400 Many Thousand Citizens

Freeborn John, Richard Overton, William Walwyn, Maxine Peake as Elizabeth Lilburne. two random people as Mary Overton and Anne Walwyn

The Levellers were not an organized, structured politial party or pressure group in the early days. They were a loose association of radicals who found they shared new ideas that sprang from their religious view, the chaos and freedoms of the time, and the possibility of change. In 1646 their first coherent petition hit the streets  – The Remonstrance of Many Thousand Citizens

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Now look, I have something along the lines of the feeling you get when the weather has been utterly filthy, all night the storm was shaking your windows and rattling your walls, yet when you wake and walk out into the morning you find the times have been a-changing, the morning is blue, spring is here the sun is shining through the trees the birds are singing, and you remember this is the first day of the rest of your life. Because in the history of England the storm of war has passed. Now England and Scotland surely can put their shattered lives back to pieces – probably not Ireland, sadly, there’s still a bit of unfinished business there but look, we can make a start, start getting back to normal. The king’s arse has been well and truly kicked, and hopefully some sense will have been kicked into his brain, along with his bottom. He’s got no cards left he’ll finally need to start taking the needs of his people seriously. Seriously king, start listening.

So as is common when you start something new like, you know, the rest of your life, it’s good to look around. Where are we now what do we have in store gentle listeners? Well gather round and let me sing you a song. Here we are at the very heart of the English Civil Wars, when rebellion turns into Revolution. This is what its all about; ahead of us in this next section, from 1646 to 1649, we have an explosion of intellectual and political thought, the very first practical exposition of democracy since the days of the ancients, made by ordinary folk not by great philosphers sat in ivory towers. We are going to talk about a citizens army that becomes the revolutionary army of men like Thomas Rainsborough; we are going to talk about the Levellers who dare talk of democracy and natural rights; we are going to talk about revolutionaries of a very different hue, but revolutionaries none the less – like Henry Ireton, John Bradshaw and John Cooke. And an unthinkable and shocking act of courage and necessity which as Thomas Harrison will proudly declare was not done in a corner, was done in the open for all the world to see. I’ll try not to get carried away too far, but it is quite a story..

So, in this spirit of this fresh start; how the devil ARE things in the Big Smoke, I hear you ask, how have things been in the crucible of the English Revolution? Well, there are things going on, ideas, and some things that might be called incendiary. We are going to talk about that today rather than returning to the business end of politics and war and negotiation and all that dross. We are going to talk about some ideas that are emerging which will be longer lasting than anything else than came out of the English Revolution, ideas that will, eventually, become embedded into what it means to be English. I appreciate my fallutin is getting unnecessarily high here, apologies for that, I’ll bring them down.

Now, we’ve talked a bit about the removal of Charles’ hated Star Chamber and how it allowed a thousand desert flowers to bloom; though to start at the more cynical, commercial and low brow end of this,  I’m not sure the arch journalist of them all, Marchamont Nedham really qualifies as a flower, but whatever. There were limits to that freedom, as parliament passed a licencing act in 1643. Though as censorship goes it wasn’t massively effective, as Nedham’s own career shows. When the King’s secret correspondence was laid bare to the world after Naseby in 1645, Nedham had a field day, using his weekly newsbook Mercurius Britannicus to hammer the king, to such an insulting degree that the House of Lords told him off. A year later he ran an article describing the king as a tyrant, playing the two crowns of Scotland and England against each other. The world wasn’t ready for this yet, and so Nedham was thrown into the Fleet for 2 weeks, and only released on paying £200 and giving a promise of good behaviour. Yes sir, no sur, three bags full sir. So as you can see there was some censorship in place.

