Click on Links masthead to clear previous query from search box

The Levellers and the 1640s English Revolution

The Putney debates. Graphic by Clare Melinsky, Rampart Lions Press.

By Graham Milner

In 1649, 360 years ago this year, an experiment in communal land holding and cultivation began on St. George's Hill in Surrey, England, as the principles of a communist society were put into practice by the Diggers -- followers of Gerrard Winstanley, a visionary and writer of radical political tracts. This experiment marked an important phase in the development of socialist tendencies in the struggle to defeat the Stuart monarchy in the 1640s. This essay attempts to analyse the dynamics of the revolutionary struggle in England during the 1640s civil war and its aftermath. It concentrates on the emergence and development of left-wing tendencies in the revolutionary movement, and attempts to provide an explanation for the defeat of the aspirations of those tendencies.

Modern socialism as a doctrine and a movement owes much to the contributions of popular movements in the era of the great bourgeois-democratic revolutions. It should never be forgotten that it was the ordinary people who did the fighting and the sacrificing that won the gains of these revolutions, even if the most direct beneficiaries were in fact merely a different stratum of property owners.

If the idea of a 17th century ``Puritan'' revolution, propounded by the venerable S.R. Gardiner, is ``in eclipse''[1], and if the entire framework supporting the ``Whig'' interpretation of English history has been undermined[2], then a corresponding increase in concern by modern historians with the role of the left-wing of the English Revolution has become manifest. This growth of interest in the broader social forces and movements accompanying more immediately visible developments in church and state before and during the revolution has been one consequence of the demise of the ``religio-constitutional'' approach to English history.[3]

The fruits of research undertaken by scholars working under the newer disciplines of sociology and social psychology have enabled historians to approach the English Revolution, and the mass movements associated with it, armed with techniques and insights hitherto denied them.[4] The results have already begun to overthrow long-established orthodoxies. For example, the millenarianism (chiliasm) traditionally associated exclusively with extremist sects far removed from the mainstream of pre-revolutionary English religious life is now increasingly regarded as having been widespread in the Puritan opposition and even in the pre-Laudian High Anglican Church.[5] In some aspects, as with the doctrine of ``Antichrist'', it has been seen as a ubiquitous phenomenon.[6]

The period between 1645 -- the year of the Self-Denying Ordinance, the formation of the New Model army and the Battle of Naseby -- and 1653 -- the year that saw the dissolution of the Rump Parliament and the onset of the Protectorate[7] -- forms the background to the rise and fall of the Leveller movement. The major preceding political events can only be briefly reviewed here.

Shift to the left

The course of events from the calling of the Long Parliament (1640) until 1645 was characterised by a progressive shift to the left on the part of the forces opposed to the king. The leftward movement proceeded through a series of splits and regroupments. Once the initial acts of the Long Parliament (impeachment of Archbishop William Laud and the Earl of Strafford, and the dismantling of prerogative government machinery)[8] were completed, differences developed over the question of the future of episcopacy between the Presbyterian Root and Branch men (radicals), led by Pym and Hampden, and the moderate party favouring limited episcopacy.[9]

The ``Grand Remonstrance'' of November 1641[10] marked the decisive break between Royalists and Parliamentarians, with the episcopalian party soon deserting to the king.[11] Once the war was underway the parliamentary forces divided, with the rise of a militant Independent opposition -- the ``Win the War'' party.[12] The new opposition found its most powerful ally in the Parliamentary army, where the Presbyterian religious settlement, imposed as a condition of the Scots alliance[14] was a major point of contention.

Oliver Cromwell's policy of religious toleration deserves emphasis here, inasmuch as it explains to some extent his popularity in the ranks of the army, above and beyond that consonant with mere military prowess; the two aspects were in fact combined in this ``servant of God''.[15] The conflict resolved itself with the Self-Denying Ordinance,[16] which dissolved the rights of peers to command the army. A popular, national ``New Model'' army was mobilised and finances were reorganised.[17] The Royalist forces were soon thereafter destroyed at the Battle of Naseby (June 1645). A new conflict later arose between the army leadership (Grandees) and the rank and file: the Levellers were to play an important role throughout the course of this new conflict.

We have picked out a rough outline of the salient points in the struggle between king and parliament from 1640 to 1645, noting how each successive development moved the struggle to a higher level of intensity. These developments took place alongside a growing radicalisation of the masses, reflected in the incidence of sectarianism in the New Model.[18] This radicalisation process frightened the social classes promulgating the war effort (primarily the gentry and the commercial bourgeoisie)[19] to such an extent that they became more concerned with preserving their property and privileges than with prosecuting the war with any fervour[20], the split between Presbyterians and Independents turned fundamentally around this point.

