Eduard Bernstein

Cromwell and Communism

Chapter VI
The Levellers versus the “Gentlemen” Independents

IN the meantime important differences had revealed themselves in the relations of the parliamentary parties to one another, to the King, and to the Army. In some cases antagonisms had become more marked, in others there had been a certain measure of reconciliation.

In the spring of 1646 Charles I had fled to the Scotch camp, but the Scotch surrendered him to his adversaries in England in return for the payment of subsidies due to them. He was at first sent to the castle of Holdenby or Holmby, in Northamptonshire, whence he tried to play off Parliament and Army alternately one against the other. The Army was the organized democracy of the country, the bulk of it consisting of yeomen and artisans. After the withdrawal of the Presbyterian generals, its leaders consisted partly of men promoted from the ranks, partly of the more radical members of the possessing classes. And although differences between the latter and the bulk of the Army had already arisen, both sides had for the time being a common interest as against the Parliament, in which the landowners and the great burgher interests predominated. Now that the King had been reduced to military impotence, the majority of the Parliamentarians soon lost their enthusiasm for their own victorious Army, with whose whims they were too well acquainted, and to whom nearly a year’s pay was owing. They sought to lessen its influence by disbanding some of the regiments and distributing the rest in different places. But the leaders and the soldiers realized the meaning of this intention, and answered the move by constituting themselves into an independent force. The soldiers created for their own purposes a completely democratic institution, the “agitators”. This name, first met with in an address to Fairfax dated May 29, 1647, had been interpreted by Carlyle and others after him as a misspelt reading of “adjutators”, quite inaccurately, however. The word derives from “agitate”, to lead affairs, and had originally the same significance as the word “delegate” has to-day. [1] In any case, the “agitators” were rather agitators in the modern meaning of the word than merely “adjutators” of the higher officers. They were the agents of the common soldiers. As such, under the influence of Lilburne, who was in constant contact with them, they exercised the greatest influence on the trend of events, and often brought matters to a head.

The officers and the general staff had perforce to recognize this new institution. It was agreed that each regiment should elect two “agitators”, who were only to be chosen from the rank and file of the non-commissioned officers. These “agitators”, with the two officers appointed for each regiment, were to constitute the “Council of the Army”. All kinds of negotiations proceeded between this Council and the Parliament, but as they did not achieve the desired result, a great convention of the Army was held on Newmarket Heath on June 4, 1647, when a manifesto was drawn up, declaring that the Army was no troop of mercenaries, hired for the service of arbitrary power, but literally “free commoners of England drawn together and continued in arms in judgment and conscience for defence of their own and the people’s rights and liberties”, and that they, officers and soldiers alike, pledged themselves by their signatures not “willingly to disband nor divide, nor suffer ourselves” to be disbanded or divided until security was forthcoming that “we as private men, or other the free-born people of England, shall not remain subject to the like oppression, injury, or abuse, as has been attempted”.

Six days later, on Triploe Heath, near Cambridge, there was a still greater demonstration, 21,000 men being present. From the general staff down to the rank and file they were determined to resist all attempts at cajolery, and they fell back upon St. Albans, nearer and nearer to the Metropolis. The Parliament made answer by a proclamation that those who left the Army should receive their arrears of pay and their fare, either to America or to the garrison in Ireland, as each man might wish. A “committee of safety” was appointed, which approached the leaders of the City militia, in order to organize an armed resistance to the Army. With the tacit consent of the City Presbyterians, the City apprentices, with a number of discharged soldiers (Reformadoes), sailors, and others, broke into Parliament on July 26th, prevented the admission of the Independent members, and extorted from the Presbyterian majority a vote hostile to the Army. Thereupon the Army occupied London on August 7, 1647, “in order to protect the Parliament”, and eleven Presbyterian members who had made themselves conspicuous with resolutions and measures against the Army were expelled from Parliament, and eight of them went into exile. Then, on August 20th, Cromwell, his hand on his sword, carried a resolution in Parliament that annulled all the resolutions passed during the time the House had been terrorized, and placed responsibility for the public turmoil on those members of the House who had taken part in the sittings in question and had connived at the terrorism or had endeavoured to carry out the resolutions that were then passed. This caused yet more of the Presbyterian Hotspurs to remain away from the sittings for some time, so that in the House the balance inclined more and more to the side of the Independents. [2]

