Rainsborough R.I.P

October 30, 2009


Today is (or should be…) ‘Rainsborough Day’. Thomas Rainsborough is one of England’s greatest unsung heroes. He was the highest ranking Leveller in the New Model Army and, as such, was a very influential figure. The Levellers sought complete social and economic equality; a universal levelling of privilege and wealth. As Rainsborough himself said during the Putney Debates of 1647…

If it be a property, it is a property by a law; neither do I think that there is very little property in this thing by the law of the land, because I think that the law of the land in that thing is the most tyrannous law under heaven, and I would fain know what we have fought for, and this is the old law of England, and that which enslaves the people of England, that they should be bound by laws in which they have no voice at all. The thing that I am unsatisfied in is how it comes about that there is such a property in some freeborn Englishmen, and not in others.

Sir, I see that it is impossible to have liberty but all property must be taken away. If it be laid down for a rule, and if you will say it, it must be so. But I would fain know what the soldier hath fought for all this while? He hath fought to enslave himself, to give power to men of riches, men of estates, to make him a perpetual slave. We do find in all presses that go forth none must be pressed that are freehold-men. When these Gentlemen fall out among themselves they shall press the poor scrubs to come and kill each other for them…

Among other things the Levellers called for an end to Parliamentary and Judicial corruption; toleration of religious differences; the translation of law into the common tongue; and an elected judiciary – all of which remain all too relevant today! The Levellers were fighting to empower the people; and neither the Crown nor Cromwell could cope with that!

Cromwell sent Rainsborough to put an end to the siege of Pontefract Castle, but Rainsborough would never get as far as Pontefract. Whilst Rainsborough was staying at an inn in Doncaster market place four Royalists burst into his quarters and attempted to kidnap him; but in the heat of the moment Rainsborough was murdered by the would-be kidnappers. Many Levellers believed that Cromwell himself was behind the kidnap attempt.

Rainsborough’s funeral was attended by thousands of people wearing sea-green ribbons and bunches of rosemary in their hats for remembrance. Recently there have been calls to commemorate Rainsborough at an annual ‘Rainsborough Day’ in Doncaster market place and to erect a plaque at the place where he was killed (now a Primark of all things).

was the highest ranking Leveller in the New Model Army and, as such, was a very influential figure. The Levellers sought complete social and economic equality; a universal levelling of privilege and wealth. As Rainsborough himself said during the Putney Debates of 1647…

If it be a property, it is a property by a law; neither do I think that there is very little property in this thing by the law of the land, because I think that the law of the land in that thing is the most tyrannous law under heaven, and I would fain know what we have fought for, and this is the old law of England, and that which enslaves the people of England, that they should be bound by laws in which they have no voice at all. The thing that I am unsatisfied in is how it comes about that there is such a property in some freeborn Englishmen, and not in others.

Sir, I see that it is impossible to have liberty but all property must be taken away. If it be laid down for a rule, and if you will say it, it must be so. But I would fain know what the soldier hath fought for all this while? He hath fought to enslave himself, to give power to men of riches, men of estates, to make him a perpetual slave. We do find in all presses that go forth none must be pressed that are freehold-men. When these Gentlemen fall out among themselves they shall press the poor scrubs to come and kill each other for them…

Among other things the Levellers called for an end to Parliamentary and Judicial corruption; toleration of religious differences; the translation of law into the common tongue; and an elected judiciary – all of which remain all too relevant today! The Levellers were fighting to empower the people; and neither the Crown

363 years ago this month, August 1646, Richard Overton was imprisoned for publishing a pamphlet which attacked the House of Lords. During his imprisonment he wrote what was to become an important and influential Leveller manifesto, “An Arrow Against All Tyrants and Tyranny” which would be published on 12th October of that year.

An arrow against all tyrants and tyranny, shot from the prison of Newgate into the prerogative bowels of the arbitrary House of Lords and all other usurpers and tyrants whatsoever. Wherein the original, rise, extent, and end of magisterial power, the natural and national rights, freedoms and properties of mankind are discovered and undeniably maintained; the late oppressions and encroachments of the Lords over the commons legally (by the fundamental laws and statutes of this realm, as also by a memorable extract out of the records of the Tower of London) condemned; the late Presbyterian ordinance (invented and contrived by the diviners, and by the motion of Mr Bacon and Mr Tate read in the House of Commons) examined, refuted, and exploded, as most inhumane, tyrannical and barbarous

By Richard Overton

Prerogative archer to the arbitrary House of Lords, their prisoner in Newgate, for the just and legal properties, rights and freedoms of the commons of England. Sent by way of a letter from him, to Mr Henry Marten, a member of the House of Commons

Imprimatur Rectat Justitia

Printed at the backside of the Cyclopian Mountains, by Martin Claw-Clergy, printer to the reverend Assembly of Divines, and are to be sold at the sign of the Subject’s Liberty, right opposite to Persecuting Court. 1646

An arrow against all tyrants and tyranny, shot from the prison of Newgate into the prerogative bowels of the arbitrary House of Lords, and all other usurpers and tyrants whatsoever


To every individual in nature is given an individual property by nature not to be invaded or usurped by any. For every one, as he is himself, so he has a self-propriety, else could he not be himself; and of this no second may presume to deprive any of without manifest violation and affront to the very principles of nature and of the rules of equity and justice between man and man. Mine and thine cannot be, except this be. No man has power over my rights and liberties, and I over no man’s. I may be but an individual, enjoy my self and my self-propriety and may right myself no more than my self, or presume any further; if I do, I am an encroacher and an invader upon another man’s right — to which I have no right. For by natural birth all men are equally and alike born to like propriety, liberty and freedom; and as we are delivered of God by the hand of nature into this world, every one with a natural, innate freedom and propriety — as it were writ in the table of every man’s heart, never to be obliterated — even so are we to live, everyone equally and alike to enjoy his birthright and privilege; even all whereof God by nature has made him free.

And this by nature everyone’s desire aims at and requires; for no man naturally would be befooled of his liberty by his neighbour’s craft or enslaved by his neighbour’s might. For it is nature’s instinct to preserve itself from all things hurtful and obnoxious; and this in nature is granted of all to be most reasonable, equal and just: not to be rooted out of the kind, even of equal duration with the creature. And from this fountain or root all just human powers take their original — not immediately from God (as kings usually plead their prerogative) but mediately by the hand of nature, as from the represented to the representers. For originally God has implanted them in the creature, and from the creature those powers immediately proceed and no further. And no more may be communicated than stands for the better being, weal, or safety thereof. And this is man’s prerogative and no further; so much and no more may be given or received thereof: even so much as is conducent to a better being, more safety and freedom, and no more. He that gives more, sins against his own flesh; and he that takes more is thief and robber to his kind — every man by nature being a king, priest and prophet in his own natural circuit and compass, whereof no second may partake but by deputation, commission, and free consent from him whose natural right and freedom it is.

And thus sir and no otherwise are you instated into your sovereign capacity for the free people of this nation. For their better being, discipline, government, propriety and safety have each of them communicated so much unto you (their chosen ones) of their natural rights and powers, that you might thereby become their absolute commissioners and lawful deputies. But no more: that by contraction of those their several individual communications conferred upon and united in you, you alone might become their own natural, proper, sovereign power, therewith singly and only empowered for their several weals, safeties and freedoms, and no otherwise. For as by nature no man may abuse, beat, torment, or afflict himself, so by nature no man may give that power to another, seeing he may not do it himself; for no more can be communicated from the general than is included in the particulars whereof the general is compounded.

