Portrait of John Lilburne

John Lilburne shows defiance to the tyrants who would force him to pay tythes to the Church (1648)

Found in: Tracts on Liberty by the Levellers and their Critics Vol. 5 (1648)

The Leveller soldier and pamphleteer John Lilburne (1615-1657) was imprisoned many times for his beliefs during the 1630s and onwards. In this pamphlet “A Defiance to Tyrants” (Jan. 1648) he says he has an obligation to refuse to obey unjust laws, such as compulsory payments to the Church:

Presidents, Kings, Tyrants, & Despots

ALL Magistracy in England, is bounded by the known and declared Law of England and while they Act according to Law, I am bound to obey them, but when they leave the rules thereof, and walk by the arbitrary rules of their owne wills, they do not act as Magistrates, but as Tyrants, and cannot in such actings challenge any obedience, neither am I bound to yeeld it, but am tied in conscience and duty to my selfe and my native Countrey therein to resist and withstand them, and if their Officers goe about by force and violence to Compell mee to obey and stoop unto their arbitrary and illegall command; I may, and ought, (if I will be true to my native and legall freedomes) by force to withstand him or them, in the same manner that I may withstand a man that comes to rob my house, or as I may withstand a man, that upon the high way by force and violence would take my purse or life from me.