The Digger Movement in the Days of the Commonwealth
by Lewis H. Berens
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Transcriber's notes:

All material added by the transcriber is surrounded by braces {}.

The original has a number of inconsistent spellings and punctuation. A few corrections have been made for obvious typographical errors; they have been noted individually. A list of specific items will be found at the end of the file.

Text in italics in the original is shown between underlines, and text in bold between equal signs.


As Revealed in the Writings of Gerrard Winstanley, the Digger Mystic and Rationalist, Communist and Social Reformer


LEWIS H. BERENS Author of "Towards the Light" Etc. Etc.

"Was glaenzt ist fuer den Augenblick geboren; Das Echte bleibt der{1} Nachwelt unverloren." GOETHE.

London Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent, & Co. Ltd. 1906
































"Whatever the prejudices of some may suggest, it will be admitted by all unbiassed judges, that the Protestant Reformation was neither more nor less than an open rebellion. Indeed, the mere mention of private judgment, on which it was avowedly based, is enough to substantiate this fact. To establish the right of private judgment, was to appeal from the Church to individuals; it was to increase the play of each man's intellect; it was to test the opinion of the priesthood by the opinions of laymen; it was, in fact, a rising of the scholars against their teachers, of the ruled against their rulers."—BUCKLE.

What is known in history as the Reformation is one of those monuments in the history of the development of the human mind betokening its entry into new territory. Fundamental conceptions and beliefs, cosmological, physical, ethical or political, once firmly established, change but slowly; the universal tendency is tenaciously to cling to them despite all evidence to the contrary. Still men's views do change with their intellectual development, as newly discovered facts and newly accepted ideas come into conflict with old opinions, and force them to reconsider the evidence on which these latter were based. Prior to the Reformation, many such conceptions and beliefs, at one time holding undisputed dominion over the human mind, had been called into question, their authority challenged, undermined, and weakened, and they had commenced to yield pride of place to others more in accordance with increased knowledge of nature and of life. The revival of classical learning, geographical and astronomical discoveries, and more especially, perhaps, the invention and rapid spread of the art of printing, had all conspired to give an unparalleled impetus to intellectual development,—and the Reformation was, in truth, the outward manifestation in the religious world of this development.

Prior to the Reformation, wherever a man might turn his steps in Western Europe, he found himself confronted with what was proudly termed the Universal Church: one hierarchy, one faith, one form of worship, in which the officiating priests were assumed to be the indispensable mediators between God and man, everywhere confronted him. Religion was then much more intimately blended with the life of man than it is now; and on all matters of religion, Western Europe seemed to present a united front and to be impervious to change. Appearances, however, are proverbially deceitful. Beneath this apparent uniformity and general conformity, there lurked countless forces, spiritual, intellectual, social and political, making for change. Dissent and dissatisfaction, with myriads of tiny teeth, had undermined and weakened the stately columns that upheld the imposing structure of the Universal Church. Even within the Church itself there was seething inquietude, and thousands of its purest souls longed, prayed and struggled for its practical amendment. To emancipate the Church from the clutches of the autocracy of Rome; to remove the abuses that, in the course of centuries, had grown round and sullied its primitive purity; to lighten the fiscal oppression of the Papacy and to check the rapacity of the Cardinals; to reform and discipline the priesthood; even to modify certain doctrines and dogmas: such were the aspirations of some of the most devout, eminent and cultured sons of the Church. Outside its communion there were many forms of heresy, which, though generally regarded as disreputable and often treated as criminal, the apparently all-powerful Church had never been able entirely to eradicate. And, at first at least, both these forces favoured the efforts of the early Lutheran Reformers.

The influence of the Reformation, of "the New Learning," on theological, ethical, social and political thought can scarcely be overestimated. Under the supremacy of the Church of Rome, men, educated and uneducated, had come to rely almost entirely on authority and precedent, and had lost the habit of self-reliance, of unswerving dependence on the dictates of reason, which was one of the distinguishing characteristics of the classical philosophers and their disciples, as it is of the modern scientific school of thought. In short, concerning matters spiritual and temporal, Faith had usurped the function of Reason. Hence any innovations, whatever their abstract merit, were regarded not only with justifiable suspicion and caution, but as entirely unworthy of consideration, unless, of course, they could be shown to be in accordance with accepted traditions and doctrines, or had received the sanction of the Church. But even the Church itself was popularly regarded as bound by tradition and precedent; and when the Papacy sanctioned any departure from established custom, it was understood to do so in its capacity of infallible expounder of unalterable doctrines.

The habits of centuries still enthralled the early Reformers. Circumstances compelled them to attack some of the doctrines and customs of their Mother Church, of which at first they were inclined to regard themselves as dutiful though sorrowful sons. The logic of facts, however, soon forced them outside the Church. Then, but then only, for the authority of the Church, they substituted the authority of the Scriptures. To apply to them Luther's own words, "they had saved others, themselves they could not save." In their eyes Reason and Faith were still mortal enemies,—as unfortunately they are to this day in the eyes of a steadily diminishing number of their followers,—and they did not hesitate to demand the sacrifice of reason when it conflicted, or appeared to conflict, with the demands of faith: and that, indeed, as "the all-acceptablest sacrifice and service that can be offered to God." In a sermon in 1546, the last he delivered at Wittenberg, Luther gave vent, in language that even one of his modern admirers finds too gross for quotation, to his bitter hatred and contempt for reason, at all events when it conflicted with his own interpretation of the Scriptures, or with any of the fundamental dogmas and doctrines he had himself formulated or accepted. While even in milder moments he did not hesitate to teach that[4:1]—

"It is a quality of faith that it wrings the neck of reason and strangles the beast, which else the whole world, with all creatures, could not strangle. But how? It holds to God's word: lets it be right and true, no matter how foolish and impossible it sounds. So did Abraham take his reason captive and slay it.... There is no doubt faith and reason mightily fell out in Abraham's heart, yet at last did faith get the better, and overcame and strangled reason, the all-cruelest and most fatal enemy to God. So, too, do all other faithful men who enter with Abraham the gloom and hidden darkness of faith; they strangle reason ... and thereby offer to God the all-acceptablest sacrifice and service that can ever be brought to Him."

However, whatever may have been the personal desires and tendencies of those associated with its earlier manifestations, the forces of which the Reformation was the outcome were not to be controlled by them. The spirit of which they were the product was not to be controlled by any fetters they could forge. The Reformation emancipated the intellect of Europe from the yoke of tradition and blind obedience to authority; it let loose the illuming flood of thought which had been accumulating behind the more rigid barriers of the Church, and swept away as things of straw the feebler barriers the early Reformers would have erected to confine the thoughts of future generations. The futility of all such efforts we can gauge, they could not. Blind obedience to authority, in matters spiritual and temporal, had been the watchword and animating principle of the power against which they had rebelled; liberty and reason were the watchwords and animating principles of the movement of which they, owing to their rebellion, had temporarily become the recognised leaders. The right of private judgement, in other words, the supremacy of reason as sole judge and arbiter of all matters, spiritual as well as secular, was the essential element of the movement of which the Reformation was the outcome; how, then, could they, the children of this movement, hope to change its course?

When considering the forces and circumstances that made the Reformation possible, when so many equally earnest previous attempts in the same direction had failed, we should not lose sight of the favourable political situation. Under cover of its religious authority, by means of its unrivalled organisation, as well as by its temporal control of large areas of the richest and most fertile land in Europe, the Church of Rome annually drained into Italy a large part of the surplus wealth of every country that recognised its spiritual authority. Such countries were impoverished to support not only the resident but an absentee priesthood, and to enable the Princes of the Church to maintain a more than princely state at Rome. This was a standing grievance even in the eyes of many sincerely devout Churchmen, and one which was prone to make statesmen and politicians look with a favourable eye on any movement which promised to lessen or to abolish it. Germany in this respect had special reasons for discontent; as has been well said, "It was the milch cow of the Papacy, which at once despised and drained it dry." And, as everybody knows, it was in Germany that the standard of revolt against the authority of Rome was first successfully raised. The political constitution of that country was also peculiarly favourable to the protection of the Reformation and of the persons of the early Reformers. Although owing a nominal allegiance to the Emperor, or rather to the will of the Diet which met annually under the presidency of the Emperor, the head of each of the little States into which Germany was divided claimed to be independent lord of the territory over which he ruled. Hence, when the Ernestine line of Saxon princes took the Reformation and the early Reformers under their protection, there was no power ready and willing to compel them to relinquish their design. The democratic independence of the Free Cities also made them fitting strongholds of the new teachings.