Origins of the Levellers

The origins of the Leveller movement (which in Brailsford's view was not formed as a party until 1647, with the publication of A Remonstrance of many Thousand Citizens)[21] may best be traced by reviewing the activities of its most prominent leaders. John Lilburne (1614-57), the most widely known of these men, was whipped and pilloried for smuggling anti-prelatical literature at the age of 22.[22] He joined the Parliamentary army at the outbreak of war[23] and left it at the signing of the Solemn League and Covenant with the Scots (1643). William Walwyn was generally regarded as the dominant intellectual force in the Leveller movement.[25] It was he who postulated the concept of the ``state of nature''. Richard Overton was responsible for the publication of a series of satirical pamphlets viciously lampooning the Presbyterians.[26] John Wildman possessed considerable legal knowledge, and was one of the draftees of the first ``Agreement of the People''.[27] All were agreed on the idea of liberty of conscience in religious matters. Continued attempts at press censorship, along with the introduction of an intolerant ``Directory of Worship'' in 1645,[28] plunged these four men into ``pamphlet warfare'', and Walwyn, Overton and Lilburne published the Marpriest tracts, lampooning religious intolerance.[29] Lilburne was arrested in July 1645[30] and his new pamphlet, England's Birthright Justified,[31] written in jail, marked an increase in concentration on social and economic issues. Tithes were challenged in Overton's The Ordinance for Tithes Dismounted[32] and, in the opinion of the propertied classes, this tack implied assault on all property rights.

The unstable balance of social forces in the post-war situation of 1646-7 provided an opportunity for Leveller ideas to gain strength in the New Model. A Remonstrance of Many Thousand Citizens[33] contained the germs of a popular program, demanding the abolition of the monarchy and the House of Lords. Lilburne's London's Liberty in Chains Discovered, written in prison, denounced the commercial oligarchy of the City of London and called for unity among small craftsmen. Royal Tyranny Discovered[35] demanded the execution of the king for treason and utilised the well-worked myth of the Norman Yoke.[36] The ``Large Petition'' of March 1647[37] contained the most fully worked-out program to that date, calling for the abolition of monarchy and lords, full religious toleration, abolition of tithes and monopolies, and legal reforms. This document appeared alongside growing Leveller organisational efficiency and influence among the rank and file of the New Model army.[38]

The Presbyterian parliamentary majority's fears of growing radicalism in the army led it to attempt the demobilisation of the New Model army without payment of arrears, in March 1647.[39] The army rebelled, elected representatives (called agitators) to an Army Council[40] and published the famous declaration of June 14, 1647:

We shall before disbanding proceed in our own and the kingdom's behalf to propound and plead for some provision for our and the kingdom's satisfaction and future security...especially considering that we were not a mere mercenary army, hired to serve any arbitary power of a state, but called forth and conjured by the several Declarations of Parliament to the defence of our own and the people's just rights and liberties.[41]

The army's declaration concided with the publication of the Leveller's ``Large Petition'', the June ``Solemn Engagement'',[42] authored by Henry Ireton, was the product of a compromise worked out between moderate Grandees and radical agitators.[43] An uneasy alliance between these two groups lasted through the summer, until the Leveller-inspired agitators compelled the Grandees to break off negotiations with the king and project a march on London.[44] The financial oligarchy of the City of London had been pressuring the Presbyterian MPs to withdraw concessions made to the New Model commanders, and the king was subsequently invited to London.[45] Independent members fled to the New Model lines, and the Presbyterian City oligarchy prepared to defend London. The city was captured, however, without a fight.[46]

Autumn 1647 saw the nascent conflict between Grandees and agitators develop into open hostility. The Levellers demanded an end to the continuing negotiations with the king, and the release from prison of Lilburne and Overton.[47] The Case of the Army Truly Stated, published in October 1647,[48] called for the restoration of enclosed common lands and of other ``ancient rights and donations belonging to the poore''[49]. Shortly afterwards appeared the first ``Agreement of the people''[50] summarising the basic principles of the Levellers on constitutional issues, and forming their negotiating document at the famous debates with the Grandees held at Putney in October 1647[51]. These debates, turning mainly around Leveller proposals for an extended franchise,[52] were inconclusive. The flight of the king to the Isle of Wight in November (which might have been engineered by Cromwell)[53] played into the Grandees' hands. The discussions in the army were broken off by Cromwell and, after a rebellious regiment stationed at Ware was subdued,[54] discipline was effectively restored. The Ware events marked a major setback for the Levellers as ``... all subsequent attempts to revive the Agitator movement were promptly suppressed''.[55]

Under the changed circumstances the Leveller party had to resort to the strategy of petitioning parliament. The ``Earnest Petition'' of January 1648,[56] called for decentralisation measures and for local election of magistrates. The latter was a frontal attack on the prerogatives of justices of the peace, and through them on landed property and its priorities. The brief, so-called ``Second'' Civil War was resolved in parliament's favour with the defeat of the Scots at Preston (1648).[57] In the interests of unity and discipline there was a lull in Leveller criticism of the Grandees during the hostilities. The Levellers' campaign revived with the ``September Petition''.[58] Although this document called for the execution of the king, the Grandees' position on this issue had in any case hardened.[59]

On constitutional questions, particularly those relating to the franchise, there is evidence that the ``September Petition'' represents a compromise with the Grandees. On their part the Grandees adopted to some extent sections of the Leveller program, perhaps partly as a result of negotiations with Leveller representatives. The Levellers had demanded some guarantee against military dictatorship before they would consent to a trial of the king.[60] Ireton's Remonstrance of the Army,[61] presented to parliament in November, contained some radical proposals: biennial parliaments; abolition of monarchy and House of Lords, and the establishment of a constitution based on some kind of contract or agreement of the people.

