Thursday, November 8, 2018

Michael Braddick's "The Common Freedom of the People"

Michael Braddick is Professor of History at the University of Sheffield, and has held academic positions and visiting Fellowships in the USA, France, and Germany. He has published widely on the social, political, and economic history of British and American society in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. His books include The Oxford Handbook of the English Revolution and God's Fury, England's Fire.

Braddick applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Common Freedom of the People: John Lilburne and the English Revolution, and reported the following:
“It was easy to believe this was scant reward for his sufferings”.

On page 99 we find Lilburne in prison in Newgate, while a London congregation prays for him, a petition is mobilised on his behalf on the streets and in the taverns, and fellow travellers write pamphlets in support of his cause. It is his fifth imprisonment of the year, all of them imposed for what he has published rather than anything he has actually done. It is the parliamentary regime which does this, although Lilburne is supposedly on their side in the civil war being fought against the King. In fact, until the previous year, he had been active in the parliamentary army, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He is released from Newgate in October, after three months, without any charge having been laid against him.

Five years earlier parliament had granted him compensation and reparations for his sufferings under Charles I—sufferings that epitomised the misgovernment that eventually led parliament to war against the King. Lilburne had gone to war without hesitation and fought bravely. Now though he finds he still has no reparations (and is in fact owed further arrears of pay and damages for his military service), and that the parliamentary regime is seemingly as ready to lock him up as Charles I had been. In fact, it uses some of the same legal officers to do it.

This is his Animal Farm moment—the realisation that the parliamentary pigs are just as capable of tyranny as the royalist humans had been. He now sees that the war is not really between King and Parliament, but between the people and tyranny. A radical new politics is about to be born, supported by citizen mobilisation in the churches, taverns, streets and presses of revolutionary London. Arguments will be made that resonate far beyond the politics of England in the 1640s.
Learn more about The Common Freedom of the People at the Oxford University Press website.

My Book, The Movie: The Common Freedom of the People.

--Marshal Zeringue