

Behold, behold, behold, I the eternall God, the Lord of Hosts, who am that mighty Leveller, am comming (yea even at the doores) to Levell in good earnest, to Levell to some purpose, to Levell with a witnesse, to Levell the Hills with the Valleyes, and to lay the Mountaines low.35

What is to be flattened is all forms of social hierarchy: 'And as I live, I will plague your Honour, Pompe, Greatnesse, Superfluity, and confound it into parity, equality, community; that the neck of horrid pride, murder, malice and tyranny, &c. may be chopt off at one blow.36

Disagreeing with the proposals of Levellers and Diggers, Coppe calls upon all to share what they have, obeying the Biblical injunctions:

you will find the Dominicall letter to be G. and there are many words that begin with G. at this time GIVE begins with G. give, give, give, give up, give up your houses, horses, goods, gold, Lands, give up, account nothing on your own, have ALL THINGS common, or els the plague of God will rot and consume all that you have.37

He himself does so; resisting the temptation to restrict to two pence his charity to a 'poor wretch', 'a most strange deformed man, clad with patcht clouts', he decides to give him six pence. He then 'pulling out a shilling, said to the poor wretch, give me six pence, heer's a shilling for thee'. But the man has no change: 'I have never a penny.' Coppe then expresses a pious wish to have given him something, for which he receives the poor man's blessing. But he cannot ride away; first he turns back to bid him call for some money at a house in the next town, then 'the rust of my silver did so rise up in judgement against me, and burnt my flesh like fire: and the 5. of James thundered such an alarm in mine ears, that I was fain to cast all I had into the hands of him, whose visage was more marr'd than any mans that I ever saw.' Riding away again he feels 'sparkles of a great glory', so he once again accosts the poor wretch, puts off his hat, bows seven times and tells him, 'because I am a King, I have done this, but you need not tell any one.'38 The story, true in the history, is also true in the mystery; it symbolizes the proper relation between those who have this world's goods and those who do not.

Coppe's conception of true religion is not confined to individual actions. It extends to social relations: 'The true Communion amongst men, is to have all things common, and to call nothing one hath, one's own.' True religion is giving one's bread to those without bread and telling them that it is their bread. Vain religion is exclusive, distinguishing the saints from the worldly.

But take this hint before I leave thee.

He that hath this worlds goods, and seeth his brother in want, and shutteth up the bowells of com-passion from his, the love of God dwelleth not in him; this mans Religion is in vain.

So Coppe called neither for levelling by the sword nor by the spade, but for 'Bloud-Life-Spirit levelling', which is presumably to be accomplished by God's spirit working in men.39

Ranters, like the Levellers and the Diggers, advocated levelling. Indeed, Lawrence Clarkson in his spiritual pilgrimage passed from the Levellers to the Ranters. While a Leveller, Clarkson wrote a pamphlet in which he chided the communality for choosing oppressors to represent it: 'for who are the oppressors, but the Nobility and Gentry; and who are the oppressed, if not the Yeoman, the Farmer, the Tradesman, and the Labourer?'40 He retained his radical social views while a Ranter:

for I apprehended there was no such thing as theft, cheat or a lie, but as man made it so: for if the creature had brought this world into no propriety, as Mine and Thine, there had been no such title as theft, cheat, or a lie; for the prevention hereof Everard and Gerrard Winstanley did dig up the Commons, that so all might have to live of themselves, then there had been no need of defrauding but unity with one another.…

But Clarkson perceived in Winstanley 'a self-love and vain-glory nursed in his heart, that if possible, by digging to have gained people to him, by which his name might become great among the poor Commonalty of the Nation'.41 Still, it is clear that, at that time, his interpretation of the social arrangements implicit in true religion was consistent with that of the Diggers.

Thus for all these radicals, Levellers, Diggers and Ranters, adherence to a fundamental principle of equality implied a rejection of social privilege. This adherence was grounded in a common conception of the meaning of true Christianity. These views were expressed in a rhetoric common to all these radicals, frequently citing the same natural rights and relying on the same Scriptual passages and drawing the same implications from them. That conception implied different social arrangements from those prevalent in seventeenth-century England. Whatever their differences, they also agreed that an egalitarian society would be brought about voluntarily.


1 C. B. Macpherson, The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism: Hobbes to Locke (Oxford, 1962), pp. 107-59, holds that 'the Levellers consistently excluded from their franchise proposals two substantial categories of men, namely servants or wage earners, and those in receipt of alms or beggars' (p. 107, n. 4). Thus they proposed to enfranchise only c. 205,000 additional electors, a mere 42,000 more than the Grandees. Christopher Hill in The World Turned Upside Down: radical ideas during the English Revolution (London, 1972), pp. 46-58, 86-103, apparently wishes to retain Macphersons's rejection of the Levellers as democrats while linking them to True Levellers and Diggers. He postulates differences between the Leveller leaders and distinctions between a moderate, civilian official leadership and several types of more radical Levellers. But although they may have been a heterogenous party, the Levellers' unity is impressive: the principal Levellers continued to co-operate with each other until the movement was crushed. Moreover, to support the theory, The Moderate, which treated the Diggers with sympathy, must be regarded as 'unofficial'.

Macpherson's views, although widely accepted, have been subjected to considerable critical scrutiny; see Peter Laslett, 'Market society and political theory', Historical Journal, 7 (1964); Keith Thomas, 'The Levellers and the franchise', in The Interregnunm: the quest for Settlement 1646-60, ed. G. E. Aylmer (London, 1972); J. C. Davis, 'The Levellers and Christianity', in Politics, Religion and the Civil War (London, 1973); Iain Hampsher-Monk, 'The political theory of the Levellers: Putney, property and Professor Macpherson', Political Studies, 24 (1976), who shows that the Grandees, who were willing to go well beyond the existing franchise, consistently supposed the Levellers to be advocating manhood suffrage at Putney and that the arguments cannot be read as a debate, especially about whether four out of five were to be mere hewers of wood and drawers of water, on Macpherson's interpretation; and Christopher Thompson, 'Maximilian Petty and the Putney debate on the franchise', Past and Present, no. 88 (1980), pp. 63-9, who contends that Petty's position is misinterpreted by Macpherson. See also Brian Manning, The English People and the English Revolution (Harmondsworth, 1978), who piles up quotations which emphasize the Levellers' concern for those who sweat, who work with their hands, whose payments of tithes and taxes come out of their bellies, but then suggests that the Leveller leaders were of the 'middle', or even better, sort and their followers more radical, concluding that the Levellers stood for small propertied merchants and farmers.