So that such, so deputed, are to the general no otherwise than as a school-master to a particular — to this or that man’s family. For as such an one’s mastership, ordering and regulating power is but by deputation — and that ad bene placitum and may be removed at the parents’ or headmaster’s pleasure upon neglect or abuse thereof, and be conferred upon another (no parents ever giving such an absolute unlimited power to such over their children as to do to them as they list, and not to be retracted, controlled, or restrained in their exorbitances) — even so and no otherwise is it with you our deputies in respect of the general. It is in vain for you to think you have power over us to save us or destroy us at your pleasure, to do with us as you list, be it for our weal or be it for our woe, and not be enjoined in mercy to the one or questioned in justice for the other. For the edge of your own arguments against the king in this kind may be turned upon yourselves. For if for the safety of the people he might in equity be opposed by you in his tyrannies, oppressions and cruelties, even so may you by the same rule of right reason be opposed by the people in general in the like cases of destruction and ruin by you upon them; for the safety of the people is the sovereign law, to which all must become subject, and for the which all powers human are ordained by them; for tyranny, oppression and cruelty whatsoever, and in whomsoever, is in itself unnatural, illegal, yea absolutely anti-magisterial; for it is even destructive to all human civil society, and therefore resistible.

Now sir, the commons of this nation, having empowered their body representative (whereof you are one) with their own absolute sovereignty, thereby authoritatively and legally to remove from amongst them all oppressions and tyrannies, oppressors and tyrants — how great soever in name, place, or dignity — and to protect, safeguard and defend them from all such unnatural monsters, vipers and pests, bred of corruption or which are intruded amongst them; and as much as in them lies to prevent all such for the future. And to that end you have been assisted with our lives and fortunes most liberally and freely with most victorious and happy success, whereby your arms are strengthened with our might, that now you may make us all happy within the confines of this nation if you please. And therefore sir, in reason, equity and justice we deserve no less at your hands.

And (sir) let it not seem strange unto you that we are thus bold with you for our own. For by nature we are the sons of Adam, and from him have legitimately derived a natural propriety, right and freedom, which only we require. And how in equity you can deny us we cannot see. It is but the just rights and prerogative of mankind (whereunto the people of England are heirs apparent as well as other nations) which we desire; and sure you will not deny it us, that we may be men and live like men. If you do, it will be as little safe for yourselves and posterity as for us and our posterity. For sir, look: what bondage, thraldom, or tyranny soever you settle upon us, you certainly, or your posterity will taste of the dregs. If by your present policy and (abused) might, you chance to ward it from yourselves in particular, yet your posterity — do what you can — will be liable to the hazard thereof.

And therefore sir we desire your help for your own sakes as well as for ourselves, chiefly for the removal of two most insufferable evils daily encroaching and increasing upon us, portending and threatening inevitable destruction and confusion of yourselves, of us, and of all our posterities: namely the encroachments and usurpations of the House of Lords over the commons’ liberties and freedoms, together with the barbarous, inhuman, blood-thirsty desires and endeavours of the Presbyterian clergy.

For the first, namely the exorbitances of the Lords: they are to such an height aspired, that contrary to all precedents, the free commoners of England are imprisoned, fined and condemned by them (their incompetent, illegal, unequal, improper judges) against the express letter of Magna Carta chapter 29 (so often urged and used): that no free man of England ‘shall be passed upon, tried, or condemned, but by the lawful judgement of his equals, or by the law of the land’, which, as says Sir Edward Coke in his exposition of Magna Carta, p. 28, last line, is tper pares, by his peers, that is, by his equals’. And page 46, branches 1, 2 and 5, in these words:

1. That no man be taken or imprisoned, but per legem terrae, that is by the common law, statute law, or custom of England. For these words, per legem terrae being towards the end of this chapter, do refer to all the pretended matters in this chapter; and this has the first place, because the liberty of a man’s person is more precious to him than all the rest that follow; and therefore it is great reason that he should by law be relieved therein, if he be wronged, as hereafter shall be showed.

2. No man shall be disseised, that is, put out of seisin, or dispossessed of his freehold (that is, lands or livelihood) or of his liberties or free customs (that is, of such franchises and freedoms, and free customs, as belong to him by his free birthright) unless it be by the lawful judgement, that is verdict of his equals (that is of men of his own condition) or by the law of the land (that is, to speak it once for all) by the due course and processes of law.

3. No man shall be in any sort destroyed unless it be by the verdict of his equals or according to the law of the land.

And, chapter 29 of Magna Carta, it is said, ‘secundum legem et consuetudinem Angliae’ (after the law and custom of England) ‘non regis Angliae’ (not of the king of England) — ‘lest it might be thought to bind the king only, nec populi Angliae, not the people of England; ‘but that the law might tend to all, it is said, per legem terra, by the law of the land’.

‘Against this ancient and fundamental law, and in the very face thereof, says Sir Edward Coke, he found an act of the parliament made in the 11 Hen. VII cap. 3: that as well Justices of the Peace, without any finding or presentment by the verdict of twelve men, upon the bare information for the king before them — should have full power and authority by their discretions to hear and determine all offences and contempts committed or done by any person or persons against the form, ordinance, and effect of any statute made and not repealed. By colour of which act, shaking this fundamental law, it is not credible (says he) what horrible oppressions and exactions — to the undoing of infinite numbers of people — were committed by Sir Richard Empson, Knight, and Edmund Dudley, being Justices of the Peace through England; and upon this unjust and injurious act (as commonly in the like cases it falls out) a new office was erected, and they made Masters of the King’s Forfeitures.

But at the parliament held in 1 Hen. VIII (cap. 6), this Act of Henry VII is recited, made void and repealed; and the reason thereof is yielded: for that by force of the said act it was manifestly known that many sinister, crafty, and forged informations had been pursued against divers of the king’s subjects, to their great damage and unspeakable vexation — a thing most frequent and usual at this day and in these times — the ill success whereof, together with the most fearful end of these great oppressors, should deter others from committing the like and should admonish parliaments in the future, that instead of this ordinary and precious trial per legem terra they bring not in an absolute and partial trial by discretion.

And to this end the judgement upon Simon de Beresford, a commoner, in the fourth year of Edward III’s reign, is an excellent precedent for these times (as is to be seen upon record in the Tower in the second roll of parliament held the same year of the said king and delivered into the Chancery by Henry de Edenston, Clerk of the Parliament) — for that the said Simon de Beresford having counselled, aided and assisted Roger de Mortimer to the murder of the father of the said king, the king commanded the earls and barons in the said parliament assembled to give right and lawful judgement unto the said Simon de Beresford. But the earls, barons and peers came before the lord the king in the same parliament and said with one voice that the aforesaid Simon was not their peer or equal, wherefore they were not bound to judge him as a peer of the land. Yet notwithstanding all this, the earls, barons and peers (being over-swayed by the king) did award and adjudge (as judges of parliament, by the assent of the king in the said parliament) that the said Simon as a traitor and enemy of the realm should be hanged and drawn; and execution accordingly was done. But as by the said roll appears, it was by full parliament condemned and adjudged as illegal, and as a precedent not to be drawn into example. The words of the said roll are these, viz.

And it is assented and agreed by our lord the king and all the grandees in full parliament: that albeit the said peers as judges in full parliament took upon them in presence of our lord the king to make and give the said judgement by the assent of the king upon some of them that were not their peers (to wit commoners) by reason of the power of the liege lord, and destruction of him which was so near of the blood royal and the king’s father; that therefore the said peers which now are, or the peers which shall be for the time to come, be not bound or charged to give judgement upon others than upon their peers, nor shall do it; but of that for ever be discharged and acquitted; and that the aforesaid judgement now given be not drawn into example or consequent for the time to come, by which the said peers may be charged hereafter to judge others than their peers, being against the law of the land, if any such case happen, which God defend.

Agrees with the Record. William Collet.