Students of history would do well never to lose sight of the fact that every religion which attempts to bind or to guide the reason, to direct the lives and to determine the conscience of mankind, necessarily has an ethical as well as a theological, a social as well as an individual side. It concerns itself, not only with the relation of the individual to God or the gods, but also with the relations and duties of man to man. Hence the close relation and inter-relation of religion and politics. Politics is the art or act of regulating the social relations of mankind, of determining social or civic rights and duties. It is neither more nor less than the practical application of accepted abstract ethical, or religious, principles in the domain of social life. Hence we cannot be surprised that almost every wide-spread religious revival, every renewed application of reason to religion, which almost necessarily gives prominence to its ethical or social side, has been followed by an uprising of the masses against what they had come to regard as the irreligious tyranny and oppression of the ruling privileged classes. The teachings of Wyclif in England, in the fourteenth century, were followed by the insurrection associated with the name of Wat Tyler; the teachings of Luther and his associates, in the sixteenth century, by the Peasants' Revolt.

To the economic causes of the unrest of the peasantry and labouring classes during the fifteenth and sixteenth century, we can refer only very briefly. At the time of the great migration of the fifth century, the free barbarian nations were organised on a tribal or village basis. By the end of the tenth century, however, what is known as the Feudal System had been established all over Europe. "No land without a lord" was the underlying principle of the whole Feudal System. Either by conquest or usurpation, or by more or less compulsory voluntary agreement, even the free primitive communities (die Markgenossenshaften) of the Teutonic races had been brought under the dominion of the lords, spiritual or temporal, claiming suzerainty over the territory in which they were situated. The claims of the Feudal Magnates seem ever to have been somewhat vague and arbitrary. At first they were comparatively light, and may well have been regarded and excused as a return for services rendered. The general tendency, however, was for the individual power of the lords to extend itself at the cost and to the detriment of the rural communities, and for their claims steadily to increase and to become more burdensome. During the fourteenth century many causes had combined to improve the condition of the industrial classes; and during the end of the fourteenth and the early part of the fifteenth century the condition of the peasantry and artisans of Northern Europe was better than it had ever been before or has ever been since: wages were comparatively high, employment plentiful, food and other necessaries of life both abundant and cheap.[7:1] At the beginning of the sixteenth century, however, the prices of the necessaries of life had risen enormously, and there had been no corresponding increase in the earnings of the industrial classes. Moreover, the Feudal Magnates had commenced to exercise their oppressive power in a hitherto unparalleled manner: old rights of pasture, of gathering wood and cutting timber, of hunting and fishing, and so on, had been greatly curtailed, in many cases entirely abolished, tithes and other manorial dues had been doubled and trebled, and many new and onerous burdens, some of them entirely opposed to ancient use and wont, had been imposed. In short, the peasantry and labouring classes generally were oppressed and impoverished in countless different ways.

In Germany, as indeed in most other parts of Feudal Europe, the peasantry of the period were of three different kinds. Serfs (Leibeigener), who were little better than slaves, and who were bought and sold with the land they cultivated; villeins (Hoeriger), whose services were assumed to be fixed and limited; and the free peasant (die Freier), whose counterpart in England was the mediaeval copyholder, who either held his land from some feudal lord, to whom he paid a quit-rent in kind or in money, or who paid such a rent for permission to retain his holding in the rural community under the protection of the lord. To appreciate the state of mind of such folk in the times of which we are writing, we should remember that "the good old times" of the fifteenth century were still green in their minds, from which, indeed, the memory of ancient freedom and primitive communism, though little more than a tradition, had never been entirely banished: which sufficiently accounts, not only for their impatience of their new burdens, but also for their tendency to regard all feudal dues as direct infringements of their ancient rights and privileges.

"We will that you free us for ever, us and our lands; and that we be never named and held as serfs!" was the demand of the revolting English peasant in 1381; and the same words practically summarise the demands of the German peasantry in 1525. The famous Twelve Articles in which they summarised their wrongs and formulated their demands, forcibly illustrate the direct influence of the prevailing religious revival on the current social and political thought.[8:1] Briefly, they demanded that the gospel should be preached to them pure and undefiled by any mere man-made additions. That the rural communities, not the Feudal Magnates, should have the power to choose and to dismiss their ministers. That the tithes should be regulated in accordance with scriptural injunctions, and devoted to the maintenance of ministers and to the relief of the poor and distressed, "as we are commanded in the Holy Scriptures." That serfdom should be abolished, "since Christ redeemed us all with His precious blood, the shepherd as well as the noble, the lowest as well as the highest, none being excepted." That the claims of the rich to the game, to the fish in the running waters, to the woods and forests and other lands, once the common property of the community, should be investigated, and their ancient rights restored to them, where they had been purchased, with adequate compensation, but without compensation where they had been usurped. That arbitrary compulsory service should cease, and the use and enjoyment of their lands be granted to them in accordance with ancient customs and the agreements between lords and peasants. That arbitrary punishments should be abolished, as also certain new and oppressive customs. And, finally, they desired that all their demands should be tested by Scripture, and such as cannot stand this test to be summarily rejected.

That the demands of the peasants, as formulated in the Twelve Articles, were reasonable, just and moderate, few to-day would care to deny. That they appealed to such of their religious teachers as had some regard for the material, as well as for the spiritual, well-being of their fellows, may safely be inferred from the leading position taken by some of these both prior to and during the uprising. Nor can there be any doubt but that at first the peasants looked to Wittenberg for aid, support and guidance. Those who had proclaimed the Bible as the sole authority, must, they thought, unreservedly support every movement to give practical effect to its teachings. Those who had revolted against the abuses of the spiritual powers at Rome, must, they thought, sympathise with their revolt against far worse abuses at home. They were bitterly to be disappointed. From Luther and the band of scholastic Reformers that had gathered round him, they were to receive neither aid, guidance nor sympathy. The learned and cultured Melanchthon, Luther's right hand, denounced their demand that serfdom should be abolished as an insolent and violent outrage (ein Frevel und Gewalt), and preached passive obedience to any and every established authority. "Even if all the demands of the peasants were Christian," he said, "the uprising of the peasants would not be justified; and that because God commands obedience to the authorities." Luther's attitude was much the same. Though a son of a peasant, and evidently realising that the demands of the peasants were just and moderate, and "not stretched to their advantage," he at first assumed a somewhat neutral attitude, which, however, he soon relinquished; and in a pamphlet to which his greatest admirers must wish he had never put his name, and which shocked even his own times and many of his own immediate followers, he proclaimed that to put down the revolt all "who can shall destroy, strangle, and stab, secretly or openly, remembering that nothing is more poisonous, hurtful and devilish than a rebellious man."

The rulers did not fail to better his instruction. In defence of their privileges, the German princes, spiritual and temporal, catholic and evangelical, united their forces, and the uprising was put down in a sea of blood. The peasants, comparatively unarmed, were slaughtered by thousands, and the yoke of serfdom was firmly re-fastened on the necks of the people, until, some three hundred years later, in 1807, the Napoleonic invasion compelled the ruling classes voluntarily to relinquish some of their most cherished privileges. From a popular and religious, the Reformation in Germany degenerated into a mere political movement, and fell almost entirely into the hands of princes and politicians to be exploited for their own purposes. The reorganisation of the Churches, which the Reformation rendered necessary in those States where it was maintained, was for the most part undertaken by the secular authorities in accordance with the views of the temporal rulers, whose religious belief their unfortunate subjects were assumed to have adopted. The activities of the Lutheran Reformers were soon engrossed weaving the web of a Protestant scholasticism, strengthening and defending their favourite dogma of justification by faith, abusing and persecuting such as differed from them on some all-important question of dogma or doctrine, framing propositions of passive obedience, and other such congenial pursuits.