2 Richard Overton, An Arrow Against All Tyrants (London, 1646; repr. The Rota, Exeter, 1976), p. 3.

3 Ibid., pp. 19-20.

4The Case of the Armie Truly Stated (London, 1647), in Leveller Manifestoes of the Puritan Revolution, ed. D. M. Wolfe (London, 1967), p. 212.

5 John Lilburne, Regall Tyranny Discovered (London, 1647), p. 10.

6 Ibid., p. 11.

7The True Levellers Standard Advanced (London, 1649), in Winstanley: The Law of Freedom and other writings, ed. Christopher Hill (Harmondsworth, 1973), p. 82.

8Light Shining in Buckinghamshire (London, 1648), in The Works of Gerrard Winstanley, ed. George H. Sabine (New York, 1965), p. 611.

9The Law of Freedom (London, 1652) in Hill, Winstanley, pp. 275-6.

10 Ibid., p. 315.

11 Quoted in Hill, World Turned Upside Down, p. 19, from P. Zagorin, The Court and the Country (London, 1969), p. 323.

12His Majesties Answer to the XIX Propositions (London, 1642); excerpts are included in Andrew Sharp, Political Ideas of the English Civil Wars 1641-9 (London, 1983), pp. 40-3.

13 A. S. P. Woodhouse (ed.), Puritanism and Liberty: being the Army Debates (1647-9) from the Clarke manuscripts with supplementary documents, 2nd edn (London, 1950), p. 53.

14The Law of Freedom, in Hill, Winstanley, p. 338.

15 These accusations were voiced at Putney by Cromwell and Ireton; see Woodhouse, Puritanism and Liberty, pp. 7-8, 57-9.

16 John Price, Walwyns Wiles (London, 1649), in The Leveller Tracts, ed. William Haller and Godfrey Davies (New York, 1944), pp. 302-3.

17 Humphrey Brooke, The Charity of Churchmen (London, 1649), in Haller and Davies, Leveller Tracts, p. 346.

18 William Walwyn, Walwyns Just Defence (London, 1649), in Haller and Davies, Leveller Tracts, p. 384.

19 William Walwyn, The Power of Love (London, 1643), sigs. A3-A5 (italics reversed) in Tracts on Liberty in the Puritan Revolution, 1638-47, ed. William Haller (3 vols, New York, 1934), pp. 274-5. Walwyn goes on to urge that men and women be distinguished only as 'you see the love of God abound in them toward their brethren' and to argue that government is entrusted to rulers by common agreement.

20 John Lilburne, The Legall Fundamentall Liberties of the People of England (London, 1649), in Haller and Davies, Leveller Tracts, p. 435.

21 Richard Overton, The Arraignement of Mr. Persecution (London, 1645), p. 36, in Haller, Tracts on Liberty, III, p. 246.

22 See Macpherson, Possessive Individualism, pp. 154-9; Hill, World Turned Upside Down, p. 99. Or at least, for Hill, this is true of the 'constitutional Levellers' if not for 'unofficial Levellers' or 'True Levellers', although he notes Walwyn's views and Overton's proposal that former common ground, now enclosed, be opened to the poor, pp. 95-6. Overton's proposal is in An Appeale from the Degenerate Representative Body, the Commons at Westminster (London, 1647), in Wolfe, Leveller Manifestoes, p. 194.

23 Wolfe, Leveller Manifestoes, p. 288.

24 In Legall Fundamentall Liberties, in Haller and Davies, Leveller Tracts, p. 449.

25A Manifestation (April 1649), in Haller and Davies, Leveller Tracts, p. 279.

26 Ibid.

27The Law of Freedom, in Hill, Winstanley, pp. 289-90.

28 Robert Crowley, An Informacion and Petition agaynst the Oppressours of the pore Commons of this Realme, in The Select Works of Robert Crowley, ed. J. M. Cowper, Early English Text Society (London, 1872), pp. 163-4.

29 Ibid., pp. 156-8.

30 Thomas More, Utopia, ed. Edward Surtz, S.J. and J. H. Hexter, in The Complete Works of Thomas More, IV, (New Haven and London, 1965); see 'Introduction, Part I' by J. H. Hexter; see also J. C. Davis, Utopia and the Ideal Society: a study of English utopian writing 1516-1700 (Cambridge, 1981), pp. 41-61.

31 See G. E. Aylmer, 'England's Spirit Unfould'd, or an Incouragement to take the Engagement: A newly discovered pamphlet by Gerrard Winstanley', Past and Present, no. 40 (1968), esp. pp. 9-10.

32The Law of Freedom, in Hill, Winstanley, pp. 321-4.

33 Ibid., p. 285.

34 See Several Pieces Gathered into one volume (London, 1650). (I owe this point to Barry Smith.) For a contrary view, arguing that Winstanley developed from a religious to a secular thinker, see George Juretic, 'Digger no millenarian: the revolutionizing of Gerrard Winstanley', Journal of the History of Ideas, 36 (1975). The extent of secularization of political ideas during the Interregnum is sometimes overestimated, partly because of the editing of republican views for late seventeenth- and eighteenth-century consumption; see Edmund Ludlow, A Voycefrom the Watch Tower: Part Five, 1660-62, ed. A. B. Worden, Camden Society Fourth Series, 21 (London, 1978), esp. introduction, pp. 1-13.

35 Abiezer Coppe, A Fiery Flying Roll (London, 1649; repr. The Rota, Exeter, 1973), p. 2.

36 Ibid., p. 4.

37 Ibid., Part II, pp. 3-4.

38 Ibid., pp. 4-6.

39 Ibid., pp. 21-2.

40 Lawrence Clarkson, A Generall Charge or Impeachment of High-Treason (London, 1647), p. 11.

41 Idem, The Lost Sheep Found (London, 1660; repr. The Rota, Exeter, 1974), p. 27.

Christopher Hill (essay date 1994)

SOURCE: "The First Losers, 1649-1651: Levellers, True Levellers, From Ranters to Muggletonians," in The Experience of Defeat: Milton and Some Contemporaries, pp. 27-47. London: Bookmarks, 1994.

