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Radical political thought in the English Revolution

The Leveller movement of the 1640s campaigned for religious toleration and a radical remaking of politics after the English civil war. This book challenges received ideas about the Levellers as social contract theorists and Leveller thought as a mere radicalization of parliamentarian thought, analysing the writings of the Leveller leaders John Lilburne, Richard Overton, and William Walywn to show that that the Levellers’ originality lay in their subtle and unexpected combination of different strands within parliamentarianism. The first part of the book offers a systematic analysis of different aspects of the Levellers’ developing political thought, considering their accounts of the origins of government, their developing views on the relationship between parliament and people, their use of the language of the law, and their understanding of the relationship between religious liberty and political life. Two concluding chapters examine the Levellers’ relationship with the New Model Army and the influence of the Levellers on the republican thought of the 1650s. The book takes full account of revisionist and post-revisionist scholarship, and contributes to historical debates on the development of radical and republican politics in the civil war period, the nature of tolerationist thought, the significance of the Leveller movement, and the extent of Leveller influence in the ranks of the New Model Army.

England’s freedom, soldiers’ rights

Chapter 5 . Levellers and the army: England’s freedom, soldiers’ rights O ver the course of the 1640s the parliamentarian coalition fragmented. The Leveller leaders played their parts in that play of faction, and had links, and for a long time backers, among the Independent group. The activities of the Leveller movement were one manifestation of the extension of parliamentarian politics beyond Parliament itself; but from 1647 a much more powerful extra-parliamentary political force mobilized: the New Model Army. Associated from its foundation with the

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Chapter 6 . Levellers into republicans? O n 19 May 1649 the regime which emerged from purge and regicide finally declared itself to be a ‘Commonwealth and Free State’.1 There was an almost uncannily neat divide between the end of Levelling and the beginning of an official republic. The army mutineers had been cornered at Burford only a few days before this official declaration; seven days after it, on 26 May 1649, the Long Parliament voted that a national day of thanksgiving should be held ‘for Publick Thanksgiving to Almighty God, for his great Mercy

in The Levellers
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Conclusion . T he Levellers, by 1649, were a force worth defeating. The defeat of the army mutineers was one branch of the new regime’s suppression of radical dissent in the spring of 1649. The arrest of the Leveller leaders Lilburne, Walwyn, Overton, and Prince was another. It was Lilburne who had launched the attack on the new regime in the first part of Englands New Chains Discovered, but this challenge to the new regime was issued in the name of ‘a part of the People’, who were ‘the Presenters, Promoters, and Approvers of the Large Petition of September 11

in The Levellers
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Levellers and historians

Introduction Levellers and historians . T he Levellers can seem uncannily modern. ‘[W]hatever our Fore-fathers were; or whatever they did or suffered, or were enforced to yeeld unto; we are the men of the present age …’, proclaimed the Remonstrance of Many Thousand Citizens in July 1646. These citizens, speaking perhaps through the voices of William Walwyn or Richard Overton, and just beginning to cohere into a movement which would later become known as the Levellers, rejected the precedents and obligations of the past and sought ‘naturall and just libertie

in The Levellers

-publicist writings. But how did these powerfully assertive political ideas relate to the religious thinking of the Leveller movement? In his early pamphlet A Worke of the Beast, Lilburne asserted his identity, claimed his rights, and urged his readers to vindicate their identity through their righteous actions, just as he did in his later political works. Here, however, the identity which Lilburne took upon himself and urged upon his readers was a religious one. He claimed his rights not on the basis of his membership of the nation, but as a member of Christ’s kingdom: ‘I being

in The Levellers

Chapter 1 . Consent and the origins of government T he Levellers are often credited with a ground-breaking social contract theory: believing that England’s civil wars and political conflicts had reduced the nation to a state of nature, they devised an entirely new means of reconstituting a polity out of the mass of newly ungoverned individuals. They did this by drawing up an ‘Agreement of the People’, to be subscribed by individuals, setting out the extent and nature of the powers which the people agreed to transmit to their future governors. On this view

in The Levellers

representative embodiment of the will of the nation. ‘Independent’ thinkers laid the foundations for the theory of parliamentary sovereignty which the Levellers came to develop, and as the first civil war came to an end, Levellers were among the radical Independents who began to spell out the potential conclusion for Charles I and for monarchy in England. It is easy to see this strand of radical Independent thinking as the foundation of Leveller radicalism, but in this chapter we take a second look at the ‘Presbyterian’ coordination theorists and at the radicalization of

in The Levellers

Chapter 3 . The laws of England and the ‘free-born Englishman’ W e have seen how Leveller writers, including Lilburne, invoked the law of nature to ground their arguments for government by consent and, if necessary, to appeal to the people to vindicate their rights against an abusive government. For the Levellers, the law of nature underlay and underpinned the national laws, and I have argued that – in spite of the arguments of many writers on the Levellers – the Levellers did not believe that the national laws had been abrogated and England returned to a

in The Levellers

Provincial ‘Levellers’ Chapter 7 Provincial ‘Levellers’ and the coming of the regicide in the south-west David R. Como O n 11 September 1648 a delegation arrived at the House of Commons to present a petition from the ‘well affected persons’ of London and the suburbs. The petition was inspired by outrage. Despite the bloodshed unleashed by the king in the Second Civil War, which had effectively ended at Preston three weeks earlier, Parliament had continued to negotiate with Charles. The 11 September petitioners thus denounced the personal treaty with the king

in Connecting centre and locality