The Levellers and Religious Radicals in verse


Marchamont Nedham
The Levellers Levell'd


No King! The Levellers do cry
Let Charles impeached be
And for his conscience let him die
When - Hey Boys! - up go we.

We'll have no ruler, lord or peer,
O'er us for to command;
We'll level all alike, we swear,
And kill those that withstand

Bring forth the King, chop off his head
We ne'er our wish shall gain
Till we upon his trunk do tread
His blood must wash our stain

Room for these traitors, now they come
To act upon the stage:
Strike up loud music, fife and drum,
For tumults, war and strage.



Thus do these wolves consult, combine,
To root out all that is divine;
The five statesmen of Turnum-Green
Now care not though their acts are seen.
They vow for to kill Charles their Lord,
And level all men by the sword,
And to themselves they do propose
Another leader should be chose.
They will new-mould both church and state,
Be to the people as their fate
And not look back until they see
Their strange confused anarchy
Erected; and on waxen wings
Soar 'bove all sublunary things;
This to effect, Peters and Dell,
Lecherous Jew, treacherous infidel
Desired are to give their doom.
And what shall of their King become?
By poison some, some by surprise
Would have him fall - each doth devise
A way of death. Yet while they stand
Consulting, he escapes their hand.
O treason of the worst intent
Such as Ravilliack never meant!
Religion both sides do pretend
But either to a different end:
They out of zeal would raise their own,
Those out of zeal would pull all down.
O bless us from both, but yet compare
Faux in the vault, these in the Chair -
Though 'twas an unsuccessful sin,
Fixed those without - worse are within.



Hugh Crompton,
The Leveller

All mortal men are born to die:
The earth is each man's mother.
O then my genius tell me why
One man's above another?
From dust we came,
And to the same
Our tribute's paid: then we resign our powers;
When death shall strike, we are no longer ours.

Why then should one man be a prince?
Another poor as Job?
One clad in velvet to convince
Him that has scarce a robe?
Thus freedom's curbed,
And we disturbed.
Shall human statutes gage our recreation?
The Law is void since Gospel came in fashion.

Where all's alike, who should obey?
Or who should be attended?
Or who our failings shall repay,
Where all men have offended?
When Cain was tried
For fratricide,
It was his God condemned him, I assure ye,
No man was judge, nor no man on the jury.

Yet now our custom's grown so base,
That he whom fortune blesses,
Is perched on some commanding place,
Though he no reason guesses,
And then this man
Must pry and scan
Into my life, and if he finds an error,
His word shall be my bane, his frown my terror.

Since then poor mortals must be led
By custom, not by reason,
One step awry I will not tread,
Then I shall know no treason.
They shall not see
One blot in me,
And then for pardon I'll not vex my senses:
He needs no mercy that has no offences.

I'll not contrive with state-designs,
Nor squeeze my brains by thinking.
I'll press my grapes, and prune my vines,
And pass my time in drinking.
Then gallant soul
Fill up the bowl,
Whilst full-grown Bacchus blows delightful bellows,
And here's a health to all true hearted fellows.




Excerpt from Part III, Canto II of:

Samuel Butler

And now the Saints began their reign,
For which th' had yearned so long in vain,
And felt such bowel-hankerings,
To see an empire all of kings.
Delivered from the Egyptian awe
Of justice, government, and law,
And free t' erect what spiritual cantons
Should be revealed, or Gospel Hans-towns,
To edify upon the ruins
Of John of Leyden's old out-goings;
(Who for a weather-cock hung up
Upon the Mother Church's top
Was made a type, by providence,
Of all their revelations since;)
And now fulfilled by his successors,
Who equally mistook their measures
For when they came to shape the model,
Not one could fit another's noddle;
But found their light and gifts more wide
From fadging than th' unsanctify'd;
While every individual brother
Strove hand to fist against another;
And still the maddest, and most crackt,
Were found the busiest to transact.
For though most hands dispatch apace,
And make light work, (the proverb says,)
Yet many different intellects
Are found t' have contrary effects;
And many heads t' obstruct intrigues,
As slowest insects have most legs.

Some were for setting up a king;
But all the rest for no such thing,
Unless King Jesus. Others tampered
For Fleetwood, Desborough, and Lambert;
Some for the Rump; and some, more crafty,
For Agitators, and the safety;
Some for the Gospel, and massacres
Of spiritual affidavit-makers
That swore to any human regence
Oaths of supremacy and allegiance;
Yea, though the ablest swearing Saint
That vouched the Bulls o' th' Covenant.
Others for pulling down th' high-places
Of Synods and Provincial Classes,
That used to make such hostile inroads
Upon the Saints, like bloody Nimrods.