Continuing negotiations between the parliamentary Presbyterians and Charles I resulted in Ireton ordering the king's arrest, and on December 6, Colonel Pride excluded the Presbyterian members from parliament.[62] The remaining Independent ``Rump'' parliament passed three resolutions: that original power resided in the people; that supreme power rested with the House of Commons (representing the people) and that Acts of the House of Commons were law even without the consent of king or peers.[63] The Levellers drew up a new ``Agreement of the People''[64] and presented it to the Rump; it was by then obvious, however, that they had been gulled and that the new republic had no intention of acting upon Leveller principles.

Soon, from Lilburne, came denunciations of the trial, under a new High Court, of five royalist peers[65] -- and of martial law. In February 1649 a new pamphlet, England's New Chains Discovered[66] attacked the Grandees and the new Council of State.[67] The army was, however, in the main loyal to Cromwell. It is an indication of the Levellers' waning influence that their literature from this period becomes increasingly unrealistic, calling for armed rebellion against the rule of the Rump, and even at times flirting with Royalist sympathies -- as the ``lesser evil''.[68] Overton's pamphlet The Hunting of the Foxes contained outspoken calls to armed rebellion.

Essentially accepting Christopher Hill's analysis, I have identified the Leveller movement with the radicalised petty bourgeosie. Obviously this is a far from unanimous opinion among historians[70] and so a brief examination of the social composition of the movement is perhaps necessary to demonstrate the accuracy of that analysis. By so doing it may also be possible to provide some understanding of the factors behind the defeat of Leveller aspirations.

Levellers' social composition

There is a general consensus that the Levellers' popular base was neither primarily among the large population of landless agricultural labourers and dispossessed, nor with the wealthier property-owning classes as such, but with the intermediate layers -- small proprietors, poorer yeomen farmers, urban craftspeople and traders. Lilburne himself described the Levellers' main area of support as stemming from the ``the middle sort of people''.[71] As one consequence of a range of economic tendencies at work through the previous century, this intermediate social layer was going through a process of transformation.

These tendencies included an increase in agricultural production for the market[72] and a concomitant steady erosion of medieval survivals in the social relations of agricultural production.[73] There had been continuing attacks on the rights of copyhold, the manorial system of land tenure, throughout the 16th and continuing into the 17th centuries. The triumph of freehold land tenure[74] and extended enclosures of common land[75] were two aspects of this process. In the towns was witnessed the slow transformation of the medieval guilds into structures dominated by the concentrated wealth of burgher oligarchs.[76] The continuing widespread social distress that had necessitated the adoption of the Tudor Poor Laws, combined with a steep rise in prices,[77] and a conjunctural economic crisis and a series of poor harvests,[78] conspired to make the years between 1620-50 ``among the most terrible in English history, bringing extreme hardship for the lower classes''.[79]

The long-term effect of these economic developments was to pauperise large sections of the petty bourgeoisie, while converting a small percentage of it into more or less successful capitalists.[80] It is basically due to the extension of these tendencies into the 18th century that the yeoman class, which formed the backbone of Cromwell's army, had by 1750 virtually disappeared.[81] The contradictions within Leveller ideology may also be traced, in the last analysis, to these fundamental antagonisms embodied in long-term socioeconomic trends. The characteristics, and fate, of petty proprietorship also provide an explanation for Christopher Hill's paradoxical view, expressed in rather uncompromising terms in 1940, that ``in Puritan social ideas and Leveller ideology, there is a trend that is medieval and even reactionary''.[82]

Leveller ideology

Turning to the concrete issues of Leveller ideology, there are two important points of controversy that deserve special attention. The question as to whether the Levellers' ideas were religious or secular in inspiration[83] is in my view a non-issue. Political opposition of every hue in early 17th century England was invariably expressed in religious terms: the official church had a monopoly in ideas until the revolutionary events of the 1640s. As Hill points out:

The Independent and Sectarian congregations were the way in which ordinary people organized themselves in those days to escape from the propaganda of the established Church and discuss the things they wanted to discuss in their own way.[84]

Religion and politics were in fact inseparable. The question of lineage in discussing Leveller ideas is largely an irrelevant one; inevitably they were religious, inevitably they were connected with militant Puritanism, with Anabaptism and antinomianism. For only with the rise of a free press during the revolutionary years did there arise secular ideologies[85] or ideologies that were close to a secular position (e.g. pantheism). To claim that Puritanism was a two-edged sword, that it had an inherent tendency to split into sects once the common enemy was removed[86] is really to beg the question; for it was the propertied classes of all shades who consistently opposed the concept of freedom of ideas or conscience, because these classes understood the importance of a centralised religious orthodoxy as the essential bulwark of a system based on inequality and exploitation. Cromwell's supposed ``religious toleration'' may easily be seen as having been based on opportunism, as perhaps his and Fairfax's acceptance of doctorates from the Royalist stronghold of Oxford University indicates.[87]