Of the moral effect of the Reformation, of its effect on the general character of the people who came under its influence, which is the one test by which every such movement can be judged, we need say but little. To put it as mildly as possible, it must be admitted, to use the words of one of its modern admirers,[10:1] that "the Reformation did not at first carry with it much cleansing force of moral enthusiasm." In the hands of men more logical or of a less healthy moral fibre, Luther's favourite dogma, of justification by faith alone, led to conclusions subversive of all morality. However this may be, enemies and friends alike have to admit that the immediate effects of the Reformation were a dissolution of morals, a careless neglect of education and learning, and a general relaxation of the restraints of religion. In passage after passage, Luther himself declared that the last state of things was worse than the first; that vice of every kind had increased since the Reformation; that the nobles were more greedy, the burghers more avaricious, the peasants more brutal; that Christian charity and liberality had almost ceased to flow; and that the authorised preachers of religion were neither heeded, respected nor supported by the people: all of which he characteristically attributed to the workings of the devil, a personage who plays a most important part in Luther's theology and view of life.

Thus, to judge by its immediate effects, the Reformation appears to have been conducive neither to moral, to social, nor to political progress. And yet to-day we know that the intellectual movement of which it was the outcome contained within itself inspiring conceptions of social justice, political equality, economic freedom, aye, even of religious toleration and moral purity, unknown to any preceding age, and the full fruits of which have yet to be harvested to elevate and to bless mankind.


[4:1] Luther's Works, ed. Walch, viii. 2043: "Erklaerung der Ep. an die Galater." Quoted by Beard, The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, p. 163.

[7:1] See Thorold Rogers' Six Centuries of Work and Wages, p. 389.

[8:1] See Appendix A.

[10:1] Beard, loc. cit. p. 146.



"It was in the name of faith and religious liberty that, in the sixteenth century, commenced the movement which, from that epoch, suspended at times but ever renewed, has been agitating and exciting the world. The tempest rose first in the human soul: it struck the Church before it reached the State."—GUIZOT.

In Germany, as we have seen, from a religious and popular, the Reformation degenerated into a mere scholastic and political movement, favourable to the pretensions of the ruling and privileged classes, opposed to the aspirations of the industrial classes, and conducive neither to moral, social, religious, nor political progress. In England, on the other hand, it ran a very different course. From a merely political, it gradually rose to the height of a truly religious and popular movement, infusing new life into the nation and lifting it into the very forefront of the van of progress, curbing the insolent pretensions of king, priest and noble, purifying the minds of the people of time-honoured but degrading conceptions of the functions of Church and of State, inspiring and uplifting them with new conceptions of political freedom, social justice, moral purity and religious toleration, which, despite temporary periods of reaction, have never since entirely lost their sway over the hearts nor their influence over the destinies of the British nation.

For many centuries prior to the Reformation the English people had been jealous and impatient of all ecclesiastical power, as of all foreign interference in their national affairs, more especially of the claims and pretensions of the Papacy. In England, as in Germany and even in France, the idea of a National Church controlled and administered by their own countrymen, and freed from the supremacy of the Church and Court of Rome, was one familiar even to devout Catholics. Moreover, the teachings of Wyclif had sunk deep into the hearts of the people, and only awaited a favourable opportunity to yield their fruits: already in the fourteenth they had paved the way for the Reformation of the sixteenth century. Hence it was that when Henry the Eighth, from purely personal and dynastic reasons, became involved in a quarrel with the Pope, he found his subjects prepared for greater changes in religious matters than any he contemplated or desired. However, by a series of legislative enactments, the Church of England, in 1534, was emancipated from the superiority of the Church of Rome; the papal authority was wholly abolished within the realm; Henry was legally recognised as the supreme head of the Church of England; the power of the spiritual aristocracy was broken and the whole body of the clergy humbled; the monasteries were suppressed; the great wealth and vast territorial possessions of the Church became the prey of the Crown, only to be dissipated in lavish grants to greedy courtiers: and thus the foundations were laid for greater changes in both Church and State than those who promoted such measures ever dreamed of.

From its inception the Church of England comprised two opposing and apparently irreconcilable elements, namely, those whose sympathies and leanings were toward the forms, dogmas and doctrines of Roman Catholicism, and those whose sympathies and leanings were toward the forms, dogmas and doctrines of the German and Swiss Reformers. Of religious toleration both parties were probably equally intolerant. That the State was directly concerned with the religious beliefs of the people, hence was justified in enforcing conformity to the Church as by law established, seems to have been unquestioningly accepted by both. The one desired to make use of the temporal power to prevent, the other to promote, further changes in Church government, worship and doctrine. The result was a compromise, which, like most compromises, satisfied the more logical and consistent of neither party. As ultimately established, in the reign of Elizabeth, the Church of England occupied a sort of middle position between the Church of Rome and the Reformed Churches of the Continent; and the attempt to enforce conformity to its demands resulted in the separation from it of the extremists of both sections. On the one hand, the English Roman Catholics became a distinct and persecuted religious body, whose members were generally regarded, despite repeated evidence to the contrary, as necessarily enemies of England. On the other, despairing of further changes in the direction they desired, a large number of the extreme Protestants separated themselves from the National Church—though by so doing they rendered themselves liable to be accused not only of heresy, but of high treason, and to suffer death—and formed themselves into different bodies of Separatists or Independents, differing on many points among themselves, but united by a common animosity of all outside ecclesiastical control. Within the Church the Catholic sentiment crystallised into the Episcopalian, the Protestant sentiment into the Presbyterian section of the Church of England. During the reign of Elizabeth the Protestant element grew steadily stronger, as did also the spirit of political independence, as manifested in the debates and divisions of the House of Commons. It is a suggestive and noteworthy fact that during the long reign of Henry the Eighth the House of Commons only once refused to pass a Bill recommended by the Crown. During the reigns of Edward the Sixth and of Mary the spirit of political independence commenced to revive; and during the reign of Elizabeth the spirit of liberty and sense of responsibility manifested by the House of Commons were such as repeatedly to thwart the designs and to alter the policy of this high-spirited monarch. It was, however, the severity of the policy of the last of the Tudors and the first two of the Stuart kings against the dissenting Protestants, that identified the struggle for religious liberty, for liberty of conscience, with the struggle for political liberty, and made these men in a special sense the champions of a more or less qualified religious toleration, and of a constitutional political freedom.

The growth of extreme Protestantism, more especially perhaps of Independency, was greatly quickened during the reigns of both Mary and Elizabeth, by the immigration of many thousands of refugees fleeing from religious persecutions on the Continent. Amongst these were disciples and apostles of many sects that were heretics in the eyes of both the Catholic and the Protestant Churches, and who rejected alike the dogmas and doctrines of Rome, of Wittenberg, and of Geneva. The one point all such sects seem to have had in common was the denial of the sanctity and efficacy of infant baptism: hence their inclusion under the general term Anabaptists, even though many of them passionately disclaimed any connection with this hated, proscribed and persecuted sect. As Gerrard Winstanley, the inspirer of the Digger Movement, seems to us to have been greatly influenced by the teaching of one of these sects, the Familists, or Family of Love, it may be well to give here a brief outline of its history and main doctrines.

The founder of the Family of Love was one David George, or Joris, who was born at Delft in 1501. In 1530 he was severely punished for obstructing a Catholic procession in his native town. In 1534 he joined the Anabaptists, but soon left them to found a sect of his own. He seems to have interpreted the whole of the Scripture allegorically;[15:1] and to have maintained that as Moses had taught hope, and Christ had taught faith, it was his mission to teach love. His teachings were propagated in Holland by Henry Nicholas, and in England by one Christopher Vittel, a joiner, who appears to have undertaken a missionary journey throughout the country about the year 1560. According to Fuller,[16:1] in 1578, the nineteenth year of the reign of Elizabeth, "The Family of Love began now to grow so numerous, factious, and dangerous, that the Privy Council thought fit to endeavour their suppression."

