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Levellers

Levellers

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The Levellers were a political movement
Political movement
A political movement is a social movement in the area of politics. A political movement may be organized around a single issue or set of issues, or around a set of shared concerns of a social group...

 during the English Civil Wars which emphasised popular sovereignty
Popular sovereignty
Popular sovereignty or the sovereignty of the people is the political principle that the legitimacy of the state is created and sustained by the will or consent of its people, who are the source of all political power. It is closely associated with Republicanism and the social contract...

, extended suffrage
Suffrage
Suffrage, political franchise, or simply the franchise, distinct from mere voting rights, is the civil right to vote gained through the democratic process...

, equality before the law
Equality before the law
Equality before the law or equality under the law or legal egalitarianism is the principle under which each individual is subject to the same laws....

, and religious tolerance, all of which were expressed in the manifesto
Manifesto
A manifesto is a public declaration of principles and intentions, often political in nature. Manifestos relating to religious belief are generally referred to as creeds. Manifestos may also be life stance-related.-Etymology:...

 "Agreement of the People
Agreement of the People
An Agreement of the People was a series of manifestos, published between 1647 and 1649, for constitutional changes to the English state. Several versions of the Agreement were published, each adapted to address not only broad concerns but also specific issues during the fast changing...

". They came to prominence at the end of the First English Civil War
First English Civil War
The First English Civil War began the series of three wars known as the English Civil War . "The English Civil War" was a series of armed conflicts and political machinations that took place between Parliamentarians and Royalists from 1642 until 1651, and includes the Second English Civil War and...

 and were most influential before the start of the Second Civil War
Second English Civil War
The Second English Civil War was the second of three wars known as the English Civil War which refers to the series of armed conflicts and political machinations which took place between Parliamentarians and Royalists from 1642 until 1652 and also include the First English Civil War and the...

. Leveller views and support were found in the populace of the City of London
City of London
The City of London is a small area within Greater London, England. It is the historic core of London around which the modern conurbation grew and has held city status since time immemorial. The City’s boundaries have remained almost unchanged since the Middle Ages, and it is now only a tiny part of...

 and in some regiments in the New Model Army
New Model Army
The New Model Army of England was formed in 1645 by the Parliamentarians in the English Civil War, and was disbanded in 1660 after the Restoration...

.

The levellers were not a political party
Political party
A political party is a political organization that typically seeks to influence government policy, usually by nominating their own candidates and trying to seat them in political office. Parties participate in electoral campaigns, educational outreach or protest actions...

 in the modern sense of the word, and did not all conform to a specific manifesto. They were organised at the national level, with offices in a number of London
London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 inn
INN
InterNetNews is a Usenet news server package, originally released by Rich Salz in 1991, and presented at the Summer 1992 USENIX conference in San Antonio, Texas...

s and tavern
Tavern
A tavern is a place of business where people gather to drink alcoholic beverages and be served food, and in some cases, where travelers receive lodging....

s such as The Rosemary Branch in Islington which got its name from the sprigs of rosemary that Levellers would wear in their hat as a sign of identification. The Rosemary branch is still open today as an inn. They published a newspaper (The Moderate), and were pioneers in the use of petitions and pamphleteer
Pamphleteer
A pamphleteer is a historical term for someone who creates or distributes pamphlets. Pamphlets were used to broadcast the writer's opinions on an issue, for example, in order to get people to vote for their favorite politician or to articulate a particular political ideology.A famous pamphleteer...

ing to political ends. They identified themselves by sea-green ribbons worn on their clothing. After Pride's Purge
Pride's Purge
Pride’s Purge is an event in December 1648, during the Second English Civil War, when troops under the command of Colonel Thomas Pride forcibly removed from the Long Parliament all those who were not supporters of the Grandees in the New Model Army and the Independents...

 and the execution of Charles I, power lay in the hands of the Grandees in the Army (and to a lesser extent with the Rump Parliament
Rump Parliament
The Rump Parliament is the name of the English Parliament after Colonel Pride purged the Long Parliament on 6 December 1648 of those members hostile to the Grandees' intention to try King Charles I for high treason....

). The Levellers, along with all other opposition groups, were marginalized by those in power and their influence waned. By 1650, they were no longer a serious threat to the established order.