As to its effectiveness though; Nedham promptly published a whole raft of pamphlets, hammering away now at the Presbyterianism he despised, written anonymously. So you know, as long as you had an ounce of guile, your speech could be pretty free. Nedham will go in for a dramatic change of style in another year. I am not quite sure of the lessons to be drawn about journalism, but having spent the last 3 years hammering the royalists, in 1647 he managed to get himself an audience with the king. And after no doubt effusive explanations, excuses and grovelling and lamentations, Nedham not only earned himself a royal pardon, but a royal commission; and Nedham started up the Mercurius Pragmaticus. Which, without a trace of embarrassment or even irony, started laying into Parliament and the Scots. He developed a nice format of starting each newsbook with a ballad, varying from the scurrilous to the scandalous to the frankly actionable. Pragmaticus liked to get personal, and so we get a variety of nick names for Cromwell – Copper-Nose, the Nose Almighty, and The Town-bull of Ely for example. Watch this space though – as the wheel of fortune turns, Nedham will turn with it, he was not a man made for martyrdom.

On the free speech thing though, one of the authors beginning to make a name for himself in the field of flowers, was one John Milton, – you know, the Paradise Lost John Milton. A Londoner born and bred, and indeed born on Bread Street in the city; his father was a notary who had rebelled against his Catholic father in the days when Protestantism was the face of youthful rebellion, among other things. John then would also be staunchly religiously radical, and we’ve already heard his lament against Laud’s removal of the congregation from the altar in an earlier episode. He was drawn from the heart of what Diane Purkiss describes as the hard working, godly mercantile citizens, and like them he would remain obsessed by what he saw as the menace of Rome throughout his life.

Milton went to Cambridge University; he would hold radical views about education as a result and the need for a state governed by an aristocracy of virtue – rather than birth. He was there at the same time as famous royalists like Charles Lucas, who as we have seen will be in action fighting for the king at Marston Moor. Milton had a similar desire for fame as did Lucas, and Charles’ sister Margaret Cavendish;

To be the oracle of many nations, to have one’s house become a shrine, a man whom kings and states invite to come to them[1]

Declared Milton. So – high aspirations, then. Unlike the Lucases, he would be a fierce supporter of parliament. As it happens he was travelling in Italy when trouble started back home – he’d just met Galileo in the midst of his troubles with the church. But he returned home because, he wrote,

I thought it base that I should travel abroad at my ease for the cultivation of my mind while my fellow citizens at home were fighting for liberty’[2]

So a man of radical ideas in religion, education and as it turns out also in other ways; one was his opinion on divorce which was frankly autobiographical. Milton’s marriage was not a success; and he published a pamphlet arguing for easy access to divorce for the incompatible couple, and seemed a bit surprised about the storm of outrage it provoked. Seemed thoroughly sensible after all.

But there were plenty in parliament that were outraged at what they saw as simple libertinarianism, a license to licentiousness, and so they tried as hard as they could deny the pamphlet a licence. One of these haters incidentally was William Prynne; you might remember Prynne, once a hero of resistance to Laud. Now a Lawyer and MP, and a furious and zealous leading member of the Presbyterian faction; a brutal prosecutor of Laud who had used extremely dodgy methods to get his man executed. He, among others, condemned this idea of a no faults divorce. This, in turn, outraged Milton. It led him to the belief of the absolute necessity in a healthy society of the un trammelled freedom of expression. It might also be that the meeting with Galileo had an influence too on him too; he remembered Galileo as

Grown old, a prisoner to the inquisition for thinking in astronomy otherwise than the Franciscan and Dominican licensers thought’.

Either way, Milton now let it rip with the obscurely titled Areogapitica. Obscurely titled for me, who didn’t do Greek at school and although I did do Latin never really got any further than ‘Cornelia est puella. Puella est in horto’, and I may have got that wrong. At the time the classically educated Brit would have understood the allusion to the hill in ancient Athens, which would then strike all sorts of cords about the home of democracy and the life of St Paul too, or so I am told.

Anyway, it is said that Milton’s work is still recognised as one of the seminal works in the history of Human Rights and Free speech, and ideas that would be picked up by political philosophers like Locke. It was an impassioned defence of the importance of free expression, that all men should have

The liberty to know, to utter and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties

Part of Milton’s argument was that there is no such thing as a an evil book, that there was no virtue in untested views and opinions, however virtuous they were held to be, that every idea should be aired:

I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed; that never sallies out and sees her adversaries…

For Milton, ideas must be tested and proven in the fire of debate and expression, because

That which purifies us is trial and, trial is by what is contrary.

