Written by Vladimir Moss



     The English revolution - “that grand crisis of morals, religion and government”, as Coleridge called it[1] - was, as Charles George calls it, “the first major breech in Absolute Monarchy and the spawning of the first major, secular, egalitarian and liberal culture in the modern world”.[2] The conflict was between King Charles I and the English Parliament. When the disputes could not be resolved by talking, both sides began to arm. 

     Thus on July 12, 1642 the Earl of Essex was placed in charge of a parliamentary army, and a “committee of safety” was set up to organize soldiers, weaponry and supplies. Such “committees of safety” have been the first sign of revolution ever since. The French Jacobins had such a committee, as did the Russian Bolsheviks (the KGB, “Komitet Gosudarsvennoj Bezopasnosti”, literally means: “Committee of State Security”).

     The king was not far behind his opponents. On August 22, 1642 he marched into Nottingham and unfurled a banner which read: “Give Caesar his due”. But what was Caesar’s according to the king encroached on what was God’s according to his opponents…

     The English revolution was, together with the French revolution of 1789 and the Russian revolution of 1917, the most important event of modern European history. Like the later revolutions, if not to the same degree, it replaced a mild and moral monarch with a bloody and immoral tyrant – but one reigning now in the name, not of God, but of “the people”. Like them, too, it elicited a very broad range of arguments on the fundamental questions of the origin and nature of the State and its relationship to the Church and people. With the single exception of the Orthodox symphony of powers – which, however, received a powerful contemporary advocate in the person of Patriarch Nikon of Moscow – the pros and cons of all the major forms of government were exhaustively discussed, often by men such as John Milton who were of undoubted, if not well-balanced, genius.

     The English revolution was a “revolution” not only in the sense that it overthrew the powers that be, but also in the older sense of a cyclical movement. For it brought things back to the status quo ante formally, if not essentially. Thus from 1642 to 1688, England underwent successively: an Anglican monarchy, a Calvinist parliamentocracy, the beginnings of a communist revolution, a military dictatorship, the restoration of the Anglican monarchy, a Catholic absolute monarchy, and the second restoration of the Anglican (now constitutional) monarchy under new (Dutch) leadership.

      Like all modern revolutions, the English revolution was extremely bloody. Ann Hughes writes: “At least one in 10 – or perhaps as many as one in five – men in England and Wales fought in the Civil War. It has been calculated that loss of life, in proportion to the national population of the time, was greater than in the First World War. Perhaps 85,000 people, mostly men but also women camp followers, died in combat. Up to 130,000 people were killed indirectly, primarily as a result of disease spread by troops.”[3]

      The country was split down the middle; even families were divided. Most of the peers, landowners and gentry were royalist, as were the north and west and the Roman Catholics and “Arminian” (non-Calvinist) Anglicans. The roundheads (nickname for the Parliamentarians) dominated the south-east and London, and were allied with the Scots.

      The disputes between King Charles I and Parliament were both financial (the King wanted money for the army from Parliament, which Parliament did want to give him), religious (Parliament did not like the king’s “popish” ways, and wanted to introduce “Low Church” reforms against the king’s will) and political (each side has a different answer to the question: who is the true sovereign of England – the King or Parliament?).

      The question arises, therefore: was the English revolution essentially religious or political? Insofar as it was a Calvinist revolution it was both; for Calvinism represented a rebellion against all traditional authority, both ecclesiastical and secular.[4] Nevertheless, we may agree with the French Prime Minister in a less religious age, François Guizot, that “Taking everything together, the English revolution was essentially political; it was brought about in the midst of a religious people and in a religious age; religious thoughts and passions were its instruments; but its chief design and definite aim were political, were devoted to liberty, and the abolition of all absolute power.”[5]

      John Milton, the great poet who came to the fore at precisely this time, used similarly religious language to clothe his revolutionary message: “Why else was this nation chosen before any other, that out of her as out of Zion should be sounded forth the first tidings and trumpet of reformation to all Europe? Now once again, by all concurrence of signs and the general instinct of holy and devout men, God is decreeing to begin some new and great reformation in his Church, even to the reforming of the Reformation itself. What does He, then, but reveal Himself to His servants, and (as His manner is) first to His Englishmen?”[6]

      However, the use of religious language does not mean that the motivation of the parliamentarians was primarily religious. Rachel Foxley writes: “In a speech from 1655 when looking back at the war, Cromwell said: ‘Religion was not the thing at the first contested for, but God brought it to that issue at last and gave it to us by way of redundancy, and at last it proved that which is most dear to us.’ Historians have often dismissed this as a mistake or hindsight on Cromwell’s part, but I think he was quite serious: it was God, not people, who had the power to bring religious reform out of civil war. The godly could not set out to fight a war of religion.