But notwithstanding all this our lords in parliament take upon them as judges in parliament to pass judgement and sentence (even of themselves) upon the commoners which are not their peers — and that to fining, imprisonment, etc. And this doth not only content them, but they even send forth their armed men, and beset, invade, assault their houses and persons in a warlike manner and take what plunder they please, before so much as any of their pretended, illegal warrants be showed — as was lately upon 11 August 1646 perpetrated against me and mine, which was more than the king himself by his legal prerogative ever could do. For neither by verbal commands or commissions under the Great Seal of England could he ever give any lawful authority to any general, captain or person whatsoever, without legal trial and conviction, forcibly to assault, rob, spoil or imprison any of the free commoners of England. And in case any free commoner by such his illegal commissions, orders or warrants, before they be lawfully convicted, should be assaulted, spoiled, plundered, imprisoned, etc., in such cases his agents and ministers ought to be proceeded against, resisted, apprehended, indicted and condemned (notwithstanding such commissions) as trespassers, thieves, burglars, felons, murderers, both by statute and common law, as is enacted and resolved by Magna Carta, cap. 29; 15 Eliz. 3 stat. 1. caps. 1, 2, 3; 42 Eliz. 5 cap. 1, 13; 28 Eliz. 1 Artic. sup. chartas, cap. 2; 4 Eliz. 3 cap. 4; 5 Eliz. 3 cap. 2; 24 Eliz. 3 cap. 1; 2 Rich II cap. 7; 5 Rich. II cap. 5; 1 Hen V cap. 6; 11 Hen II caps. 1-6; 24 Hen. VIII cap. 5; 21 Jacob. cap. 3.

And if the king himself have not this arbitrary power, much less may his peers or companions, the lords, over the free commons of England. And therefore notwithstanding such illegal censures and warrants either of king or of Lords (no legal conviction being made) the persons invaded and assaulted by such open force of arms may lawfully arm themselves, fortify their houses (which are their castles in the judgement of the law) against them; yea, disarm, beat, wound, repress and kill them in their just necessary defence of their own persons, houses, goods, wives and families, and not be guilty of the least offence — as is expressly resolved by the Statute of 21 Edw. de malefactoribus in parcis; by 24 Hen. VIII cap. 5; 11 Hen. VI cap. 16; 14 Hen. VI cap. 24; 35 Hen. VI cap. 12; Edward IV cap. 6.

And therefore (sir) as even by nature and by the law of the land I was bound, I denied subjection to these lords and their arbitrary creatures thus by open force invading and assaulting my house, person, etc. — no legal conviction preceding, or warrant then shown. But and if they had brought and shown a thousand such warrants, they had all been illegal, antimagisterial and void in this case; for they have no legal power in that kind, no more than the king, but such their actions are utterly condemned and expressly forbidden by the law. Why therefore should you of the representative body sit still and suffer these lords thus to devour both us and our laws?

Be awakened, arise and consider their oppressions and encroachments and stop their lordships in their ambitious career. For they do not cease only here, but they soar higher and higher and now they are become arrogators to themselves of the natural sovereignty the represented have conveyed and issued to their proper representers. They even challenge to themselves the title of the supremest court of judicature in the land — as was claimed by the Lord Hunsden when I was before them, which you may see more at large in a printed letter published under my name, entitled A defiance against all arbitrary usurpations — which challenge of his (I think I may be bold to assert) was a most illegal, anti-parliamentary, audacious presumption, and might better be pleaded and challenged by the king singly than by all those lords in a distinction from the Commons. But it is more than may be granted to the king himself; for the parliament, and the whole kingdom whom it represents, is truly and properly the highest supreme power of all others — yea above the king himself.

And therefore much more above the Lords. For they can question, cancel, disannul and utterly revoke the king’s own royal charters, writs, commissions, patents, etc., though ratified with the Great Seal — even against his personal will, as is evident by their late abrogation of sundry patents, commissions, writs, charters, loan, ship-money etc. Yea the body representative have power to enlarge or retract the very prerogative of the king, as the Statute de prerog. Reg. and the parliament roll of 1 Hen. IV, num. 18. doth evidence; and therefore their power is larger and higher than the king’s; and if above the king’s, much more above the Lords’, who are subordinate to the king. And if the king’s writs, charters, etc. which entrench upon the weal of the people may be abrogated, nulled and made void by the parliament — the representative body of the land — and his very prerogatives bounded, restrained and limited by them, much more may the orders, warrants, commitments etc. of the Lords, with their usurped prerogatives over the Commons and people of England be restrained, nulled and made void by them. And therefore these lords must needs be inferior to them.

Further, the legislative power is not in the king himself but only in the kingdom and body representative, who has power to make or to abrogate laws, statutes etc. even without the king’s consent. For by law he has not a negative voice either in making or reversing, but by his own coronation oath he is sworn to ‘grant, fulfil, and defend all rightful laws, which the commons of the realm shall choose, and to strengthen and maintain them after his power’; by which clause of the oath is evident that the Commons (not the king or Lords) have power to choose what laws themselves shall judge meetest, and thereto of necessity the king must assent. And this is evident by most of our former kings and parliaments, and especially by the reigns of the Edwards I to IV, Richard II and the Henrys IV to VI. So that it cannot be denied but that the king is subordinate and inferior to the whole kingdom and body representative. Therefore if the king, much more must the lords veil their bonnets to the Commons and may not be esteemed the Upper House, or supreme court of judicature of the land.

So that seeing the sovereign power is not originally in the king, or personally terminated in him, then the king at most can be but chief officer or supreme executioner of the laws, under whom all other legal executioners, their several executions, functions and offices are subordinate; for indeed the representers (in whom that power is inherent and from whence it takes its original) can only make conveyance thereof to their representers, vicegerents or deputies, and cannot possibly further extend it. For so they should go beyond themselves, which is impossible, for ultra posse non est esse: there is no being beyond the power of being. That which goes beyond the substance and shadow of a thing cannot possibly be the thing itself either substantially or virtually; for that which is beyond the representers is not representative, and so not the kingdom’s or people’s, either so much as in shadow or substance.

Therefore the sovereign power, extending no further than from the represented to the representers — all this kind of sovereignty challenged by any (whether of king, Lords or others) is usurpation, illegitimate and illegal, and none of the kingdom’s or people’s. Neither are the people thereto obliged. Thus (sir) seeing the sovereign or legislative power is only from the represented to the representers, and cannot possibly legally further extend, the power of the king cannot be legislative but only executive, and he can communicate no more than he has himself. And the sovereign power not being inherent in him, it cannot be conveyed by or derived from him to any; for could he, he would have carried it away with him when he left the parliament. So that his mere prerogative creatures cannot have that which their lord and creator never had, has, or can have: namely, the legislative power. For it is a standing rule in nature, omne simile generas simile: every like begets its like.

And indeed they are as like him as if they were spit out of his mouth. For their proper station will not content them, but they must make incursions and inroads upon the people’s rights and freedoms and extend their prerogative patent beyond their master’s compass. Indeed all other courts might as well challenge that prerogative of sovereignty, yea better, than this court of lords. But and if any court or courts in this kingdom should arrogate to themselves that dignity to be the supreme court of judicatory of the land, it would be judged no less than high treason, to wit, for an inferior subordinate power to advance and exalt itself above the power of the parliament.

And (sir) the oppressions, usurpations, and miseries from this prerogative head are not the sole cause of our grievance and complaint, but in especial, the most unnatural, tyrannical, blood-thirsty desires and continual endeavours of the clergy against the contrary-minded in matters of conscience — which have been so veiled, gilded and covered over with such various, fair and specious pretences that by the common discernings such wolfish, cannibal, inhuman intents against their neighbours, kindred, friends and countrymen, as is now clearly discovered was little suspected (and less deserved) at their hands. But now I suppose they will scarce hereafter be so hard of belief. For now in plain terms and with open face, the clergy here discover themselves in their kind, and show plainly that inwardly they are no other but ravening wolves, even as roaring lions wanting their prey, going up and down, seeking whom they may devour.