[In the following essay, Hill discusses the Leveller party's political aims and outlines the decline of the party.]

I Levellers

The Levellers have some claim to be regarded as the first organised political party, as opposed to religious groupings pursuing political ends. They came into existence in London in 1645-6 as the radical wing of the Independent coalition. They invented or popularised many modern political techniques—mass demonstrations, collecting signatures to petitions, pamphleteering, leafleting, lobbying MPs. They won support in the Army, especially among its lower ranks. They were always a heterogeneous body, with minimal formal links and organisation: no party cards, no membership tests, no local branches. So their views were correspondingly varied. A Leveller wanted a democratic republic in which the House of Commons was superior to the House of Lords (if there was one); he wanted redistribution and extension of the franchise, legal and economic reforms on behalf of men of small property—artisans, yeomen, small merchants—but not communism: though communist views were attributed to the Leveller William Walwyn, and the communist Diggers called themselves True Levellers. Levellers advocated democratisation of the gilds and City government of London, decentralisation of justice, election of local governors, stability of tenure for copyholders. Some Levellers wanted enclosures to be thrown open.

But the strength of the movement lay mainly in London and other towns—and in the Army. Here they took up the problem of pauperism, not exclusively from the point of view of the poor. 'Thousands of men and women', declared The Large Petition of March 1647, 'are permitted to live in beggary and wickedness all their life long, and to breed their children to the same idle and vicious course of life, and no effectual means used to reclaim either, or to reduce them to any virtue or industry.'1 One or two Levellers—Walwyn, Prince—opposed the reconquest of Ireland on the ground that 'the cause of the Irish natives in seeking their just freedoms … was the very same with our cause here in endeavouring our own rescue and freedom from the power of oppressors.2

The Levellers were democrats who could never have been returned to power by any possible electorate—or only after a long period of freedom to propagate their views, to educate a democratic electorate. As they became aware of this problem, so they tried to find constitutional devices for getting round it. The draft constitution produced in 1647, the Agreement of the People, assumed that the English state had broken down in the civil war and must be refounded. Certain fundamental 'native rights' were safeguarded even from a sovereign Parliament—religious toleration, no tithes, no conscription, indemnity for actions committed in the war, equality before the law. 'As the laws ought to be equal, so they must be good and not evidently destructive to the safety and well-being of the people.' Some at least of these 'good laws' were spelt out in later versions of the Agreement. They included biennial Parliaments, responsibility of ministers to Parliament, franchise reform; only those who contracted in to the new state by accepting the Agreement were to have the vote.3

The Levellers had no distinctive religious policy, apart from wanting toleration and abolition of tithes. They drew support from diverse radical religious groups, though after 1649 leading Independents and Baptists repudiated them.4 Individual Leveller leaders had very heretical views: Richard Overton was a mortalist, Walwyn a sceptical antinomian; Wildman may have been something like a deist.5 Walwyn's The Compassionate Samaritane (1644), with its early plea for toleration, particularly annoyed the Presbyterian clergy. It was attacked in three Fast Sermons in 1644-5.6 In 1647 John Trapp joined the critics in his Commentary on the New Testament.7

Levellers could have put their policies into effect only if they had captured control of the Army. They failed to accomplish this through the Agitators and the Army Council in the summer of 1647; the generals outmanoeuvred and outwitted them. Again in the winter of 1648-9 the generals needed the support of the Levellers until Parliament had been purged and the King executed: a new Agreement of the People was negotiated. But it was never taken seriously by the Army leaders or the Rump. Leveller influence on Army rank and file had been due in great part to their call for arrears of wages and indemnity for actions committed during the civil war. After Pride's Purge in December 1648 these ceased to be problems, and it was revealed that the hold of the political and constitutional ideas of the Levellers was less strong. In March 1649 Cromwell told the Council of State, 'You must break these men or they will break you';8 by May 1649 both civilian and Army Levellers had been broken.

Once they had lost their base in the Army, the Levellers had to find new political approaches. In 1649 they laid greater emphasis on opposition to enclosure and support for stability of tenure for copyholders. These had long figured in the Leveller programmes, and in suitable areas—in Buckinghamshire, for instance—Levellers encouraged attacks on enclosure in 1647-9.9 In 1650-1 Lilburne and Wildman were in the Isle of Axholme supporting the commoners' opposition to fen drainage. It does not appear, however, that they did the fenmen much good; their activities certainly did not help to lay the basis for a mass movement.10 The Levellers suffered a crisis of leadership.

Lilburne was notoriously volatile, and had thriven on his personal popularity in London. He was not at his best in defeat. In October 1649 he offered to emigrate with his adherents to the West Indies if the government would finance them11 Lilburne, like Winstanley, recommended taking the Engagement to be true and faithful to the Commonwealth, and in 1650 he was again on good terms with Cromwell. But in 1651 he was advising the Presbyterian Christopher Love at his trial for treason against the Commonwealth.12 In 1652 he was exiled. Next year he returned to face a spectacular trial in which his popularity in London was reaffirmed; but it was his last political appearance. He was illegally detained in prison until his death in 1657.13 In 1655 he 'troubled and offended' his 'old and familiar friends' by turning Quaker. Typically, Lilburne outdid the Quakers at this date by renouncing 'carnal weapons of any kind whatsoever.14

During his exile Lilburne had been in contact with royalists, though he protested vehemently that he had not plotted for a restoration of monarchy.15 Wildman, Sexby and Overton had no such scruples. They may have entered into negotiations with exiled royalists only in order to deceive them, to take royalist (or Spanish) money in order to forward their own schemes.16 But by this date it is doubtful whether they represented any significant organisation in England. It appears that Overton and Wildman at least were double agents, taking money from Thurloe as well as from royalists.17 What alternative was there for such men if they wished to continue political activity and not—like Walwyn, Winstanley and Coppe—withdraw into passivity?

