Up the Levellers

Paul Foot

  • The New Model Army in England, Ireland and Scotland, 1645-53 by Ian Gentles
    Blackwell, 590 pp, £14.99, January 1994, ISBN 0 631 19347 2

‘The poorest he that is in England has a life to live as the greatest he.’ This assertion by Colonel Thomas Rainborowe in November 1647 seems almost a cliché, as much part of the democratic history of England as the Magna Carta or the Tolpuddle Martyrs or Paine’s Rights of Man. Yet for two and a half centuries after Rainborowe said his piece, no one knew anything about it. The Colonel’s controversial view was expressed in the middle of a furious debate at the General Council of the New Model Army, which was meeting in Putney at the height of the English Revolution. The debate was scribbled down in shorthand by the Army secretary, William Clarke, who had a remarkable knack for appearing at and recording decisive historical events. He was, for instance, on the scaffold at Westminster 14 months later, on a cold January morning in 1649 when King Charles had his head cut off.

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