The position of the Levellers on the franchise (expressed in the ``Agreement of the People'' and other documents) has been the subject of controversy, especially since the publication of Professor C.B. Macpherson's study of the problem in his book The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism (1962). Macpherson's thesis is that underlying Leveller statements about ``manhood suffrage'', ``the people'', ``freedom'', etc., are assumptions that limit their application and, in terms of modern understanding, deny their content.[88] MacPerson argues that these assumptions are shared in common with other 17th century political theorists, including Hobbes and Locke, so that concepts of natural rights, political obligation and representation (where present) are refracted through a limited bourgeois view of society. The social relations of the ``possessive market'' society being hidden (reified), have been either restructured artificially in some form of contract theory of obligation (as in Locke) or, in the case of the Levellers, identified with the personal attributes of individuals:

The propriety of the person. The Leveller writers saw that freedom in their society was a function of possession. They could therefore make a strong moral case for individual freedom by defining freedom as ownership of one's person.[89]

On the franchise issue, discussed at Putney, the Levellers' ``possessive market assumptions'' led them to exclude servants and wage labourers from those who should be granted the right to vote, as these people had ``sold their birthright'' -- or their labour (``right'') was included in that of their master. Macpherson's thesis has been attacked on some points. He has been accused of misreading the Putney documents and criticised over his interpretation of population statistics.[90] If Macpherson's views do hold good, and they are now increasingly accepted, then the view of the Levellers as a radical plebeian or petty-bourgeois current must gain credence, while that of their position as ancestors of popular democracy[91] must be thrown into doubt (according to Macpherson's reading of the statistics, under the Leveller proposals at Putney only an extra one sixth of the population would have received the vote).[92]

The last prominent act of the Levellers before their final defeat was to oppose Cromwell's Irish campaign.[93] This they did from an ethical standpoint. In The English Soldier's Standard,[94] by recognising the right of the Irish to self-determination, the Levellers could be seen as having made a further significant contribution to a secular political creed based on formal democratic criteria. Political arraignment among the army rank and file was renewed and, in May 1649, six regiments elected agitators.[95] This attempted mutiny was put down by the Grandees at Burford.[96] The Burford defeat marked the eclipse of the Levellers.

My standpoint on the question of Leveller decline and collapse has perhaps emerged fairly clearly from the preceding analysis; nevertheless, differing viewpoints need some examination if a rounded conclusion on the Levellers' place in history is to be reached. In my view the basic dialectic of the Civil War was laid bare by Christopher Hill in his 1940 essay (building partly from the contributions of previous socialist historians, such as Eduard Bernstein and Karl Kautsky):[97]

[Hill]... there were really three classes in conflict. As against the parasitic feudal landowners and speculative financiers, as against the government whose policy was to restrict and control industrial expansion, the interests of the new class of capitalists, merchants and farmers were temporarily identical with those of the small peasantry and artisans and journeymen. But conflict between the two latter classes was bound to develop, since the expansion of capitalism involved the dissolution of the old agrarian and industrial relationships and the transformation of independent small masters and peasants into proletarians.[98]

This broad dialectic was narrowed to a fine edge in the events of 1647-48, when the future of England seemed to balance precariously between two possible outcomes: either victory to the Grandees and the consolidation of the gains of a strictly bourgeois revolution, or the sweeping changes outlined in Leveller manifestos, consonant with a victory to the army rank and file. But was the latter variable ever a serious possibility? If we allow that it was, then the outcome of the Civil War could obviously have been far different from that of the dictatorship of the Rump, followed by the Protectorate and, after Cromwell's death, by the Stuart restoration. But what if, without admitting into our analysis so much as a hint of determinism, such an outcome was not on the cards, and that the rule of the Rump and Cromwell -- the dictatorship par excellence of the bourgeoisie -- was the only logical outcome of an extremely limited number of possibilities inherent in this particular historical conjuncture? After all, the apparently wide and powerful influence of the Leveller party among the rank and file of the New Model army may be seen as having been largely illusory. As the historian H. Shaw points out:

... their influence grew or diminished according to the prevailing political situation. Thus, in 1648, just before Pride's Purge, when the Grandees wanted allies, the Levellers appeared powerful; at Ware and Burford, when the Grandees wanted to exert their authority, the party's real weaknesses are exposed.[99]

Why was this? For such a vocal and apparently widespread movement to be so treated must imply that something was seriously amiss with its internal cohesion. Brailsford can of course claim, perhaps a little sentimentally, that the Levellers never really died at all, but merely faded away, and were in fact still at the height of influence in 1649.[100]

We can list factors behind the defeat: the consolidation of power in the Rump; mitigation of economic hardship to some extent, thus relieving the plight of the urban and rural poor; programmatic weaknesses (and the partial co-option of their program by the Grandees in 1648); exclusion of the wage-labouring class (if we accept Macpherson's thesis) from the Leveller franchise; lack of unity -- and behind that the disparity of the social forces that the party was supposed to represent. All these factors have truth in them; they are, however, at root variations on the same theme -- the peculiar weaknesses in social composition of the Levellers.

