1649: A Leveller message 'to the whole world'
Cornet William Thompson's Leveller pamphlet, 6 May 1649
This pamphlet was written and published as hundreds of Leveller soldiers marched through the countryside of Wiltshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire in southern England. They had sacked their officers in Salisbury and elected new ones, then setting off seeking other soldiers to join them in upholding the Agreement of the People. They were persued by Oliver Cromwell to Burford in Oxfordshire where they were tricked and imprisoned.
The document was signed by a never-commissioned Leveller 'Captain', William Thompson, not his younger brother, Cornet James Thompson executed in the Burford Churchyard, May 1649. William broke out of Burford, rode to Northampton and died a hero's death, fighting till the end against all odds.
A Declaration from M. Will. Thompson and the oppressed People of this nation, now under his conduct in Oxfordshire, Dated at their Randezvouz, May 6. 1649.
Whereas it is notorious to the whole world, that neither the Faith of the Parliament, nor yet the Faith of the Army (formerly made to the People of this nation, in behalf of their Common Right, Freedom and safety) hath bin all observed, or made good, but both absolutely declined and broken, and the People only served with bare words and faire promising Papers, and left utterly destitute of all help or delivery : And that this hath principally bin by the prevalency and treachery of some prominent persons (now domineering over the People) is most evident. The Solemn Engagement of the Army at New-Market and Triploe Heaths by them destroyed, the Councel of Agitators dissolved, the blood of War shed in time of Peace, Petitioners for Common Freedom suppressed by force of armes, and Petitioners abused and terrified, the lawful Tryal by twelve sworn men of the Neighbour-hood subverted and denyed, bloody and tyrannical Courts (called an high Court of justice, and the Councel of State) erected, the power of the sword advanced and set in the Seat of the Magistrates, the Civil Lawes stopt and subverted, and the Military introduced, even to the hostile seizure, imprisonment, tryal, sentence and execution of death, upon divers of the Free People of this Nation, leaving no visible Authority devolving all into a factious Juncto and Councel of State, usurping and assuming the name, stampe and Authority of Parliament, to oppresse, torment and vex the People, whereby all the lives, liberties, and estates, are all subdued to the Wills of those men, no Law, no justice, no right or Freedom, no ease of grievances, no removal of unjust barbarous taxes. no regard to the cryes and groanes of the poore to be had while utter beggary and famin (like a mighty torrent) hath broke in upon us, and already seized upon several parts of the Nation.
Wherefore through an inavoydable necessity, no other means left under heaven, we are inforced to betake our selves to the Law of nature, to defend and preserve our selves and Native Rights, and therefore are resolved as one man (even to the hazard and expence of our lives and fortunes) to to endeavour the redemption of the Magistracy of England, from under the force of the Sword, to vindicate the Petition of Right, to set the unjustly imprisoned free, to relieve the poore, and settle this Common-wealth upon the grounds of Common Right, Freedom, and Safety.
Be it therefore known to all the free People of England, and to the whole world, that, (chusing rather to die for Freedom than to live as slaves) we are gathered and associated together upon the bare account of Englishmen, with our Swords in our hands, to redeem our selve and the Land of our Nativity, from slavery and oppression, to avenge the blood of War shed in the time of Peace, to have justice for the blood of M. Arnold shot to death at Ware, and for the blood of M. Robert Lockyer, and divers other who of late martial Law were murthered at London.
And upon this our Engagement in behalf of the Commonwealth, we do solemnly agree and protest, that we will faithfully (laying all self respects aside) endeavor the actual relief and settlement of this distressed Nation.
And that all the world may know particularly what we intend, and wherein we will particularly center and acquiesce for ever, not to recede or exceed the least punctillio, we declare from the integrity of our hearts that by the help and might of God we will endeavor the absolute settlement of this distracted Nation, upon that forme and Method by way of an Agreement of the People, tendered as a Peace-offering by Leiut. Col. John Lilburn, M. Will. Walwyn, M. Thomas Prince, and M. Richard Overton, bearing date May 1. 1649. the which we have annexed to this our Declaration as the Standard of our Engagement, thereby owning every part and particular of the Premisses of the said Agreement, Promising and Resolving, to the utmost hazard of our Lives and Abilities, to persue the speedy and full Accomplishment thereof, and to our power, to protect and defend all such as shall Assent or Adhere thereunto : And particularly, for the Preservation and Deliverance of Lieutenant Colonel John Lilburn, M. William Walwyn, M. Thomas Prince, M. Richard Overton, Captain Bray, and M. William Sawyer, from their barbarous and illegal Imprisonments : And we Declare, That if a hair of their heads perish in the hands of those Tyrants who restrain them, That if God shall enable us, we will avenge it seventy times seven fold upon the heads of the Tyrants themselves and their Creatures.
And that till such time as by Gods Assistance we have procured to this Nation the Declared purpose of this our Engagement, we will not Divide nor Disband, nor suffer our selves to be Divided nor Disbanded, resolving with soberness and civility to behave our selves to the Country, to wrong nor abuse any man, to protect all to our power from violence and oppression in all places where we come; resolving to stop the Paiment of all Taxes or Sesments whatsoever, as of Excise, Tythes, and the Tax of ninety thousand pounds per Mensem. &c.
And having once obtained a New Representative, according to the said Agreement, upon such Terms and Limitations therein expressed; We shall then freely lay down our Arms, and return to our several Habitations and Callings.
And concerning the Equity, Necessity and Justice of our undertaking, We appeal to the judgement of the oppressed, betwixt their Destroyers and Us; Whether by the Law of God, of Nature, and Nations, it be not equally justifiable in us to Engage for the Safety and Deliverance of this Nation, as it was with the Netherlanders, and other People for theirs, and that upon the same Principles that the Army engaged at New-Market and Triploe Heaths ; Both Parliament and Army declaring, That it is no resistance of Magistracy, to side with just Principles, and Law of Nature and Nations : And that the Souldiery may lawfully hold the hands of that General, who will turn his Cannon against his Army, on purpose to destroy them : The Sea-men the hands of that Pilot, who wilfully runs his Ship upon a Rock. And therefore (the condition of the Common-wealth considered) we cannot see how it can be otherwise esteemed in us. And upon that account we declare, that we do own, and are resolved to Own all such Persons, either of the Army or Countries, that have already, or shall hereafter, rise up and stand for the Liberties of England, according to the said Agreement of the People : And in particular; We do own and avow the late proceedings in Colonel Scroops, Colonel Harrisons, and Major General Skippons Regiments, declared in their Resolutions published in print; as one man. Resolving to live and dy with them, in their and our just and mutual defence.
And we do implore and invite all such as have any sense of the Bonds and Miseries upon the people; any Bowels of Compassion in them, any Piety, Justice, Honour, or Courage in their Brests, any Affections to the Freedoms of England, any love to his Neighbor or Native Country, to rise up, and come in to help a Distressed Miserable Nation, To break the Bands of Cruelty, Tyrannie, and Oppression, and set the People Free.
In which service, Trusting to the undoubted goodness of a just and righteous Cause, We shall faithfully discharge the utmost of our Endeavors ; Not sparing the venture of all hardships and hazards whatsoever, and leave the Successe to God.
Signed by me William Thompson, at our Randez-
For a New Parliament, By the Agreement of the People.
Brailsford, H. N.,The Levellers and the English Revolution, Spokesman, Nottingham, ISBN 0 85124 154 9.
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