The Army then withdrew to Putney to watch further developments. So far all had gone well. With this preliminary victory over Parliament, however, the opposition of the Independents within the Army began to assume a different form. In the early days of June the King had been carried from Holmby Castle to Newmarket by a troop of dragoons, led by Ensign Joyce, an “agitator” in Colonel Whalley’s regiment. Joyce is said to have been a tailor by trade, and he was an enthusiastic Anabaptist. It was suspected that this was done by secret orders from Cromwell, who, however, protested that he had given no instructions of the kind. His protest appears to have been justified to this extent, that he only agreed that it was wise to secure at once the person of the King by sending to Holmby a number of trustworthy soldiers, to prevent Charles being carried off by the Scotch, who were no longer reliable. But the “agitators” considered that the safest plan was to have the King actually in the hands of the Army, and, on their own admission, exceeded their orders. In any case, what was done was not undone. When the Army was drawing nearer and nearer to London, the King’s quarters also were transferred nearer and nearer to London, and finally Hampton Court was assigned to Charles as a residence. But instead of the intrigues ceasing, now they began in good earnest. After the expulsion and withdrawal of the chief Presbyterian stalwarts, the Independents and the Presbyterians in Parliament were nearly equal in numbers, a large number of Royalists having left Westminster as early as 1644, when Charles I summoned an opposition Parliament at Oxford. But the Presbyterians were now eager to make a compromise with the King. This caused the Independent leaders of the Army, on their part, to traffic with the King, to prevent the Presbyterians stealing a march on them. Charles exploited this situation to the best of his abilities. An adept in double-dealing, conscious of Divine Right, he shrank from no species of dissembling that promised results. He sought to hold in check the various parties dealing with him by half-promises which he retracted the next moment. He did not scruple to treat one day with Cromwell and his son-in-law, Ireton, the next day with the Scotch and English Presbyterians, and the day after, behind the backs of all these, with the Irish Catholics, in order, as occasion arose, to play them off one against the other. He held high state at Hampton Court, treated the thousands of London citizens and others who made pilgrimage to him with an exquisite courtesy, and consequently saw his stock rising day by day.

Upon all this the soldiers and the rest of the more revolutionary members of the Army looked with an increasing bitterness. Was it for this that they had fought in numberless battles against the foreign mercenaries of the King? They had sacrificed their property and shed their blood in the fight against him, and now their leaders were bandying courtesies with him and allowing him, the conquered, to usurp the position and the honours of a conqueror. They saw no more than their leaders saw the real character of the tactics of the King, but it was plain to them to what result these intrigues were leading. They saw that their leaders were playing their cards very badly, and, either through want of resolution or through ambition, were getting perilously near the betrayal of their cause. In a pamphlet, to which we shall revert, Lilburne writes: “At which time also it’s very remarkable with how much height of state they (the generals) observed the King at Hampton Court, visiting him themselves, and permitting thousands of people daily to visit him, to kiss his hand, and to be healed by him, whereby his party in the City and everywhere were exceedingly animated, his agents being as familiar at the headquarters as at the Court.” [3] The nicknames “gentlemen independents” and “grandees” of the Army began to be used, in distinction to the “honest noun-substantive soldiers”, as the peasants and the artisans in the Army called themselves, while the “grandees”, on their side, reproached the soldiers and their leaders, the “agitators”, with being destructive “levellers”.