It was, as Hill maintains, a movement that represented an exceptionally amorphous class -- the petty bourgeoisie; a class congenitally incapable of organising itself effectively, because of the fragmented and diversified character of its role in production.[101] The Levellers' primary stronghold was among the rank and file of the New Model.

This point is crucial -- for this was precisely an artificial environment produced by the wholly unusual circumstances of the Civil War. Here radical political ideas could flourish among an amorphous class temporarily unified.[102] However, the New Model army was not mobilised to fight the class battles of the small proprietor, but those of the bourgeoisie. Thus the Leveller movement, although extremely articulate, and possessed of capable, even brilliant, leaders, could not win hegemony over the social forces that made the English revolution. For much of their political lives, the Levellers were limited to petitioning the existing regime (the bourgeois Grandees), staging flamboyant court appearances,[103] and organising elaborate funerals for their martyred followers. They were, in short, a party of protest.[104]

The demise of the Levellers left the field in the New Model army to increasingly wild and improbable millenarian sects. The most prominent of these were the Fifth Monarchists, who believed that the reign of Christ was shortly to begin.[105] The ascendancy of such tendencies in the rank and file of the army marked a trend away from political organisation and activity, towards reliance on the ``second coming'' -- it was the signal of defeat for the whole radical left wing of the English revolution. Apart from a few sporadic risings during the 1650s,[106] the dominant movement was towards quietism, as with the Quakers. After 1660, this movement became even more pronounced as Puritanism turned into non-conformity.

Diggers

One group deserves special attention however -- the Diggers, or True Leveller movement -- which developed possibly the most sophisticated political philosophy of any of the left-wing tendencies, through the thought of Gerrard Winstanley. Although expressed in ``the Biblical idiom which Winstanley shared with almost all his contemporaries'',[107] his ideas mark a distinct departure from Leveller ``possessive-market'' assumptions, to the standpoint of the propertyless, agricultural labourer. Winstanley's program called for the settlement of common land by the poor, and its collective cultivation.[108] A small Digger colony was established in April 1649 on St. George's Hill in Surrey. The colony did not operate for long before it was driven off the land,[109] but the writings of Winstanley, published as Digger manifestos, survive as significant political tracts.

Winstanley postulated a primitive libertarian communism.[110] He regarded the clergy as propagandists in the service of the exisiting property system.[111] Winstanley's profound idea of economic equality, based on a communal organisation of society, formed the important legacy handed down by the Diggers to the working-class movements of the future.

Notes

1. Christopher Hill, Recent Interpretations of the Civil War: Puritanism and Revolution: Studies in Interpretation of the English Revolution of the 17th Century, London, Panther Books, 1968; original edition 1958), p.15.

2. Apart from S.R. Gardiner, well-known proponents of the Whig interpretation include Macaulay, Froude and Trevelyan. The publication of Herbert Butterfield's conservative tract The Whig Interpretation of History in 1931 marked the opening salvo in a flood of attacks. See E.H. Carr, What is History?, Harmondsworth, 1964, pp.41-2. For an acute analysis of 20th century English historiography in general, see Gareth Stedman Jones, ``History: the Poverty of Empiricism'', in Robin Blackburn (ed.), Ideology in Social Science, London, 1972, pp.96-118.

3. See Lawrence Stone, The Causes of the the English Revolution 1529-1642, London, 1972, chapter 2.

4. The popularisation of Weber's sociology of religion (outlined in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism) through R.H. Tawney's Religion and the Rise of Capitalism provided the basic analysis of Puritanism as an ideology associated with the nascent English bourgeoisie. The published work of Christopher Hill (who wrote a pioneer Marxist account of the Civil War in 1940, cited below) incorporates much of the valuable work done internationally in sociology and social psychology.

5. Two studies are W.M. Lamont, Godly Rule: Politics and Religion 1603-60 (London, 1969) and Hill, Antichrist in Seventeenth Century England (Oxford, 1971). Norman Cohn's The Pursuit of the Millennium (London, 1970) contains useful European background material, and has an appendix on the Ranters.

6. Hill, Antichrist in Seventeenth Century England, pp.31-2.

7. A brief table of events is appended to Conrad Russell, The Crisis of Parliaments: English History 1509-1660.

8. J.R. Tanner, English Constitutional Conflicts of the Seventeenth Century 1603-1689 (Cambridge, 1928) pp.92-9.

9. Ibid. pp.100-104.

10. J.P. Kenyon (ed.), The Stuart Constitution: Documents and Commentary (Cambridge, 1966) doc. 64, pp.228-41.

11. G.M. Trevelyan, England Under the Stuarts (London, 1904), pp.210-14.

12. Hill, God's Englishman: Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution (Harmondsworth, 1972), ch.3, sections 3, 4.

