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

A Note on the the Collection of Leveller Tracts (1638-1659).

[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.”]


We plan to put online a seven volume collection of Leveller tracts from the English Revolution (or Civil War) of the 17th century. As a foretaste of what is to come we have this introductory note, a bibliography on the Levellers and their writings, and a detailed table of contents of the proposed volumes. The collection will comprise the following volumes:

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/2595>:

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 (which are discussed below).

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.

[From William Walwyn’s The poore Wise-mans Admonition (10 June, 1647).]


A Note on the Collection of Tracts and Pamphlets

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 (over 120 separate items), the strict chronological ordering of the texts, the balance in the authorship (with more titles by Richard Overton and John Lilburne), 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 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 (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.

Spelling in the mid-17th century was somewhat erratic and we have not attempted to modernize it, preferring to leave it as it was written. We have given the full title of each work as it appears on the title page. 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.

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.”

We have not included the famous Putney Debates within the General Council of Officers of October and November 1647 in this collection as these are already online at the Online Library of Liberty along with many other documents. </titles/2183>. The same is true for the Whitehall Debates within the General Council of Officers of December 1648 and January 1649.


Last modified March 31, 2015