Origin of name


The term 'leveller' had been used in 17th-century England as a term of abuse for rural rebels. In the Midland Revolt
Midland Revolt
The Midland Revolt was a popular uprising which took place in the Midlands of England in 1607. Beginning in late April in Haselbech, Pytchley and Rushton in Northamptonshire, and spreading to Warwickshire and Leicestershire throughout May, riots took place as a protest against the enclosure of...

 of 1607, the name was used to refer to those who 'levelled' hedges in enclosure riot
Riot
A riot is a form of civil disorder characterized often by what is thought of as disorganized groups lashing out in a sudden and intense rash of violence against authority, property or people. While individuals may attempt to lead or control a riot, riots are thought to be typically chaotic and...

s.

As a political movement, the term first referred to a faction of New Model Army
New Model Army
The New Model Army of England was formed in 1645 by the Parliamentarians in the English Civil War, and was disbanded in 1660 after the Restoration...

 Agitators and their London supporters who were allegedly plotting to assassinate
Assassination
To carry out an assassination is "to murder by a sudden and/or secret attack, often for political reasons." Alternatively, assassination may be defined as "the act of deliberately killing someone, especially a public figure, usually for hire or for political reasons."An assassination may be...

 the king. But the term was gradually attached to John Lilburne
John Lilburne
John Lilburne , also known as Freeborn John, was an English political Leveller before, during and after English Civil Wars 1642-1650. He coined the term "freeborn rights", defining them as rights with which every human being is born, as opposed to rights bestowed by government or human law...

, Richard Overton
Richard Overton
Richard Overton was an English pamphleteer and Leveller during the Civil War. Little is known of the early life of Overton, but he is believed to have matriculated at Queens' College, Cambridge, before working as an actor and playwright in Southwark. Here he picked up Leveller sympathies, and...

 and William Walwyn
William Walwyn
William Walwyn was an English pamphleteer, a Leveller and a medical practitioner.Walwyn was a silkman in London who took the parliamentary side in the English Civil War. He advocated religious toleration and emerged as a leader of the Levellers in 1647 which led to his imprisonment in 1649...

 and their 'faction'. Books published in 1647–1648 often reflect this terminological uncertainty. The public 'identification' was largely due to the aspersions by Marchamont Needham
Marchamont Needham
Marchamont Needham was a journalist, publisher and pamphleteer during the English Civil War, who wrote official news and propaganda for both sides of the conflict....

, the author of the newspaper Mercurius Pragmaticus. Lilburne, John Wildman
John Wildman
Sir John Wildman was an English soldier and politician.-Biography:Wildman was born in the Norfolk town of Wymondham, the son of Jeffrey and Dorothy Wildman. His father was a butcher. John was educated as a sizar at Corpus Christi College University of Cambridge taking an MA in 1644...

 and Richard Baxter
Richard Baxter
Richard Baxter was an English Puritan church leader, poet, hymn-writer, theologian, and controversialist. Dean Stanley called him "the chief of English Protestant Schoolmen". After some false starts, he made his reputation by his ministry at Kidderminster, and at around the same time began a long...

 later thought that Oliver Cromwell
Oliver Cromwell
Oliver Cromwell was an English military and political leader who overthrew the English monarchy and temporarily turned England into a republican Commonwealth, and served as Lord Protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland....

 and Henry Ireton
Henry Ireton
Henry Ireton was an English general in the Parliamentary army during the English Civil War. He was the son-in-law of Oliver Cromwell.-Early life:...

 had applied the term to Lilburne's group during the Putney Debates
Putney Debates
The Putney Debates were a series of discussions between members of the New Model Army – a number of the participants being Levellers – concerning the makeup of a new constitution for England....

 of late 1647. Lilburne considered the term pejorative and called his supporters "Levellers so-called" and preferred "Agitators". The term suggested that the "Levellers" aimed to bring all down to the lowest common level. The leaders vehemently denied the charge of "levelling", but adopted the name because it was how they were known to the majority of people. After their arrest and imprisonment in 1649, four of the 'Leveller' leaders — Walwyn, Overton, Lilburne and Thomas Prince — signed a manifesto in which they called themselves Levellers.