13. Hill, The Century of Revolution 1603-1714 (London, 1961), pp.104-5.

14. Tanner, English Constitutional Conflicts, pp.122-23; Russell, Crisis of Parliaments, pp.355-56; Trevelyan, England Under the Stuarts, pp.244-5.

15. See Hill, God's Englishman, ch.3, section 5 (religious policies) and ch.6 (military prowess).

16. Tanner, English Constitutional Conflicts' pp.130-01; S.R. Gardiner (ed.), Constitutional Documents of the Puritan Revolution (Oxford, 3rd ed., 1958) pp.287-88.

17. Tanner, English Constitutional Conflicts, pp.131-32. Jack Lindsay, Civil War in England (London, 1954), ch.16.

18. Hill, Century of Revolution, p.148. The pious Edwards' Gangraena (1646) catalogues the growth in influence of sectaries in the New Model: see H.N. Brailsford, The Levellers and the English Revolution (London, 1961), ch.3, passim.

19. The debate surrounding the class lineup in the Civil War is far from closed. It is not, however, within the scope of this essay to more than point out the differing viewpoints. See the material on the subject already cited, and also Conrad Russell (ed.), The Origins of the English Civil War (London, 1973), esp. bibliography pp.258-64. Christopher Hill's analysis is the one basically accepted for our purposes.

20. Hill, The English Revolution, 1640 (London, 1940), p.46.

21. Brailsford, The Levellers and the English Revolution, p.86.

22. Ibid., p.80; see also Maurice Ashley, ``Oliver Cromwell and the Levellers'', History Today (August, 1967) p.539.

23. Brailsford, The Levellers and the English Revolution, p.86.

24. Ibid., p.89.

25. H. Shaw, The Levellers (London, 1968), p.30; Brailsford, The Levellers and the English Revolution, pp.61-2.

26. Shaw, The Levellers, p.33.

27. Ibid., p.34.

28. Kenyon (ed.), The Stuart Constitution, pp.255-56. No machinery was set up by parliament to enforce this Directory (a product of the Scots alliance); see also Hill, Century of Revolution, p.148.

29. These pamphlets were a parody of the Elizabethan Marprelate tracts. See Brailsford, The Levellers and the English Revolution, pp.53-4.

30. Ibid., p.90; Shaw, The Levellers, p.41.

31. Ibid.

32. Ibid., pp.41-2.

33. D.M. Wolfe (ed.), Leveller Manifestos of the Puritan Revolution (New York, 1944), pp.109-31.

34. Shaw, The Levellers, p.46.

35. Brailsford, The Levellers and the English Revolution, p.117.

36. This aspect of Leveller ideology is discussed in Hill, ``The Norman Yoke'', Puritanism and Revolution, ch.3.

37. Wolfe (ed.) Leveller Manifestos of the Puritan Revolution, pp.131-42. A disclaimer against accusations of communism is contained in this document.

38. Brailsford, The Levellers and the English Revolution, p.354-55. The Levellers had by this stage established a weekly newspaper, The Moderate, which was widely distributed.

39. Hill, Century of Revolution, p.105; Tanner, Constitutional Conflicts, pp.141-42.

40. Eduard Bernstein, Cromwell and Communism: Socialism and Democracy in the Great English Revolution (New York, 1963; orig. German ed., 1895) p.62.

41. Kenyon (ed.) The Stuart Constitution, document 84, p.296. See also W.Haller and G. Davies (eds.), The Leveller Tracts 1647-1655 (New York, 1944), pp.51-63.

42. Shaw, The Levellers, pp.54-5.

43. Ibid.

44. Charles had rejected the Grandees' ``Heads of Proposals'', drawn up by Ireton, which had called for limited restored monarchy. The king's strategy was basically to play off one side against the other in the conflict between parliament and army. See Lindsay, Civil War in England, p.236.

45. Shaw, The Levellers, p.56.

46. Ibid., p.57.

47. No note.

48. Haller and Davies (ed.), The Leveller Tracts, pp.65-87.

49. Ibid., p.82.

50. Kenyon (ed.), The Stuart Constitution, document 86, pp.308-10.

51. See A.S.P. Woodhouse, Puritanism and Liberty (London, 1951), pp.1-124.

52. See below for further discussion.

53. The flight of the king certainly came at a propitious time for Cromwell and the Grandees. Brailsford, however, concluded against Cromwell's complicity. See The Levellers and the English Revolution, pp.292-93. Hill is less certain, see God's Englishman, pp. 92-4.

54. Brailsford, The Levellers and the English Revolution, ch.14, passim.

55. Shaw, The Levellers, p.66.

56. Wolfe (ed.), Leveller Manifestos of the Puritan Revolution, pp.259-73.

57. For a detailed account, see Lindsay, Civil War in England, ch.23, passim.

58. Wolfe (ed.), Leveller Manifestos, pp.253-73.

59. Shaw, The Levellers, p.70; Lindsay, Civil War in England, p.269.

60. Shaw, The Levellers, p.72.

61. Woodhouse (ed.), Puritanism and Liberty, pp.456-65; Tanner, Constitutional Conflicts, p.152.

62. Tanner, Constitutional Conflicts, p.152; Kenyon, The Stuart Constitution, pp.293-94; Lindsay, Civil War in England, pp.270-1.