Some for fulfilling prophecies,
And th' expiration of th' excise
And some against th' Egyptian bondage
Of holy-days, and paying poundage:
Some for the cutting down of groves,
And rectifying bakers' loaves:
And some for finding out expedients
Against the slavery of obedience.
Some were for Gospel Ministers,
And some for red-coat seculars,
As men most fit t' hold forth the Word,
And wield the one and th' other sword.
Some were for carrying on the work
Against the Pope, and some the Turk.

Some for engaging to suppress,
The Camisado of surplices,
That gifts and dispensations hindered
And turned to th' outward man the inward -
More proper for the cloudy night
Of popery than Gospel light.
Others were for abolishing
That tool of matrimony, a ring,
With which th' unsanctify'd bridegroom
Is married only to a thumb;
(As wise as ringing of a pig,
That used to break up ground, and dig;)
The bride to nothing but her will,
That nulls the after-marriage still.

Some were for th' utter extirpation
Of linsey-woolsey in the nation;
And some against all idolizing
The cross in shops-books, or
Baptizing others to make all things recant
The Christian or Surname of Saint;
And force all churches, streets, and towns,
The holy title to renounce.
Some 'gainst a Third Estate of Souls,
And bringing down the price of coals:

Some for abolishing black-pudding,
And eating nothing with the blood in;
To abrogate them roots and branches;
While others were for eating haunches
Of warriors, and now and then,
The flesh of kings and mighty men.
And some for breaking of their bones
With rods of iron, by secret ones:
For thrashing mountains, and with spells
For hallowing carriers' packs and bells:
Things that the legend never heard of,
But made the wicked sore afeared of.



The Remonstrance or declaration of Mr. Henry Martin, and all the whole Society of Levellers


We would no king, no God, no order have
And he that serves the same we think a knave.
We scorn obedience both to God and man.
We hate all such, we'll stay them if we can
Who thinks to them is homage due.
We all are free - I as well as you -
Let king and parliament do what they will,
We'll have no men in power, we will them kill.
When we have thrust them out of doors,
We'll have apiece a thousand whores -
All things are common unto those
Who do their God, their king oppose
And such are we, and this we'll have
Or we will lose our lives and to the grave;
From thence to hell, where Pluto we'll control
And give to him both body and soul.
We have one God, no Christ, no Holy Ghost
We value them no more than a dull post.



[Spelling and punctuation modernized]

strage = slaughter

Turnum Green = In November 1642, the Royalist advance on London was stopped by the resistance offered by its citizens (the City's  Trained Bands) at Turnham Green. In January, these Trained Bands had turned out to welcome the Five Members on their return to Parliament after Charles I's failed attempt to seize them.

waxen wings = In Greek legend, Icarus flew using a pair of wings made of wax, but soared too close to the sun, the wings melted and he fell to his death. The tale was often used to illustrate the dangers of pride and ambition.

Peters = Hugh Peters (1598-1660) was a puritan preacher closely associated with senior Army Officers. He was known for his zealous sermons against Charles I. In 1660, Peters was one of the few excluded from the general amnesty granted to those who fought against the King. He was executed at Charing Cross - supposedly utterly drunk.

Dell = William Dell (ob. 1664) was another radical puritan preacher who was closely associated with the New Model Army leadership. An enthusiastic enemy of the Presbyterian party, he was made master of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge in 1649 and was also given the parish of Yelden in Bedfordshire.

Ravilliack = François Ravaillac, the fanatical Catholic who assassinated Henry IV of France in 1610.

Faux = Guy Fawkes, chief of the Roman Catholic Gunpowder Plotters of 1606 who concealed gunpowder in a cellar beneath Parliament with the intention of blowing up both the members and the King at its opening. {Nedham is suggesting that the failed plot of Fawkes exposed the Catholics, but internal enemies went undiscovered. Or as Robert South put it - "What the papists' powder intended, the soldiers' match has effected.").

The Law is void since Gospel came in fashion = Christian doctrine held that the Jews of the Old Testament were saved by obedience to the Law of God, but, since Christ's Resurrection justification was through faith in Christ alone. Antinomian theorists took this view to its logical extreme and argued that Christians were no longer under any obligation to obey the law - they would be saved by faith whatever they did.

Bacchus (or Dionysius) was the God of wine in ancient myth.

Egyptian = Because the Israelites (God's people) were held captive in Egypt until led to freedom by Moses, Christian writers were prone to call any sort of oppression of the faithful "Egyptian" bondage.

Hans Towns = The Hanse towns or Hanseatic League of Northern Germany and the Baltic Coast were cities that allied during the fourteenth and fifteenth to protect their trade whilst preserving political independence - the most important were Hamburg, Bremen, Lübeck and Danzig. Switzerland was a federation of cantons that allowed each member to chose its own religion. (Butler is mocking the tendency of the radicals to shatter into hundreds of sects, each with its own particular doctrines and rules for worship.)