The Oxford English Dictionary
Oxford English Dictionary
The Oxford English Dictionary , published by the Oxford University Press, is the self-styled premier dictionary of the English language. Two fully bound print editions of the OED have been published under its current name, in 1928 and 1989. The first edition was published in twelve volumes , and...

dates the first written use of the term for a political movement to 1644, but the source cited there, Marchamont Needham
Marchamont Needham
Marchamont Needham was a journalist, publisher and pamphleteer during the English Civil War, who wrote official news and propaganda for both sides of the conflict....

's pamphlet The Case for the Commonwealth of England Stated, dates from 1650. The term was used in a letter of 1 November 1647, and the 19th century historian S. R. Gardiner suggested that it existed as a nickname
Nickname
A nickname is "a usually familiar or humorous but sometimes pointed or cruel name given to a person or place, as a supposedly appropriate replacement for or addition to the proper name.", or a name similar in origin and pronunciation from the original name....

 before this date. Blair Worden
Blair Worden
Blair Worden is a British historian, among the leading authorities on the period of the English Civil War and on relations between literature and history more generally in the early modern period. He matriculated as an undergraduate at Pembroke College, Oxford, in 1963. After spending a year as a...

, the most recent historian to publish on the subject, concluded that the 1 November letter was the first recorded use of the term. The letter referred to extremists among the Army agitators: "They have given themselves a new name, viz. Levellers, for they intend to sett all things straight, and rayse a parity and community in the kingdom". Worden shows that the term first appeared in print in a book by Charles I
Charles I of England
Charles I was King of England, King of Scotland, and King of Ireland from 27 March 1625 until his execution in 1649. Charles engaged in a struggle for power with the Parliament of England, attempting to obtain royal revenue whilst Parliament sought to curb his Royal prerogative which Charles...

 called His Majesties Most Gracious Declaration. This tract was a printing of a letter that had been read in the House of Lords on 11 November 1647. Although George Thomason
George Thomason
George Thomason was an English book collector. He is famous for assembling a collection of more than 22,000 books and pamphlets published during the time of the English Civil War and the interregnum...

 did not date this tract, the last date internal to the document was Saturday 13 November 1647, suggesting a publication date of 15 November 1647.

Political ambitions


The Levellers had no coherent agenda: before 1649, there is no record of their having sat down together to develop a manifesto. However, they were committed broadly to the abolition of corruption
Political corruption
Political corruption is the use of legislated powers by government officials for illegitimate private gain. Misuse of government power for other purposes, such as repression of political opponents and general police brutality, is not considered political corruption. Neither are illegal acts by...

 within the Parliamentary and judicial process, toleration of religious differences, the translation of law into the common tongue, and some kind of expansion of the suffrage
Suffrage
Suffrage, political franchise, or simply the franchise, distinct from mere voting rights, is the civil right to vote gained through the democratic process...

. These aims fluctuated. Some Levellers, like John Lilburne, argued that the English Common law, particularly Magna Carta
Magna Carta
Magna Carta is an English charter, originally issued in the year 1215 and reissued later in the 13th century in modified versions, which included the most direct challenges to the monarch's authority to date. The charter first passed into law in 1225...

, were the foundation of English rights and liberties, but others, like William Walwyn, compared Magna Carta to a 'mess of potage'
Mess of pottage
The phrase mess of pottage means something of little value, with a pottage being a type of soup. Though it can appear in general use, it is usually associated with the exchange by Esau of his birthright for a meal of lentil stew, as described in Genesis 25:29–34 in the Bible...

.

Levellers tended to hold fast to a notion of "natural rights" that had been violated by the king's side in the Civil Wars. At the Putney Debates in 1647, Colonel Thomas Rainsborough
Thomas Rainsborough
Thomas Rainsborough , or Rainborough or Raineborough or Rainborowe or Rainbow or Rainborow, was a prominent figure in the English Civil War, and was the leading spokesman of the Levellers in the Putney Debates.-Life:He was the son of William Rainsborough, a captain and Vice-Admiral in the Royal...

 defended natural rights as coming from the law of God expressed in the Bible
Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

. Richard Overton considered that liberty was an innate property of every person. Michael Mendle has demonstrated the development of Leveller ideas from elements of early Parliamentarian thought as expressed by men such as Henry Parker
Henry Parker (writer)
Henry Parker was an English barrister and political writer in the Parliamentarian cause.He was a major figure as a propagandist and pamphleteer, "the most influential writer to defend the parliamentary cause in the 1640s". He provided the "ideological ballast for resistance", according to Geoffrey...