In the Army, his Majesty’s real purpose becoming now apparent, there has arisen a very terrible “Levelling Party”, a class of men demanding punishment not only of Delinquents, and Deceptive Persons who have involved this Nation in blood, but of the “Chief Delinquent”: minor Delinquents getting punished, how should the Chief Delinquent go free? A class of men dreadfully in earnest; to whom a King’s Cloak is no impenetrable screen; who within the King’s Cloak discern that there is a Man accountable to a God!” [4]

At length the dissension became so marked that a large number of the officers themselves avowed their dissatisfaction with this policy of protracted negotiations and backstairs intrigues. The “agitators” met and drew up a democratic republican, manifesto, which they called Agreement of the People, upon Grounds of Common Right, for uniting of all unprejudiced people therein, and henceforth the watchword of all Levellers is the carrying out of an “agreement of the people”. This Agreement of the People contains in germ almost all the political demands that are elaborated in the remarkable manifesto of the Levellers published under the same title in the spring of 1649, which we shall consider in the next chapter. Parliament declared it to be seditious and its authors liable to punishment. The same fate befell a second pamphlet issued by the “agitators,” The Case of the Army, which censured among other things the scandalous waste of the confiscated Church land, etc., by Parliament. The general staff, although attacked no less severely by the authors than the Parliamentary majority, began to negotiate with them. It could not make short work of the Levellers, as several of the higher officers openly sympathized with them. Among these sympathizers were Colonels Rainsborough and Pride, who were themselves of plebeian origin. On the other hand, Cromwell could not declare unequivocally for the abolition of the King’s prerogative, so long as he was himself negotiating with the King. In a word, the negotiations, known as the “Conferences of Putney”, proved abortive. The dissensions and mutual mistrust increased, and, at last, the “agitators” threatened extreme measures on their own account. [5]

The atmosphere became uncomfortable to the King. Ostensibly because he heard that the Levellers were preparing a plot against his life, he left Hampton Court secretly on the night of November 11, 1647, in a fog, and went to the Isle of Wight, where he was confined in Carisbrooke Castle by Colonel Hammond, mentioned above, the Governor of the Island. In the opinion of the Levellers, the general staff – the “grandees” of the Army – and Cromwell in particular connived at the King’s flight, to enable them to pursue their negotiations with him unhampered. Cromwell’s letters at this time, however, lend no support to this suspicion. Yet a general feeling of mistrust existed, in which even some of the higher officers shared, and from the “agitators” and soldiers came repeated threats of rebellion to compel consideration for the “Agreement of the People”. Lilburne, who was then in the enjoyment of comparative freedom, if not solely responsible for the “Agreement”, was certainly one of its authors. He was assiduous in fostering this feeling in the Army, where his influence was very great. His pamphlets were eagerly read by the soldiers, and, as is noted in a report in the spring of 1647 to the Lords, “quoted by them as statute laws” [6] Another document, quoted by Gardiner [7], says the whole Army was “one Lilburne throughout, and more likely to give than to receive laws”. [8] Whole regiments were won over to the cause. Unreliable “agitators” were removed and replaced by men whose radical views were undoubted. All this did not, of course, escape the notice of Cromwell, to whom it was, indeed, reported by certain intermediaries that Lilburne and another Leveller, the Major John Wildman mentioned above, desired his removal as a traitor. He now perceived that measures would have to be taken to cope with this agitation. He had hesitated long enough to call Charles personally to account, probably because he still shrank from this extreme step, and, moreover, had not the requisite legal means, but the Army were clamouring loudly for “justice”, and the revolt of a large section of the Army would inflict the gravest injury on him and his party. Without the Army, they were a helpless minority in Parliament, where, despite the expulsion of the Presbyterian leaders, they had been defeated again on October 13th by three votes on the question of a State establishment of Presbyterianism. A letter of Charles, intercepted by him and Ireton in October, had, on the other hand, revealed to him what the King’s real thoughts were concerning him. The time had come for action, and action was taken. Three meetings of the different regiments were convened. The first was held on November 15th in Corkbush Field, near Ware in Hertfordshire. To this first meeting, it is said, those regiments were purposely summoned that had kept themselves comparatively quiet. If they proved pliable, it was to be expected that their example would not be without effect on the more rebellious. And this calculation, as things turned out, proved accurate. Cromwell’s dominating energy as leader of the Army did the rest.