The most lucid account of the doctrines of this sect may be gained from a beautifully printed little book, entitled The Displaying of an Horrible Sect of Gross and Wicked Heretics naming themselves the Family of Love, published the same year, 1578, and written by one I. R. (Jn. Rogers), a bitter but fair-minded opponent of their heresies, a Protestant, and a zealous defender of the Lutheran dogma of justification by faith alone. In his Preface the author bewails "the daily increase of this error," declaring that "in many shires of this our country there are meetings and conventicles of this Family of Love." Amongst those who have been converted, he tells us, were many who had hitherto been "professors of Christ Jesus' gospel according to the brightness thereof." He denounces Christopher Vittel, the joiner, as "the only man that hath brought our simple people out of the plain ways of the Lord our God," and complains how "he driveth the true sense of the Holy Ghost into allegories," and contendeth that "otherwise to interpret the Holy Scriptures is to stick to the letter." To the Family of Love, he tells us, "Christ signifieth anointed." He continues, "I pray you mark but this one thing in their teachings, how they drive the true sense of the Holy Ghost into allegories. And when any text of Holy Scriptures is alleged by any of God's children, they answer that we little understand what is meant thereby; and then if they be pressed to expound the place, by and by it is drawn into an allegory. For they take not the creation of man at the first to be historical (according to the letter), but mere allegorical: alleging that Adam signifieth the earthly man ... the Serpent to be within man; applying still the allegory, they destroy the truth of the history."

The writer's greatest grievance, however, is their rejection of the Lutheran dogma of justification by faith, and their agreement "with the Papists in extolling works as efficient causes of salvation." "Amongst the rest, indeed," he exclaims, "they insinuate a good life, as which they pretend to follow, which is as the vizard and cloak to hide all the rest of their gross and absurd doctrines, and the hook and bait whereby the simple are altogether deceived." He is greatly concerned that "none but those who are willingly minded to their doctrines can get a sight of their books";[17:1] and that "they are disinclined to disputations and conferences with those not inclined to their opinions." He informs his readers that "it is a maxim in the Family to deny before men all their doctrines, so that they keep the same secret in their hearts"; that though they may inwardly reject, yet they will outwardly conform to the forms of the Church as by law established; that "they have certain sleights amongst them to answer any question that may be demanded of them." Thus "they do decree all men to be infants who are under the age of thirty years. So that if they be demanded whether infants ought to be baptized, they answer yea; meaning thereby that he is an infant until he attain to those years at which time they ought to be baptized, and not before." However, it may be well to mention here that the writer speaks of the Anabaptists and of the Family of Love as if he recognised them to be distinct heresies.

From their doctrines as formulated in this pamphlet, based on "A Confession made by two of the Family of Love before a worthy and worshipful Justice of the Peace, May 28th, 1561," we take the following:

(a) "When any person shall be received into their congregation, they cause all their brethren to assemble, the Bishop or Elder doth declare unto the newly-elected brother, that if he will be content that all his goods shall be in common amongst the rest of all his brethren, he shall be received."

(b) "They may not say God save anything. For they affirm that all things are ruled by Nature, and not directed by God."

(c) "They did prohibit bearing of weapons, but at the length, perceiving themselves to be noted and marked for the same, they have allowed the bearing of staves."

(d) "When a question is demanded of any of them, they do of order stay a great while ere they answer, and commonly their words shall be Surely or So."

(e) "They hold that no man should be baptized before he is of the age of thirty years."

(f) "They hold that heaven and hell are present in this world amongst us, and that there is none other."[18:1]

(g) "They hold the Pope's service and this service now used in the Churches to be naught."

(h) "They hold that all men that are not of their congregation, or that are revolted from them, to be dead."

(i) "They hold that they ought to keep silence amongst themselves, that the liberty they have in the Lord may not be espied of others."

(k) "They hold that no man should be put to death for his opinion: therefore they condemn Master Cranmer and Master Ridley for burning Joan of Kent."

We shall have occasion to refer to some of these doctrines again later on. It may be well, however, to mention here that the views that no Christian ought to be a magistrate; that magistrates should not meddle with religion; that no man ought to be compelled to faith, or put to death for his religion; that war is unlawful to Christians; that their speech should be yea or nay, without any oath: seem to have been accepted by Anabaptists generally, as they were by the primitive Christian communists of the fourteenth century.[18:2]

To return to our immediate subject. To the development of religious and political thought in England, as to the inevitable struggle due to the inherent antagonism of Catholic and Protestant ideals and aspirations, we can refer only very briefly. The former can perhaps best be traced in the writings of three eminent theological writers, Jewel, Hooker, and Chillingworth. Though in 1567 we hear of the first instance of actual punishment of Protestant Dissenters, still during the earlier portion of the reign of Elizabeth, to the year 1571, there seems to have been a gradual growth of national sentiment toward a simpler form of worship, resulting in a modification of those rites and usages disliked by Protestants of all shades and sects, and against the established policy of forcible suppression of religious differences. In 1571, a Bill having been introduced imposing a penalty for not receiving the communion, it was objected to in the House of Commons on the grounds that "consciences ought not to be forced." The same Parliament "refused to bind the clergy to subscription to three articles on the Supremacy, the form of Church Government, and the power of the Church to ordain rites and ceremonies, and favoured the project of reforming the Liturgy by the omission of superstitious practices."[19:1] In 1572, however, the appearance of Thomas Cartwright's celebrated Admonition to the Parliament stemmed the course of religious reform, and produced a reaction of which Elizabeth and her Primates were not slow to avail themselves. The establishment, in 1583, of the Ecclesiastical Commission as a permanent body, wielding the almost unlimited powers of the Crown and creating their own tests of doctrine, put an end to the wise spirit of compromise which had hitherto characterised Elizabeth's religious policy. The "superstitious usages" were encouraged; subscription by the clergy of the Three Articles, which the Parliament of 1571 had refused to enforce by law, was exacted; and the non-conforming clergy were relentlessly harried and persecuted: with the result that the Presbyterians within and the Puritans without the National Church were temporarily united by the pressure of a common persecution.

It was Cartwright's political rather than his religious views that alarmed Elizabeth and her Ministers. As against their theory of a State-controlled Church, he advocated a Church-controlled State. In fact, the most arrogant and insolent pretensions of the Papacy were surpassed by this Presbyterian divine. Of course, all his demands were based on the authority of Scripture and the ways and customs of the primitive Christian Church. The rule of bishops he denounced as begotten of the devil; the absolute rule of presbyters he held to be established by the word of God. All other forms of Church government were ruthlessly to be suppressed, and heretics were to be punished by death. For the ministers of the Church he claimed not only all spiritual power and jurisdiction, the decreeing of doctrines, the ordering of ceremonies, and so on, but also the supervision of public morals, under which every branch of human activities was included. In short, the State, as well as the individual, was to be placed beneath the heel of the Church. The power of the prince, the secular power, was tolerated only so that it might "protect and defend the councils of the clergy, to keep the peace, to see their decrees executed, and to punish the contemners of them." Such doctrines aroused no responsive echo in the minds of the English people. The nation whose revolt against the papal supremacy had made the Reformation possible, were not disposed to accept Presbyterian supremacy in its place. The national impatience of ecclesiastical power was not likely suddenly to be removed by any attempt to re-impose it under a new name and in a new garb. In fact, Cartwright's work almost seems as if specially written to warn the nation against a possible, if not an imminent, danger, to warn them, in truth, that—"New Presbyter is but Old Priest writ large."

Cartwright's narrow-minded dogmatism was crushingly answered in Richard Hooker's Ecclesiastical Polity, the first volume of which appeared in 1594. This remarkable book forms, indeed, an important landmark in the history of English political and religious thought. Its forcible exposition of the basic principles of constitutional civil government makes many portions of it even to-day most attractive and instructive reading. For the first time in the history of religious controversy, reason is extolled above any and every authority, and accepted as supreme judge and arbiter of spiritual, as well as of temporal, affairs. Though Hooker thought it fit that the reason of the individual should yield to that of the Church, he did not hesitate to declare "that authority should prevail with man either against or above reason, is no part of our belief. Companies of learned men, be they never so great and reverend, are to yield unto reason." As Buckle well points out,[21:1] if we compare this work with Jewel's Apology for the Church of England, written some thirty years previously,—and ordered, together with the Bible and Fox's Martyrs, "to be fixed in all parish churches and read to the people,"—"we shall at once be struck by the different methods these eminent writers employ.... Jewel inculcates the importance of faith; Hooker insists on the exercise of reason.... In the same opposite spirit do these great writers conduct their defence of their own Church. Jewel thinks to settle the whole dispute by crowding together texts from the Bible, with the opinions of the commentators upon them.... Hooker's defence rests neither upon tradition, nor upon commentators, nor even upon revelation; but he is content that the pretensions of the hostile parties shall be decided by their applicability to the great exigencies of society, and by the ease with which they adapt themselves to the general purposes of ordinary life."

