Three hundred and seventy years ago this autumn, among the dying embers of bloody civil war, emerged what was to be the first truly democratic pressure group in British political history.
By the end of the First Civil War (or war of the Stuart Kingdoms), the divisions of 1642 had become further complicated by the formation of the New Model Army in 1645. Valuing merit and proficiency above privilege and social standing, in 1648 it was to use force against a Parliament that wished to disband it.
During the summer of 1647, attempts by parliamentary commanders – army grandees like Thomas Fairfax and Henry Ireton – to negotiate a settlement with Charles I lost them the support of the military and civilian radicals (or ‘Levelling’ party) within their ranks.
The Levellers particularly criticised Ireton for behaving in a servile way towards the king. They accused the senior officers of betraying the interests of the common soldiery and people of England. 1 They also criticised the Long Parliament itself, for their mounting arrears of pay and its readiness to reach an accommodation with Charles. Continue reading »
- 1. They distributed pamphlets such as ‘England’s Freedom, Soldier’s Rights’, which were often worn in the soldier’s hatbands (together with a sea-green arm ribbon) to show their support. ^