Online Library of Liberty

A collection of scholarly works about individual liberty and free markets. A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.

Advanced Search

Leveller Tracts - Introductory Note

Introduction to the Collection of Leveller Tracts (1638-1660)

The Liberty of the Freeborne English-Man, Conferred on him by the house of lords. June 1646. John Lilburne. His age 23. Year 1641. Made by G. Glo.

“Gaze not upon this shaddow that is vaine, But rather raise thy thoughts a higher straine, To GOD (I meane) who set this young man free, And in like straits, can eke (also) deliver thee. Yea though the lords have him in bonds againe LORD of lords will his just cause maintaine.”

Tracts on Liberty by the Levellers and their Critics (1638-1659), 7 vols. Edited by David M. Hart and Ross Kenyon (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2014). Titles available to date:

For further information about the Collection:

Organisation of the Material

First Edition (2014-15) (total no. titles 155):

  • Volume 1 (1638-1643) - 11 titles
  • Volume 2 (1644-45) - 12 titles
  • Volume 3 (1646) - 22 titles
  • Volume 4 (1647) - 18 titles
  • Volume 5 (1648) - 22 titles
  • Volume 6 (1649) - 27 titles
  • Volume 7 (1650-1660) - 43 titles

With two additional volumes:

  • Addendum Volume 8 (1638-46) - 35 titles
  • Addendum Volume 9 (1647-49) - 48 titles

Second Edition (proposed) (total no. titles 243):

  • Volume 1 (1638-1643) - 29 titles
  • Volume 2 (1644-1645) - 20 titles
  • Volume 3 (1646) - 28 titles
  • Volume 4 (1647) - 37 titles
  • Volume 5 (1648) - 46 titles
  • Volume 6 (1649) - 40 titles
  • Volume 7 (1650-1660) - 43 titles

The collection was originally planned to be in 7 volumes when we began work in 2010. However, other important titles were discovered during the editing of the texts and were included in two additional volumes of Addenda. The numbering of the texts reflects this history (e.g., “4.6” is the number for the sixth pamphlet in volume 4). Once all the texts have been corrected and put online we will merge the additional texts into the collection so all the titles will be in chronological order by volume. See below for such a list.

Content of the Collection

This collection of tracts and pamphlets by the Levellers and some of their critics is different from others in a number of areas: its size, the strict chronological ordering of the texts, the balance in the authorship (with more titles by Richard Overton and John Lilburne), the inclusion of more pamphlets on economic matters, the militia, the inclusion of material of a satirical nature, works by women and common workers, and the conversion of all facsimile versions of the texts to modern typeface.

We have arranged the collection of Leveller tracts and pamphlets in chronological order (where this is possible). We have done this is order to highlight the impact that one tract may have had upon others that were published after it in time. In some cases a number of tracts were direct responses, often refutations, of earlier works. Others were triggered by particular historical events, such as the execution of King Charles I, and so it might be useful to consult this collection alongside the chronology we plan to add to the “Timeline” section of the Online Library of Liberty website.

The balance of authorship of the tracts and pamphlets also played an important role in the selection criteria of the collection. We wanted to have a rough balance between those tracts which were the joint production of several authors designed to express the views of a group such as the soldiers of the New Model Army; those tracts which were clearly the work of a single identifiable author (such as Richard Overton, John Lilburne, or William Walwyn); tracts by supporters of the parliamentary cause (such as William Prynne), and tracts which were written by critics or luke-warm supporters of the Leveller cause and which prompted often spirited replies from the Leveller leadership.

Many tracts have multiple authors or were written anonymously. The authorship of many tracts is disputed by historians so we have attempted to assign authorship on the best evidence available to us. Where we are certain about the authorship (for example, their name might appear on the title page) the name is given without brackets. When the authorship is disputed or uncertain the name is placed in square brackets. Pamphlets without any known author are described as “Anon.”

A firm date of publication was sometimes given, but often not. The first date in the table of contents for each volume is the estimated time of publication. Sometimes this has been estimated by the date the work was entered into the 17th century London bookseller George Thomason’s collection which forms the basis for much or our knowledge of the Leveller movement. Sometimes a date is provided in the text itself. The date is followed by the author’s name when it is available; then comes the edition of the tract or pamphlet we have used in this collection. It is sometimes a later or revised edition if the original is no longer available. The order in which the texts are listed in each volume is to place texts with detailed dates at the beginning (e.g. 18 October 1647) and texts with only the year at the end. When works have been listed in the two volume catalog of the Thomason Tracts we have included the volume and page number along with the catalog number.

There is occasionally some duplication of material as a tract or petition might appear as a stand alone broadsheet and then again in a longer format or along with other material in a compilation of shorter tracts which were published as one title.