.

Timeline


In July 1645, John Lilburne was imprisoned for denouncing Members of Parliament
Member of Parliament
A Member of Parliament is a representative of the voters to a :parliament. In many countries with bicameral parliaments, the term applies specifically to members of the lower house, as upper houses often have a different title, such as senate, and thus also have different titles for its members,...

 who lived in comfort while the common soldiers fought and died for the Parliamentary
Parliament of England
The Parliament of England was the legislature of the Kingdom of England. In 1066, William of Normandy introduced a feudal system, by which he sought the advice of a council of tenants-in-chief and ecclesiastics before making laws...

 cause. His offence was slandering William Lenthall
William Lenthall
William Lenthall was an English politician of the Civil War period. He served as Speaker of the House of Commons.-Early life:...

, the Speaker of the House of Commons
House of Commons of England
The House of Commons of England was the lower house of the Parliament of England from its development in the 14th century to the union of England and Scotland in 1707, when it was replaced by the House of Commons of Great Britain...

, whom he accused of corresponding with Royalist
Royalist
A royalist supports a particular monarch as head of state for a particular kingdom, or of a particular dynastic claim. In the abstract, this position is royalism. It is distinct from monarchism, which advocates a monarchical system of government, but not necessarily a particular monarch...

s. He was freed in October, after a petition requesting his release, signed by over 2,000 leading London citizens, was presented to the House of Commons.

In July 1646, Lilburne was imprisoned again, this time in the Tower of London
Tower of London
Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress, more commonly known as the Tower of London, is a historic castle on the north bank of the River Thames in central London, England. It lies within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, separated from the eastern edge of the City of London by the open space...

, for denouncing his former army commander the Earl of Manchester
Edward Montagu, 2nd Earl of Manchester
Edward Montagu, 2nd Earl of Manchester KG, KB, FRS was an important commander of Parliamentary forces in the First English Civil War, and for a time Oliver Cromwell's superior.-Life:...

 as a Royalist
Cavalier
Cavalier was the name used by Parliamentarians for a Royalist supporter of King Charles I and son Charles II during the English Civil War, the Interregnum, and the Restoration...

 sympathiser, because he had protected an officer who had been charged with treason
Treason
In law, treason is the crime that covers some of the more extreme acts against one's sovereign or nation. Historically, treason also covered the murder of specific social superiors, such as the murder of a husband by his wife. Treason against the king was known as high treason and treason against a...

. It was the campaigns to free Lilburne from prison which spawned the movement known as the Levellers. Richard Overton was arrested in August 1646 for publishing a pamphlet
Pamphlet
A pamphlet is an unbound booklet . It may consist of a single sheet of paper that is printed on both sides and folded in half, in thirds, or in fourths , or it may consist of a few pages that are folded in half and saddle stapled at the crease to make a simple book...

 attacking the House of Lords
House of Lords
The House of Lords is the upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Like the House of Commons, it meets in the Palace of Westminster....

. During his imprisonment, he wrote an influential Leveller manifesto, "An Arrow Against All Tyrants and Tyranny".

The soldiers in the New Model Army
New Model Army
The New Model Army of England was formed in 1645 by the Parliamentarians in the English Civil War, and was disbanded in 1660 after the Restoration...

 elected "Agitators" from each regiment to represent them. These Agitators were recognised by the Army's commanders and had a seat on the General Council. However, by September 1647, at least five regiments of Cavalry had elected new unofficial agitators and produced a pamphlet called "The Case of the Army truly stated". This was presented to the commander-in-chief, Sir Thomas Fairfax, on 18 October 1647. In this they demanded a dissolution of Parliament within a year and substantial changes to the constitution of future parliaments, which were to be regulated by an unalterable "law paramount".