      “So parliamentarians and Puritans like Cromwell were quite careful to avoid saying that religion could be a justification for war. Instead, they justified their war by saying they were fighting for a set of liberties protected by law and that Charles I, in their view, had been attacking. They didn’t think it was legitimate to fight for religion with the sword because religion could only be fought for with spiritual weapons. But they did think it legitimate to take up arms against a ruler who was breaking the law of the land. Along with political liberties and rights, this also included religion because the English Reformation had been established through parliamentary statute…”[7]


      The royalists’ political doctrine was the Divine Right of Kings – that is, the supposed right of the King to impose his will in religious as in political matters. This doctrine was well summed up in an address presented by the elders of Cambridge University to King Charles II in 1681: “We still believe and maintain that our Kings derive not their title from the people, but from God; that to Him only they are accountable; that it belongs not to subjects either to create or censure, but to honour and obey their sovereign, who comes to be so by a fundamental hereditary right of succession, which no religion, no law, no fault or forfeiture can alter or diminish.”[8]

      It should be pointed out that this is an absolutist doctrine, which contradicts the Orthodox doctrine of the Symphony of Powers being worked out at just that time by Patriarch Nikon of Moscow in one vital point: it denies what the Orthodox assert, that the king can forfeit his power by apostasy from the True Faith or the True Church. 

      In all other respects, though, the principle that the king is not accountable to men is “a logical inference,” writes Barzun, “from sovereignty itself: the ultimate source of law cannot be charged with making a wrong law or giving a wrong command. Modern democracies follow the same logic when they given their lawmakers immunity for anything said or done in the exercise of their duty; they are members of the sovereign power. Constitutions, it is true, limit lawmaking; but the sovereign people can change the constitution. There is no appeal against the acts of the sovereign unless the sovereign allows, as when it is provided that citizens can sue the state.

      “Of course, the monarch can do wrong in another sense – in a couple of senses. He can add up a sum and get a wrong total and he can commit a wrongful act morally speaking – cheating at cards or killing his brother. To make clear this distinction between sovereign and human being, theorists developed quite early the doctrine that ‘the king has two bodies’; as a man he is fallible, as king he is not. Similarly in elective governments, a distinction is made between the civil servant acting in his official capacity and as a private citizen…”[9]

      An important aspect of royalist thinking was what may be called the patriarchal theory of royal authority. Charles’ father, James I, had argued that just as God is the Father of mankind, “so the style of Pater patriae was ever, and is commonly applied to Kings.”[10] As such, the King does not merely represent his people: he embodies them – which is why in his edicts he says We, not I.[11]

      In its fully developed form, writes Ashton, “the patriarchal theory of royal authority was to prove a powerful argument both against the idea that government originated in a political contract between ruler and ruled and against the far more influential notion that representative government and the limitations which it placed on the royal exercise of power were immemorial features of the constitution….

      “Just as kings were little Gods, so were fathers little monarchs. He who does not honour the king, maintained Thomas Jordan, cannot truly honour his own parents, as the fifth commandment bids him. So, in his speech on the scaffold in February, 1649, the royalist Lord Capel affirmed ‘very confidently that I do die here… for obeying that fifth commandment given by God himself.’… ‘For this subordination of children is the foundation of all regal authority, by the ordination of God himself.’”[12]

     For when man is defined in Genesis as being in the image of God, he is told to have dominion over the whole earth and everything in it. In other words, he is to be a king in the image of God’s Kingship. And if man as a species is king of the earth, every father in particular is king of his family, and every political leader is king of his tribe or nation. Kingship and hierarchy are part of the nature of things…