The ex-Agitator Edmund Sexby, after being cashiered from the Army in 1651,18 was for a short time the Commonwealth's agent with French rebels in Bordeaux, where he had the Agreement of the People translated into French.19 After the establishment of the Protectorate, Sexby advocated Cromwell's assassination in Killing No Murder, and plotted with another ex-Leveller, Miles Sindercombe, to kill the Protector, 'it being certain,' Sindercombe was reported as saying, 'that the great ones of the King would never agree who should succeed, but would fall together by the ears about it, and then in that disorder the people would rise and so things might be brought to a commonwealth again'.20 It is a hope with which many terrorists since have consoled themselves. Sexby died in gaol in 1657.

Walwyn took up medicine in the last thirty years of his life, defending the practice of professional secrecy from which he profited.21 Wildman combined conspiracy with making money by land speculation.22 One reason for his agreeing to act as a spy for Thurloe in 1656 may have been to recover extensive estates in Lancashire which had been sequestrated after his arrest for conspiracy in 1655.23 Wildman spent the rest of his long life plotting against every regime from Cromwell to William III. In 1659 he was a member of Harrington's Rota Club. He had meanwhile established contacts with the Duke of Buckingham which lasted until well after the restoration: Pepys called Wildman 'a great creature of the Duke of Buckingham' in December 1667.24 Wildman was involved in numerous plots against Charles II and James II, as well as in William of Orange's invasion in 1688.25 In 1689 he advocated giving power to the people: failing that, he accepted a knighthood in 1692.26

So, lacking leadership, Leveller activity dwindled in the 1650s. There were rumours of Levellers in Cheshire in 1652,27 of an 'insurrection' in Bedfordshire in 1653.28 Lilburne's trial in the latter year produced an outburst of support in London, including demonstrations and over twenty pamphlets.29 By now many former Leveller supporters seem to have come to think that Charles Stuart might be preferable to the Army.30 There was indeed some logic in this. The Army dominated the state, and once the Leveller bid to capture control over the Army had failed, a weak monarchy balancing diverse interests might be less burdensome than the very expensive military rule.31

In the 1650s Levellers were attacked as subversives who would overthrow law and property. They were often deliberately confused with the Diggers or True Levellers. Cromwell denounced Levellers as 'a despicable and contemptible generation of men', who despised magistracy; their principles tended 'to make the tenant as liberal a fortune as the landlord'.32 The idea that Levellers were 'bad men', 'robbers', was echoed by preachers and government propagandists, by James Harrington and later by Samuel Butler.33

When open propaganda was possible once more, in 1659, the surviving Levellers tried to refurbish their image by stressing their devotion to legality and property, their hostility to arbitrary rule. This made them virtually indistinguishable from Harringtonian republicans, with whom Wildman was associated in 1659-60, perhaps earlier, certainly later.34 Most of the Leveller pamphlets published in these years were low-key and defensive, like The Leveller: Or, the Principles and Maxims Concerning Government and Religion, which are asserted by those commonly called, Levellers, possibly by Wildman.35 It was directed mainly against military rule, stressing the Levellers' concern With legality, their defence of 'our liberties and properties'. Magna Carta was no longer the 'beggarly thing' that Overton had seen in it. Two-chamber government was advocated, though on Harringtonian rather than traditional lines. Toleration and equality before the law were demanded, but there is nothing about the franchise or about economic or legal reform.36 Other tracts revived bits of the former Leveller programme, but 'none of them restated that programme in anything like its entirety.'37

We get a glimpse of Leveller reunion with middle-of-the-road republicans in a letter of 1656 to Charles II, signed by William Howard and eight others, offering him their services. The signatories, Howard told the King in a separate note, were Levellers, neither 'of great families or great estates'. This letter seems to represent an analysis and a programme on which the signatories had agreed to unite. They start from the experience of defeat. 'It is our lot … to be embarked in a shipwrecked commonwealth', thanks to 'the dark and mysterious effects of Providence'. These events 'command an (unwilling) silence upon our (sometimes mutinous and over-enquiring) hearts, resolving all into the good-will and pleasure of that all-disposing One whose wisdom is unsearchable and whose ways are past finding out'. There is no point in presumptuously kicking 'against the irresistible decrees of heaven'.38(Eternal Providence must be asserted, even if God's ways are not clearly justifiable.)

How has this state of affairs arisen? Under Charles I, great though his private virtues were, 'the whole commonwealth was faint, the whole nation sick … There were many errors, many defects, many irregularities, many illegal and eccentrical proceedings, … blots and stains upon the otherwise good government of the late King.' Charles had had to be rescued from 'evil councillors … who did every day thrust him into actions prejudicial to himself and destructive to the common good and safety of the people'.39 In 1642 'we went out in the simplicity of our souls', the letter claims, motivated by 'the sure, safe, sound and unerring maxims of law, justice, reason and righteousness'. If they were deceived, it was by 'that grand imposter, that loathesome hypocrite, that detestable traitor [etc.] … who now calls himself our Protector'.40 After much discussion, the writers had decided that a restoration of Charles II would be best for the 'common good, public safety, the honour, peace, welfare and prosperity of these nations'. Yet, 'lest we should seem to be altogether negligent of that first good though since dishonoured Cause, which God has so eminently owned us in', they offered conditions, whose acceptance by the King would win their support for his restoration.41 These conditions were far indeed from the Leveller programme: restoration of both Houses of Parliament as they existed before Pride's Purge; confirmation of all concessions made by Charles I in the Isle of Wight Treaty of 1648; acceptance of legislation (or the repeal of existing legislation) by Parliament 'for the better securing of the just and natural rights and liberties of the people, for the obviating and preventing all dangerous and destructive excesses of government for the future'. There was to be religious toleration, tithes were to be replaced by some other means of financing the national ministry; there was to be an act of oblivion."42