The senior officers in the Army (nicknamed "Grandees") were angered by the "Case of the Army" and ordered the unofficial Agitators to give an account of their principles before the General Council of the Army. These debates are known as the Putney Debates
Putney Debates
The Putney Debates were a series of discussions between members of the New Model Army – a number of the participants being Levellers – concerning the makeup of a new constitution for England....

, and were held in St. Mary's Church, Putney
St. Mary's Church, Putney
St. Mary's Church , Putney is an Anglican church in Putney, London sited next to the river Thames, beside the southern approach to Putney Bridge. There has been a centre of Christian worship on this site from at least the 13th century, and the church is still very active today...

, in the county of Surrey
Surrey
Surrey is a county in the South East of England and is one of the Home Counties. The county borders Greater London, Kent, East Sussex, West Sussex, Hampshire and Berkshire. The historic county town is Guildford. Surrey County Council sits at Kingston upon Thames, although this has been part of...

, between October 28 and November 11, 1647. The Agitators were assisted by some civilians, notably John Wildman
John Wildman
Sir John Wildman was an English soldier and politician.-Biography:Wildman was born in the Norfolk town of Wymondham, the son of Jeffrey and Dorothy Wildman. His father was a butcher. John was educated as a sizar at Corpus Christi College University of Cambridge taking an MA in 1644...

 and Maximillian Petty, who had been connected to the Army as civilian advisers since July 1647. On 28 October, the Agitator Robert Everard
Robert Everard
Robert Everard was an English soldier who fought for the Parliamentary cause during the English Civil War and was a religious controversialist in the 1650s...

 presented a document entitled "An Agreement of the People". This manifesto
Manifesto
A manifesto is a public declaration of principles and intentions, often political in nature. Manifestos relating to religious belief are generally referred to as creeds. Manifestos may also be life stance-related.-Etymology:...

, which was inherently republican and democratic, appeared to conflict with the terms of settlement that had already been endorsed by the General Council in July entitled "The Heads of the Proposals" The "Heads of the Proposals" contained many demands that looked towards social justice but relied on the King to agree to them and bring them into law through acts of Parliament. The new Agitators, who distrusted the King, demanded that England be settled from 'the bottom up' rather than the 'top down' by giving the vote to most adult males. The debates help to throw light on the areas on which supporters of the Parliamentarian side agreed and those on which they differed. For example, Ireton asked whether the phrase in the Agreement "according to the number of the inhabitants" gave a foreigner just arrived in England and resident in a property the right to vote. He argued that a person must have a "permanent interest of this kingdom" to be entitled to vote, and that "permanent interest" means owning property, which is where he and the Levellers disagreed. To modern eyes, the debates seem to draw heavily on the Bible to lay out certain basic principles, and this is to be expected in an age still racked by religious upheavals in the aftermath of the reformation
Protestant Reformation
The Protestant Reformation was a 16th-century split within Western Christianity initiated by Martin Luther, John Calvin and other early Protestants. The efforts of the self-described "reformers", who objected to the doctrines, rituals and ecclesiastical structure of the Roman Catholic Church, led...

, and particularly in an army where soldiers were, in part, selected for their religious zeal. It is notable that John Wildman
John Wildman
Sir John Wildman was an English soldier and politician.-Biography:Wildman was born in the Norfolk town of Wymondham, the son of Jeffrey and Dorothy Wildman. His father was a butcher. John was educated as a sizar at Corpus Christi College University of Cambridge taking an MA in 1644...

 resisted religious language, arguing that the Bible produced no model for civil government and that reason should be the basis of any future settlement.

The Corkbush Field rendezvous on November 17, 1647, was the first of three meetings to take place as agreed in the Putney Debates. The Army commanders Thomas Fairfax
Thomas Fairfax, 3rd Lord Fairfax of Cameron
Thomas Fairfax, 3rd Lord Fairfax of Cameron was a general and parliamentary commander-in-chief during the English Civil War...

 and Cromwell were worried by the strength of support for Levellers in the Army, so they decided to impose "The Heads of the Proposals" as the army's manifesto instead of the Levellers' "Agreement of the People". When some refused to accept this, because they wanted the army to adopt the Levellers' document, they were arrested, and one of the ringleaders, Private Richard Arnold
Richard Arnold
Richard Arnold may refer to:*Richard Arnold * Richard Arnold , Major General in the American Civil War* Richard Arnold , former Star Trek Archivist for Paramount Studios...