A majority of the soldiers and many officers at Ware wore in their hats, to indicate their opinions, copies of the Agreement with the motto “England’s Freedom – Soldiers’ Right”. Besides the regiments still responsive to discipline, there were present Robert Lilburne’s cavalry and Thomas Harrison’s infantry, which were animated by a very rebellious spirit, and also prominent Levellers from other regiments. John Lilburne, Colonel Rainsborough, one of the bravest of the Army leaders, who had particularly distinguished himself at the storming of Bristol, Major Scott and other republicans rode from division to division and exhorted the soldiers to stand firm, the cause of freedom being at stake. Loud shouts of all kinds were raised, which boded but little good to Cromwell. He, however, proved equal to the occasion. Along with Fairfax and others of the general staff, he rode along the front, at first of the more moderate regiments. A remonstrance was read containing a refutation of the complaints of the “agitators”, and impressing on the soldiers the necessity of the whole Army standing together if their demands, which the generals endorsed, were to be realized. The general tenor of the declaration and the promises it held forth were received by the soldiers with great applause, and they promised to maintain discipline. Then they proceeded to Harrison’s regiment, which also listened quietly to the remonstrance and were induced to remove from their hats the emblems mentioned above, on the ground that they were “seditious”. With Lilburne’s cavalry it was another matter. They received Cromwell and Fairfax with defiant shouts, and as Fairfax read the remonstrance they interrupted him with bitter taunts. Then Cromwell rode forward. “Take those papers from your hats!” “No, no!” they shouted back. But Cromwell did not see the necessity of any further parley. Followed by other officers he rode among the rioters, some of whom were nonplussed, while others were afraid to offer any effective resistance to the man who had led them in so many victorious fights. With his own hands he tore out the emblems and arrested as mutineers fourteen soldiers who had been specially refractory. A court martial was held and sentence of death passed on three of the accused. They drew lots, and two were set free, but the third, Richard Arnold, suffered the death penalty. As to Major Scott and Captain Bray, who had stood up for the mutineers and stigmatized the execution of Arnold as a violation of the Petition of Right, by which courts martial were abolished, warrants were issued against them by Parliament.

Thus the first attempt at a revolt was suppressed. The two other meetings were held without any incident. The soldiers who sympathized with the Levellers were induced, on the plea of the need for unity against the common foe, to make their submission. The discontent, however, was only suppressed, not removed. Arnold’s memory, as that of a martyr to the cause of right, was cherished, and at every later dispute the demand was again raised for expiation for that “innocently shed blood”. The flames were glowing beneath the ashes, to burst out fiercely again at the first opportunity.

Cromwell, for his part, had acted under dire necessity. The Presbyterians in and out of Parliament could not be held in check by an undisciplined Army. To them and to the Royalists, who were constantly recruiting new forces, the Army had to present a united front. For this reason during the next few months Cromwell introduced various modifications in the organization of the Army, designed to weed out the unreliable and excessively unruly elements. On the other hand, he and his friends carried in Parliament a resolution that no more addresses should be moved to the King, and that no member of either House should hold any commerce with the King without the permission of Parliament. Yet their situation was the reverse of comfortable. Everywhere was ferment. “A King not to be bargained with; kept in Carisbrooke, the centre of all factious hopes, of world-wide intrigues: that is one element. A great Royalist Party, subdued with difficulty, and ready at all moments to rise again: that is another. A great Presbyterian Party, at the head of which is London City, ‘the Pursebearer of the Cause’, highly dissatisfied at the course things had taken, and looking desperately round for new combinations and a new struggle: reckon that for a third element. Add lastly a headlong Mutineer, Republican, or Levelling Party; and consider that there is a working House of Commons which counts about Seventy, divided in pretty equal halves too – the rest waiting what will come of it. Come of it and of the Scotch Army advancing towards it.”