In a covering note, and later in a personal interview with Charles II, Howard suggested that some of the demands in this letter might be modified. He also asked for £2,000 to be going on with—a sum which the King was in no position to provide even if he had been willing.43 This was not untypical of Howard, who came of a 'great family' himself even if not of 'great estate'. Son of a peer who had taken the Parliamentarian side in the civil war, Howard was an unstable personality—a great preacher' among the Anabaptists and 'of special trust amongst the Levellers'. He was a friend of Wildman's and 'very intimate with Sindercombe', the man who tried to assassinate Cromwell in 1657.44 After the restoration Howard plotted with the Dutch against Charles II, was frequently imprisoned and ended as a double agent, helping to get Lord Russell and Algernon Sidney convicted after the Rye House Plot.45

The name 'Leveller' was used to describe rioters in Worcestershrire in 1670,46 and at various places in the 1720s and 1730s.47 Levellers were discussed in the House of Commons in 1673;48 in 1708 the French prophets were believed to be reviving 'Levelling principles'.49

Lilburne in 1649 looked to posterity which, 'we doubt not, shall reap the benefit of our labours, whatever shall become of us'.50 His cause was lost when he wrote those words. But one Leveller left a more enduring message. Richard Rumbold was one of the guards at the scaffold when Charles I was executed. In February 1649—the month when Lilburne was looking to posterity—Rumbold petitioned for the re-establishment of the Council of Agitators. After the restoration he was the owner of Rye House, and seems to have played a leading part in the Rye House Plot of 1683, after which he fled to Holland. In 1685 he joined Argyll's invasion of Scotland, was captured and executed. On the scaffold he uttered words which long survived him: 'None comes into the world with a saddle upon his back, neither any booted and spurred to ride him.51 Defoe used part of this phrase, without acknowledgement, in 1705; and it was often repeated.52 It was probably a well-known Leveller phrase when Rumbold used it; it gained its apotheosis when Jefferson quoted it in 1826.53

2 True Levellers

The True Levellers or Diggers established a colony in April 1649 to cultivate in common the waste land of St George's Hill, Surrey, and later of the nearby Cobham Heath. They claimed that commons and waste land belonged to the people, not to lords of manors. The poor had borne the burden of fighting, taxation and free quarter in the civil war: they had a right to share in the freedom which Parliament had promised to establish.

God's shaking nations, trying men,
And changing times and customs,

Gerrard Winstanley had written in 1648. 'By the law of righteousness', he said later, 'the poorest man hath as true a title and just right to the land as the richest man.54 Cultivation of commons and wastes would solve England's food problems and abolish poverty and begging.

Within a year, at least ten Digger colonies had been started in central and southern England, with more anticipated.55 But they were all small affairs, harassed by local landowners and parsons; when the government withdrew Army protection they were swiftly broken up. By April 1650 all was over. After defeat, Winstanley in The Law of Freedom in a Platform (1652) worked out a programme for the introduction of a communist society by state action, example having failed. Winstanley's ideas are too rich to be briefly summarised. I must refer to what I have written elsewhere,56 and here list only some of aspects of his thought which are relevant for our purposes.

Winstanley used Scripture language, but gave his own sense to the biblical stories. Whether the Crucifixion, the Resurrection and the Ascension were historical events 'it matters not much'57: he uses them as metaphors for psychological transformations within men and women. The Christ who lived at Jerusalem matters less than the Christ within. The rise of private property had been the Fall of Man: Its abolition, and that of wage labour, would allow a return to the innocence of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Winstanley's God is not to be found above the skies after we are dead, but within each one of us, here on earth. There is no heaven or hell after death, no personal immortality. Heaven, hell, Satan, are all within us. The universe—as Milton thought too—had been created out of the substance of God. The Second Coming of Jesus Christ is the rising of Reason within sons and daughters, and Reason teaches us the need for cooperation. Winstanley used the word Reason in preference to God. As Christ rises, so all men and women will come to see the necessity of cooperation. There is no other Second Coming.58 Ultimately all mankind will be saved—ie brought into the haven of peace and rest on earth—not by the descent of a Saviour from the clouds but by the rising of communal consciousness within them. All men shall become Sons of God united by the Christ within.59 Universalism was of course highly unorthodox when Winstanley began to preach it in 164860; in his final version it was hardly Christian at all.

Winstanley saw the clergy as his main adversaries because they made a handsome living out of persuading the poor to accept their poverty on earth and look for their reward in heaven after death. The Diggers expected their heaven on earth. In Winstanley's ideal commonwealth there would be no state church; preaching for hire (i.e. an endowed ministry) would be as illegal as buying and selling, or lawyers taking fees. Winstanley rejected all church ordinances—prayer, preaching, baptism, holy communion, Sabbath observance. What mattered was 'the anointing' by the spirit of God. Winstanley believed that 'all the inward bondages of the mind' are 'occasioned by the outward bondage that one sort of people lay upon another', and will disappear in an equal society.61

Winstanley had accepted that England was a nation chosen as a model to the world. The Law of Freedom is analogous to Paradise Lost in that it attempts to explain how this hope had been frustrated.62 Large excerpts from the pamphlet appeared in February 1652 in Daniel Border's newspaper The Faithful Scout, even before The Law of Freedom was published. Professor Woolrych points out that Border may have been taking his material at second hand, since three contemporary tracts also printed matter from The Law of Freedom.63

Winstanley's last pamphlet thus attracted some contemporary attention. But by 1652 Winstanley himself was exhausted and bitterly disillusioned. The dedication of The Law of Freedom to Oliver Cromwell may have been more than a device for winning publicity: like the Quakers later, Winstanley may still have had hopes of the Army. God, he said, had honoured Cromwell 'with the highest honour of any man since Moses's time'; Cromwell had not yet revealed himself as the lost leader of radical mythology. The Parliament which had proclaimed the Commonwealth might be persuaded to remove some of the burdens which afflicted the people. 'You have power in your hand', he told Cromwell, 'to act for common freedom if you will: I have no power.'64 But by the time he had reached the end of his pamphlet Winstanley seems to have realised that his hopes were vain.