For (sir) it seems these cruel minded men to their brethren, have, by the powerful agitation of Mr Tate and Mr Bacon (two members of the House) procured a most Romish inquisition ordinance to obtain an admission into the House, there to be twice read, and to be referred to a committee, which is of such a nature, if it should be but confirmed, enacted and established, as would draw all the innocent blood of the saints from righteous Abel unto this present upon this nation and fill the land with more martyrdoms, tyrannies, cruelties and oppressions than ever was in the bloody days of Queen Mary, yea or ever before, or since. For I may boldly say that the people of this nation never heard of such a diabolical, murdering, devouring ordinance, order, edict or law in their land as is that.

So that it may be truly said unto England: ‘Woe to the inhabitants thereof, for the devil is come down unto you (in the shape of the letter B.) having great wrath, because he knows he has but a short time.’ For never before was the like heard of in England. The cruel, villainous, barbarous martyrdoms, murders and butcheries of God’s people under the papal and episcopal clergy were not perpetrated or acted by any law so devilish, cruel and inhumane as this. Therefore what may the free people of England expect at the hands of their Presbyterian clergy, who thus discover themselves more fierce and cruel than their fellows? Nothing but hanging, burning, branding, imprisoning, etc. is like to be the reward of the most faithful friends to the kingdom and parliament if the clergy may be the disposers — notwithstanding their constant magnanimity, fidelity and good service both in the field and at home, for them and the state.

But sure this ordinance was never intended to pay the soldiers their arrears. If it be, the Independents are like to have the best share, let them take that for their comfort. But I believe there was more tithe-providence than state-thrift in the matter; for if the Independents, Anabaptists, and Brownists were but sincerely addicted to the due payment of tithes, it would be better to them in this case than two-subsidy-men to acquit them of felony.

For were it not for the loss of their trade and spoiling their custom, an Anabaptist, Brownist, Independent and presbyter were all one to them; then might they without doubt have the mercy of the clergy; then would they not have been entered into their Spanish Inquisition Calendar for absolute felons, or need they have feared the popish soul-murdering, antiChristian Oath of Abjuration, or branding in the left cheek with the letter B — the new Presbyterian mark of the beast: for you see the devil is now again entered amongst us in a new shape, not like an angel of light (as both he and his servants can transform themselves when they please) but even in the shape of the letter B. From the power of which Presbyterian Beelzebub, good Lord deliver us all and let all the people say Amen. Then needed they not to have feared their prisons, their fire and faggot, their gallows and halters, etc. (the strongest texts in all the Presbyterian new model of clergy divinity for the maintenance and reverence of their cloth, and confutation of errors). For he that doth but so much as question that priest-fattening ordinance for tithes, oblations, obventions, etc. doth flatly deny the fundamentals of presbyters, for it was the first stone they laid in their building; and the second stone was the prohibition of all to teach God’s word but themselves — and so are ipso facto all felons etc.

By this (sir) you may see what bloody-minded men those of the black presbytery be: what little love, patience, meekness, longsuffering and forbearance they have to their brethren. Neither do they as they would be done to or do to others as is done to them. For they would not be so served themselves of the Independents, neither have the Independents ever sought or desired any such things upon them, but would bear with them in all brotherly love if they would be but contented to live peaceably and neighbourly by them, and not thus to brand, hang, judge and condemn all for felons that are not like themselves. Sure (sir) you cannot take this murdering, bloody, disposition of theirs for the spirit of Christianity; for Christian charity ‘suffers long, is kind, envieth not, exalteth not itself, seeketh not its own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things’. But these their desires and endeavours are directly contrary.

Therefore (sir) if you should suffer this bloody inroad of martyrdom, cruelties and tyrannies upon the free commoners of England with whose weal you are betrusted; if you should be so inhumane, undutiful, yea and unnatural unto us, our innocent blood will be upon you, and all the blood of the righteous that shall be shed by this ordinance, and you will be branded to future generations for England’s Bloody Parliament.

If you will not think upon us, think upon your posterities. For I cannot suppose that any one of you would have your children hanged in case they should prove Independents, Anabaptists, Brownists — I cannot judge you so unnatural and inhumane to your own children. Therefore (sir) if for our own sakes we shall not be protected, save us for your children’s sakes (though you think yourselves secure). For ye may be assured their and our interest is interwoven in one; if we perish, they must not think to escape. And (sir) consider that the cruelties, tyrannies and martyrdoms of the papal and episcopal clergy was one of the greatest instigations to this most unnatural war; and think you, if you settle a worse foundation of cruelty, that future generations will not taste of the dregs of that bitter cup?

Therefore now step in or never, and discharge your duties to God and to us and tell us no longer that ‘such motions are not yet seasonable’ and we must still wait; for have we not waited on your pleasures many fair seasons and precious occasions and opportunities these six years, even till the halters are ready to be tied to the gallows, and now must we hold our peace and wait till we be all imprisoned, hanged, burnt and confounded?

Blame us not (sir) if we complain against you — speak, write and plead thus — with might and main for our lives, laws and liberties; for they are our earthly summum bonum, wherewith you are chiefly betrusted, and whereof we desire a faithful discharge at your hands in especial. Therefore be not you the men that shall betray the blood of us and our posterities into the hands of those bloody black executioners. For God is just and will avenge our blood at your hands. And let heaven and earth bear witness against you, that for this end, that we might be preserved and restored, we have discharged our duties to you — both of love, fidelity and assistance and in what else ye could demand or devise in all your several needs, necessities and extremities — not thinking our lives, estates, nor anything too precious to sacrifice for you and the kingdom’s safety. And shall we now be thus unfaithfully, undutifully and ungratefully rewarded? For shame. Let never such things be spoken, far less recorded, to future generations.

Thus sir, I have so far emboldened myself with you, hoping you will let grievances be uttered (that if God see it good they may be redressed), and give losers leave to speak without offence as I am forced to at this time, not only in the discharge of my duty to myself in particular but to yourselves and to our whole country in general for the present and for our several posterities for the future. And the Lord give you grace to take this timely advice from so mean and unworthy an instrument.

One thing more (sir) I shall be bold to crave at your hands: that you would be pleased to present my appeal, here enclosed, to your honourable House. Perchance the manner of it may beget a disaffection in you or at least a suspicion of disfavour from the House. But howsoever I beseech you that you would make presentation thereof, and if any hazard and danger ensue let it fall upon me; for I have cast up mine accounts. I know the most that it can cost me is but the dissolution of this fading mortality, which once must be dissolved; but after — blessed be God — comes righteous judgement.

Thus (sir) hoping my earnest and fervent desires after the universal freedoms and properties of this nation in general, and especially of the most godly and faithful in their consciences, persons and estates, will be a sufficient excuse with you for this my tedious presumption upon your patience, I shall commit the premises to your deliberate thoughts — and the issue thereof unto God, expecting and praying for His blessing upon all your faithful and honest endeavours in the prosecution thereof. And rest,

From the most contemptuous gaol of Newgate (the Lords’ benediction)

25 September 1646

In bonds for the just rights and freedoms of the commons of England, theirs and your faithful friend and servant, Richard Overton

To the high and mighty states, the knights, citizens and burgesses in parliament assembled (England’s legal sovereign power). The humble appeal and supplication of Richard Overton, prisoner in the most contemptible gaol of Newgate.

