THE COM­MON FREE­DOM OF THE PEO­PLE

JOHN LILBURNE AND THE ENGLISH REV­O­LU­TION

The Oldie - - BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR -

MICHAEL BRADDICK OUP, 391pp, £25, Oldie price £14.99 inc p&p

Con­tem­plat­ing the first bi­og­ra­phy of the 17th-cen­tury rad­i­cal John Lilburne since Pauline Gregg’s amid the pre­dom­i­nant Marx­ism of the Six­ties, David Hor­spool, writ­ing in the Spec­ta­tor, re­flected that Lilburne’s ‘posthu­mous high water­mark may have been in the 1960s and 1970s, which would ac­count for Jeremy Cor­byn’s fond­ness for him’. Hor­spool com­mended Michael Braddick’s new book, The Com­mon Free­dom of the Peo­ple, for restor­ing ‘a sense of jeop­ardy to the Pim­per­nel-like achieve­ments of his sub­ject’, who sur­vived im­pris­on­ment un­der Charles I, Par­lia­ment and Lord Pro­tec­tor Oliver Cromwell for most of the pe­riod of 1637-57.

Kwasi Kwarteng, whose par­lia­men­tary of­fice, he re­lated with alarm­ing rel­ish in the Times, lies close to the site of the Star Cham­ber in which Lilburne was first tried, mis­chievously com­pared Lilburne not to the Leader of the Op­po­si­tion but to Nigel Farage, ‘a rest­lessly sub­ver­sive fig­ure who de­lighted in pour­ing scorn on the Es­tab­lish­ment of his day’. Kwarteng went on to dif­fer­en­ti­ate Lilburne from Farage on the sting­ing grounds that ‘Lilburne was highly con­scious of his sta­tus as a gen­tle­man’. Kwarteng re­spected Braddick’s ‘ac­cu­racy and flu­ency’, while call­ing for a ‘more pop­u­lar and cinematic treat­ment’ in the fu­ture.

But in the Literary Re­view it did not es­cape Ed­ward Val­lance that ‘Free­born John’ has al­ready bro­ken through, at least, onto the sil­ver screen, as the truth-telling po­lit­i­cal mar­tyr of Chan­nel 4’s 2008 Civil War drama, The Devil’s Whore. That se­ries also fea­tured Lilburne’s long-suf­fer­ing wife, El­iz­a­beth, whom, Val­lance added, fi­nally gets the por­trait she de­serves in Braddick’s telling; on one oc­ca­sion in 1642, ‘heav­ily preg­nant, she rode to Ox­ford to present his Roy­al­ist cap­tors with a threat of re­tal­i­a­tion from Par­lia­ment if he were ex­e­cuted’. Val­lance con­cluded with an­other les­son for con­tem­po­rary politi­cians, mus­ing that, given Lilburne’s in­creas­ingly hetero­dox opin­ions as he passed through the pe­nal sys­tems of suc­ces­sive regimes, ‘His, per­haps, is a life for the ar­chi­tects of the cur­rent govern­ment’s Pre­vent strat­egy to pon­der.’

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