O power where art thou, that must mend things amiss?
Come change the heart of man, and make him truth to kiss.
O death where art thou? Wilt thou not tidings send?
I fear thee not, thou art my loving friend.65

Winstanley did not in fact die for another twenty-four years, but so far as we know he abandoned political activity and writing. In 1654 he visited Edward Burrough and told him that the Quakers were 'sent to perfect that work which fell in their hands'.66 Or so Burrough said: Winstanley may not have spoken quite so strongly. Twenty-two years later he was buried as a Quaker, but there is no evidence in between that he played any active role in the Society of Friends. On the contrary: he held various parish offices at Cobham between 1659 and 1668, and in 1671 and 1672 he was one of two chief constables of Elmbridge Hundred. This would suggest that he conformed to the state church during those years.67

His influence may have been greater in the seventeenth century than used to be thought. Contemporaries indeed noted similarities between the ideas of Winstanley and the early Quakers which were obscured by developments of Quaker theology after 1660.68 More than one later seventeenth-century author regarded Winstanley as the originator of the Quakers.69 A more direct influence can be seen on the pamphlets of William Covell of Enfield, where in 1650 there had been a Digger colony. In 1649 and again in 1659 there were riots against the enclosure of Enfield Chase, from which purchasers expected to make comfortable profits. It was sold tithe-free, and improvements suggested by the surveyors would have increased the value by nearly 150 per cent—for example by evicting thirty-four squatters who had built cottages without leave.70 The former Agitator, Cornet George Joyce, now Colonel Joyce, was one intending purchaser.71

Covell spoke of having had eight years service with the Army,72 and was careful to describe himself as a 'gentleman' (as Winstanley was), and to deny being 'a Leveller who would destroy property'. Nevertheless, he proposed a return to the 'good ancient laws and customs which were before the Norman Yoke'. He wanted to abolish an endowed clergy: 'if any will have parish ministers, let them that will have them pay them.' Tithes, together with delinquents' estates and the lands of Inns of Court, Chancery and universities should be confiscated and used to pay public debts. All commons and waste lands should be settled on the poor for ever. 'The patents and grants by the kings to lords of manors may be well searched into, for they are encroachments upon the people.' Cooperative communities were to be established, which differed from those of the Diggers in that they were to be financed by some rich men. Within these communities there was to be no buying and selling. The rich were to be taxed in proportion to their estates to maintain the impotent and aged poor and to provide work for all the unemployed. A remarkable concluding provision was that all other laws were to be null for ever.73 The whole pamphlet might have been written by Winstanley in his 'possibilist' mood of 1652. Covell believed that every man was king, priest and governor in, to and over himself. The people had a right to choose their own officers.74 Covell's last publication was The True Copy of a Letter sent to Charles II in 1660, in which he addressed the King as 'thou'. (Enfield was to become a Quaker stronghold.) As late as 1666 there were rumours of a Fifth Monarchist conspiracy based on Epping Forest and Enfield Chase.75 Echoes of Winstanley, as well as of Areopagitica, may also be heard in two pamphlets which Peter Cornelius Plockhoy published in 1659, not least in their fierce anti-clericalism: Great Antichrist (Bishop and King) had been succeeded by little Antichrists (priests). At least one Digger appears to have become a Harringtonian.76

It used to be thought that after the seventeenth century Winstanley was unknown until he was re-discovered at the end of the nineteenth century. But Benjamin Furley (1636-1714), Quaker friend of Algernon Sidney and Locke, owned Winstanley's writings.77 In the mid-eighteenth century the radical Whig Thomas Hollis (who was interested in the mortalism of Richard Overton) gave a copy of The Law of Freedom to Henry Fielding.78 In the 1790s ministers in the parish of Llangyfelach near Swansea were reading and discussing Winstanley's works.79 A. F. Villemain's Histoire de Cromwell d'apres les memoir es du temps et les recueils parliamentaires (1819) devoted a paragraph to the Diggers.80 Now that historians have started to look out for it, more evidence will almost certainly be forthcoming.81


1 In Haller, Tracts on Liberty in the Puritan Revolution (Columbia UP, 1933), III, p. 401. Attributed to Walwyn.

2 See now my '17th Century English tadicals and Ireland' in Radicals, Rebels and Establishments (ed P. J. Corish, Historical Studies, XV, Belfast, 1985)

3 See WTUD [C. Hill, The World Turned Upside Down, Penguin edn., 1975] pp 66, 271-3

4 See p. 322 below

5Puritanism and Liberty ed. A. S. P. Woodhouse (1938), pp. 107-8, 128, 161; WTUD), pp. 165-6. But contrast K. V. Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (1971), pp. 236-7 (on Wildman and magic).

6 Matthew Newcomen, A Sermon (1644), p. 38; Lazarus Seaman, Solomons Choice (1644),

7 P. 41; A. Burgess, Publike Affections (1646), p. 16. Op cit. (1958 reprint) p. 515.

8 See p. 182 below

9 I owe this point to A. M. Johnson, 'Buckinghamshire 1640-60: A Study in County Politics' (unpubl. MA Thesis, University of Wales, 1963), pp. 261-2.

10 J. Hughes, 'The Drainage Disputes in the Isle of Axholme', The Lincolnshire Historian, II (1954), pp. 13-34; C. Holmes, Seventeenth-Century Lincolnshire (Lincoln, 1980), pp. 210-11; K Lindley, Fenland Riots and the English Revolution (1982) pp. 194-6, 204-5, 211, 258 Lilburne and Wildman also agitated on behalf of a democratic party in City politics in 1650 (M. Ashley, John Wildman, Plotter and Postmaster 1947, p. 76).

11 Lilburne, The Innocent Mans Second Proffer (1649). Many radicals emigrated to the West Indies after defeat (WTUD, pp. 254-5).

12 G. D. Owen, 'The Conspiracy of Christopher Love,' Trans. Hon. Soc. of Cymmrodorion (1964), p. 97.

13 C. J. Rolle was inclined to allow him a habeas corpus (W. Style, Narrationes Modernae, or Modern Reports Begun in the now Upper Bench at Westiminster (1658), pp. 397-8).

14The Resurrection of John Lilburne, now a Prisoner in Dover-Castle (1656), pp. 1-5, 9-13, 21.

15 P. Gregg, Freeborn John: a Biography of John Lilburne (1961), Chapter 27; H. N. Brailsford, The Levellers and the English Revolution (1961), p. 623; D. Underdown, Royalist Conspiracy in England, 1649-60 (Yale UP, 1960), pp. 24-5.