John of Leyden = Jan Beuckelszoon or Bockhold (1509-36) was a Dutch Anabaptist who led a brief "rule of the Saints" in Munster in 1534. The Saints introduced communism and polygamy, before being defeated and slaughtered by a Catholic army.

fadging = agreeing [To fadge is get along with others or fit in with the surroundings], i.e. the Saints disagreed with one another even more than they did with the ungodly.

Fleetwood = General Charles Fleetwood (1618-92), husband of Cromwell's daughter and one of his Major-Generals, was a commander at the battles of Naseby and Worcester. He showed some sympathy with religious radicals and the Levellers.

Desborough = General John Desborough (1608-80) husband of Cromwell's sister and one of Cromwell's major-generals, led troops in the storming of Bristol.

Lambert = General John Lambert (1619-84), one of Cromwell's major-generals, led Parliament's troops in the North of England. Lambert broke with Cromwell over his decision to become Lord Protector and lived in retirement until 1659 when he joined in the coup to overthrow Richard Cromwell and reinstate the Rump Parliament. He was imprisoned at the Restoration.

Agitators = The representatives elected by the rebellious Leveller soldiers in 1647 after mutinying against Parliament's attempts to disband the New Model Army.

Classes = The Presbyterian system of church government consisted of a hierarchy of elected synods or classes at the local, provincial and national level. The Independents (or Congregationalists) and other sects such as the Baptists wanted each church or congregation to be autonomous.

Nimrods = In Genesis 10, Nimrod was a hunter who began to be mighty in the earth - he was generally used in the early-modern period as an example of an unjust conqueror.

Cutting down groves = In Deuteronomy 7, God told the Jews not to associate on friendly terms with the neighboring (idolatrous) peoples, "But thus shall ye deal with them; ye shall destroy their altars, and break down their images, and cut down their groves, and burn their graven images with fire."
(More broadly in this section, Butler is mocking the uncomfortable mixture of radical demands - some concerned with down to earth bread-and-butter matters, like the excise tax and the weight of a loaf - others fanatical religious fundamentalists wanting to build a new society on their inspired model).

red-coat = Some Parliamentary regiments wore red coats and the term became applied generally to Parliamentary soldiers.

Camisado of surplices = A Camisado was a night attack where shirts were worn over the attackers' armor in an attempt to ensure surprise. The surplice was an article of clerical attire which the ministers of the Church of England were required to wear during divine service - much to the annoyance of puritans who regarded it as a remnant of "popish" vestments. Hence the camisado of surplices being appropriate for a cloudy night attack than for enlightened Protestants.

ring = One of the ecclesiastical ceremonies to which puritans objected was the use of the ring in marriage service - they held this to be another popish ceremony.

linsey-woolsey = a fabric woven of a mixture of wool and flax/linen. Deuteronomy 22:11 stated "Thou shalt not wear a garment of divers sorts, as of woollen and linen together," - it was interpreted as forbidding any strange mixture of the true religion with idolatrous practices.

name of Saint = Puritans objected to the Roman Catholic veneration of Saints and wanted to abolish all survivals of this practice - hence their practice of calling children " Faith" or "Charity" or some biblical name, and hence their attempt to re-name the many English churches named in honor of Saints.

black-pudding = An English culinary delicacy made primarily of pig's blood. Leviticus 7:26-7 commanded: "Moreover ye shall eat no manner of blood, whether it be of fowl or of beast, in any of your dwellings. Whatsoever soul it be that eateth any manner of blood, even that soul shall be cut off from his people." Biblical literalists therefore wanted black pudding banned.

root and branch = Malachi 4:1 prophesied "For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch." A puritan petition of 1640 asking for the complete abolition of episcopal government "with all its dependencies, roots and branches" was known as the Root and Branch Petition, and a later parliamentary  Bill for the same purpose as the Root and Branch Bill.

Eating kings and mighty men = Revelation 19:18:  "That ye may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of them that sit on them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, both small and great."
Ezekiel 39:19-20:  "And ye shall eat fat till ye be full, and drink blood till ye be drunken, of my sacrifice which I have sacrificed for you. Thus ye shall be filled at my table with horses and chariots, with mighty men, and with all men of war, saith the Lord God."

rods of iron = Psalms 2:9:  "Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel."

Henry Martin = Sir Henry Marten (1602-80) was one of the most enthusiastic opponents of Charles I. He held very radical views and was inclined to support the Levellers, but unlike many parliamentary radicals, he was no puritan - he was known for his whoring and drinking.

Pluto = In ancient myth, Pluto (or Hades) was god the underworld

one God, no Christ = The many heresies feared to be spreading in England included Arianiism (belief that Christ was not divine - just a prophet) and Unitarianism (rejection of the Trinity).