Humbly shows,

That whereas your petitioner, under the pretence of a criminal fact being in a warlike manner brought before the House of Lords to be tried, and by them put to answer to interrogatories concerning himself — both which your petitioner humbly conceives to be illegal, and contrary to the natural rights, freedoms and properties of the free commoners of England (confirmed to them by Magna Carta, the Petition of Right and the Act for the abolishment of the Star Chamber) — he therefore was emboldened to refuse subjection to the said House both in the one and the other, expressing his resolution before them that he would not infringe the private rights and properties of himself or of any one commoner in particular, or the common rights and properties of this nation in general. For which your petitioner was by them adjudged contemptuous, and by an order from the said House was therefore committed to the gaol of Newgate, where, from the 11 of August 1646 to this present he has lain, and there commanded to be kept till their pleasures shall be further signified (as a copy of the said order hereunto annexed doth declare) which may be perpetual if they please, and may have their wills. For your petitioner humbly conceives as hereby he is made a prisoner to their wills, not to the law — except their wills may be a law.

Wherefore your liege petitioner doth make his humble appeal unto this most sovereign House (as to the highest court of judicatory in the land, wherein all the appeals thereof are to centre and beyond which none can legally be made) humbly craving (both in testimony of his acknowledgement of its legal regality and of his due submission thereunto) that your honours therein assembled would take his cause (and in his, the cause of all the free commoners of England, whom you represent and for whom you sit) into your serious consideration and legal determination, that he may either by the mercy of the law be repossessed of his just liberty and freedoms — and thereby the whole commons of England of theirs, thus unjustly (as he humbly conceives) usurped and invaded by the House of Lords — with due reparations of all such damages to sustained, or else that he may undergo what penalty shall in equity by the impartial severity of the law be adjudged against him by this honourable House in case by them he shall be legally found a transgressor herein.

And your petitioner (as in duty bound) shall ever pray, etc.

Die martis 11 Augusti, 1646

It is this day ordered by the Lords in parliament assembled, that Overton, brought before a committee of this House for printing scandalous things against this House, is hereby committed to the prison of Newgate for his high contempt offered to this House and to the said committee by his contemptuous words and gesture, and refusing to answer unto the Speaker. And that the said Overton shall be kept in safe custody by the Keeper of Newgate or his deputy until the pleasure of the House be further signified.

To the Gentleman Usher attending this House, or his deputy, to be delivered to the Keeper of Newgate or his deputy John Brown Cleric. Parl. Examinat. per Ra. Brisco Clericu. de Newgate



Your unseasonable absence from the House, chiefly while Mistress Lilburne’s petition should have been read (you having a report to make in her husband’s behalf) whereby the hearing thereof was deferred and retarded did possess my mind with strong jealousies and fears of you that you either preferred your own pleasure or private interest before the execution of justice and judgement, or else withdrew yourself on set purpose (through the strong instigation of the Lords) to evade the discharge of your trust to God and to your country. But at your return, understanding that you honestly and faithfully did redeem your absent time, I was dispossessed of those fears and jealousies. So that for my over-hasty censorious esteem of you I humbly crave your excuse, hoping you will rather impute it to the fervency of my faithful zeal to the common good than to any malignant disposition or disaffection in me towards you. Yet (sir) in this my suspicion I was not single, for it was even become a general surmise.

Wherefore (sir) for the awarding your innocency for the future from the tincture of such unjust and calumnious suspicions, be you diligent and faithful, instant in season and out of season; omit no opportunity (though with never so much hazard to your person, estate or family) to discharge the great trust in you reposed, with the rest of your fellow members, for the redemption of your native country from the arbitrary domination and usurpations, either of the House of Lords or any other.

And since by the divine providence of God it has pleased that honourable assembly whereof you are a member to select and sever you out from amongst themselves to be of that committee which they have ordained to receive the commoners’ complaints against the House of Lords granted upon the foresaid most honourable petition, be you therefore impartial and just, active and resolute, care neither for favours nor smiles, and be no respecter of persons. Let not the greatest peers in the land be more respected with you than so many old bellows-menders, broom-men, cobblers, tinkers, or chimney-sweepers, who are all equally freeborn with the hugest men and loftiest Anakims in the land. Do nothing for favour of the one or fear of the other. And have a care of the temporary sagacity of the new sect of opportunity politicians, whereof we have got at least two or three too many. For delays and demurrers of justice are of more deceitful and dangerous consequence than the flat and open denial of its execution; for the one keeps in suspense, makes negligent and remiss, the other provokes to speedy defence, makes active and resolute. Therefore be wise, quick, stout and impartial: neither spare, favour, or connive at friend or foe, high or low, rich or poor, lord or commoner.

And let even the saying of the Lord, with which I will close this present discourse, close with your heart and be with you to the death. Leviticus 19:15. ‘Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgement: thou shall not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty, but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour.’

12 October 1646


A PDF file of Overton’s pamphlet is available here.

Wynfrið Wynn recently posted the following article. As we hope one day to resurrect the Levellers we thought we’d post his article on our site as well…


If I had as many lives as I have hairs on my head
or drops of blood in my veins,
I would give them all up for this cause,

for the Liberties of England!

John Bastwick (as quoted on Rev Hammer's 'Freeborn John' album)

These are troubled times both for Liberty and for Democracy; each of these concepts is, of course, meaningless without the other. Liberties that took 500 years and countless lives to secure are being rolled back in the name of ’security’ by a self-serving political elite who treat the democratic process and the electorate with undisguised contempt. To cite security as a reason to deny liberty shows that the politicians – on both sides of the Atlantic – have learnt nothing in the 250 years since Benjamin Franklin famously wrote…

“They who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

from the title page of An Historical Review of the Constitution and Government of Pennsylvania. 1759

In truth it is not just the years that divide today’s politicians from their enlightenment forebears. There was once a commitment – in philosophy at least, if not in practice – to the belief that government should be no more than a tool that exists to guarantee and protect the basic freedoms and liberties of it’s people so that each person might live as full a life as possible. This sentiment was best summed up in the motto “That government is best which governs least” (often attributed to Thomas Jefferson or Thomas Paine, but actually made famous by Henry David Thoreau’s 1849 essay, ‘Civil Disobedience‘).


But modern governments are all too willing to try and control every aspect of human life and few of us today feel that government and politicians are acting in the interests of the people.


The Liberties of England should be our proudest achievement; the social, economic and legal rights enshrined by Magna Carta (both the Great Charter and The Charter of the Forest – see Peter Linebaugh’s ‘The Magna Carta Manifeston: Liberties and Commons for all.‘) have had a global influence beyond the imagination of the Barons who drafted them – and I believe that they will continue to be of immense symbolic importance as we enter the third millennium. These documents were cited during the English, French and American revolutions and were even mentioned during the 1994 Zapatista uprising, but in today’s Britain the basic liberties of habeas corpus, trial by jury, the right to silence, due process and the right to free speech are all being threatened by the government’s supposed attempts at fighting ‘terrorism’ and ‘organised crime’.


The legal system of England and Wales has never been perfect and is far from impartial, but rather than attempt to democratise the judiciary the Labour government has chosen to bypass it altogether. A fundamental principle of justice is that the same person or authority that brings a criminal allegation against an individual should not then decide whether that person is guilty – i.e. the police make an arrest and then the courts decide upon guilt. This is essential if we believe that a person is  innocent before being proved guilty. But the government’s Anti-Social Behaviour Order (ASBO) and subsequent related laws have effectively made the police-  and, worse still, local authorities – judge, jury and executioner regarding a large number of offences. And despite the Labour government creating over 3000 new criminal offences since 1997 violent crime (all crimes against the person have to be considered the worst possible crimes in a humane society) has risen by nearly 80%.

Knife Crime[6]


Lady Justice - now dumb as well as blind!

In relation to ‘crime’ and the ‘terrorist threat’ we are also witnessing a widespread and ongoing abuse of the basic right to privacy. The famous 16th Century barrister, Sir Edward Coke helped to revive a general interest in Magna Carta and his work would heavily influence both English and American revolutionaries. Coke’s best known statement is arguably…

“For a man’s house is his castle, et domus sua cuique est tutissimum refugium [and each man’s home is his safest refuge].”