This is the picture drawn by Carlyle of the state of affairs, and it is, in me main, accurate, although it should be added that this situation imposed on Cromwell the policy which the “headlong mutineer, etc., party” wanted to pursue. Cromwell did his utmost to effect a union between the anti-Royalist elements. He attached to himself the foremost men of the Parliament and of the Army. He attended, with some of them, a meeting in the City, in order to win over the City Fathers. But no understanding was reached. The right wing Presbyterians were relying on their friends in Scotland, where a Presbyterian-Royalist party had gained the upper hand and assembled an army of forty thousand to invade England. In April 1648, on the very day after Cromwell’s visit to the City meeting, a great rising of the “apprentices” took place, which was only suppressed on the third day. “God and King Charles” was the slogan of the rebellious sons of citizens, with whom artisans and day labourers allied themselves. [9] But this was only the beginning. In May the fires of rebellion broke out in all directions. In Kent, Essex, and Wales the adherents of the King rose, and the Marquis of Hamilton, leader of the Monarchist Presbyterians in Scotland, marched with an army of forty thousand men into England. But the Independent generals and their army soon showed that they were masters of the situation. The leaders held a conference at Windsor. After they had strengthened themselves with prayer during a whole day [10], they determined that, once the risings and the invasion were disposed of, Charles Stuart, “that man of blood”, should be brought to an account for all the blood he had shed and the mischief he had done to his utmost “against the Lord’s cause and People in these poor Nations”. And this resolution, which was, of course, not concealed from the troops, seems to have restored harmony between them and their leaders. It was resolved to march against the enemies of “God’s cause”. Fairfax undertook Essex and Kent; Cromwell went first against Wales and afterwards against the Scotch. Whilst Cromwell was still engaged in the North, the Presbyterians in London lifted their head again. This was about the time of Lilburne’s liberation, mentioned in the preceding chapter, and six weeks thereafter a vote of Parliament granted to him as compensation certain confiscated lands of much higher value than the cash award at first proposed.

It will be appreciated that “honest John”, as the Mercurius Pragrnaticus, a paper hostile to Cromwell, called Lilburne in those days, was loath to earn these favours from the Presbyterian members of Parliament, hitherto so hostile to him, by continuing and intensifying his attacks on Cromwell. [11] He was anything but the revengeful personage portrayed by nearly all historians. Almost as soon as he was out of prison he wrote a letter to Cromwell and despatched it to him by Captain Edward Sexby, formerly one of the “agitators”. In this letter he held out to Cromwell the hand of reconciliation, and soon after, on a journey to the North he sought out Cromwell in his very camp. In this letter the following passage is noteworthy: “Although, if I prosecuted or desired revenge for an hard and almost starving imprisonment [12], I could have had of late the choice of twenty opportunities to have paid you to the purpose, I scorn it, especially when you are low, and this assure yourself, that if ever my hand be upon you, it shall be when you are in your full glory, if then you shall decline from the righteous way of Truth and Justice, which, if you will fixedly and impartially prosecute, I am, yours, to the last drop of my heart’s blood (for all your late severe hand towards me), John Lilburne.”

This letter, dated “Westminster, August 3, 1648, the second day after my liberation”, is printed with others in the work Lieutenant Colonel Lilburne Revived, which appeared in 1653. I am not disposed to agree with Gardiner’s estimation of it as an expression of “amusing self-sufficiency”, as it indicates that Lilburne was in close touch with the situation from day to day. Cromwell’s brilliant victories in the second half of August 1648 had restored his ascendancy. Had he been defeated, or had the campaign lasted longer even, Cromwell and the advanced democrats would have found themselves in a critical position. In any case, it was not good policy to exploit Cromwell’s precarious position for futile acts of revenge. Wisdom dictated that he should be induced to make concessions to the Levellers. And this policy proved successful. Lilburne could not be persuaded by Cromwell to enter the Army again, but, after his return to London, he arranged with his political friends to send Cromwell a message, stating that the latter was expected to help the good cause to victory and to understand “the principles of a just government. The war cannot be justified upon any other account than the defence of people’s right unto that just government, and their freedom under it.” This letter prompted Cromwell to instruct his friends in London to enter into negotiation with the Levellers.