In the fullness of time of course, Milton would become the voice of the republic and the Protectorate.

So I am sure we will hear from him again, but for the moment his passionate argument in favour of free speech is enough to get us going. Because the Civil war period is a time of ideas and thought and wild, wild debate by existing standards.

Now, It’s always struck me as an odd contrast; on the one hand there’s all the stuff about iconoclasm, lemon sucking puritans, and the cancelling of Christmas, which we will talk about sometime soon. I think it’s one of the things about public memory of the period; royalists somehow get a free pass for the misogyny, religious suppression, military atrocities of the age, because they have floppy hair and the romance of failure, a bit like Bonnie Prince Charlie. Anyway, the point is that while radical protestants had a not undeserved reputation for telling people how to live their lives, the 17th century version also carried with it some very subversive ideas about equality. We’ve seen it already with Katherine Chidley, who felt free to challenge the view of eminent and male divines, and felt all ordinary people had the right to choose their own church, and that women are the equal of men in matters of conscience. I am not claiming that they are democrats and not for a moment did they believe in the equality of the sexes. But there is a logic there which drives towards equality.

And some in London, by 1645, were indeed making that leap. Just like the leap that led our far distant ancestor to leave the sea and make a future on the land, if that’s not getting too fanciful. I mean, don’t get me wrong – no one’s talking about the equality of the sexes; but equality of all men no matter their estate – that they are beginning to talk about. Some of them will be known to history as the Levellers, and to them that we will devote the rest of the episode.

Ok, so let me take you to London then to the Coleman Street ward, which is just inside and next to the old walls a little east and north of St Pauls cathedral. Coleman Street now is entirely dedicated to mammon, but back in the 16th and 17th centuries it was a right old mixture. There were massive, self important houses of some of the greatest merchants, because it was next to the guildhall area. So merchants like Isaac Pennington lived there – we’ve talked about him, Calvinist and Presbyterian religious radical who’d become the Mayor and supported the resistance to Charles. But as with most places up against the City wall, there had also been a massive influx of migrants from around England, plots and houses had been sub divided and subdivided again so that some streets were horribly over crowded, stuffed to the gills with the poor and the indigent.

By the 1640s, Coleman street though was more than a place – it was an idea, a state of mind. Because Coleman street had a history of radicalism, as far back as the time of Lollardy, and had never lost it. In its churches, taverns and inns people gathered to listen to Godly preachers, and every kind of sectary could be found there, and would continue right through the end of the period;  independents, Baptists, Quakers.  Cromwell would meet his officers there at the Star Inn before too long as the Revolutionary army demands the blood of the king; the revolutionary and Fifth Monarchist Venner was executed outside the Coleman Street Meeting House in 1661 by the Restoration Regime, as a warning to others.[3] In 1645, a new kind of secular radicalism was in the air.

Groups of polemicists and political radicals were sharing, discussing and developing exciting and challenging new ideas about how society should be run; They met at Salters Hall, at big Inns like the Windmill and the Saracen’s Head in Bread street. Some of them like Richard and Mary Overton ran secret printing presses from their houses, or were connected to networks of religious Independents, or printers who willingly printed pamphlets and tracts no matter the subject. Over the next few years they will start a radical political movement with ideas like universal manhood suffrage, religious toleration, legal reform, the abolition of debtors prison, the reform of education – and the abolition of the monarchy and house of lords.

These folks will be known as the Levellers. They will never be a very structured, political party, they are more groups of people who share ideas and a vision. The name was given to them by their enemies because their ideas terrified and offended traditional concepts about a hierarchical society and the Divinely organised great chain of being. Surely this kind of thing would raze civilisation to the ground, level everything to a burnt nothingness, all right and proper and divinely ordained rules of order, balance, social roles and hierarchy – all eradicated, so everyone was levelled to the same rank.

And indeed the kind of people spouting these views were precisely the wrong kind of people. These were of the ordinary, middling sort. Brewers, artisans, the kind of people disparagingly described as ‘mekanics’ in the language of the time – people who worked with their hands who made things. Not proper leaders of society.