…from whence we get the quote “An Englishman’s home is his castle”. But today our ‘castles’ are being stormed (or at least placed under seige…) ‘for our own protection’ and privacy has become yet another victim of security.


The sad truth, of course, is that the more we are denied our hard-fought liberties the weaker our democracy becomes; which, in turn, undermines the government’s claims that the ‘war on terrorism’ is a battle for democracy and freedom. Marcus Aurelius said “The best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury.“; if we give up an ounce of liberty then we ourselves become an enemy of democracy. Not that we English have much democracy left to lose…

In Britain government (both national and European) is becoming ever more invasive and is slowly creeping into every corner of our lives whilst giving us fewer and fewer opportunities to influence, oppose or even debate important political decisions. In England the situation is even more bleak; since devolution we are the only county in the EU which does not have it’s own parliament or national assembly. For better or worse decisions that directly effect the citizens of England are not solely in the hands of English citizens. The following quote cited by The Witanagemot Club shows the worrying extent of this problem…

Encyclopedia Britannica : England

Outside the British Isles, England is often erroneously considered synonymous with the island of Great Britain ( England , Scotland , and Wales ) and even with the entire United Kingdom . Despite the political, economic, and cultural legacy that has secured the perpetuation of its name, England no longer officially exists as a governmental or political unit—unlike Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, which all have varying degrees of self-government in domestic affairs. It is rare for institutions to operate for England alone. Notable exceptions are the Church of England ( Wales , Scotland , and Ireland , including Northern Ireland , have separate branches of the Anglican Communion) and sports associations for cricket, rugby, and football (soccer). In many ways England has seemingly been absorbed within the larger mass of Great Britain since the Act of Union of 1707.’ — Encyclopedia Britannica, 2004.

This situation is further exacerbated by the fact that local governments – which should be on the front line of democracy – have been robbed of any real power. In all but the smallest councils the committee system – which helped local residents have at least some say in local government – has been replaced by dictates from central government, ‘elected mayors’ (or ’strong leaders’), quangos and/or almos – all with the minimum of accountability. In 2006 a report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s  POWER Inquiry concluded that the deep rooted problems with British democracy are “systemic not personal”; in general neither the public nor the politicians are guilty of apathy(though it is the politicians who have the most to gain from the current state of affairs), but the present system creates a high level of political alienation combined with extremely low levels of confidence which, in turn, leaves both the public and the politicians feeling powerless. English Democracy – which has existed on and off  in one form or another since the 7th Century – may not be dead, but it’s in a critical condition.


Unfortunately no single political party or independent politician is in a position to single-handedly change this worrying state of affairs even if they wanted to. What’s needed is the most far reaching constitutional change to be seen in England since the Civil Wars or the Act of Union! (I am stressing the English problem as the population of England are in a rather unique political situation; citizens of Wales and Northern Ireland are only marginally better off – remember we’re talking solely about democratic rights here – and the citizens of Scotland are in the best position, relatively speaking. But Britain as a whole remains in crisis with regard to liberty and democracy – so Britain as a whole must work towards a solution).

Luckily we are beginning to see the first signs of a much needed people’s movement for change. The aforementioned Joseph Rowntree Trust have just taken over the Real Change campaign which was launched (originally as ‘Magna Carta 2.0′, which I personally thought was a better title) by members of openDemocracy to try and encourage…

  1. An intelligent self-governing citizens’ movement for much better democracy and liberty in Britain
  2. A serious debate about the future of modern democracy, liberty and human rights, drawing on the best of international ideas.

The Real Change site says…

We aim to bring this movement into being through a new group: Real Change: the open politics network. The parties and politicians cannot be relied upon to deliver real change for us [sic]. Citizens have to be in the driving seat. Recent pronouncements by the Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition offer little more than vague and cosmetic changes. “Reform so as to preserve” is still the mantra of the political elite, who hope the wave of popular outrage will once again crash and dissipate into passive acquiescence.

Blogland is awash with people of all political persuasions drawing much the same conclusions. Old differences are being set aside as people realise that ideology will count for nothing if we do not address the current crisis of democracy, liberty and human rights. But this fight will not be won in cyberspace; if we are to protect the Liberties of England we must endeavour to bring the campaign to the people.

What I am about to suggest is not a campaign in it’s own right, it is simply a strategy to get people talking. We need a highly visible, non-partisan, popular symbol to signify a heartfelt commitment to regain, preserve and expand our aforementioned democracy, liberty and human rights. (We also need non-partisan democracy, but that’s another story – or rather another blog post.)

I want to re-introduce the sea-green ribbon as a symbol of liberty and democracy.


Sea-green ribbons were worn by members and supporters of the Levellers during the English Revolution. The movement began in July 1646 when people came together to petition parliament in an attempt to free John Lilburne, England’s greatest unsung hero, from the Tower of London where he faced the death penalty on grounds of ‘treason’ (Lilburne remains the only man to be tried for treason by both the crown and by parliament). Known as ‘Freeborn John’, Lilburne is admired across the political spectrum because his life physically embodied a sense of freedom that remains an inspiration for us all.


The Levellers were a short lived movement (thanks mainly to the duplicity and cruelty of Cromwell), but their legacy remains relevant even today. As we can see from their main documents (see Richard Overton’s ‘An Arrow Against All Tyrants‘, ‘The Agreement of the People‘ and ‘An Agreement of the Free People‘) and transcripts of The Putney Debates the Levellers believed in the Liberties of England, equality and social justice. Among other things, Tony Benn (speaking at the annual Levellers Day event in Burford, Oxfordshire) has cited a few central beliefs that he believes would be of significance today (please do not take this as a nod to ‘the left’, I have already stated that the crisis of liberty is such that it is more important than political allegiance – to which I am ‘left-libertarian’)

The Levellers would uphold the rights of the people to recall and replace their parliamentary candidates because of the inalienable sovereignty of the people which no Parliament has any right to usurp.

The Levellers would demand a far greater public accountability by all those who exercise centralised civil, political, scientific, technical, educational and mass media power through the great bureaucracies of the world, and would call for the democratic control of it all.

The Levellers would warn against looking for deliverance to any elite group, whatever its origins, even if it came from the Labour movement, who might claim some special ability to carry through reforms by proxy, free from the discipline of recall or re-election.

The Levellers would argue passionately for free speech and make common cause, worldwide, with those who fight for human rights against tyrants and dictators of all political colours

Also the Levellers called for an elected judiciary and an end to both elitism and elitist terminology with regard to the law. So I do not believe they would have been wholly satisfied with our current legal system and they certainly would have been horrified by the law-making powers of our unelected and unaccountable Brussels commissioners.

With this in mind I feel that the use of the colour Sea-Green as a political/philosophical statement would give provide us with a highly visible and unified identity. Sea-green could easily be adopted by any individual or group who is committed to fighting for the protection and expansion of liberty, democracy and human rights. Now, has anyone got any sea-green cloth?


Further reading

A. C. Grayling Towards the Light: The Story of the Struggles for Liberty and Rights That Made the Modern West

A concise history of how people fought and died to secure our liberties.

Dominic Raab The Assault on Liberty: What Went Wrong With Rights

How we have lost basic liberties and rights in recent years.

In July, 1646 ‘Freeborn’ John Lilburne was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London for denouncing his former commander, Edward Montagu the 2nd Earl of Manchester, as a traitor and Royalist sympathiser. It wasn’t unusual for Lilburne to be imprisoned – he remains the only man to be tried for treason by both king and parliament – but on this occasion the campaign to free him led to the formation of the political party known as the Levellers. The Levellers are arguably the first ever (some may argue only ever…) party of the people.