, was executed. At the other two meetings, the troops who were summoned agreed to the manifesto without further protest.

The Levellers' largest petition
Petition
A petition is a request to do something, most commonly addressed to a government official or public entity. Petitions to a deity are a form of prayer....

, entitled "To The Right Honourable The Commons Of England", was presented to Parliament
Long Parliament
The Long Parliament was made on 3 November 1640, following the Bishops' Wars. It received its name from the fact that through an Act of Parliament, it could only be dissolved with the agreement of the members, and those members did not agree to its dissolution until after the English Civil War and...

 on September 11, 1648 after amassing signatories including about a third of all Londoners.

On October 30, 1648, Thomas Rainsborough
Thomas Rainsborough
Thomas Rainsborough , or Rainborough or Raineborough or Rainborowe or Rainbow or Rainborow, was a prominent figure in the English Civil War, and was the leading spokesman of the Levellers in the Putney Debates.-Life:He was the son of William Rainsborough, a captain and Vice-Admiral in the Royal...

 was killed. He was a Member of Parliament
Member of Parliament
A Member of Parliament is a representative of the voters to a :parliament. In many countries with bicameral parliaments, the term applies specifically to members of the lower house, as upper houses often have a different title, such as senate, and thus also have different titles for its members,...

 and a Leveller leader who had spoken at the Putney Debates. His funeral
Funeral
A funeral is a ceremony for celebrating, sanctifying, or remembering the life of a person who has died. Funerary customs comprise the complex of beliefs and practices used by a culture to remember the dead, from interment itself, to various monuments, prayers, and rituals undertaken in their honor...

 was the occasion for a large Leveller-led demonstration in London, with thousands of mourners wearing the Levellers' ribbons of sea-green and bunches of rosemary
Rosemary
Rosemary, , is a woody, perennial herb with fragrant, evergreen, needle-like leaves and white, pink, purple or blue flowers, native to the Mediterranean region. It is a member of the mint family Lamiaceae, which includes many other herbs, and is one of two species in the genus Rosmarinus...

 for remembrance in their hats.

On January 20, 1649, a version of the "Agreement of the People" that had been drawn up in October 1647 for the Army Council and subsequently modified was presented to the House of Commons.

At the end of January 1649, Charles I of England
Charles I of England
Charles I was King of England, King of Scotland, and King of Ireland from 27 March 1625 until his execution in 1649. Charles engaged in a struggle for power with the Parliament of England, attempting to obtain royal revenue whilst Parliament sought to curb his Royal prerogative which Charles...

 was tried and executed for treason against the people. In February, the Grandees banned petitions to Parliament by soldiers. In March, eight Leveller troopers went to the Commander-in-Chief of the New Model Army, Thomas Fairfax, and demanded the restoration of the right to petition
Right to petition
The right to petition government for redress of grievances is the right to make a complaint to, or seek the assistance of, one's government, without fear of punishment or reprisals.-United States:...

. Five of them were cashiered out of the army.

In April, 300 infantrymen of Colonel John Hewson
John Hewson (regicide)
Colonel John Hewson was a soldier in the New Model Army and signed the death warrant of King Charles I, making him a regicide.-Life:...

's regiment, who declared that they would not serve in Ireland
Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

 until the Levellers' programme had been realised, were cashiered without arrears
Arrears
Arrears is a legal term for the part of a debt that is overdue after missing one or more required payments. The amount of the arrears is the amount accrued from the date on which the first missed payment was due...

 of pay. This was the threat that had been used to quell the mutiny
Mutiny
Mutiny is a conspiracy among members of a group of similarly situated individuals to openly oppose, change or overthrow an authority to which they are subject...

 at the Corkbush Field rendezvous. Later that month, in the Bishopsgate mutiny
Bishopsgate mutiny
The Bishopsgate mutiny occurred in April 1649 when soldiers of Colonel Edward Whalley's regiment of the New Model Army refused to obey orders and leave London. At the end of the mutiny one soldier, a supporter of the Levellers, Robert Lockyer, was executed by firing squad.In January 1649 Charles I...

