Levellers Movement in English Literature

Levellers Movement in English Literature

Levellers Movement in English Literature : The Levellers Movement was a radical political movement which demanded rights of the common people and reforms in religious and political matters in England. It was of religious and political turmoil between 1647 and 1649. It was a clash between the King and the Parliament.

Levellers Movement in English Literature

King Charles I tried to impose bishops on the Scottish Church without the approval of the Presbyterians. The Parliament abolished the two old courts: Star Chamber and High Commission. The Levellers Movement clearly reflects the social, religious, and political condition of the period.


The Political Levellers were of the opinion that Republicanism and Universal Suffrage could not be attained even if there was active participation and consent of the people. They thought that the majority of people did not like to bring reform in society. The rich would exploit the poor and common people with the help of Universal Suffrage to restore their old system. In addition to this, there would be hostility among the political parties. The common people would replace the barons and they would become nobles due to the right to vote.

Similarly the Social Levellers believed in restoring the land to the common people. They called themselves as ‘Diggers’; or “True Levellers”   and began digging and ploughing the soil on the basis of Communistic principles though they did not advocate communism. It began its work on Crown Land at St. George HillSurrey in 1949. They were led by Gerrard Winstanleythe founder of English communism.

When the social Levellers were busy in digging and ploughing the soil they were interrupted by the gentry and parsons. The Social Levellers believed that political reforms would be possible only when it was based on the principles of social reform. England could not be a free Commonwealth unless all the poor people have a free use and benefit of the land.

Gerrard Wynstanley put stress on regaining the rights not by wealth or property but by love. William Walwyn and Gerrard Wynstanley emphasized the significance of the feeling of brotherhood and strong Christian love among people because they believed that only love and brotherhood would bring radical change in society.

Some of the chief figures of the Levellers Movement are Richard OvertonJohn LilburneWilliam Walwyn, and Thomas Prince.

William Walwyn was the leader of the Levellers group. His pamphlet “The Power of Love” was published in 1649 in which he criticized the discrimination in society on the basis of wealth and religion. He was also against a common belief that all good sense and learning springs out from the universities.

Walwyn believed that the learned and elite class in England was actually against the welfare of the Commonwealth. The so called ‘learned class’ was advocating tyranny, disorder and corruption. He also opined that the common people of England know and understand Scriptures as well as English, have the right of interpreting the true meaning of Scriptures.

William Walwyn produced a tract called “England’s New Chains Discovered” in collaboration with John Lilburne, Richard Overton and Thomas Prince. They advocated complete religious freedom and voluntary community of property. It was a bitter criticism of the new parliamentary regime. All the authors were imprisoned for their offensive writing.

Lilburne criticized the Council of State for taking legal actions against his party. He accused the Council for acting against the interests of free nation. In his pamphlet called “The Just Defence of John Lilburne, against such as Charge Him with Turbulency of Spirit”, Lilburne has argued that he had suffered for ‘the right, freedom, safety, and well-being of common people of England. It was published in 1653.

John Lilburne was radical thinker and pamphleteer. He was infamous for his caustic criticism of the army officers. He called his followers ‘clubs and clouted shoon’.

Richard Overton published “Man’s Mortality” in 1643. He expressed his radical views in it and stated that the soul also leaves the body when man dies. He questioned the immortality of the soul. His caustic remarks aroused furor; he was arrested for his radical views. All the members of the Levellers Movement were against monarchy and supported the forces of Oliver Cromwell. They advocated rational thinking. Richard Overton published his works in the name of Marlin Marpriest.

Thus, the Levellers demanded equal share in parliamentary constituencies along with biennial elections. They also felt a need of an independent executive assembly. They believed that this would definitely control all civil, religious, legal and military policies. In brief, they put stress on the ‘native rights’ of the people of England. They cherished a dream of a society devoid of discrimination and injustice.

 Read it also:  Pen Names of Writers in English Literature

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