But I personally like to think there are echoes in the name of Leveller of the story from 1607 and the Midlands rising, of villagers rebelling against the landowners that threatened to rob them of their livelihoods, levelling the new fangled hedges that locked them out of enclosed fields. They had been condemned as Levellers too. Those levellers shared a determination to be heard and to be justly treated, in other ways they would turn out to be very different; the levellers of 1607 were seeking a re-establish the rules of a traditional society, based on the old moral economy and social contract, being destroyed by a new commercialism. The Levellers were looking to create a new one. But the Levellers of the civil wars despite the novelty of their ideas, equally  they appealed to an ancient past; a mythical one as we now realise, but for some of them it was about rediscovered a golden age of freedom, in the times of the Anglo Saxons before the Norman yoke trampled on those freedoms.

The levellers grew out of three factors. Firstly,  Central to the new thinkers was religious independency. One of their leading thinkers was Richard Overton, who later became a General Baptist. He wrote that

By nature we are all sons of Adam and from him we have derived a natural propriety, right and freedom

By September 1645 that religiously based idea of levelling – the lion and the lamb lying down together sort of thing – was leading Overton and his radical wife Mary to propose a wide political agenda. Overton also scared people, it has to be said because although he was a product of Cambridge University he was vulgar, loud, aggressive in his writing, he showed no deference or sense of his right place in the world. Rather later when the levellers had fallen out with Cromwell, he wrote a piece called The Baiting of the Great Bull of Basham. He portrays the Levellers as bulldogs, attacking the genitals of a bull – a bull who is obviously Oliver Cromwell. The genitals in question are of course diseased and so come away easily from the rest of the Bull. That sort of thing caused some pursued lips and wobbling chins.

A second Condition, would be the experiences and motivations of the New Model Army; it is an organisation will become more and more radical. Because the soldiers of New Model Army begin to ask a question which will be heard many times in the future, and which will be raised in 1647 at the Putney Debates. In the words of Thomas Rainborough

I would fain know what the soldier hath fought for all this while?

A feeling that there must be more for the people who had risked their lives and shed their blood. There’s echoes of the same question after the First World War, and the Homes for heroes idea I guess. The soldiers of the New Model will consistently make the point that they were ‘no mere mercenary army’; they were free citizens and volunteers who fought because parliament called for them to fight. They now they expected something greater than returning to the old ways.

The third source of the leveller’s rise was simply the times in which they lived; the ideas of Henry Parker, the debate about what the ancient constitution meant, where right lay; the shattering of censorship, the challenging of traditional authority.

Taken together all these things – the spirit of independency, equality in the eyes of God and freedom of conscience, the sacrifices of the wars, the shattering of authority – all these things made it seem that anything was possible.

A month after Oxford finally surrendered, in July 1646, 3 people at the core of the Leveller movement got together to produce a radical pamphlet called A Remonstrance of many Thousand Citizens. One was a man we’ve heard about quite a bit here and there, off and on, and the man who becomes the face of the movement really – Honest John Lilburne; Freeborn John as he will be known, on account of his constant claims for the rights of Freeborn Englishmen and Magna Carta. We heard about his protests against Laud, and the Star Chamber then had him whipped through London; he’s been in the army, a friend and protégé of Oliver Cromwell and got into trouble for his independency and freedom of action. By 1645 he was no longer in the army, since he’d refused to swear to the Solemn league and Covenant.  He will begin earn the fury of the Presbyterians by accusing them of seeking to impose a tyranny every bit as severe as that of Laud and Charles. Lilburne as I believe I have mentioned, is pretty much the template of the furiously bolshey radical. Essentially Lilburne objected to pretty much anyone in authority certainly anyone not using use that authority according to the trust vested in them. But he is so argumentative, that he’s in and out of prison constantly he has no idea really of when to roll with it for the greater prize. And often his also radical but way more long suffering wife, Elizabeth therefore has to go with him and their family to prison. We have already heard though of Elizabeth’s tireless support for John such as walking to Oxford to get him released from royalist prison. The Lilburnes all were in prison from July to October 1645, and he’ll be back there from July 1646 for libel against the Earl of Manchester. Many of his pamphlets are written from prison – and his writes a lot, and I mean a lot; all that time on his hands in prison I guess. He’s so argumentative that his friend and wit the radical MP Henry Marten quipped that

If there were none living but himself, John would be against Lilburne, and Lilburne against John

And I think he was only half joking.