63. See Kenyon, The Stuart Constitution, document 90, ``Commons' resolution, January 4, 1649'', p.324.

64. Gardiner, Constitutional Documents, pp.359-71.

65. Shaw, The Levellers, p.78.

66. Haller and Davies (ed.), The Leveller Tracts, pp.156-90.

67. The Council of State of the purged parliament (Rump) was, as Brailsford notes, ``armed with formidable powers; like one of the prerogative courts of the monarchy; it could summon, question and imprison whom it would'' (The Levellers and the English Revolution, p.469). Hill notes that ``the English republic rested on a very narrow social basis'' (God's Englishman, p.99). The views of Leon Trotsky are of some interest here, as this man was an outspoken partisan of ruthless dictatorial measures during crucial periods of the progress of revolutions. See his defence of the Rump and Cromwell in ``Where is Britain going?'', in George Novack (ed.), Leon Trotsky on Britain (New York, 1973), ch.6, and his brief, comparative study of dual power in the English Revolution, in The History of the Russian Revolution (London, 1967), vol. 1, ch. xi. A more recent book which attempts to draw historical parallels between four different revolutions is Crane Brinton's The Anatomy of Revolution, New York (rev. ed., 1965), esp. ch. vi, ``The Accession of the Extremists''.

68. Hill, God's Englishman, p.140; Ashley, Oliver Cromwell and the Levellers, p.542; Shaw, The Levellers, pp.86-7.

69. The full title was The hunting of the Foxes from Newmarket and Triploe Heaths to Whitehall by Five Small Beagles (Late of the Army). The Grandees were the foxes. See Wolfe (ed.), Leveller Manifestos.

70. Conrad Russell, for instance, disagrees. In his view the Levellers appear as the bourgeoisie, and the victors of the revolution are the Whig magnates; see Crisis of Parliaments' pp.372-73.

71. Cited in Brailsford, The Levellers and the English Revolution, p. 527. George Novack's Democracy and Revolution (New York, 1971) provides a particularly clear picture of the Levellers' class composition and ideology, ch.iii, passim.

72. Hill, Reformation to Industrial Revolution, vol. 2 of the Pelican Economic History of Britain (Harmondsworth, 1969), ch.iii, passim.

73. Ibid., See also Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, ch.ii, section i for European background.

74. Shaw, The Levellers, pp. 11-13, and ch.ii, passim. Hill, Reformation, etc, pp.69-70.

75. G. Davies, The Early Stuarts (Oxford, 1955), pp.279-80; Hill, Reformation, etc., pp.69-70.

76. Shaw, The Levellers, p.13; Hill, English Revolution, p.25. Hill notes here that the financiers lined up with the king, the reason being that ``the guilds were so many vested interests linked up with the social structure of feudalism, opposed to the newer, freer forces of capitalism''.

77. Hill, Reformation, etc., pp.82-4; Russell, Crisis of Parliaments, ch.ii.

78. Shaw, The Levellers, p.15. This situation was partly a product of the Civil War's impact.

79. Hill (ed.), Winstanley: The Law of Freedom and Other Writings (Harmondsworth, 1973), Introduction, pp.20-21.

80. This process is described in Hill, The English Revolution, p.24.

81. Karl Marx, Capital, vol. I (Moscow, 1961), pp.722-23.

82. Hill, The English Revolution, p.22.

83. This issue has been the subject of a number of books and articles. The politico-religious dichotomy is discussed by J.C. Davis, ``The Levellers and Christianity'', in Brian Manning (ed.), Politics, Religion and the English Civil War (London, 1973): religion is considered primary. See also D.W. Robertson's The Religious Foundations of Leveller Democracy (New York, 1951), which comes to the rather vacuous conclusion that ``Levellerism was not a religious movement strictly speaking, but the movement got its impetus and much of its sustained strength from the Christian faith'', p.122.

84. The English Revolution, p.45. See also Hill and E. Dell (eds.) The Good Old Cause: the English Revolution of 1640-60; its Causes, Course and Consequences: Extracts from Contemporary Sources (London, 2nd Ed., 1969), Introduction, pp.21-3.

85. Another important factor was the rise of empirical science in the 17th century. See Hill, Intellectual origins of the English Revolution (Oxford, 1965): ``In the eighty years before 1640 England, from being a backward country in science, became one of the most advanced'', p.15. This development was obviously not unconnected with the rise of capitalism. Hobbes was the first to systematically apply empiricist methodology to political theorising: see Hill, ``Thomas Hobbes and the Revolution in Political Thought'', in Puritanism and Revolution, pp.267-89. By the time of Locke, the theorist of the Whig Revolution, one could say that the bourgeoisie had effectively harnessed secular political theory for its own purposes.