The Levellers were committed broadly to the abolition of corruption within the Parliamentary and judicial process, toleration of religious differences, the translation of law into the common tongue, and the expansion of suffrage. Sadly many of the Leveller’s aims remain relevant today.

363 years later we’re still suffering the effects of corruption in Parliament and we have a judicial system controlled by a non-elected self-serving elite who use a language all of their own. So the question we have to ask ourselves is where is our Leveller Party?

“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.”

Thomas Rainsborough

The Levellers knew a thing or two about political corruption and the open abuse of power. When we read the Great Leveller Petition of September 11th, 1648 we can’t help thinking that democracy would be a lot healthier if this document had become law. Whilst we have seen some improvements in the last 360 years reading the Levellers reminds us just how undemocratic modern democracy is. These are the principles put forward in the petition…

The truth is ( and we see we must either now speak it, or for ever be silent, ) We have long expected things of an other nature from you, and such as we are confident would have given satisfaction to all serious people of all Parties.


1. That you would have made good the supreme authoritie of the people, in this Honourable House, from all pretences of Negative Voices, either in King or Lords.

2. That you would have made laws for election of representatives yearly and of course without writ or summons.

3. That you would have set expresse times for their meeting Continuance and Dissolution: as not to exceed 40 or 50 daies at the most, and to have fixed an expresse time for the ending of this present Parliament.

4. That you would have exempted matters of Religion and Gods worship, from the compulsive or restrictive power of any Authoritie upon earth, and reserved to the supreme authouritie an un-compulsive power only of appointing a way for the publick, whereby abundance of misery, persecution, and heart-burning would for ever be avoyded.

5. That you would have disclaimed in your selves and all future Representatives, a power of Pressing and forcing any sort of men to serve in warrs, there being nothing more opposite to freedom, nor more unreasonable in an authoritie impowered for raising monies in all occasions, for which, and a just cause, assistants need not be doubted; the other way serving rather to maintain injustice and corrupt parties.

6. That you would have made both Kings, Queens, Princes, Dukes, Earls, Lords, and all Persons, alike liable to every Law of the Land, made or to be made; that so all persons even the Highest might fear and stand in aw, and neither violate the publick peace, nor private right of person or estate, ( as hath been frequent ) without being lyable to accompt as other men.

7. That you would have freed all Commoners from the jurisdiction of the Lords in all cases: and to have taken care that all tryalls should be only by twelve sworn men, and no conviction but upon two or more sufficient grown witnesses.

8. That you would have freed all men from being examined against themselves, and from being questioned or punished for doing of that against which no Law hath bin provided.

9. That you would have abbreviated the proceedings in Law, mitigated and made certain the charge thereof in all particulars.

10. That you would have freed all Trade and Marchandising from all Monopolizing and Engrossing, by Companies or otherwise.

11. That you would have abolished Excise, and all kinds of taxes, except subsidies, the old and onely just way of England.

12. That you would have laid open all late Inclosures of Fens, and other Commons, or have enclosed them onely or chiefly to the benefit of the poor.

13. That you would have considered the many thousands that are ruined by perpetual imprisonment for debt, and provide for their enlargement.

14. That you would have ordered some effectual course to keep people from begging and beggery, in so fruitful a Nation as through Gods blessing this is.

15. That you would have proportioned Punishments more equal to offences; that so mens Lives and Estates might not be forfeited upon trivial and slight occasions.

16. That you would have removed the tedious burthen of Tythes, satisfying all Impropriators, and providing more equal way of maintenance for the publike Ministers.

17. That you would have raised a stock of Money out of those many confiscated Estates you have had, for payment of those who contributed voluntarily above their abilities, before you had provided for those that disturbed but of their superfluities.

18. That you would have bound your selves and all future Parliaments from abolishing propriety, levelling mens estates, or making all things common.

19. That you would have declared what the duty or business of the Kingly office is, and what not, and ascertained the revenue, past increase or diminution, that so there might never be quarrels about the same.

20. That you would have rectified the election of publike Officers for the Citie of London, and of every particular Company therein, restoring the Comunalty thereof to their just Rights, most unjustly with-held from them, to the producing and maintaining of corrupt interest, opposite to common Freedom, and exceedingly prejudicial to the Trade and Manafactures of this Nation.

21. That you would have made full and ample reparations to all persons that had bin oppressed by sentences in High Commission, Star-Chamber, and Counsel Board, or by any kind of Monopolizers or Projectors; and that out of the Estates of those that were Authors, Actors, or Promoters of so intollerable mischiefs: and that without much attendance or seeking.

22. That you would have abolished all Committees, and have convayed all businesses into the true method of the usual Tryals of the Common-wealth.

23. That you would not have followed the example of former tyrannous and superstitious Parliaments, in making Orders, Ordinances, or Laws, or in appointing punishments concerning opinions or things super-natural, stiling some blasphemies, other heresies; when as you know your selves easily mistaken, and that divine Truths need no humane helps to support them: such proceedings having bin generally invented to divide the people amongst themselves, and to affright men from that liberty of discourse by which Corruption and tyranny would soon be discovered.

24. That you would have declared what the business of the Lords is, and ascertain their condition, not derogating from the Liberties of other men, that so there might be an end of striving about the same.

25. That you would have done Justice upon the Capital Authors and Promoters of the former or late wars, many of them being under your power: Considering that mercy to the wicked, is cruelty to the innocent: all your lenity doth but make them the more insolent and presumptuous.

26. That you would have provided constant pay for the Army, now under the command of the Lord General Fairfax, and given rules to all Judges, and all other publike Officers throughout the Land for their indempnity and for the saving harmless all that have any waies assisted you, or that have said or done any thing against the King, Queen, or any of his party since the beginning of this Parliament without which any of his party are in a better condition then those who have served you; nothing being more frequent with them, then their reviling of you and your friends.

The things and worthy Acts which have bin done and atchieved by this Army and their Adherents ( how ever ingratefully suffered to be scandalized as Sectaries and men of Corrupt Judgements ) in defence of the just authority of this honourable House, and of the common liberties of the Nation, and in opposition to all kind of Tyranny and oppression, being so far from meriting an odious Act of Oblivion, that they rather deserve a most honourable Act of perpetual rememberance, to be as a patern of publik vertue, fidelity, & resolution to all posterity.

27. That you would have laid to heart all the abundance of innocent bloud that hath bin spilt, and the infinite spoil and havock that hath bin made of peaceable harmless people, by express commissions from the King: and seriously to have considered whether the justice of God be likely to be satisfied, or his yet continuing wrath appeased, by an Act of Oblivion.

The full petition can be read here.

Robert Lockyer is one of England’s great unsung heroes; today marks the 360th anniversary of his death.

Lockyer joined the New Model Army in 1642 and served with Edward Whalley’s regiment (Whalley would become one of the ‘regicides’ who signed the death warrant of Charles I); as such it is very likely that he served at some very important battles such as Edgehill,  Gainsborough, Marston Moor and Naseby; and helped to capture both Bristol and Banbury.

The regiment were known for their independent character and often took up their grievances with parliament; Whalley was no Leveller, but he fully supported his men.

When some of the troops, at the time under Captain John Savage, were removed to Essex (apparently in order to remove them from Leveller agitation in central London), Lockyer helped incite a brief, but important mutiny.

In April 1649 a group of Levellers from Whalley’s regiment took the regimental colours and barricaded themselves inside a regular Leveller meeting place at Bishopsgate. They said that regiment would refuse to go on the ‘Irish Expedition’ (a murderous endeavour that was the product of a distorted propaganda campaign) until the Leveller’s political demands were met and overdue wages were paid to the New Model Army.  Cromwell and Fairfax arrived and the mutineers were ordered out of London. When they refused to go, fifteen soldiers were arrested and court martialled, Fairax sentenced six men to death (never trust an aristocrat, even if they pretend to be your ally).

