The Leveller Revolution by John Rees - review by Paul Lay

Paul Lay

Wrangling Radicals

The Leveller Revolution


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Given their immense influence on the histories of Britain and Ireland, not to mention the drama and the personalities involved, the civil wars of the mid-17th century and their aftermath are curiously neglected by the public. While barely a day passes without the publication of yet another study of a Tudor monarch, the century that followed remains in shadow, despite the range and excellence of the historians who plough this fertile field. True, there is no shortage of biographies of Oliver Cromwell, though even he had to stand back as his namesake Thomas grabbed public attention following the success of Wolf Hall, but we lack major biographies of such figures as John Lambert and John Thurloe, while mention of the Interregnum (a period of assassination attempts, gunpowder plots, religious fundamentalism, intense political debate and Caribbean catastrophes) is met with a blank look.

There is one exception to this neglect: the Levellers. For a long time, the Levellers – radicals of relatively privileged backgrounds, such as John Lilburne, Richard Overton, William Walwyn and Edward Sexby – were darlings of the Left. They were brought to life in the late 1960s and early 1970s

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