      The idea that kingship is in the image of God was current from the early fourth century (cf. Eusebius’ Life of Constantine), and it was also an important idea at the time of the English revolution. Within a week of the execution of King Charles in 1649, Eikon Basilike (“The Royal Icon”) was published by the royalists, being supposedly the work of Charles himself. This enormously popular defence of the monarchy was countered by the revolutionaries with the argument that the king was not an icon or likeness of God, so veneration of the king was idolatry, so it was right to kill the king. “Every King is an image of God,” wrote N.O. Brown. “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image. Revolutionary republicanism seeks to abolish effigy and show.”[13]

      Milton, too, came out against Eikon Basilike with his Eikonklastes, in which the destruction of the icon of the king was seen as the logical consequence of the earlier iconoclasm of the English Reformation. For, as Hill explains: “An ikon was an image. Images of saints and martyrs had been cleared out of English churches at the Reformation, on the ground that the common people had worshipped them. Protestantism, and especially Calvinism, was austerely monotheistic, and encouraged lay believers to reject any form of idolatry. This ‘desacralisation of the universe’ in the long run was its main contribution to the rise of modern science.”[14]

      The best known defence of the Divine Right of Kings was Sir Robert Filmer’s Patriarchia or The Natural Power of Kings, which was written under Cromwell and published in 1680, during the reign of Charles II. His thinking was based on the idea that Adam was the first father and king of the whole human race. “He believed,” writes J.R. Western, “that God had given the sovereignty of the world to Adam and that it had passed by hereditary descent, through the sons of Noah and the heads of the nations into which mankind was divided at the Confusion of Tongues, to all the modern rulers of the world. Adam was the father of all mankind and so all other men were bound to obey him: this plenary power has passed to his successors.”[15]

      The problem with this view, according to John Locke in his First Treatise of Civil Government (1681), as interpreted by McClelland, is that “the book of Genesis does not actually say that God gave the world to Adam to rule; Adam is never referred to as king.” However, this is not a powerful objection, because, God does say to Adam that he is to have “dominion over… every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Genesis 1.28).

      But “Locke then goes on to say: suppose we concede, for which there is no biblical evidence, that Adam really was king by God’s appointment. That still leaves the awkward fact that Genesis makes no mention of the kingly rights of the sons of Adam; there is simply no reference to the right of hereditary succession. Locke then goes on to say: suppose we concede both Adam’s title to kingship and the title of the sons of Adam, for neither of which there is biblical evidence, how does that help kings now to establish their titles by Divine Right? Despite the biblical concern with genealogy, the line of Adam’s posterity has become hopelessly scrambled. How can any king at the present time seriously claim that he is in the line of direct descent from Adam?… Because the genealogy since Adam is scrambled, it is perfectly possible that all the present kings are usurpers, or all the kings except one. Perhaps somewhere the real, direct descendant of Adam is alive and living in obscurity, cheated of his birth-right to universal monarchy by those pretending to call themselves kings in the present world.”[16]

      Locke’s objection here is very weak. The point is that just as the headship of the father in a family is natural, and therefore Divine in origin, so the headship of a society or nation by a single man, who derives it by right of succession from his father, is natural and Divinely instituted. And all kings, just as all men in general, come from Adam, the father of the whole human race. “That which is natural to man exists by Divine right,” writes Filmer; and “kingship is natural to man. Therefore kingship exists by Divine right.”

      The people, on the other hand, “are not born free by nature” and “there never was any such thing as an independent multitude, who at first had a natural right to a community [of goods]”.