Cromwell and the Levellers had equal need of each other. At this time Parliament was again briskly negotiating with the King, and the arrangements with him referred to above were made, according to which Parliament was to control the Army and its officers for the next twenty years, and the Presbyterian Church was to be made a State Church for a probationary period of three years. The dictatorship of a Parliament having a Presbyterian majority was as obnoxious to Cromwell as it was to the Levellers, although for different reasons. Whereas Cromwell’s opposition was largely determined by his personal interests and enmities, the Levellers were actuated by doctrinal antipathy. After the Levellers had made a gesture of reconciliation, Cromwell had good reasons for writing to Colonel Hammond that it was not they that were to be feared, but the irresolute men working for compromise with the King. He probably reflected that once the question of the King was settled, the recalcitrant soldiers could be held in check by energetic measures. The Ware mutiny had been easily quelled.

For the moment, however, the Army was to be relied upon. On October 29th the popular Colonel Rainsborough had been assassinated under treacherous circumstances, and this cowardly murder served to strengthen the demand for strong measures against the man primarily responsible for all this bloodshed. On November 20th a new remonstrance was sent to Parliament from the headquarters of the Army at St. Albans by Colonel Ewer, demanding that the “chief delinquent” should be brought to justice. Whilst Parliament was still discussing whether this disrespectful remonstrance should be “taken into consideration”, this same Colonel Ewer, by order of the general staff of the Army, brought the King from Newport to Hurst Castle, where he was most rigorously guarded. One of the two companions allowed him was James Harrington, later on the author of Oceana.




1. Cf. Gardiner, loc. cit., vol. iii, p.243 et seq.

2. Cromwell had attended various sittings of Parliament, and himself witnessed the attacks made on the Army by the Presbyterian majority. “These men will never leave till the Army pull them out by the ears”, he once whispered to his neighbour, Edmund Ludlow. It must not be forgotten that Parliament was asserting the right to sit as long as it pleased. Under the circumstances, it was only natural that the Army, which had won the victory for the Parliament should resent the latter’s tendency to assume personal power. A circular addressed to Parliament on July 10, 1647, signed by Cromwell, Fairfax, and eleven other representatives of the Army, was studiously moderate in tone, and conceded to the Presbyterian majority in Parliament more than was wise, but the latter wanted to be absolute masters of the situation, and thus provoked the expulsion of the eleven.

There were good reasons for the sudden partisanship by the apprentices of the parliamentary majority. The apprentices had presented petitions for the restoration of the opportunities for recreations, games, etc., which they had lost by the Puritan regime. Parliament made some concession to the sentiment expressed in these petitions on the 8th to the 11th of July, 1647, when it enacted that every second Tuesday in the month should, after the despatch of all necessary work, be a holiday for all scholars at school, apprentices, and servants (including the labourers). Quite obviously the sole object of this decree was to purchase the temporary support of the “apprentices”, and this object was achieved. The City apprentices proved themselves true Pretorian guards so long as they were able, with the tacit approval of the City militia, to demonstrate against the parliamentary minority, but neither they nor the City militia nor the hurriedly enrolled deserters from the Army were capable of offering serious resistance to the seasoned regiments of the Army advancing on London. The whole attempt at armed resistance was a grotesque failure, and City and Parliament gave in without a shot being fired.

3. The Second Part of England’s New Chains Discovered, p.7.

4. Carlyle, Oliver Cromwell’s Letters and Speeches, note on Letter 44. In Letter 79, dated November 25, 1648, Cromwell himself mentions the Levellers for the first time. The letter is to his friend, Colonel Robert Hammond, and is intended to silence his scruples in respect to the King. In it Cromwell makes the following characteristic avowal: “Dost thou not think this fear of the Levellers (of whom there is no fear) ‘that they would destroy Nobility’, etc., has caused some to take up corruption, and find it lawful to make this ruining hypocritical agreement on one part? [The reference is to the compromise of the Presbyterians with the King whilst Cromwell was in the North.] Hath not this biased even some good men? I will not say the thing they fear will come upon them; but if it do, they will themselves bring it upon themselves. Have not some of our friends by their passive principle ... been occasioned to overlook what is just and honest, and to think the people of God may have as much or more good the one way than the other? Good by this Man – against whom the Lord hath witnessed and whom thou knowest! Is this so in their hearts; or is it reasoned, forced in?” It will be seen later why Cromwell then declared that there was “no fear” of the Levellers, provided an energetic policy were pursued.