Five of the men were pardoned, but on the 27th April, 1649, Robert Lockyer was executed (murdered) by firing squad in the yard of St Paul’s Cathedral.

As with Thomas Rainsborough’s funeral the year before, Lockyer’s funeral procession was  followed by thousands of people wearing sea-green ribbons to signal their allegiance to the Leveller’s cause (a cuase which remains valid today). Lockyer’s murder fueled popular contempt for Cromwell’s marshall law and his name was cited at the Burford mutiny where three more Levellers would be executed later that year.

The anniversay of the Burford mutiny is marked with the annual Levellers Day event. Maybe one day we’ll mark the anniversaries of all fallen Levellers.

Robert Lockyer, RIP

Today markds the 360th anniversary of Gerrard Winstanley and the True Leveller’s (Diggers) attempt at promoting agrarian communism on land at Saint George’s Hill , Weybridge near Cobham, Surrey.

Cromwell’s Council of State received a letter in April 1649 reporting that several individuals had begun to plant vegetables in common land on St George’s Hill,  this was at a time when food prices had reached an all-time high. Sanders reported that they had invited “all to come in and help them, and promise them meat, drink, and clothes.” Their stated  intent was to pull down all enclosures and cause the local populace to come and work with them. The yhoped that their number would be several thousand within ten days and that their actions, if mirrored throughout the land, would truly turn the world upside down.  In the same month, the Diggers issued their most famous pamphlet and manifesto, called “The True Levellers Standard Advanced”.

At the behest of the local landowners, the commander of the New Model Army, Sir Thomas Fairfax, duly arrived with his troops and interviewed Winstanley and another prominent member of the Diggers, William Everard. Everard was astute enough to see that the Diggers were in serious trouble and soon left the group. Having concluded that they were doing no harm, Fairfax advised the local landowners to use the courts.

Winstanley, however, true to his convictions, remained and complained about the treatment they received. The harassment from the Lord of the Manor, Francis Drake (not the famous one), was both deliberate and systematic: he organised gangs in an attack on the Diggers, including numerous beatings and an arsonous attack on one of the communal houses. Following a court case, in which the Diggers were forbidden to speak in their own defence, they were found guilty of being Ranters, a radical sect associated with liberal sexuality (though in fact Winstanley had reprimanded Ranter Laurence Clarkson for his sexual practices). Having lost the court case, if they had not left the land, then the army could have been used to enforce the law and evict them; so they were forced to abandon St George’s Hill in August 1649.

Now, some 360 years since Winstanley’s actions, we’re still fighting for social justice. Tens of thousands are gathering in London for ‘Financial Fools Day’ to take their fight against greed, corruption and privilege to world leaders who are attending the G20 financial summit. Let’s hope that this too is a day that will be remembered in 360 years time!

...Then you wouldn’t have to ask me, Who the eck do I think I am.”

Wise words from the legendary Mr Robert Nestor Marley – words that we would do well to heed in these most turbulent of times.

There has been much talk of revolution, uprising and change of late; this week the G20 is to be held in London and this has brought a barrage of hope (or hostillity depending on your viewpoint) for real change. But despite the thousands of words (both written and broadcast) there has been little mention of historic parallels beyond references to ‘Paris 68’ and a hat tip to the 360 anniversary of Gerrard Winstanley’s Digger colony at St George’s Hill.

But English history offers many more important parallels with modern times – and these may give our protest much needed teeth. Throughout our history a few shining principles (or ‘Liberties’) have shone through whenever the rich and powerful have ground their fists too hard into the common man; throughout history these Liberties have been a vessel for revolutionary change.

The Liberties of England were first enshrined in law in 1215 with the drafting and signing of the Charters of Liberty (the Magna Carta and The Charter of the Forest); over time these charters became the unwritten constitution of England and, although the actual charters were often forgotten, everyone knew their ‘rights’ to enjoy both ‘liberty’ and the ‘commons’. In modern times The Great Charter (Magna Carter) receives the most attention as it grants rights like Habeas corpus, the right to silence and trial by jury – which have all come under threat lately thanks to the ‘War on Terror’; The Charter of the Forest, which grants everyone the right to the material means of survival, was conveniently forgotten as the commodity exchange system (capitalism) was introduced (whereby possessions became sacrosanct and money became the new God).

When Charles I started to enclose lands held in common (leading to widespread unrest – with riots in places like the Forest of Dean, Gillingham and Nidderdale – this was a major step in the formation of class consciousness in England, riot at Rockingham Forest saw a wax pellet thrown into a church choir bearing a note which read “living the poor doth want and living they shall have”) the constitutionalist, Edward Coke (famous for saying “an Englishman’s home is his castle”), began to explore the Charters of liberty in order to fight the king. His work led to the affirmation that the Magna Carta’s nullus liber homo (free man) equalled all of the people (including women), which would become the first step towards the notion of ‘Universal Human Rights’ and which also gave the common man (and woman) their greatest weapon against both feudalism and the state. Coke was no defender of the poor (we would never expect such a thing from a lawyer), but his work turned Magna Carta into a revolutionary tract that would grow in potential with the progression of the English Revolution and Coke’s work would go on to inspire The Levellers who declared their goal to be “the right, freedome, safety and well-being of every particular man, woman and child in England.”

As Freeborn John Lilburne said in his address to the New Model Army…

“The ancient and famous magistracy of this nation, the Petition of Right, the Great Charter of England […] which our ancestors at an extraodinary dear rate, as with abundance of their blood and treasure, purchased for the inheritance of us and of the generations after us”

The Levellers would produce a petition of 40,000 signatures that outlined the basis of a constitution which, if implemented, would have changed the face of history.

There were many factors that made 17th Century England a revolutionary hotbed, not least the invention of a cheap, highly accessible mass media in the form of the printing press. This was the century of the Pamphleteer; and for the first 40 years there was no real censorship which, in turn, led to an explosion of new ideas. Our internet is a similar technology and, as yet, the only real censor is the one that we carry in our heads. All that is missing in modern times is a unity of purpose – The Charters of Liberty could once again provide that unity.

There’s much work to be done, but, luckily for us, Peter Linebaugh has already pointed the way in his wonderful Magna Carta Manifesto: liberties and commons for all (published by University of California Press, 2008) – which we have borrowed heavily from for this blog. Peter Linebaugh could very well be the Edward Coke of our age (albeit as a true defender of the poor); he has shown us the path, it’s up to us to follow where it goes.


Today, all around Britain, people are meeting for the first Convention on Modern Liberty (CoML) in an attempt to highlight and counter the ongoing erosion of our basic human rights. With infringements like the abandonment of Habeas corpus, privately owned central databases and the introduction of ID cards we are facing very real threats to our basic liberties, as the CoML website says…

We are entering a dangerous period in our country. Economic turmoil threatens profound hardship and disharmony. Disenchantment with politics is growing and even legitimate protest is threatened by an unprecedented programme of challenges to our rights, freedoms and democracy. Sixty years ago Britain was a proud co-author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Now it is increasingly centralized, abandoning its historic principles some of which date back to the Magna Carta.

Magna Carta may be 800 years old, but it remains central to our understanding of human liberties and it heavily influenced the Levellers during the English Revolution. And there’s good reason to believe that Magna Carta will soon play it’s part once again. Find out more about the the Convention here.

Commoners One And All…

February 17, 2009

The Sea-Green Society believes that Levelling is very much a work in progress. If we are to reach the socio-economic goals of the historical Levellers then protection and development of ‘the commons’ must be central to our cause. Luckily there’s a lot of work being done to promote the commons around the world…