The celebrated work by Chillingworth, The Religion of Protestants, a Safe Way to Salvation, published in 1637, and of which two editions were issued within less than five months, also deserves special mention here. His fundamental position may be well summarised in one of his own sentences—"I am fully assured that God does not, and therefore that man ought not to require any more of any man than this, to believe the Scriptures to be God's word, to endeavour to find the true sense of it, and to live according to it." Even more fully than Hooker, Chillingworth accepts reason as the all-sufficient guide of human conduct, and admits no reservations that might limit the sacred right of private judgement. The essential difference between these three eminent writers is admirably summarised by Buckle in the following words:[21:2]{2} "These three great men represent the three distinct epochs of the three successive generations in which they respectively lived. In Jewel, reason is, if I may so say, the superstructure of the system; but authority is the basis upon which the superstructure is built. In Hooker, authority is only the superstructure, and reason is the basis. But in Chillingworth, whose writings were harbingers of the coming storm, authority entirely disappears, and the whole fabric of religion is made to rest upon the way in which the unaided reason of man shall interpret the decrees of an omnipotent God."

In fact, Chillingworth's great work may well be regarded as the last word of the Protestant Reformation in England.


[15:1] According to Beard, The Hibbert Lectures, 1883, p. 119, "It was a mediaeval maxim, which no one thought of questioning, that the language of the Bible had four senses—the literal, the allegorical, the tropological, and the anagogical, of which the last three were mystical or spiritual, in contradistinction to the first." The learned Erasmus, who lived and died a devout Roman Catholic, seems to have accepted this allegorical interpretation of the Scriptures. Of interpreters of the Holy Scriptures, he recommends those "who depart as far as possible from the letter." Erasmus, Opp. (Enchiridion), v. 29, B, C, D. Quoted by Beard, p. 120.

[16:1] Church History, vol. iv. p. 407.

[17:1] When occasion arose, they do not seem to have been averse to giving publicity to their opinions. In 1656 a London publisher, Giles Calvert, to whom we shall have occasion to refer again, republished A Discourse on the Family of Love, originally presented to the High Court of Parliament in the time of Queen Elizabeth. This Giles Calvert was the printer and publisher of nearly all Winstanley's pamphlets, and also one of the first authorised printers and publishers for the Children of Light, as the Quakers, or Society of Friends, originally styled themselves. We have reason to believe that Calvert, as well as many other of Winstanley's disciples, joined the Quakers about the time of the republication of this pamphlet.

[18:1] "There is no other flame in which the sinner is plagued, and no other punishment of hell, than the perpetual anguish of mind which accompanies habitual sin."—Erasmus, Enchiridion. Quoted by Beard.

[18:2] See Communism in Central Europe in the Time of the Reformation, by Karl Kautsky, more especially p. 79.

[19:1] Green's Short History of the English People, p. 457.

[21:1] History of Civilisation in England, vol. i. p. 340.

[21:2] Ibid. vol. i. p. 351.



"The lawful power of making laws to command whole politic societies of men, belongeth so properly to the same entire societies, that for any prince or potentate of what kind soever upon earth, to exercise the same of himself, and not either by express commission immediately and personally received from God, or else by authority derived at the first from their consent, upon whose persons they impose laws, it is no better than mere tyranny. Laws they are not therefore which public approbation hath not made so."—HOOKER, Ecclesiastical Polity.

When Chillingworth's great work was published, in 1637, the last of the Tudors, after having outlived her popularity, had passed to her rest, as had also her most unworthy successor, whose insolence had outraged, but whose weakness had strengthened, the awakening spirit of liberty, and who, as Macaulay well expresses it,[23:1] "was, in truth, one of those kings whom God seems to send for the express purpose of hastening revolutions." To him had succeeded his most worthy son: a king whose perfidy and duplicity were only equalled by his self-complacency and power of self-deception, who never looked facts in the face, but placidly expected them to conform to his own petty desires, and whose dignified death failed to atone for a life devoted to ignoble personal ends, by crooked ways and treacherous means; a king peculiarly incapable of taking a broad statesman-like view of any question, who manifested no thought for the interests of the people of whom he regarded himself as ruler by right divine, whose futile domestic policy was inspired solely by considerations for the advancement of his own personal power, whose feeble and shifty foreign policy was determined only by considerations for his own family interests, who intrigued with France against Spain, with Spain against France, with both against Holland, and with Holland against both, and with France, Spain, Holland, and Rome against his own subjects, with English Presbyterians against English Independents, with English Independents against English Presbyterians, and with Irish Catholics and Scotch Presbyterians against both English Presbyterians and Independents, and who yet succeeded in deceiving nobody but himself, and in satisfying nobody, not even himself; a king whose love was far more dangerous than his hate, a worthy patron of a Buckingham, a Goring, or of a Laud, but unworthy the genius of a Shaftesbury or the loyal services of a Verney, a Montrose, or a Worcester; a king, in short, treacherous to his friends, faithless to his word, who went to his wedding and came to his throne with a lie on his lips,[24:1] whom, again to use the words of Macaulay,[24:2] "no law could bind, and whose whole government was one system of wrong," of whom even the conservative and partial Hallam is forced to admit[24:3] that "it would be difficult to name any violation of law he had not committed." Even the famous Petition of Right, to which some nine years previously, in 1628, he had given a solemn, though reluctant, consent, had been ruthlessly violated. Taxes had been levied by the Royal authority; patents of monopoly had been granted; the course of justice had been tampered with, and judges arbitrarily deposed; troops had been billeted upon the people; old feudal usages had been revived for the express purpose of harassing and defrauding the citizens; and, as if to exhaust every means to sap the loyalty and wear out the patience of the people, Puritans of every shade of opinion had not only been silenced but relentlessly persecuted, while High Church bishops preached passive obedience, declaring the persons and the property of subjects to be at the absolute disposal of the sovereign, and in the name of religion inaugurating a systematic attack on the rights and liberties of the nation.

The people whose representatives a quarter of a century previously, in 1604, had met the insolent claims of James the First with the dignified rejoinder, that "your Majesty should be misinformed if any man should deliver that the kings of England have any absolute power in themselves either to alter religion, or to make any laws concerning the same, otherwise than in temporal causes by consent of Parliament,"[25:1] were, however, not easily to be intimidated. Despite a Royal order to adjourn, the House of Commons of 1629, holding the Speaker by force in the Chair, supported the immortal Eliot in his last assertion of English liberty, and by successive resolutions declared that whosoever shall bring in innovations in religion, or whosoever shall counsel or advise the taking and levying of the subsidies of tonnage and poundage, not being granted by Parliament, "a capital enemy to this kingdom and commonwealth," and any person voluntarily yielding or paying the said subsidies, not being granted by Parliament, "a betrayer of the liberty of England, and an enemy to the same."[25:2] Having thus flung their defiance in the face of the King, the House then voted its own adjournment.

From that time events had marched quickly. Those who had played the most prominent parts in that momentous scene, including Holles, Selden, and Eliot, had been thrown into prison, the last-named to die there, the first martyr to the growing cause of civil freedom and religious liberty. In 1637, the year of the publication of Chillingworth's work, the whole question of the right to levy taxation was revived by the demand on the inland counties for ship-money, and the attention of the whole country attracted to it by the trial of Hampden on his refusal to pay same. Later in the year, Charles' attempt to alter the ecclesiastical constitution and form of public worship in Scotland led, first to discontent, then to riot, and finally to open rebellion. As a direct consequence, the King, in April 1640, was compelled to call what from its brief duration is known as the Short Parliament, in which, thanks to the Parliamentary tactics of Hampden, the design of the Court Party, to obtain supplies without redressing grievances, was constitutionally thwarted. On the manifestation of its determination to redress wrongs and to vindicate the laws, this Parliament was at once dissolved. The end of the tyranny, however, was fast approaching. In August of the same year the King marched northward; the Scotch crossed the border to meet him; on their approach the disaffected English army was well pleased to fly rather than to fight those whom they were inclined to regard as deliverers rather than as enemies; a truce was patched up, and to meet the critical situation the King, in November 1640, found himself compelled to summon his last and most famous Parliament, known in history as the Long Parliament.