      As Harold Nicolson writes: “‘This conceit of original freedom’, as he said, was ‘the only ground’ on which thinkers from ‘the heathen philosophers’ down to Hobbes had built the idea that governments were created by the deliberate choice of free men. He [Filmer] believed on the contrary, as an early opponent put it, that ‘the rise and right of government’ was natural and native, not voluntary and conventional’. Subjects therefore could not have a right to overturn a government because the original bargain had not been kept. There were absurdities and dangers in the opposing view. ‘Was a general meeting of a whole kingdom ever known for the election of a Prince? Was there any example of it ever found in the world?’ Some sort of majority decision, or the assumption that a few men are allowed to decide for the rest, are in fact the only ways in which government by the people can be supposed to have been either initiated or carried on. But both are as inconsistent as monarchy with the idea that men are naturally free. ‘If it be true that men are by nature free-born and not to be governed without their own consents and that self-preservation is to be regarded in the first place, it is not lawful for any government but self-government to be in the world… To pretend that a major part, or the silent consent of any part, may be interpreted to bind the whole people, is both unreasonable and unnatural; it is against all reason for men to bind others, where it is against nature for men to bind themselves. Men that boast so much of natural freedom are not willing to consider how contradictory and destructive the power of a major part is to the natural liberty of the whole people.’ The claims of representative assemblies to embody the will of the people are attacked on these lines, in a manner recalling Rousseau. Filmer also points out that large assemblies cannot really do business and so assemblies delegate power to a few of their number: ‘hereby it comes to pass that public debates which are imagined to be referred to a general assembly of a kingdom, are contracted into a particular or private assembly’. In short ‘Those governments that seem to be popular are kinds of petty monarchies’ and ‘It is a false and improper speech to say that a whole multitude, senate, council, or any multitude whatsoever doth govern where the major part only rules; because many of the multitude that are so assembled… are governed against and contrary to their wills.’”[17]


      We turn now to the more radical, anti-monarchical sects, who believed in the Sovereignty of the People. They must be sharply distinguished from the Parliamentarians, who were men of property who “associated liberty exclusively with property or Parliament”.[18] But for the poor the law was the enemy – and they joined the sects.

      The Levellers were the most important because they had very considerable influence in the Army and formed a kind of left-wing opposition to Cromwell from within his own power base. They “were so called,” write Taylor Downing and Maggie Millman, “because they insisted that since all men were equal before God so should they be equal before the law. They were never a political party in the modern sense, but they put forward a number of Leveller programmes. On the basis of these programmes, the Levellers gained support and allies, particularly in London where most of their activities were centred. They were able to raise thousands of signatures for their petitions and thousands turned out for their demonstrations; their support ranged from religious radicals to craftsmen, small masters and shopkeepers. In the same tradition as many religious radicals, they appealed for freedom of religious belief. In pamphlets and petitions they demanded liberty of conscience, the disestablishment of the Church and the abolition of compulsory tithes. As time went on, their outlook became more secular with demands for legal reforms and for equal application of the laws, the end of imprisonment for debt, the abolition of trade monopolies and the end of press censorship. They appealed to many people who had expected and hoped that the end of the war [the first Civil War, which ended in 1646] would herald a new order but instead were faced with high taxes, economic depression and a Parliament which abused its powers.

      “The truly revolutionary programme of the Levellers emerged from their attack on the unrepresentativeness of England’s constitution. They looked back to the period when the Norman conquerors had imposed their tyrannical laws on the people of England and looked forward to a new order in which the sovereignty of the people was central and when representative institutions were democratically elected.”[19]

      Another revolutionary sect was the Diggers, whose appearance coincided almost exactly with the killing of the king. Thus “the introductory letter to The New Law of Righteousness, the tract in which Wistanley announced his communist programme, was dated four days before the execution of Charles I. A fortnight before the digging started the Act of 17 March 1649 abolished kingship; two months later (19 May) another Act declared England to be a commonwealth and free state. Anything seemed possible, including the Second Coming of Jesus Christ…”[20]

      They acquired their name for the following reason. “In April 1649,” write Downing and Millman, “a group of poor men and women collected on the common on St. George’s Hill in Surrey and began to dig up the land and form a squatter community. Led by the charismatic Gerrard Winstanley their actions symbolized the assumption of ownership of common land. Winstanley believed in universal salvation and in what we would now call communist theories, that all property should be held in common. His visions of common ownership, rather than private property, also extended to equality between the sexes. Drawing on a theory of natural rights, Winstanley also quoted the Bible to support his arguments. Rejecting the traditional teachings of the Church, his was a visionary form of spirituality.[21]

      “The Digger colony on St. George’s Hill was not unique; there were others in Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire, Gloucestershire and Nottinghamshire, as well as in other parts of the country. The Diggers of ‘True Levellers’ produced specific demands that confiscated Church, Crown and Royalists’ lands be turned over to the poor. Set out in The Law of Freedom, Winstanley challenged existing property relations in the name of true Christian freedom and put forward his hopes for a communist Utopia. Earlier had had written: ‘they had resolved to work and eat together, making the earth a common treasury, doth join hands with Christ to lift up the creation from bondage, and restores all things from the curse.’ Almost inevitably, the Digger colonies failed, some harassed by local residents, others by local justices. However, their ideas lay in their ideas and their actions…”