, soldiers of the regiment of Colonel Edward Whalley
Edward Whalley
Edward Whalley was an English military leader during the English Civil War, and was one of the regicides who signed the death warrant of King Charles I of England.-Early career:The exact dates of his birth and death are unknown...

 stationed in Bishopsgate
Bishopsgate
Bishopsgate is a road and ward in the northeast part of the City of London, extending north from Gracechurch Street to Norton Folgate. It is named after one of the original seven gates in London Wall...

 London made demands similar to those of Hewson's regiment; they were ordered out of London. When they refused to go, 15 soldiers were arrested and court martialed, of whom 6 were sentenced to death. Of these, 5 were later pardoned, while Robert Lockyer
Robert Lockyer
Robert Lockyer was an English soldier in Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army. A Leveller, he was the only soldier executed for his involvement in the Bishopsgate mutiny....

 (or Lockier), a former Levellers agitator, was hanged on April 27, 1649. "At his burial a thousand men, in files, preceded the corpse, which was adorned with bunches of rosemary dipped in blood; on each side rode three trumpet
Trumpet
The trumpet is the musical instrument with the highest register in the brass family. Trumpets are among the oldest musical instruments, dating back to at least 1500 BCE. They are played by blowing air through closed lips, producing a "buzzing" sound which starts a standing wave vibration in the air...

ers, and behind was led the trooper’s horse, covered with mourning; some thousands of men and women followed with black and green ribbons on their heads and breasts, and were received at the grave by a numerous crowd of the inhabitants of London and Westminster
Liberty of Westminster
The City and Liberty of Westminster was an independent liberty, located to the west of the City of London in the county of Middlesex, England....

."

In 1649, Lieutenant-Colonel John Lilburne
John Lilburne
John Lilburne , also known as Freeborn John, was an English political Leveller before, during and after English Civil Wars 1642-1650. He coined the term "freeborn rights", defining them as rights with which every human being is born, as opposed to rights bestowed by government or human law...

, William Walwyn
William Walwyn
William Walwyn was an English pamphleteer, a Leveller and a medical practitioner.Walwyn was a silkman in London who took the parliamentary side in the English Civil War. He advocated religious toleration and emerged as a leader of the Levellers in 1647 which led to his imprisonment in 1649...

, Thomas Prince
Thomas Prince
Thomas Prince was an American clergyman, scholar and historian noted for his historical text A Chronological History of New England, in the Form of Annals...

, and Richard Overton
Richard Overton
Richard Overton was an English pamphleteer and Leveller during the Civil War. Little is known of the early life of Overton, but he is believed to have matriculated at Queens' College, Cambridge, before working as an actor and playwright in Southwark. Here he picked up Leveller sympathies, and...

 were imprisoned in the Tower of London
Tower of London
Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress, more commonly known as the Tower of London, is a historic castle on the north bank of the River Thames in central London, England. It lies within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, separated from the eastern edge of the City of London by the open space...

 by the Council of State
Council of State
The Council of State is a unique governmental body in a country or subdivision thereoff, though its nature may range from the formal name for the cabinet to a non-executive advisory body surrounding a head of state. It is sometimes regarded as the equivalent of a privy council.-Modern:*Belgian...

 (see above). It was while the leaders of the Levellers were being held in the Tower that they wrote an outline of the reforms the Levellers wanted, in a pamphlet entitled "An Agreement Of The Free People Of England" (written on May 1, 1649). It includes reforms that have since been made law in England, such as the right to silence
Right to silence
The right to remain silent is a legal right of any person. This right is recognized, explicitly or by convention, in many of the world's legal systems....

, and others that have not been, such as an elected judiciary
Judiciary
The judiciary is the system of courts that interprets and applies the law in the name of the state. The judiciary also provides a mechanism for the resolution of disputes...

.


Shortly afterwards, Cromwell attacked the "Banbury mutineers
Banbury mutiny
The Banbury mutiny was a mutiny by soldiers in the English New Model Army. The mutineers did not achieve all of their aims and some of the leaders were executed shortly afterwards on 17 May 1649.The mutiny was over pay and political demands...

