A Chronology of the Leveller Movement
For those really interested, I include a brief chronology of events to help put them into a wider context.
John Lilburne, a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Parliamentarian Army, resigns his commission on grounds of conscience. All officers are being required to sign the Solemn League and Covenant, which implies support for Presbyterianism, but Lilburne is an Independent (i.e. a Congregationalist). In London Lilburne starts to gather a group of friends and supporters around him, including William Walwyn and Richard Overton.
Lilburne arrested and imprisoned for slandering William Lenthall, the Speaker of the House of Commons, whom he accuses of corresponding with Royalists.
Lilburne released after petition to House of Commons by over two thousand leading London citizens.
Lilburne arrested and imprisoned for slandering the Earl of Manchester, whom he accuses of protecting an officer who has been charged with treason.
Oxford surrenders. End of the first phase of the Civil War, except for that they can be judged by their own words rather than by the distortions of socialist historians. At a time when our national independence is threatened by the advance of federalism, it is more important than ever for us to be conscious of our polmy about pay arrears, lack of indemnity for wartime acts and arrangements for drafting to Ireland.
Soldiers in contact with Lilburne’s movement start electing “Agitators” (delegates) to take their grievances to Parliament.
Under pressure from Agitators, who threaten mutiny, Sir Thomas Fairfax (commander-in-chief) agrees to call a rally of the whole Army to plan action.
Agitators take Charles I into their own custody so that Parliament cannot negotiate a separate deal with him. Cornet George Joyce leads a force which brings the King from Holmby House (Northamptonshire) to Newmarket.
Rally of the Army on Newmarket Heath. Soldiers defy Parliament by refusing to disband until grievances redressed. General Council of the Army is formed, representing officers and men.
Second rally on Triploe Heath (Cambridgeshire). General Council adopts a political program incorporating some ideas from Lilburne’s movement.
Mob incited by Presbyterians (the most conservative Parliamentar- ian faction) invades Parliament and forces it to pass motions taking control of the London militia (a potential rival army) and inviting the King to London for talks.
Army marches into London and occupies it without bloodshed. Parliament reverses motions passed under duress.
Overton released from jail.
Agitators from five regiments present “The Case of the Army Truly Stated” to Fairfax as a manifesto. The Putney Debates (28th October – 11th November). General Council considers the first Agreement of the People, a proposed new constitution based on “The Case of the Army”. A split appears between Lilburne’s movement and the senior officers, known as “Grandees”. Lilburne’s supporters are nicknamed “Levellers” for the first time by Grandee spokesmen Oliver Cromwell (second-in-command) and Henry Ireton. Colonel Thomas Rainsborough (M.P. for Droitwich) emerges as the highest-ranking Leveller sympathiser in the Army. Other Leveller spokesmen are Agitators Edward Sexby and William Allen, and civilians John Wildman and Maximilian Petty.
Attempted mutiny by Leveller soldiers at Corkbush Field, near Ware (Hertfordshire). Called off after an appeal by Fairfax and Cromwell. One soldier executed. A serious setback for the movement. March 1648
Governor of Pembroke Castle declares support for the King. Start of the second phase of the Civil War.
“The Moderate”, a Leveller weekly newspaper, starts publication. Gilbert Mabbott editor.
Lilburne released from jail after petition to House of Commons by
Cromwell enters Edinburgh. End of the second phase of the Civil War, except for isolated Royalist garrisons in Yorkshire.
Rainsborough killed by Royalist raiding party at Doncaster.
Cromwell worried about the strength of the Presbyterians in Parliament, who still want a compromise with the King. Invites Levellers to meet Grandees for new talks about a constitutional settlement.
Pride’s Purge. Colonel Thomas Pride bars Presbyterian M.P.s from House of Commons. Balance of power tilts towards Grandees.
The Whitehall Debates (14th December – 13th January). Levellers present the second Agreement of the People to the General Council of Officers, which rejects it because of proposals for religious toleration.
Charles I tried and executed for treason against the people.
House of Commons votes to abolish monarchy and House of Lords, and appoints Council of State as executive authority.
Leveller activity in Army intensifies. Grandees ban petitions to Parliament by soldiers.
Lilburne writes “England’s New Chains Discovered”, condemning Grandees and Council of State for exercising arbitrary power.
Eight Leveller troopers go to Fairfax and demand the restoration of the right to petition. Five of them are cashiered.
Lilburne writes “The Second Part of England’s New Chains Discovered”, repeating his attacks.
Pontefract Castle surrenders. End of the second phase of the Civil War.
Lilburne, Walwyn, Overton and Thomas Prince (Leveller treasurer) arrested for treason by order of the Council of State.
Mutiny by Leveller soldiers in London, led by Robert Lockyer. Mutineers surrender after a personal appeal by Fairfax and Cromwell. Lockyer executed.
Mutinies by Leveller soldiers in Salisbury, Aylesbury and Banbury. Mutineers from Salisbury and Aylesbury join forces near Abingdon and head west. Fairfax and Cromwell lead a flying column from London which overtakes and defeats the rebels at Burford (Oxfordshire). Three soldiers executed.
Mutineers from Banbury (a much smaller group) defeated at Wellingborough.
Mutiny by Leveller soldiers in Oxford. Officers of the regiment restore order. Two soldiers executed. “The Moderate” ceases publication.
Lilburne tried for treason and acquitted.
Lilburne, Walwyn, Overton and Prince released from jail.
End of the Levellers as an organised movement.