16A Collection of Original Letters and Papers Concerning the Affairs of England, ed. T. Carte (1739), II, p. 103, cf. HMC Portland MSS, I pp. 591, 601; Thurloe State Papers, ed. T. Birch (1742), IV, pp. 161, 698, 743; cf. ibid., V, pp. 37, 100, and Underdown, op. cit., pp. 192-4,

17 Brailsford, op. cit., p. 624; Underdown, op. cit., pp. 123-4, 135, 172; Ashley, op. cit., Chapters 7-10; Marie Gimelfarb-Brack, Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite, Justice: la vie et l 'oeuvre de Richard Overton, Niveleur (Beme, 1979), pp. 287-304. Ashley argues that Wildman's intention throughout was to work for an English republic.

18 G. E. Aylmer, The State's Servants (1973), p. 135.

19Clarke Papers, ed. C. H. Firth, III (1899), p. 189; P. A. Knachel, England and the Fronde: the Impact of the English Civil War and Revolution on France (Cornell UP, 1967), pp. 161-3, 197-214, 269.

20Thurloe State Papers, V, p. 775; Mercurius Politicus, No. 348, 5-17 February 1657, pp. 7587-92, 7604-8. Sindercombe had been one of the mutineers of 1649. He was a mortalist and believed in universal redemption.

21 See my Change and Continuity in Seventeenth-Century England, pp. 173-7.

22 Ashley, op. cit., pp. 103, 237, 253-4; A. Fletcher, A County Community in Peace and War: Sussex, 1600-1660 (1975), pp. 332-3 (Wildman rack-renting); cf. Lucy Hutchinson, Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson (Oxford UP, 1973), p. 198; Seventeenth-Century Economic Documents, ed. J. Thirsk and J. Cooper (Oxford UP, 1972), pp. 282-3.

23Thurloe State Papers, IV, pp. 179, 215, 333, 340; V. p. 241.

24 Ashley, op. cit., pp. 103, 184, 207, 217; State Papers Collected by Edward Earl of Clarendon III (1786), pp. 219-20; Pepys, Diary, 6 December 1667. Pepys called Wildman 'the Fifth Monarchy Man', which is hardly accurate. On 12 December 1667 and 4 November 1668 he called him a Commonwealthsman.

25 See Sir Robert Southwell's Diary, in Diary of the Popish Plot, ed. D. C. Greene (New York 1977), pp. 57, 60 1, 68, 99; cf. Portland MSS, II, p. 49.

26 Ashley, op. cit., pp. 277, 299.

27 J S. Morrill, Cheshire, 1630-1660 (Oxford UP, 1974), p. 275.

28 T. Gataker, His Vindication of the Annotations by him published (1653), p. 12

29 Woolrych, Commonwealth to Protectorate (Oxford UP, 1982), pp. 130, 250.

30 [Anon.], The Levellers (Falsly so called) Vindicated (1649), in Freedom in Arms. A Selection of Leveller Writings, ed. A. L. Morton (1975), pp. 314, 316. This pamphlet was signed by six troopers of regiments involved in the mutiny which ended at Burford in May 1649.

31 See eg. Carte, op. cit., I, pp. 332-3; II, p. 69; cf. Clarendon State Papers, III, pp. 272-3. 'Their intention is a free Parliament', which would recall the King to rule as 'administrator and not master of laws'; cf. pp. 315, 431.

32 W. C. Abbott, Writings and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell (Harvard UP, 1937-47), III pp. 435-6; cf. IV, p. 267. See p. 187 below.

33 E.g. Mercurius Politicus, No. 354, 19-26 March, 1657, pp. 7674-5, cf. 9-16 October, 1656 p. 7315; W. Hughes, Magistracy Gods Ministry (1652), To the Reader (assise sermon preached at Abingdon); ed. G. F. Nuttall, Early Quaker Letters from the Swarthmore MSS. to 1660 (1952, duplicated), p. 150; The Political Works of James Harrington, ed. J. G. A. Pocock (Cambridge UP, 1977), p. 292; Samuel Butler, Prose Observations, ed. H. de Quehen (Oxford UP, 1979), p. 74; cf. pp. 226, 283.

34 Ashley, op. cit., pp. 133, 218.

35 Ibid., pp. 128, 136; Woolrych, 'Last Quests for Settlement, 1659-1660', in The Interregnum the Quest for Settlement, 1656-1660, ed. G. E. Aylmer (1972), p. 193.

36The Leveller is reprinted in Harleian Miscellany IV (1744-6), pp. 515-21. Cf. A Plea for the Peoples Good Old Cause (October 1659) and A Plea for the Peoples Fundamental Lib-erties and Parliaments (1660 written autumn 1659).

37 Woolrych, 'Last Quests', pp. 193-4, lists many of these pamphlets. He notes their lack of interest in the franchise.

38 Edward, Earl of Clarendon, The History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England, ed. W. D. Macray (Oxford UP, 1888), VI, pp. 67-8.

39 Ibid., pp. 69, 75-6.

40 Ibid., p. 70. One recalls later revolutionaries who were deceived by Stalin, solely guilty of everything that had gone wrong.

41 Ibid., pp. 71-3.

42 Ibid., pp. 73-4.

43 Ibid., pp. 75-8.

44 Ibid., pp. 66-7, Thurloe State Papers, V, p. 395; Underdown, op. cit., pp. 193-4, 198.

45 K. H. D. Haley, William of Orange and the English Opposition, 1672-4 (Oxford UP, 1953), pp 28, 35-7, 70-1, 78-83, 116, 174, 194, 201-2; Haley, The First Earl of Shaftesbury (Oxford UP, 1968), pp. 314, 714-20.

46VCH [Victoria County History], Worcestershire, IV, p. 192.

47 Nicholas Tindal's Continuation of Rapin's History of England (1744-5), IV, p. 682 (enthusiastic Levellers who pulled down enclosures and sought equality in 1724); E. P. Thompson, Whigs and Hunters (1975), p. 256 (Ledbury, 1735); Thompson, 'The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the 18th Century', P. and P. [Past and Present], 50 (1971), p 126 (Newcastle in 1740); cf. P.J. Corfield, The Impact of the English Towns (Oxford UP, 1982), p 65; and my 'From Lollards to Levellers', in my Religion and Politics in 17th Century England (Brighton, 1986).