", 400 troopers who supported the Levellers and who were commanded by Captain William Thompson. Several mutineers were killed in the skirmish, Captain Thompson escaped only to be killed a few days later in another skirmish near the Diggers community at Wellingborough
Wellingborough
Wellingborough is a market town and borough in Northamptonshire, England, situated some from the county town of Northampton. The town is situated on the north side of the River Nene, most of the older town is sited on the flanks of the hills above the river's current flood plain...

. The three other leaders—William Thompson's brother, Corporal Perkins, and John Church—were shot on May 17, 1649. This destroyed the Leveller's support base in the New Model Army, which by then was the major power in the land. Although Walwyn and Overton were released from the Tower, and Lilburne was tried and acquitted, the Leveller cause had effectively been crushed.

Other usage


In 1724 there was a rising against enclosures
Inclosure Act
The Inclosure or Enclosure Acts were a series of United Kingdom Acts of Parliament which enclosed open fields and common land in the country. They removed previously existing rights of local people to carry out activities in these areas, such as cultivation, cutting hay, grazing animals or using...

 in Galloway
Galloway
Galloway is an area in southwestern Scotland. It usually refers to the former counties of Wigtownshire and Kirkcudbrightshire...

, and a number of men who took part in it were called “Levellers” or “Dykebreakers”. The word was also used in Ireland
Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

 during the eighteenth century to describe a secret revolutionary society similar to the Whiteboys
Whiteboys
The Whiteboys were a secret Irish agrarian organization in 18th-century Ireland which used violent tactics to defend tenant farmer land rights for subsistence farming...

.

See also

  • Diggers
  • Contributions to liberal theory
    Contributions to liberal theory
    Individual contributors to classical liberalism and political liberalism are associated with philosophers of the Enlightenment. Liberalism as a specifically named ideology begins in the late 18th century as a movement towards self-government and away from aristocracy...

  • Edward Sexby
    Edward Sexby
    Colonel Edward Sexby or Saxby was an English Puritan soldier and Leveller in the army of Oliver Cromwell. Later he turned against Cromwell and plotted his assassination.-Life:...

     (1616–1658); English Puritan, soldier and Leveller; he turned against Cromwell and plotted his assassination
  • English Dissenters
    English Dissenters
    English Dissenters were Christians who separated from the Church of England in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.They originally agitated for a wide reaching Protestant Reformation of the Established Church, and triumphed briefly under Oliver Cromwell....

  • Good Old Cause
    Good Old Cause
    The Good Old Cause was the retrospective name given by the soldiers of the New Model Army for the complex of reasons for which they fought, on behalf of the Parliament of England....

  • Green Ribbon Club
    Green Ribbon Club
    The Green Ribbon Club was one of the earliest of the loosely combined associations which met from time to time in London taverns or coffee-houses for political purposes in the 17th century....

     A post restoration political club. The 'Green Ribbon' was the badge of The Levellers in the English Civil Wars in which many of the members had fought and was an overt reminder of their radical origins.
  • Hugo Black
    Hugo Black
    Hugo Lafayette Black was an American politician and jurist. A member of the Democratic Party, Black represented Alabama in the United States Senate from 1927 to 1937, and served as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1937 to 1971. Black was nominated to the Supreme...

    , Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
    Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
    Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States are the members of the Supreme Court of the United States other than the Chief Justice of the United States...

     who cited John Lilburne's trial in several opinions beginning with In re Oliver in 1948
  • Kett's Rebellion
    Kett's Rebellion
    Kett's Rebellion was a revolt in Norfolk, England during the reign of Edward VI. The rebellion was in response to the enclosure of land. It began in July 1549 but was eventually crushed by forces loyal to the English crown....

     (1549)
  • Republicanism in the United Kingdom
    Republicanism in the United Kingdom
    Republicanism in the United Kingdom is the movement which seeks to remove the British monarchy and replace it with a republic that has a non-hereditary head of state...

  • United States Bill of Rights
    United States Bill of Rights
    The Bill of Rights is the collective name for the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution. These limitations serve to protect the natural rights of liberty and property. They guarantee a number of personal freedoms, limit the government's power in judicial and other proceedings, and...

  • Voluntaryism
    Voluntaryism
    Voluntarism, or voluntaryism, is a philosophy according to which all forms of human association should be voluntary. This moral principle is called the non-aggression principle, which prohibits the initiation of aggressive force or coercion...


Further reading