The temper of the new Parliament, in which Pym and Hampden at first exercised a paramount influence, was very different from that of any of its predecessors. Recent events had convinced its leading members that half measures would be worse than useless. During its first session, Strafford and Laud, the two main supporters of absolute government and religious tyranny, were impeached and imprisoned; those whom the King had employed as instruments of oppression were called to account for their conduct; the Star Chamber, the Court of High Commission and the Council of York, were abolished; ship-money was declared illegal, and the judgement in Hampden's case was annulled; the victims of the recent religious persecutions were set at liberty, and conducted through London in triumph; old oppressive feudal powers still appertaining to the Crown were swept away; the King was made to give the judges patents for life or during good behaviour; the Forest and Stannary Courts were reformed; Triennial Parliaments were established; and, finally, it was provided that the Parliament then sitting should not be prorogued or dissolved save by its own consent.

After the recess the difficulties and dangers of the situation increased daily. Revolt, popularly regarded as fomented by the Court Party, had broken out in Ireland; the King, evidently seeking power and opportunity to retract the concessions he had made, was seeking aid in all directions—Rome, France, Spain, and was intriguing in Scotland; the air was full of rumours of a plot of the Court to bring down the army in the North to overawe the Parliament; and the moderate men,—"that is to say, men who never go to the bottom of any difficulty," as Gardiner expresses it,—by whose aid the above changes had been effected, were inclined to pause, if not to retrace their steps. Under these circumstances the popular leaders in the House of Commons, in November 1641, framed and passed the Great Remonstrance, which was practically an address to the nation, to justify their past action and to appeal for further support. In this famous document all the oppressive and arbitrary acts of the past fifteen years were narrated in impressive language; a detailed account was given of the necessary work already accomplished, of the dangers and difficulties yet to be surmounted, declaring the purpose of the House to be, not to abolish Episcopacy, but to reduce the power of the bishops; and, finally, indicating the line of future constitutional reform by urging that the King should employ no Ministers save those in whom the Parliament could place confidence.

Contrary to expectation, the debate on the Remonstrance was long and stormy, and the division—it was only carried in a full House by a majority of nine—showed plainly that a reaction in favour of the King had already begun. Charles had now a final opportunity of regaining the confidence of the representatives of the nation, and for a few days it seemed as if he were inclined to follow a moderate, dignified and constitutional course. But for a few days only. On the 3rd of January 1642, without giving a hint of his intentions to the constitutional Royalists he had so recently called to his councils, and whom he had faithfully promised to consult on all matters relating to the House of Commons, he sent down his Attorney-General to impeach the leading members of the House, Pym, Holles, and Haselrig, at the bar of the House of Lords, on a charge of high treason. As Macaulay well says,[28:1] "It would be difficult to find in the whole history of England such an instance of tyranny, perfidy, and folly." But worse was to follow. The Commons refused to surrender their members, and Charles resolved on their forcible arrest on the floor of the House. The threatened members, however, had been warned, and had taken refuge in the City of London; their absence, together with the dignified attitude of the remaining members, prevented the outrage ending in bloodshed: in a bloodshed the possibility of which it is even to-day impossible to contemplate with equanimity.

Though the Militia Bill, which would have given Parliament the control of the armed forces of the nation, was the ostensible, this outrage on the part of the King was the direct and mediate, cause of the outbreak of the Civil War. "To be safe from armed violence," the Commons, as far as the rules of the House would permit, placed themselves under the protection of the City; and the day previous to the one fixed for their return to St. Stephen's under the protection of the trained bands of London, the King left Whitehall, to return to it only to pay the dire penalty for his past offences. Both sides now actively prepared for the inevitable struggle. Owing to Pym's forethought, the Tower was blockaded, and the two great arsenals of Hull and Portsmouth secured for the Parliament. Owing to the force and boldness of his language, the House of Lords was scared out of the policy of obstruction it had taken up. On the avowal by Parliament of the refusal of the governor of Hull to open the gates to the King, the members of the Royalist party withdrew from Westminster; and on August 22nd, 1642, the uplifting of Charles' standard on a hill at Nottingham announced the outbreak of the Civil War.

On the well-trodden ground of the progress of the war, it is unnecessary for our purposes to dwell. The issues involved were truly tremendous. The evolution of the English Constitution had left it undecided to whom the supreme power in the nation did rightfully accrue: and this was, perhaps, the most practical question at issue.[29:1] As between Parliament and King, the question was, whether the supreme power was to continue to be wielded by a king whose temporal jurisdiction was to be limited only by ancient laws interpreted by judges of his own creation and removable at his pleasure, or by the representatives of the nation in Parliament assembled? It was left to the Model Army to remind the members of the Long Parliament that their power, as that of "all future representatives of this nation, is inferior only to theirs who choose them."[29:2] However, to make both King and Church responsible to Parliament was, in truth, the one common aim of the whole Parliamentary party; and, as Gardiner well points out,[29:3] "every year which passed after the Restoration made it more evident that, for the time at least, the most substantial gains of the long conflict had fallen to those who had concentrated their efforts on this object."

Keeping in view the reforms secured during the first session of the Long Parliament, it may fairly be urged that everything necessary to this end had been gained prior to the outbreak of the Civil War, everything, of course, save the control of the sword; and this, if the King could have been trusted, was not immediately urgent, and would necessarily have followed the control of the purse. "If the King could have been trusted!" In these words the key to the whole situation is to be found. The Parliamentary leaders could not, did not, dared not, trust the King: hence the power of the sword had to be wrested from his grasp. It was this that made the Civil War inevitable. It was this that rendered constitutional government, government by discussion, government by compromise, impossible. It was this well-grounded and repeatedly confirmed distrust of the King that, after years of war and repeated and sincere negotiations, negotiations which only served still further to reveal his duplicity, made the execution of the King unavoidable. As the judicial Gardiner well says,[30:1] in summing up the causes which led to this most solemn, impressive, and instructive event in the whole history of England—"The situation, complicated enough already, had been still further complicated by Charles' duplicity. Men who would have been willing to come to terms with him, despaired of any constitutional arrangement in which he was to be a factor; and men who had long been alienated from him were irritated into active hostility. By these he was regarded with increasing intensity as the one disturbing force with which no understanding was possible and no settled order consistent. To remove him out of the way appeared, even to those who had no thought of punishing him for past offences, to be the only possible road to peace for the troubled nation."

The religious issues of the great struggle, however, were by no means so simple. Episcopacy, as it had existed, had few supporters in England outside the ranks of the bishops. The Laudian coercion had not only reawakened slumbering animosities and given renewed vigour to the Puritan dislike of the forms and ceremonies of the Anglican Church, but had served to fill men's minds with a healthy, vigorous, and deep-rooted distrust of ecclesiastical government in any form. To any claims, whether of kings or of bishops or of presbyters, to rule by Divine right, the ear of the nation was temporarily closed. If Protestants of all shades of opinions had learned to distrust Episcopacy, intellectual men of all shades of religious beliefs, and of none, equally distrusted Presbyterianism, and feared that the free play of intellectual life would be as much endangered by the rule of the presbyters as by the rule of the bishops. We should, however, do well to remember that at the outbreak of the war most of the great Parliamentary leaders, including Pym, Hampden, and even Cromwell, had no deep-rooted objection to Episcopacy as a form of Church government, provided only that it was controlled by Parliament, and allowed the fullest possible liberty of conscience. They all shared Pym's expressed conviction that "the greatest liberty of the kingdom is religion," and seemed to have inclined toward the ideal of Chillingworth, a full liberty of thought maintained within the unity of the Church. It was their necessity, not their will, the necessity to gain the cordial co-operation of the Scotch, that later compelled them to commit themselves to Presbyterianism, of their profound distrust of which they gave repeated proof. And it is worthy of special note that even in the time of their greatest need the English Parliament, to use Gardiner's words,[31:1] "was as disinclined as the Tudor kings had ever been to allow the establishment in England of a Church system claiming to exist by Divine right, or by any right whatever independent of the State."