48 J. Stoughton, History of Religion in England (1881), III, p. 411.

49 M. C. Jacob, The Newtonians and the English Revolution, 1689-1720 (Cornell UP, 1976), pp. 262, 268.

50Englands New Chains Discovered, in Haller and Davies, op. cit., p. 166.

51State Trials (1811), pp. 873-81; James Wellwood, Memoirs of the Most Material Transactions in England for the Last Hundred Years (1700), p. 173. Wellwood claimed to have been present when Rumbold uttered these words.

52 Daniel Defoe, The Consolidator, printed with The History of the Plague in London in 1665 (1840), p. 216. Partridge echoed it in 1708 (B. S. Capp, Astrology and the Popular Press: English Almanacs, 1500-1800, 1979, p. 229).

53 D. M. Wolfe, The Image of Man in America (Dallas, 1957), p. 19.

54 Winstanley, The Law of Freedom and Other Writings, p. 131.

55 K. V. Thomas, 'Another Digger Broadside', P. and P., 42 (1969), pp. 57-61.

56 WTUD, esp. Chapters 7 and 8; Introduction to Winstanley, The Law of Freedom; 'The Religion of Gerrard Winstanley', in my Religion and Politics in 17th century England (Brighton 1986).

57The Law of Freedom, p. 232.

58Religion and Politics, pp. 3-10, 17-18, 29-37, 47; cf pp. 230 and 306 below.

59 Ibid., pp. 5-6, 10; see p. 306 below.

60 But cf. pp. 84, 88-9 below—Erbery.

61 Ibid., pp. 5-6, 8, 28-9, 33, 48. For the anointing see pp. 304-9 below.

62 I owe this point to Sheila Reynolds, 'Gerrard Winstanley: his Search for Peace' (unpubl. MA thesis, McGill University, 1976), pp. 54, 61.

63 Woolrych, Commonwealth to Protectorate, p. 39.

64 Winstanley, The Law of Freedom, pp. 275, 278-85

65 Ibid., p. 389.

66The Religion of Gerrard Winstanley, p. 51.

67 J. Alsop, 'Gerrard Winstanley's Later Life', P. and P., 82 (1979), pp. 73-81; cf. R. T. Vann, 'The Later Life of Gerrard Winstanley', Journal of the History of Ideas, XXVI (1965), pp. 133-6, D. C. Taylor, Gerrard Winstanley in Elmsbridge (1982), pp. 4-5; Barry Reay, 'Early Quaker Activity and Reactions to it, 1652-1664' (unpubl. Oxford DPhil. thesis, 1979), p. 5.

68 See for example F. H. Higginson, A Brief Relation of the preaching of the Northern Quakers (1653), p. 26; Francis Harris, Some Queries (1655), p. 23. I owe both these references to the kindness of Dr Barry Reay.

69 Thomas Comber, Christianity no Enthusiasm (1678), pp. 92, 181; Thomas Tenison, An Argument for Union (1683), p. 8. I owe this last reference too to Dr Reay.

70 S. J. Madge, 'Rural Middlesex under the Commonwealth', Transactions of the London and Middlesex Archeological Societies, N.S., IV, pp. 432-43; cf. [Anon.], A Relation of the Cruelties and Barbarous Murthers … committed [at] … Enfield (1659).

71 For Joyce see Harleian Miscellany, VIII (1744-6), pp. 293-6 and Woolrych, Commonwealth to Protectorate, p. 259. Joyce was cashiered in September 1653, allegedly for saying that he wished the pistol pointed at Cromwell on Triploe Heath in 1647 had gone off. Joyce on the contrary claimed that the charge of treason resulted from a dispute over land purchase between himself and Richard Cromwell.

72 A Captain Covell was cashiered in October 1650 in Scotland (eight years after enlisting in 1642?) for allegedly saying 'sin was no sin' and denying the humanity of Christ (C. H. Firth and G. Davies, Regimental History of Cromwell's Army (Oxford UP, 1940), I, pp. 69-70. But this Covell's Christian name is given as Christopher.

73 Covell, A Declaration unto the Parliament (1659), pp. 8, 17-22.

74 W. Covell, A Proclamation to all, of all sorts, high and low (n.d.,?1654), single sheet. See also J. M. Patrick, 'William Covell and the Troubles at Enfield in 1659: A Sequel of the Digger Movement', University of Toronto Quarterly, XIV (1944).

75 Rogers, Life and Opinions of a Fifth-Monarchy Man, pp. 328-9.

76 Cornelius Plockhoy, The Way to the Peace and Settlement of these Nations (March 1659) and A Way propounded to make the poor in these and other Nations happy (May 1659), esp. p. 21. For Areopagitica see O. Lutaud, Les Deux Revolutions d 'Angleterre: documents politiques, sociaux, religieux (Paris, 1978), p. 439. For the Harringtonians see pp. 194-9 below.

77 M. C. Jacob, The Radical Enlightenment: Pantheists, Freemasons and Republicans (1981), p. 161.

78 C. Robbins, 'Library of Liberty', Harvard Library Bulletin, 5 (1951), p. 17, quoted by J. R. Jacob, Henry Stubbe: Radical Protestantism and the Early Enlightenment in England (1983), p. 161.

79 Philip Jenkins, A Social and Political History of the Glamorgan Gentry, c. 1650-1720 (unpubl. Cambridge Ph.D. thesis, 1978), p. 298. 1 am grateful to Dr Jenkins for permission to quote from this thesis, and to M. C. Jacob for drawing my attention to it.

80 0. Lutaud, op. cit., p. 161.

81 Professor Linebaugh pointed out that an 18th-century song, 'Property must be, Save the Queen, save the Queen' appears to be written to the tune of the Diggers' song ('All the Atlantic Mountains Shook': paper delivered at a conference on Radicalism in England and America in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, Philadelphia, 14 November 1981).…


Representative Works


Principal Figures