The Common Freedom of the People: John Lilburne and the English Revolution

December 4, 2020
The Common Freedom of the People: John Lilburne and the English Revolution

The second son of a modest gentry family, John Lilburne wasaccused of treason four times, and put on trial for his life underboth Charles I and Oliver Cromwell. He fought bravely in the CivilWar, seeing action at a number of key battles and rising to therank of Lieutenant Colonel, was shot through the arm, and nearlylost an eye in a pike accident. In the course of all this, hefought important legal battles for the rights to remain silent, toopen trial, and to trial by his peers. He was twice acquitted byjuries in very public trials, but nonetheless spent the bulk of hisadult life in prison or exile. He is best known, however, as themost prominent of the Levellers, who campaigned for a governmentbased on popular sovereignty two centuries before the advent ofmass representative democracies in Europe. Michael Braddickexplores the extraordinary and dramatic life of 'Freeborn John':how his experience of political activism sharpened and clarifiedhis ideas, leading him to articulate bracingly radical views; andthe changes in English society that made such a career possible.Without land, established profession, or public office, successivegovernments found him sufficiently alarming to be worthimprisoning, sending into exile, and putting on trial for his life.Above all, through his story, we can explore the life not just ofJohn Lilburne, but of revolutionary England itself — and of ideasfundamental to the radical, democratic, libertarian, andconstitutional traditions, both in Britain and the USA.