So in the writing of the Remonstrance, that’s John. Then there’s Richard Overton the crude and vulgar academic and preacher, both of them capable of varying but impressive degrees of acidity.  The third is a very different character, William Walwyn by name, and probably the most appealing of all of them.

Walwyn is a really rather attractive type of revolutionary. I mean revolutionaries by and large aren’t noted for quiet, kindly and introverted natures; they are there to change the world and all, utterly convinced of their rectitude, and cuteness and furriness isn’t normally the required characteristic. But Walwyn seems to have been a thoroughly lovely bloke. Don’t get me wrong he wanted change as much as Lilburne; and he was a sharp incisive and concise writer, best of all of them really; but he made his arguments with courtesy and civility. So gentle was he that his adversaries couldn’t quite believe it – and accused him of hiding something. But it seems Walwyn was simply in this for the good of his fellow citizens; such as when he wrote

‘I am one that do truly and heartily love all mankind … it is from this disposition in me, that I have engaged my self in publick affairs, and from no other’

It seems he was telling the truth. When England chose the Protectorate rather than Walwyn’s more radical ideas, he changed his direction and became a medical practitioner, basing his work on the principle that nothing should be given to the sick that might not safely and profitably be taken by those in health. That at the time was also a radical idea – it meant there was none of that purging and vomiting and all that. His clear thinking, organisation, conviction and humanity lay at the heart of the Leveller cause.

It seems to be Walwyn also that brought some key members of the levellers together in 1645, as they produced the Remonstrance of many Thousand Citizens. It was the first major petition by them, and a comprehensive statement of their programme, addressed to the House of Commons. It reminded the Commons that they held their trust as representatives of the sovereign people. Now it might sounds as though you’d heard that before from Henry Parker, but actually there’s a significant change of tone. Henry Parker had been radical, but his view was that MPs represented the people to the extent that the Commons was the nation.

The parliament is indeed nothing else, but the very people itself artificially created [4]

Parker had written back in 1642. There’s an implication to that; because the Commons was the people in microcosm, it wasn’t required to be accountable to the appeals and judgement of the people. The Levellers now denied this. They wrote that the power of the Commons was limited by the power and sovereignty of the people. The House of Commons was accountable to the people. There must be annual elections, and not election to which people were summoned by a higher power like the King or even the Commons – it must be automatic. Because the people were the source of all power. As Lilburne would put it in a few months’ time, writing from prison:

The poorest that lives, hath as true a right  to give a vote, as well as the richest and the greatest

Just as radical was the attitude toward the King and House of Lords, how’s power they roundly denounced. It’s not Charles they were attacking here; for almost the first time, it’s not the person of the king; it’s the institution itself. It is the position of the monarch that is

the continuall Oppressours of the Nation’

and it was perfectly possible, they wrote, for a

Nation to be happy without a king

The aghast silence of the readers was broken only by the horrified wobbling of chins. Up to this point only Henry Marten had dared suggest such a thing, and he’d been thrown into the Tower and banned from parliament for his pains. Marten’s way of putting this was that any alien power was to be removed from the constitution, meaning any source of authority that did not come from the people. Now for the moment the Levellers weren’t demanding the removal of king; they saw them potentially as useful magistrates, but only as dancing to the tune of the people, and accountable to them. Can you imagine what Charles’ chin would have done when he heard that?

There’s a bunch of other stuff too; free trade is a constant demand, which doesn’t quite mean what it will come to mean in the hands of Adam Smith. To the Levellers it means an absence of the restrictive powers of the guilds and city corporations; individuals must be free to make their own way. They embraced also the spirit of Milton’s areopagitica – the press must be completely free from censorship. Unfair taxation must be brought to an end – the hated excise taxes deleted, all taxation was to be on wealth – land taxes and subsidies. And of course – there must be complete religious liberty.

