17th May 1649. Mutiny of the Levellers.
There were three mutinies in the English Civil War, as it became increasingly apparent Cromwell never wanted a true democracy.
The radical Levellers mutinied after the execution of Charles I in 1649, when unrest centred on the Council of State’s plan to invade Ireland, and Parliament’s refusal to consider arrears of pay for the troops.
Also the Independents in parliament seemed no different from the Presbyterians, and both civil and military leaders demanded elections for a more representative assembly.
Added to this ‘lots’ were now held for which regiments were to be sent to Ireland. Colonel Hewers regiment refused, unless Levellers demands were met, and were disbanded.
The first Leveller mutiny was at Corkbush Field, near Ware, Hertfordshire, on 15th.November 1647 where after refusing to swear loyalty to Thomas Fairfax, C-in-C of the army, the ring- leader, Private Richard Arnold was shot on the spot.(1)
The next mutiny of the New Model Army (NMA) was at Bishopsgate, London when, on the 24th April 1649 troopers in Colonel Edward Whalley’s regiment, refused to obey orders.
Here again the ringleader Robert Lockier (Lockyer) was singled out and executed outside St.Paul’s, London three days later.
However at his funeral, thousands turned out, comparable to that previously of leading Leveller, Colonel Rainsborough, wearing their sea-green ribbons in their hats, and rosemary for remembrance.(2)
In May mounting anger later resulted in mutiny when Colonel Scrope’s, Regiment of Horse was selected for duty in Ireland and having marched to Salisbury the Leveller inspired soldiers seized the colours and elected their own officers.
Troops were then disbanded without pay arrears after demanding a political settlement in line with The Agreement of the People and restoration of the 1647 Army Council. Similar declarations were made by the regiments of Ireton, Reynolds, Harrison and Skippon.
Meanwhile at Banbury, Captain William Thompson had issued his manifesto and advocated mutinies in support of Lilburne. and the ‘Agreement’, before moving to Salisbury to rouse other troops.
News of the mutiny reached London where Cromwell, and Fairfax were reviewing loyal cavalry regiments at Hyde Park, before moving and surprising the main body of mutineers at Burford, Oxfordshire on the 15th May. 300 were later imprisoned in Church.
A Drum-Head, Court Marshal, resulted in three ring-leaders being executed Today on May 17th; the rest were pardoned by Fairfax. The next night Cromwell was feasted at Magdalen College Oxford.(3)
Captain Thompson was killed at a ‘Diggers’ community at Wellingborough: his brother Cornet Thompson was executed at Burford.
On 25th May Cromwell reported to Parliament on the successful suppression of the Levellers in the army.
From 1975 a commemoration for the three Burford Levellers is held annually and in 1979 a plaque was unveiled by Tony Benn.
(1) On 15th November 1647.
(2) Colonel Thomas Rainborough, the most senior Leveller, was killed in the siege of Pontefract in October 1648. Leveller was a name given by their opponents.
(3) Cromwell’s relations with Oxford were curious as it was the HQ of the Royalists for most of the Civil War and only surrendered to Parliament in 1646. Three years later Magdalen awarded him an honorary doctorate and elected him Chancellor in 1651.
He was later to draft plans for a Protestant College, but his death and the Restoration ended the idea which had to await Mansfield College, Birmingham as a Congregationalist College, before moving to Oxford in 1886.
A window in the chapel shows Cromwell in robes of the Chancellor, with his face copied from a portrait by Robert Walker.
Ref: wikipedia.org/Pic Ref re Plaque at Burford.