86. Two historians of the Levellers, at least, have implied this: J. French, The Levellers (Harvard, 1955) notes the ``centrifugal tendency'' inherent in Calvinism (and thus the explanation for the tendency to split), p.4. Shaw, The Levellers, notes its ``dual nature'', p.3.

87. Hill, Century of Revolution, p.121. Brailsford, The Levellers and the English Revolution considers that ``Cromwell was never the pioneer of toleration. To his opponents ... Cromwell was never tolerant. What he felt, in spite of unessential differences, was a sense of fraternity for all his fellow Puritans. The name for that state of mind is not tolerance.'' Hill disagrees, estimating Cromwell as on the left on religious issues: see God's Englishman, p.75.

88. The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism: Hobbes to Locke (Oxford, 1962), ch.3, passim and pp.266-67.

89. Ibid., p.266.

90. A.L Morton's critique, ``Leveller Democracy -- Fact or Myth?'', in The World of the Ranters: Religious Radicalism in the English Revolution (London, 1970) makes a few useful points, e.g. that the Leveller documents were not ``... merely abstract statements of political theory -- they were party programmes, weapons in an active political campaign and modified from time to time in accordance with the changing situation and the practical needs of the struggle. It is therefore necessary to look at them not only from the standpoint of political theory, as Professor Macpherson seems too inclined to do, but in relation to the events then actually taking place'', p.202. This comment includes a necessary thrust against Macpherson's methodological standpoint. The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism is not a work of history as such, but a book attempting to re-evaluate 17th century political ideology by means of close logical argument and textual exegesis. Any limitations the book has are definitely suffered in general by empiricist ``political science''. In other points he raises, Morton seems to misunderstand Macpherson's arguments, and his final position is a mere statement of faith: ``I find it impossible to believe, with the whole evidence of their lives and writings before me, that when they spoke of 'the people', or the 'free-born commons of England' or 'the poorest that lives', these men intended in principle the tacit exclusion of any part of the English nation, whatever exceptions might in practice be demanded by existing circumstances'', p.219. Morton appears to be quite unaware that at least one half of that `English nation' was not only most certainly excluded from the Leveller franchise, through all its phases (see Macpherson, The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism, p.296), but also from his own consideration -- women.

91. For an uncritical view of the Levellers in this light, see A.D. Lindsay, The Essentials of Democracy (Oxford, 2nd ed., 1935), pp.11-19, and compare this view with Ashley's remark that they ``left practically no intellectual mark upon subsequent political thinking'', Oliver Cromwell and the Levellers, p.539.

92. Macpherson, The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism, pp.114-15, and appendix, pp.279-92.

93. See Hill, God's Englishman, pp.105-18, for a discussion of the issues involved.

94. Brailsford, The Levellers and the English Revolution, pp.497-509.

95. Ibid., ch.26, passim.

96. Ibid.; Hill, God's Englishman, p.105; Shaw, The Levellers.

97. Cromwell and Communism (see above).

98. Hill, The English Revolution, p.27.

99. Shaw, The Levellers, p.95.

100. Brailsford, The Levellers and the English Revolution, p.607.

101. Hill's point of view owes much to Marx and Lenin. The following texts may provide useful background: Marx's critique of Proudhon, The Poverty of Philosophy (New York 1963; orig. ed. 1846); Marx, Engels, Lenin, On Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism (New York, 1972), V.I. Lenin, Left-Wing Communism; an Infantile Disorder (Moscow, 1966).

102. Bernstein notes: ``The army was the organised democracy of the country, the bulk of it consisting of yeomen and artisans'', Cromwell and Communism, p.61.

103. Lilburne's famous trial at the Guildhall shortly after the Burford fiasco is a case in point. See Shaw, The Levellers, pp.88-9.

104. As Hill has remarked: ``The Levellers were never a united, disciplined party or movement, as historians find to their cost when they try to define their doctrines with any precision'', The World Turned Upside Down (London, 1972), p.91.

105. Russell, Crisis of Parliaments, pp.356-57; Hill, Intellectual Origins of the English Revolution, p.296.

106. For example Venner's rising of June 1657: ``The 42 months of the Beast's (i.e. the Protector's) dominion having expired at that time''. See Hill, Antichrist, p.123.

107. Hill (ed.), Winstanley, p.19.

108. Four days before the execution of Charles I, Winstanley announced: ``when the Lord doth show unto me the place and manner, how he shall have us that are called common people to manure and work upon the common lands, I will go forth and declare it in my action, to eat my bread with the sweat of my brows, without either giving or taking hire, looking upon the land as freely mine as another's ... the spirit of the poor shall be drawn forth ere long, to act materially this law of righteousness'', cited in ibid., p.23.

109. For a history of this colony, see D.W. Petegorsky, Left-Wing Democracy in the English Civil War (London, 1940) ch. iv, passim.

110. See George Woodcock, Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements (Harmondsworth, 1963) pp.42-6.

111. ``The True Levellers Standard Advanced'', in Hill (ed.), Winstanley, pp.77-80; 99-101.

Powered by Drupal - Design by Artinet