For Lilburne all of this, though radical sounding, was simply the re-assertion of ancient right. Lilburne had spent his time after his brewing business collapsed, trying to get compensation from the state for his treatment at the hands of Star chamber, Laud and Charles, and also in immersing himself in legal texts. He had thoroughly bought into the idea of an Anglo Saxon heritage of free people, oppressed by the Norman Yoke which had swept those liberties away under the mailed boot of the Conk. He shared Edward Coke’s reverence for Magna Carta as a charter of liberties. For Lilburne, the task was to restore the ancient rights of the freeborn English. Hence his name, Freeborn John.

William Walwyn didn’t really share this enthusiasm for Magna Carta as it happens, which he described as a ‘mess of pottage’. He would have known as you do, that Magna Carta was a peace treaty. His views were based very much on the concept of Reason; the ordering of the constitution should not rely on the past, but on the best that human reason could devise. He felt that was where parliament had gone wrong since the start of the civil Wars

When they might have made a newer better charter they have fallen to patching the old

No looking back, he held.

We are men of the present age

Now I don’t want to get too emotional, but here is something entirely new in English history, and I want to make sure we don’t miss the novelty of it. Up until now, popular protest and revolt had been all about restoring a real or imagined order; restoring the way that things ought to be, the agreed unwritten, reciprocal social contract between people and the magistrates that wielded power. It’s a concept the historian EP Thompson called the moral economy. Inequality, rank, social hierarchy – these things are all fine, inevitable and natural. But power must be exercised according to rules established by custom. But now here, Walwyn and Marten and the like are seeking to establish new ones, based on Reason. Even Lilburne will follow on this, and the concept will appear of natural rights, though we’ll come to that in good time. But this is an important difference; there are other revolutionaries available in this story – John Pym, John Hampton, William Fiennes, Warwick, Oliver Cromwell, and more notably his son in law Henry Ireton. But initially at least, until faced by the law of absolute necessity, they come from a different direction; they are looking to re-establish the Ancient Constitution as they understood it, which after all was where this whole affair had started. William Walwyn then, a rather obscure unknown figure, William Walwyn is the true revolutionary. And also has the advantage of not only being right, and not repulsive

Anyway, I hope that’s all exciting enough. For the moment, the Levellers, all these ideas, might be shocking and exciting, but if that is all they amounted to, a bunch of leaflets, maybe they would have been merely a curio in the sea of history, sunk under a sea of outrage and incomprehension – and even disagreements from fellow revolutionaries like Ireton. They certainly outraged people of the time. To give you a flavour, here’s the old Anglican and constitutional royalist, Edward Hyde, the earl of Clarendon in his history of the Great Rebellion, talking about the Levellers –

These spoke insolently and confidently against the king …professed as great malice against all lords as against the king; and declared that all degrees of men should be levelled and an equality should be established, both in titles and estates, throughout the kingdom

Clarendon might well have added to the end ‘and not in a good way’. He certainly though that. And the levellers don’t really rail against differences in social status, they complain of injustice. But then use of a straw man is a favourite technique for polemicists of all political hues, very popular these days too.

Anyway for the moment, all these ideas were just landing the levellers in jail; Lilburne was there by July 1646. Before too long Richard Overton would find himself in Newgate prison, and his wife Mary too. Overton had kept publishing, and one of those publications was a furious attack on the Scots and their plan to impose Presbyterianism on the English people.  Since the Scots were England’s allies and partners in the Solemn league and Covenant, this did not meet with their approval.

For the moment, then, the loose assembly of people called Levellers lacked a way to transfer these ideas into power; almost no one, with the exception of Marten, would have supported them in parliament. No one else was even thinking of a future without a king or the house of lords – perish the very thought! The king was beaten now, so it was just a matter of agreeing a suitable agreement which would ensure what had been won was irreversible by a frankly untrustworthy king, and then everything could get back to normal. For the Levellers to succeed, and not to be just a footnote in history, they’d need to mobile ordinary people, aka the powerless. And it took a while for them to realise that one area where ordinary, religiously radically minded people existed in great numbers, organisation and joint consciousness, was in the New Model Army. And they could without doubt also be powerful, if duly motivated.