5. Major John Wildman, an officer siding with the Levellers, published at the end of 1647 a pamphlet, under the anagram pseudonym of John Lawmind. It was called Putney Projects, or the Old Serpent in a New Form, and described what was going on from the standpoint of the revolutionary wing of the Army. Bitter as are its attacks upon Cromwell, yet this pamphlet shows that the charge made against Cromwell by the Presbyterians, and repeated in most histories, that he was then in collusion with the radical agitators, was quite unfounded.

Most interesting light is thrown on these transactions by the Clarke Papers. They are the minutes of an officer who acted as secretary to the Council of the Army. Of particular interest is the report (vol.i, pp.226-363) of a conference of the Army Council held at Putney Church, under the presidency of Cromwell, on October 28th and 29th. To this conference the Levellers and the radical agitators had been invited, and the Agreement drawn up by the Levellers was discussed. Cromwell was ready with opportunist arguments against the Agreement. While it certainly contained a number of excellent things, other people might come and draw up a programme, and others and yet others, and this might lead to great confusion. “Would it not make England like the Switzerland country, one canton against another, and one country against another?” It was doubtful whether the country was yet ripe for all this. The conference must weigh the consequences of all this, and be clear as to the ways and means of attaining these objects. “There will be very great mountains in the way of this.” On the second day the suffrage was discussed. The various “agitators” and also some of the radical officers championed universal suffrage, but Cromwell and the majority of the officers maintained that it was very risky to give the vote to those who had neither possession nor “position” in the country, and therefore not “a permanent fixed interest in it”.

6. Gardiner, vol.iii, p.237.

7. Loc. Cit., p.245.

8. “For he hath continuously his sword in one hand, and one of Lilburne’s Epistles in the other, which hee takes to bee the ballance that must weigh all men in this world, and in the world to come.” From The Agitator Anatomized, or the Character of an Agitator, a Royalist work published in March 1648.

9. The years 1646-51 were dear years, 1648 being the worst, according to Thorold Rogers.

10. General Adjutant Allen, an Anabaptist and Fifth Monarchy man and formerly an “agitator”, published in 1659 a full description of this prayer meeting and the subsequent council of war. “A gracious hand of the Lord”, says he, made them conscious “that those cursed carnal Conferences, our own conceited wisdom, our fears, and want of faith had prompted us, the year before, to entertain with the King and his Party” had been “a departure from the Lord” and had “provoked Him to depart from us”. As a consequence of this “illumination from on high”, the resolution referred to in the text was passed.

11. Among those most eager for Lilburne’s release, for example, was Sir John Maynard, who had been compelled a year before to quit Parliament at the behest of the Army. In the article referred to above from the Mercurius Pragmaticus it is written: “Now then seeing Honest John is getting loose, ’twill not be long ere Mr. Speaker and Noll Cromwell be both brought to the stake; for he means to have a bout with them to some purpose, I can tell you.”

12. In the autumn of 1647 Cromwell had moved in the House of Commons that the Commission which had inquired into Lilburne’s complaints about his illegal condemnation by the Lords should also investigate the precedents for this action. It may remain an open question whether his motive was to avoid an open challenge to the Lords or to prevent Lilburne’s premature release. Suffice it to say that Lilburne regarded Cromwell as responsible for the prolongation of his imprisonment. He was prompted to this belief because Cromwell, a few days before the sitting of the House of Commons, had visited Lilburne in prison and promised him his support, upon which Lilburne had pledged himself to abandon politics and go to America once he had shown that the Lords had no right over a commoner.


Last updated on 21.1.2004