     Every revolution has its antinomian, anarchist element. In the English revolution they were the Diggers…

      As Ackroyd writes, the Ranters “believed that to the pure all things were pure; Laurence Clarkson, ‘the Captain of the Rant’, professed that ‘sin had its conception only in imagination’. They might swear, drink, smoke and have sex with impunity. No worldly magistrate could touch them.”[22]

      “The Ranters pushed toleration to the limit. In no way a sect nor an organized congregation, this loose group of individuals provoked fear and hostility quite out of proportion to their numbers. As individuals they were undeniably provocative; taking their belief in the individual’s personal relationship with God to its extreme, they broke with all traditions and moral constraints. By the standards of their day they appeared sexually and socially immoral….

      “Mainstream Protestantism was, however, to face its biggest challenge from the Quakers. The Quakers of the seventeenth century had little in common with the Friends of today, known for their pacifism and quietism. The Quakers originated in the north of England and found adherents among farmers and artisans as well as the poor. Like the Diggers, they believed in universal salvation and the notion of Christ within the individual. Their success in evangelising is proved by the numbers of converts: in 1652 they numbered about 500, by 1657 there were perhaps 50,000. Their leaders were often flamboyant and aggressive in their beliefs; Quakers also demanded religious freedom alongside calls for social reforms. They were to be found disrupting services in the ‘steeplehouses’, their name for parish churches. They refused to pay tithes and challenged the authority of local magistrates. Their belief in equality of all men in the sight of God led them to eschew traditional forms of deference; they refused ‘hat-honour’, the removing of hats in front of figures of authority…”[23]

      “The Fifth Monarchy men and women were actively preparing the reign of Christ and His saints that was destined to supersede the four monarchies of the ancient world; the reign of Jesus would begin in 1694. They would clap hands and jump around, calling out: ‘Appear! Appear! Appear!’; they would be joined by travelling fiddlers and ballad-singers until they were in an emotional heat.

      “The Muggletonians also had apocalyptic and millenarian tendencies. They believed that the soul died with the body and would be raised with it at the time of judgement, and that God paid no attention to any earthly activities. They also asserted that heaven was 6 miles above the earth and that God was between 5 and 6 feet in height…”[24]

      The Muggletonians had that suspicion of the law and lawyers that ran through all the sects insofar as “radical Puritan theology converges with politics in opposition to law”[25]. Thus “Ludowick Muggleton accepted that ‘the poor… can have no law at all, although his cause be ever so just, no judge will hear him, nor no lawyer will give him any counsel, except he hath monies in his hand; nor no judge will do the poor any justice, except he go in the way of the law, and that the poor cannot do’. ‘So that if the birthright of the poor be ever so great or just, it must be lost for want of monies to fee lawyers’. Although ‘the government of this world hath brought a necessity of the use of lawyers’, none of the saints should enter that profession. Lawyers will be condemned to hell in the last judgement. The 169th Song in Divine Songs of the Muggletonians rejoiced that lawyers ‘are damned without mercy to all eternity’ – a sentence which Milton reserved for bishops…”[26]


      The outcome of the Civil War was determined above all by the victories of the parliamentary forces at Marston Moor (1644) and Naseby (1645). The decisive element was the presence on the parliamentary side of the embryo (at least) of a standing army, formed and commanded by Thomas Fairfax and Oliver Cromwell. The revolutionary aspect of this army, which made it so powerful, was that the soldiers were chosen on a meritocratic basis, not on the basis of rank or nobility, and were paid on a regular basis as professionals.