Now that reminds me, that at the end of the last episode, I hadn’t actually told you where Harry the Servant went on that morning in June 1646! Silly old me, I’d forget my head if it wasn’t screwed on. So, I’d left Jack Ashburnham, Michael Hudson and their servant Harry, nudge nudge wink wink enticingly and tensely kicking around the mean streets of Harrow, where they might have noticed a school established by Good Queen Bess where one day a self confident young pup called Winston Churchill will go to school. We all really, really wonder why Harry the Servant goes there? It  seems very close to London given his ultimate destination; was he wondering where to go? He will do more than one escape attempt over the next couple of years without bothering to decide where he’s going so it is according to his personal idiom. Seems a bit disorganised to me, but then I’m not a king, sorry I’m not a Harry the Servant. Anyway, whatever the reason for toying with the road to Westminster, King Harry turns north and travels to the centre of modern civilisation, also known as the East Midlands, or more specifically Newark. Newark, as well as being situated on the mighty River Trent, was also one of the last royal fortresses still holding out. As such it was being besieged – by the Scots.

Charles had a talent for optimism. Some would say a mania for it. He confidently expected that the Scots would be desperate to re-install him on the throne, that they were now far more scared of the threat from the rising tide of English Independents like St John, Harry Vane and Cromwell than they were by Charles. And so they could be persuaded to do a deal to the king’s liking. Embued and emboldened such confidence, Charles rode into camp and gave himself up to the Scots. And to be fair Charles did have some ground for his optimism; the Scots did indeed detest and fear the Independents and their Soloemn Covenant sinking ideas of toleration.

We will hear how that goes next time. We’ll leave the Levellers arguing away over their bear and smokes, publishing pamphlet after pamphlet, airing radical idea after radical idea, dreaming their dreams while the state tries and fails to close them down.

Next time, we’ll have a peek into Charles’ mind and his plans about how he, as self proclaimed father to his people, how he will try to heal the divisions and bring health back to his family. We’ll hear about how Jacob Astley’s words after Stow on the Wold prove distressingly prophetic – you know, when he said

Well, boys, you have done your work, now you may go and play—if you don’t fall out among yourselves

Well, there’s a thought, surely that could never happen. Anyway, until then everyone, thank you so much for listening, I hope you are excited about what changes the Levellers might bring, and I hope to see you again next week.

[1] Purkiss, D ‘The English Civil War’, pp305-322

[2] Campbell, G: ‘John Milton’; ODNB

[3] Johns, Adrian. “Coleman Street.” Huntington Library Quarterly, vol. 71, no. 1, 2008, pp. 33–54. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.1525/hlq.2008.71.1.33. Accessed 16 Mar. 2024.

[4] Healey, J: The Blazing World’ p216






2 thoughts on “400 Many Thousand Citizens

  1. Congratulations on 400 excellent episodes! Seems like the proper moment to quaff a little champagne, if that’s not too French a wine for so English a podcast.
    This episode gives a fascinating peek into the very long journey of new ideas from radical outrage to accepted dogma – if human equality is fully accepted even now. As Terry Pratchett novels show, societies like to say they include everybody – except whoever “them” happens to be at the moment.
    While we’re talking, is there a good biography of Charles as a person? A person who can claim to be father of his people and continually both lie to his children, make war on them and invite other families to come help him kill them is an amazing combination of what? Entitlement, self-righteousness, the stubbornness/fearfulness of a weak personality?

    1. Thank you Esme! I keep thinking I ought to have some sort of celebration, an online get together or something…but never quite get round to it!
      On Charles, I can’t really be definitive;in the end I went for two. Richard Cust’s is very much a political life; it is brilliant, full of insights, but oit is very focussed on the politics. Then there is Charles Carletion’s which is much more giossipy, and much more critical. By way of comparison, there’s one by Kishlansky in the ‘Very Short’ series, which is fun as a different perspective. SAnd finally there is a brilliant chapter on his character in Conrad Russell’s book, ‘Causes of the Engishy Civil War’.

      Anyway forward -on with the next 400 episodes!

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