Lilburne quoting Coke on English Liberties at his treason trial (1649)
John Lilburne reading from Coke's Institutes at his Treason Trial (1649)
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From The Triall of Lieut. Collonell J. Lilburne by an extraordinary Commission of Oyear and Terminer, at the Guildhall of London, the 24, 25, 26 of Octob. 1649 Unto which is annexed a necessary Appendix, Published by Theodorus Verax (Southwark, 164).
For further reading on this topic see:
- John Lilburne
- Sir Edward Coke
- The Magna Carta
- About the Magna Carta
- School of Thought: The Levellers
- Topic: The English Revolution
John Lilburne (1615-1657) was a leader in the Leveller movement of the 1640s and was a prolific pamphleteer who defended religious and individual liberty. He was imprisoned several times for his views and was active in the army of the New Parliament rising to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. In October 1649 he was arrested and tried for High Treason for printing and circulating books and pamphlets critical of the government but was acquitted of all charges by a jury of his peers. He defended himself vigorously in court, quoting from the works of the great jurist Sir Edward Coke. In this rather triumphant drawing we see Lilburne (or "Free-borne John" as he was called in reference to his constant quoting of the rights of all free born Englishmen) lieterally standing before the bench and reading from a copy of Coke's Institutes (or commentaries on the laws of England). A close up of the book he is holding in his hand shows the title "Cooke's Institutes" (Coke is prounced "cook"). Note also Lilburne's elegant dress, hairdo, and especially his boots. It is unlikely he would have looked like this after the poor conditions and the mistreatment he would have got in an English prison of the period.
Coke's Second Part of the Institutes had appeared in 1642 and were a detailed gloss on the Great Charter of Liberties (or Magna Carta) of 1215. This is the volume Lilburne is probably reading from and a passage on the nature of English Liberties which might have caught his eye can be found here:
Upon this Chapter , as out of a roote, many fruitfull branches of the Law of England have sprung… This Chapter containeth nine severall branches.
1. That no man be taken or imprisoned, but per legem terrae, that is, by the Common Law, Statute Law, or Custome of England; for these words, Per legem terrae, being towards the end of this Chapter, doe referre to all the precedent matters in this Chapter, and this hath the first place, because the liberty of a mans person is more precious to him, then all the rest that follow, and therefore it is great reason, that he should by Law be relieved therein, if he be wronged, as hereafter shall be shewed.
2. No man shall be disseised, that is, put out of seison, or dispossessed of his free-hold (that is) lands, or livelihood, or of his liberties, or free customes, that is, of such franchises, and freedomes, and free customes, as belong to him by his free birth-right, unlesse it be by the lawfull judgement, that is, verdict of his equals (that is, of men of his own condition) or by the Law of the Land (that is, to speak it once for all) by the due course, and processe of Law.
3. No man shall be out-lawed, made an exlex, put out of the Law, that is, deprived of the benefit of the Law, unlesse he be out-lawed according to the Law of the Land.
4. No man shall be exiled, or banished out of his Country, that is, Nemo perdet patriam, no man shall lose his Country, unlesse he be exiled according to the Law of the Land.
5. No man shall be in any sort destroyed (Destruere. i. quod prius structum, & factum fuit, penitus evertere & diruere) unlesse it be by the verdict of his equals, or according to the Law of the Land.
6. No man shall be condemned at the Kings suite, either before the King in his Bench, where the Pleas are Coram Rege, (and so are the words, Nec super eum ibimus, to be understood) nor before any other Commissioner, or Judge whatsoever, and so are the words, Nec super eum mittemus, to be understood, but by the judgement of his Peers, that is, equalls, or according to the Law of the Land.
7. We shall sell to no man Justice or Right.
8. We shall deny to no man Justice or Right.
9. We shall defer to no man Justice or Right.
[Source: Sir Edward Coke, The Selected Writings and Speeches of Sir Edward Coke, ed. Steve Sheppard (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2003). Vol. 2. Chapter: Magna Charta. </title/912/224511/3691235>.
Above his head we can see on the right a plaque which lists the names of the jurymen who freed him. These names unfortunately are not legible but in another pamphlet he published soon after his acquittal he included the names of the jurors on the title page:
|Miles Pettit, Holburn-Condu.
|Edmund Keysar, Holb-bridge
|Stephen Iles, Friday-street.
|Edward Perkins Smithfield.
|Abraham Smith, Smithfield.
|Ralph Packman, Smithfield.
|John King Smithfield.
|William Cummins, Cheap.
|Nicholas Murrin, Gosling-str.
|Symon Weeden, Bredstr.
|Thomas Daintie, Cheapside.
|Henry Tooley, Bredstreet.
In this second pamphlet Lilburne has his usual provocative and lengthy title and reminds the reader that it was "printed in the fall of Tyranny 1649". No place of publication or publisher was given because of the fear of further arrest and imprisonment by the authorities. This pamphlet will appear in the Online Library of Liberty as part of a 7 volume collection of Leveller writings sometime during 2011. A transcriptionof the title page also appears below:
John Lilburn, Truth's Victory of Tyrants and Tyranny (1649)
Being the TRYALL of that Worthy Assertor of his
Guild-hall London, Octob. 26.
All good men and true.