What the Collection Omits

The collection consists of shorter “tracts” or pamphlets which were published cheaply and distributed on the streets of London and other towns and cities throughout England during the 1640s and 1650s. It was this kind of ephemeral literature which was collected by the London bookseller George Thomason and makes up the collection which is in the possession of the British Museum. Thus, the collection does not include longer works such as books or treatises, or serials such as newspapers or magazines. It also does not include material which appears elsewhere on the OLL website such as the following:

  • The Army Debates (1647-9), especially The Putney Debates within the General Council of Officers between October and November 1647 and The Whitehall Debates within the General Council of Officers between December 1648 and January 1649
    • Arthur Sutherland Pigott Woodhouse, Puritanism and Liberty, being the Army Debates (1647-9) from the Clarke Manuscripts with Supplementary Documents, selected and edited with an Introduction A.S.P. Woodhouse, foreword by A.D. Lindsay (University of Chicago Press, 1951). /titles/2183
  • The Clarke Papers
    • Sir William Clarke, The Clarke Papers. Selections from the Papers of William Clarke, Secretary to the Council of the Army, 1647-1649, and to General Monck and the Commanders of the Army in Scotland, 1651-1660, ed. C.H. Firth (Camden Society, 1901). 4 vols. /titles/1983.
  • The Constitutional Documents of the Puritan Revolution, 1625-1660
    • Samuel Rawson Gardiner, The Constitutional Documents of the Puritan Revolution, 1625-1660, selected and edited by Samuel Rawson Gardiner (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1906). /titles/1434.
  • longer works by individual authors such as:

Some Observations about the Texts

Many of the titles are very long and rather florid in their style but they give a good sense of the spirited way in which the pamphlets were written. Information about the publisher, when given, is also idiosyncratic with directions sometimes given to help readers find their way to the bookseller - e.g. “to be sold at his Shop at the Signe of the Golden Anchor, neere Pauls-Chaine” - or very creative ways of giving the date of publication, such as “Printed in the yeare the Beast was Wounded 1638.” Where no publisher was given on the title page we indicate this by [n.p.] (no publisher). Occasionally a title with a long name will have become known to modern readers by an abbreviated title, such as [The Petition of September] with the use of square brackets to show that this is an alternate title.

Every effort has been made to transcribe these 17th century political tracts as accurately as possible. They have been checked against facsimile copies of the originals which in many cases were of very poor quality. Some of the problems the editors encountered were the vagaries of 17th century spelling, the faint print of the text in marginal notes and in long quotes in Latin, and the sometimes casual approach to the typesetting of the text. We have made no attempt to modernize the spelling but we have corrected obvious errors such as transposed or missing characters. In many cases the front page of the texts had elaborate even exotic layout of the text which we have attempted to reproduce electronically in some cases. In some of the texts, if there was any space remaining at the end, the author or the printer would insert additional material such as Parliamentary or legal announcements or rebuttals of their opponents’s latest tract, thus making the pamphlet a kind of anthology or even a newspaper. We can’t help but note the similar frustrations of one of the printers who inserted a disclaimer in one of Lilburne’s pamphlets which we quote here:

The Printer to the Reader.

Reader, the shortnesse of time, the absence of the Authour, and the difficulty of the Language in the Charter, not being ordinary Latin, but such as Lawyers use, which is so far above my capacity, that caused me to erre when I used the best skill I could in my Art. Pardon me therefore (I pray thee) and with thy wisdome, learning, and good disposition, help me in this case. And for the faults in the English, the meanest capacity may bee helped thus … [Footnote: In John Lilburne, The Charters of London: or, The second Part of Londons Liberty in Chaines discovered (18 December 1646).]

The names of authors and publishers were often deliberately withheld from being published because of the very real fear of arrest and imprisonment. Occasionally a fictitious author’s and publisher’s name would be given to disguise the identity of those involved in publishing the work. Richard Overton even went so far as to openly mock the censors with this amusing fake announcement of the title page: “By Yongue Martin Mar-Priest, Son to old Martin the Metrapolitane. This is Licenced, and printed according to Holy Order, but not Entered into the Stationers Monopole. Europe. Printed by Martin Claw Clergie, Printer to the Reverend Assembly of Divines and are to be should at his Shop in Toleration Street, at the Signe of the Subjects Liberty, right opposite to Persecuting Court. 1645.”

In the course of preparing these volumes we have across many items of interest, such as the title page and accompanying poem (see above), the printer’s apology for any errors (see below), as well as many amusing and politically barbed title pages of the pamphlets.

The Printer to the Reader

I Desire thee to amend with thy pen, one fault escaped in the printing, by negligence, and the Authors absence, which is in the 3. page and 10. line, namely secretaries for sectaries: And if there be any more faults (as none liveth without some) I also desire that thou wilt shew thy patience by thy silence, and that thou may rather make a profitable use of the sence, then anywise strive about words; even as thou wouldest except the like favour of me or any other in thy absence, if thou be one that shewest they selfe thus carefull and zealous for the publicke: especially now in such extreeme need. Farewell.[Footnote: From William Walwyn’s The poore Wise-mans Admonition (10 June, 1647).]

Further Information about the Pamphlets and the Authors

Publishing information about each title can be found in the catalog of the George Thomason collection (henceforth “TT” for Thomason Tracts). Each tract is given a catalog number and a date when the item came into his possession (thus not necessarily the date of publication). We have used these dates to organise our collection in rough chronological order:

Catalogue of the Pamphlets, Books, Newspapers, and Manuscripts relating to the Civil War, the Commonwealth, and Restoration, collected by George Thomason, 1640-1661. 2 vols. (London: William Cowper and Sons, 1908).

  • Vol. 1. Catalogue of the Collection, 1640-1652
  • Vol. 2. Catalogue of the Collection, 1653-1661. Newspapers. Index.

Biographical information about the authors can be found in the Biographical Dictionary of British Radicals in the Seventeenth Century, ed. Richard L. Greaves and Robert Zeller (Brighton, Sussex: The Harvester Press, 1982-84), 3 vols.

  • Volume I: A-F
  • Volume II: G-O
  • Volume III: P-Z

Last modified May 18, 2015