      Cromwell belonged to a distinct strand among the Protestants, the Independents, who were distinguished from the Presbyterians, who dominated parliament, by, on the one hand, a greater tolerance in religious matters, and on the other hand, a greater intolerance in political matters. The Presbyterians were prepared to come to some kind of accommodation with the king after he fell into captivity. Cromwell, however, after trying and failing to come to an agreement with him, came to the conclusion that it was impossible and decided to kill him. Not that he was anti-monarchist as such: “he was no republican: his enemies described him as ‘king-ridden’. Early in 1648 Cromwell and his friends annoyed the republican Ludlow by refusing to commit themselves to a preference for monarchy, aristocracy or democracy: ‘Any of them might be good in themselves, or for us, according as providence should direct us.’ The farthest Olive would go was to say that a republic might be desirable but no feasible – and one suspects that he only said that to please Ludlow. As late as 12 January 1649 Cromwell opposed a motion to abolish the House of Lords, with the highly characteristic argument that it would be madness at a time when unity was so essential. Political practice was always more important to him than constitutional theory. He subsequently justified the abolition of King and Lords not on any ground of political principle but ‘because they did not perform their trust’.”[30]

      At his trial Charles said: “If they can do this to me [regicide], which of you is safe?” “For if a power without law may make laws, may alter the fundamental laws of the kingdom, I do not know what subject can be sure of his life, or of anything that he calls his own.” As for the people, “truly I desire their liberty and freedom, as much as anybody whomsoever; but I must tell you that their liberty and their freedom consists in having of government those laws by which their life and their goods may be most their own. It is not for having share in government, sir, that is nothing pertaining to them. A subject and a sovereign are clean different things…”

     Charles presented his case well; through his death – he was beheaded in front of Westminster Hall - he believed that he went, as he put it, “from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown”, and did so with great courage and dignity. And yet the new ideas of political liberty and anti-monarchism no longer seemed paradoxical and unnatural. They had entered the bloodstream of human thought...

      Traditionally, it had been the aristocrats who reined in tyrannical kings; and when King Charles was brought to trial the parallel with Magna Carta was in many minds. Thus the court’s first meeting was held in the Painted Chamber at the Palace of Westminster where the nobles traditionally put on their robes. For, writes Sean Kelsey, “the revolution was portrayed as a new chapter in the history of that aristocratic constitutionalism which had long sustained English traditions of resistance to royal authority. In the course of proceedings, John Bradshaw, Lord President of the High Court of Justice, recalled the ‘Barons’ Wars’, ’when the nobility of the land did stand up for the liberty and property of the subject and would not suffer the kings that did invade to play the tyrant freely… But… if they do forbear to do their duty now and are not so mindful of their own honour and the kingdom’s good as the barons of England of old were, certainly the Commons of England will not be so unmindful of what is for their preservation and for their safety.’”[31]

      Unlike the barons in 1215, however, the Parliamentarians in 1649 were already a “rump”, purged by the army radicals; and this rump knew that if they did not do what the army wanted, they would be swept away…

      John Milton set himself the task of justifying the revolution (Engels called him “the first defender of regicide”) in theological terms.[32] He began, in his Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, with a firm rejection of the Divine Right of Kings. “It is lawful and hath been held so through all ages for anyone who has the power to call to account a Tyrant or wicked King, and after due conviction to depose and put him to death.” Charles I was to be identified with the Antichrist, and in overthrowing him the English people had chosen God as their King. Moreover, it was now the duty of the English to spread their revolution overseas (Cromwell had begun the process in Scotland and Ireland in 1649-51), for the saints in England had been “the first to overcome those European kings which receive their power not from God but from the Beast”.[33]

      “No man who knows aught,” wrote Milton, “can be so stupid as to deny that all men naturally were born free”. Kings and magistrates are but “deputies and commissioners of the people”. “To take away from the people the right of choosing government takes away all liberty”. Milton attributed the dominance of bishops and kings to the Norman Conquest, and he bewailed men’s readiness “with the fair words and promises of an old exasperated foe… to be stroked and tamed again into the wonted and well-pleasing state of their true Norman villeinage.”[34]

      Had the Norman conquerors finally been conquered in the revolution? By no means: absolutism had indeed been introduced into England by the Normans, but Normans and Saxons had long since been merged into a single nation of the English, and the revolution in no way restored the faith and customs of Anglo-Saxon England. This historical argument was simply a cloak for that root cause of all revolutions – pride, the pride that Milton himself had so convincingly portrayed in Satan in Paradise Lost (262-263):

To reign is worth ambition though in hell:

Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven…

      And just as Satan is no democrat, so the English revolutionaries – like their followers Robespierre in 1793 or Lenin in 1917 – had no intention of giving the rule to the demos. Of course, they thought, the “inconstant, irrational and image-doting rabble”, could not have the rule. The better part – i.e. the gentry, people like Milton himself, like Cromwell – must act on their behalf.