That religious conformity was a necessary condition of national unity, aye, even of national existence, was, however, still accepted as an axiomatic truth by those whose mental visions were limited by inherited conceptions. To such as these the only question at issue seems to have been whether an Episcopalian or a Presbyterian system of Church government should prevail. Of the claims of those who would bow the head neither to Rome, to Geneva, nor to Canterbury, who refused to entrust their conscience to pope, to bishop, or to presbyter, the extreme adherents of both these systems were probably equally insensible. And yet it was precisely such men who were to come to the front during the coming struggle, and who, under the guidance of their great leader, were to become the champions of that great democratic principle of toleration, of liberty of conscience, which was the one leading principle of his life.[31:2] It was precisely such men who were to proclaim to the rulers of the nation—"That matters of religion and the ways of God's worship are not at all entrusted by us to any human power, because therein we cannot remit or exceed a tittle of what our consciences dictate to be the mind of God without wilful sin." But who themselves were tolerant enough to be willing that "nevertheless the public way of instructing the nation (so it be not compulsive) is referred to their discretion."[32:1]

"So it be not compulsive!" in these words we have the key to the position of the great body of sectarians known under the name of Independents. They recognised, to use the words of their immortal leader, that "it's one thing to love a brother, to bear with and love a person of different judgement in matters of religion; and another thing to have anybody so far set in the saddle on that account, as to have all the rest of his brethren at mercy." So it be not compulsive! in these words, too, we have the secret of their subsequent attitude toward the Long Parliament and its successors. As Gardiner forcibly expresses it—"Men who longed for religious toleration with a stern conviction were impatient of parliamentary majorities working for uniformity." To their opponents, more especially to those of the strict Presbyterian school, toleration may have seemed of the devil, incompatible with individual salvation, and injurious alike to Church and to State; to the Independents, on the other hand, it was a necessary condition of continued existence. They had no desire to establish a State Church of their own; they were not prepared to deny that at least "a public way of instructing the nation" might be necessary; but they were determined that any such Church should be tolerant of the claims of men like themselves, who could not conform their conscience to its requirements. To create a home of liberty out of the England of the Tudors and the Stuarts, of Laud and of Prynne, was a task beyond even their powers. But whatever they may have failed to accomplish, they saved England from the ecclesiastical tyranny Presbyterianism at that time involved, and raised the standard of liberty and toleration, which during the great struggle obtained a hold of the mind of the nation such as it never had before, but never entirely lost again.

At the very outbreak of the Civil War, Cromwell's aim had been to find "men who know what they fight for, and love what they know,—men as had the fear of God before them, as made some conscience of what they did."[33:1] Such men soon gathered round the great Independent, and he moulded them into the famous Ironsides, by whose aid he turned the tide of defeat at Marston Moor, and gained the glorious victories of Naseby, Preston, Dunbar, and Worcester. Such men stood by his side at the momentous Army Council at Windsor, May 1st, 1648, when it was solemnly resolved, "not any dissenting," "that it was our duty, if ever the Lord brought us back again in peace, to call Charles Stuart, that man of blood, to account for the blood he had shed, and mischief he had done to his utmost, against the Lord's cause and people in these poor nations."[33:2] It was such men who, on December 6th, 1648, to save the kingdom from a new war or from a peace destructive of everything they had fought for,[33:3] purged the House of Commons of its "malignant" members; and who cut the Gordian knot of the difficulties that beset the nation by bringing the King, who seemed to them to stand in the way of any and every satisfactory settlement, to trial and execution (January 30th, 1649). Moreover, it was such men who most heartily concurred with the resolution of the House of Commons (February 7th, 1649), "That it has been found by experience ... that the office of a king in this nation, and to have the power thereof in any single person, is unnecessary, burdensome, and dangerous to the liberty, safety, and public interests of the people of this nation, and therefore ought to be abolished." And, finally, it was such men who were the main supporters of the Council of State to whom, on February 13th, 1649, under the control of the House of Commons, was entrusted full executive authority over the home and foreign affairs of the nation.


[23:1] Macaulay's Essays, "John Hampden."

[24:1] In 1624, Charles had voluntarily sworn to the House of Commons that if he married a Roman Catholic "it should be of no advantage to the recusants at home." In the autumn of the same year, on his betrothal to Henrietta Maria, sister to the King of France, he solemnly swore to grant the very condition he had previously solemnly sworn never to concede. He came to the throne early in the following year, 1625.

[24:2] Loc. cit.

[24:3] Constitutional History, vol. ii. p. 81.

[25:1] The Apology of the Commons, 1604. See Gardiner's History of England, 1603-1642, vol. i. pp. 180-185.

[25:2] Ibid. vol. vii. pp. 72-76.

[28:1] Loc. cit.

[29:1] This was the point of view taken at the time by the Levellers, the most active and progressive politicians of the period. In a "Humble Petition of thousands of well affected people inhabiting the City of London," presented September 11th, 1648, the petitioners address the House of Commons as "the supreme authority of England," and desire it so to consider itself. They complain that the Commons have declared their intention not to alter the ancient government of King, Lords and Commons, "not once mentioning, in case of difference, which of them is supreme, but leaving that point, which was the chiefest cause of all our public differences, disturbances, wars, and miseries, as uncertain as ever." See Clarke Papers, vol. ii. p. 76.

[29:2] See "The Agreement of the People for a firm and present peace," as presented to the Council of the Army, October 28th, 1647. Reprinted at the end of the third volume of Gardiner's History of the Civil War.

[29:3] History of the Civil War, vol. ii. p. 67.

[30:1] History of the Civil War, vol. iv. pp. 327-328.

[31:1] History of the Civil War, vol. iii. p. 95.

[31:2] See Appendix B.

[32:1] "The Agreement of the People for a firm and present peace." (Italics are ours.)

[33:1] See Carlyle's Cromwell's Letters and Speeches, part ii. p. 135, and part x. p. 255.

[33:2] See Gardiner's History of the Civil War, vol. iv. pp. 120-121.

[33:3] Cromwell seems early to have foreseen and guarded against such a contingency. See Gardiner, ibid. vol. ii. p. 25.



"The way to cast out Kingly Power is not to cast it out by the Sword; for this doth but set him in more power, and removes him from a weaker to a stronger hand. The only way to cast him out is for the people to leave him to himself, to forsake fighting and all oppression, and to live in love one towards another. The Power of Love is the True Saviour."—WINSTANLEY, A New Year's Gift for the Parliament and Army.

The Council of State which, on February 13th, 1649, within a month of the execution of the King, had been appointed to administer the public affairs of England, had scarcely settled down to their work when they received the following information of the mysterious doings of "a disorderly and tumultuous sort of people" very near to their doors:[34:1]


"Informeth, that on Sunday was sennight last,[34:2] there was one Everard, once of the army but was cashiered, who termeth himself a prophet, one Stewer and Colten, and two more, all living at Cobham, came to St. George's Hill in Surrey, and began to dig on that side the hill next to Campe Close, and sowed the ground with parsnips, carrots, and beans. On Monday following they were there again, being increased in their number, and on the next day, being Tuesday, they fired the heath, and burned at least forty rood of heath, which is a very great prejudice to the town. On Friday last they came again, between twenty and thirty, and wrought all day at digging. They did then intend to have two or three ploughs at work, but they had not furnished themselves with seed-corn, which they did on Saturday at Kingston. They invite all to come in and help them, and promise them meat, drink, and clothes. They do threaten to pull down and level all park pales, and lay open, and intend to plant there very shortly. They give out they will be four or five thousand within ten days, and threaten the neighbouring people there, that they will make them all come up to the hills and work: and forewarn them suffering their cattle to come near the plantation; if they do, they will cut their legs off. It is feared they have some design in hand.


"16 April 1649."

