This is a review of the book “The Levellers: The Putney Debates” by Geoffrey Robertson QC.
The Levellers were polemicists and pamphleteers rather than politicians, notable for their criticism of anyone in power, whether King Charles I or parliamentary leaders or generals in the army or the heads of city guilds in London. The Levellers railed against the unrepresentative nature of The House of Commons in England where the only people allowed to vote were men of landed property worth more than 40 shillings.
The Levellers drew up a document called “An Agreement of the People” which was discussed in late October and early November 1647 at a church in Putney by the River Thames, almost equidistant from Runnymede and Westminster. This was probably the closest England came to having a written constitution, something England, Britain, and the UK still doesn’t have. These debates are featured here chaired by Oliver Cromwell and featuring his son-in-law Henry Ireton and the republican Thomas Rainborough. Both Ireton and Rainborough would pass away in the next four years, both a severe loss to the Republican cause.
The most famous quote is probably from Thomas Rainborough:
For really, I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live, as the greatest he.
This is not a particularly enlightened remark through the microscope of our view in the 2020s, but for the time, over 360 years ago, it was heretical. All these speeches should be placed in the context of the times, and once you’ve finished the book, you’ll understand the period 1641-49 was the English Revolution.