The Council of State were sufficiently impressed by this letter to forward it the same day to Lord Fairfax, the Lord General of the armed forces of the Commonwealth, with the following despatch:


"MY LORD,—By the narrative enclosed your Lordship will be informed of what relation hath been made to this Council of a disorderly and tumultuous sort of people assembling themselves together not far from Oatlands, at a place called St. George's Hill; and although the pretence of their being there by them avowed may seem very ridiculous, yet that conflux of people may be a beginning whence things of a greater and more dangerous consequence may grow, to the disturbance of the peace and quiet of the Commonwealth. We therefore recommend it to your Lordship's care that some force of horse may be sent to Cobham in Surrey and thereabouts, with orders to disperse the people so met, and to prevent the like for the future, that a malignant and disaffected party may not under colour of such ridiculous people have any opportunity to rendezvous themselves in order to do a greater mischief.

"Signed in the name and by order of the Council of State appointed by authority of Parliament,

"JOHN BRADSHAW, President.

"DERBY HOUSE, 16th April 1649.

"For the Right Honourable THOMAS LORD FAIRFAX, Lord General."

Acting on his instructions, within a few days Lord Fairfax was in possession of the following soldier-like letter from the active republican officer to whom he had entrusted the business, and who evidently was not so easily frightened as the Council of State:


"SIR,—According to your order I marched towards St. Georges Hill and sent four men before to bring certain intelligence to me; as they went they met with Mr. Winstanlie and Mr. Everard (which are the chief men that have persuaded these people to do what they have done). And when I had enquired of them and of the officers that lie at Kingston, I saw there was no need to march any further. I cannot hear that there have been above twenty of them together since they first undertook the business. Mr. Winstanlie and Mr. Everard have engaged both to be with you this day: I believe you will be glad to be rid of them again, especially Everard, who is no other than a mad man. Sir, I intend to go with two or three men to St. Georges Hill this day, and persuade these people to leave this employment if I can, and if then I see no more danger than now I do I shall march back again to London tomorrow.... Indeed the business is not worth the writing nor yet taking notice of: I wonder the Council of State should be so abused with informations....


"KINGSTON, April 19th, 1649."

As they had undertaken, Winstanley and Everard duly appeared before Lord Fairfax at Whitehall, and under date April 20th the following account of their interview appears in the ponderous pages of Bulstrode Whitelocke's Memorial of English Affairs:[37:1]

"Everard and Winstanley, the chief of those that digged at St. George's Hill in Surrey, came to the General and made a large declaration to justify their proceedings.

"Everard said he was of the race of the Jews, that all the liberties of the people were lost by the coming in of William the Conqueror, and that ever since the people of God had lived under tyranny and oppression worse than that of our forefathers under the Egyptians.

"But now the time of deliverance was at hand, and God would bring his people out of this slavery, and restore them to their freedom in enjoying the fruits and benefits of the Earth.

"And that there had lately appeared to him a vision, which bad him arise and dig and plough the earth, and receive the fruits thereof.

"That their intent is to restore the Creation to its former condition. That as God had promised to make the barren land fruitful, so now what they did was to restore the ancient community of enjoying the fruits of the Earth, and to distribute the benefits thereof to the poor and needy, and to feed the hungry and to clothe the naked.

"That they intend not to meddle with any man's property nor to break down any pales or enclosures, but only to meddle with what was common and untilled, and to make it fruitful for the use of man. That the time will suddenly be, when all men shall willingly come in and give up their lands and estates, and submit to this community.

"And for all those that will come in and work they should have meat, drink, and clothes, which is all that is necessary to the life of man; and that for money, there was not any need of it, nor of clothes more than to cover nakedness.

"That they will not defend themselves by arms, but will submit unto authority, and wait till the promised opportunity be offered, which they conceive to be at hand. And that as their forefathers lived in tents, so it would be suitable to their condition now to live in the same: and more to the like effect.

"While they were before the General, they stood with their hats on; and being demanded the reason thereof, they said, 'Because he was but their fellow-creature.' Being asked the meaning of that place, 'Give honour to whom honour is due'; they said that their mouths should be stopped that gave them that offence."

Whitelocke continues, "I have set down this the more largely because it was the beginning of the appearance of this opinion; and that we might the better understand and avoid these weak persuasions."

"The germ of Quakerism and much else is curiously visible here," is Carlyle's shrewd comment on the above incident. But as to how far this account of the views of the Diggers is correct, we shall leave to the judgement of those who read the pages that are to follow. Though we may now believe that, save that he placed Norman in the place of the Saxon Lords, William the Conqueror introduced but few innovations into the laws and institutions of the country, the very opposite was the accepted opinion in the days of Winstanley and his associates.[38:1] It may also be well to mention here that, though Everard's name appears, and first in order, amongst those who signed the pamphlet, The True Levellers Standard Advanced: or, The State of Community opened and presented to the Sons of Men, which bears date April 26th, 1649, and to which we shall presently refer, it does not appear in any of the later publications of the Diggers. Whether he died about this time or merely dropped out of the movement, we have not been able to ascertain.

However this may be, Lord Fairfax appears to have been somewhat impressed by his interview, to which the Diggers themselves always referred in most cordial terms; for on his way from Guildford to London the following month, he visited them at their work, of which visit we take the following account from the pages of a contemporary and evidently friendly news-sheet, dated May 31st, 1649:[39:1]

"The SPEECHES of Lord General FAIRFAX and the Officers of the Army to the Diggers at St. George's Hill in Surrey, and the Diggers' several answers and replies thereunto.

"As his Excellency the Lord General came from Gilford to London, he went to view the Diggers at St. George's Hill in Surrey, with his Officers and Attendants. They found about twelve of them hard at work, and amongst them one Winstanley was the chief speaker. Several questions were propounded by the Officers, and the Lord General made a short speech by way of admonition to them, and this Winstanley returned sober answers, though they gave little satisfaction (if any at all) in regard of the strangeness of their action. It was urged that the Commons were as justly due to the Lords as any other lands. They answered that these were Crown Lands where they digged, and the King who possessed them by the Norman Conquest being dead, they were returned again to the Common People of England, who might improve them if they would take the pains; that for those who would come dig with them, they should have the benefit equal with them, and eat of their bread; but they would not force any, applying to all the golden rule, to do to others as we would be done unto. Some Officers wished they had no further plot in what they did, and that no more was intended than what they did pretend.

"As to the barrenness of the ground, which was objected as a discouragement, the Diggers answered they would use their endeavours, and leave the success to God, who had promised to make the barren ground fruitful. They carry themselves civilly and fairly in the country, and have the report of sober, honest men. Some barley is already come up, and other fruits formerly; but was pulled up by some of the envious inhabitants thereabouts, who are not so far convinced as to promise not to injure them for the future. The ground will probably in a short time yield them some fruit of their labour, how contemptible soever they do yet appear to be."

Before following the further adventures of the Diggers, as revealed in the numerous pamphlets they left us, from which alone they can now be gathered, we deem it best to lay before our readers what we have been able to ascertain of Gerrard Winstanley's previous life's history and writings. Behind every movement that has ever influenced the thoughts of mankind, there is always some master-mind, a Lautze, a Gautama, a Jesus of Nazareth, a Wiclif, a John Wesley, a Darwin, a Tolstoy, or a Henry George; and it is in the comparatively unknown Gerrard Winstanley that we shall find the master-mind, the inspirer and director, of the Digger Movement. As Gardiner well says, "It is not only by the immediate accomplishment of its aim that the value of honest endeavour is to be tested." And the reader's interest in our work may be quickened if we so far forestall the pages that are to follow as to indicate that not only were Winstanley's earlier theological writings the source whence the early Quakers, or the Children of Light, as they at first called themselves, drew many of their most characteristic tenets and doctrines, but that the fundamental principles which inspired and animated his political writings were in all respects identical with those that during the past quarter of a century have been so honourably associated with the name of Henry George. We are not here called upon to pronounce judgement on these principles; but in passing we shall endeavour to point out how far the demands and doctrines of the Land Reformers of the Seventeenth Century, as revealed in Winstanley's writings, coincide with those of their successors in the Twentieth Century. In all cases we shall, as far as possible, let Gerrard Winstanley speak for himself.

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