      But the problem was: how could the better part stop the worser part from taking over? For, as history was to show in 1789 and again in 1917, the revolution never stops half way: once legitimacy has been taken from the King by the Lords, it does not remain with them, but has to pass on to the Commons, and from the Commons to the people. And to the lowest of the people at that; for, as Denzill Holles, once a leading opponent of the king, wrote already in 1649: “The meanest of men, the basest and vilest of the nation, the lowest of the people have got power into their hands; trampled upon the crown; baffled and misused the Parliament; violated the laws; destroyed or suppressed the nobility and gentry of the kingdom…”[35]

      And then there was a further problem, one raised by Filmer, that even if we accept that “the sounder, the better and the uprighter part have the power of the people… how shall we know, or who shall judge, who they can be?” But Milton brushed this problem aside… Like so many later republicans he could not answer the question: if not the king, then who will rule, and how can we be sure that they really are “the better and the uprighter part”?[36]

      Indeed, is it not much more likely that a man who comes to power by violence and intrigue is likely to be much worse – and more tyrannical – that the one who receives the throne, not by violence, but by hereditary right, and having been trained for the role throughout his preceding life?


December 23 / January 5, 2017/2018.



[1]Coleridge, Table Talk, 9 November, 1833.

[2]George, 500 Years of Revolution: European Radicals from Hus to Lenin, Chicago, 1998, p. viii.

[3]Hughes, in “The Great Misconceptions of the Civil War”, BBC History Magazine, May, 2015, p. 36.

[4]Some of the leading revolutionaries, such as John Milton, were also Arians. See C.S. Lewis, Preface to Paradise Lost, New Delhi: Atlantic, 2012, pp. 82-83.

[5]Guizot, History of Civilization in Europe, London: Penguin Books, 1847, 1997, p. 217.

[6]Milton, To the Lords and Commons of England, 1644.

[7]Foxley, in “The Great Misconceptions of the Civil War”, BBC History Magazine, May, 2015, p. 38.

[8]Nicolson, op. cit., p. 194.

[9]Barzun, op. cit., pp. 250-251.

[10]James I, in Ashton, The English Civil War, p. 7.

[11]Barzun, op. cit., p. 249.

[12]Ashton, op. cit., pp. 7, 8.

[13]Brown, Love’s Body, in Christopher Hill, Milton and the English Revolution,London: Faber & Faber, 1997, p. 171.

[14]Quoted in Hill, op. cit., pp. 173-174.

[15]Western, Monarchy and Revolution, London: Blandford Press, 1972, p. 8.

[16]McClelland, op. cit., p. 232. Rousseau also pointed out, in The Social Contract, that since every man is equally a descendant of Adam, it was not clear which descendants of Adam were to exercise lordship over others.

[17]Nicolson, op. cit., pp. 9-10.

[18] Christopher Hill, Liberty against the Law, London: Penguin, 1997, p. 325.

[19]Downing and Millman, Civil War, London: Parkgate books, 1991, p. 109.

[20] Hill, op. cit., pp. 273-274.

[21]Thus among Winstanley’s “revelations” “was one, That the earth shall be made a common Treasury of livelihood to whole mankind, without respect of persons; and I had a voice within me declare it all abroad, which I did obey…” (Watch Word to the City of London). (V.M.)

[22] Ackroyd, op. cit., p. 313.

[23]Downing and Millman, op. cit., pp. 119-121, 125.

[24]Ackroyd, op. cit., pp. 313-314.

[25]Hill, Liberty against the Law, p. 216.

[26]Hill, Liberty against the Law, pp. 266-267.

[27]Hill, God’s Englishman, London: Penguin, 1970, p. 195.

[28]Hill, Milton and the English Revolution, p. 172.

[29]Sir Thomas More, in John Dover Wilson, The Essential Shakespeare, Cambridge University Press, 1967, p. 92.

[30] Royle, Civil War: The Wars of the Three Kingdoms 1638-1660, London: Abacus, 2004, p. 491.

[31]Kelsey, “The Trial of Charles I: A New Perspective”, History Today, vol. 49 (1), January, 1999, p. 37.

[32]For, as Sir Edmund Leach writes, “at different times, in different places, Emperor and Anarchist alike may find it convenient to appeal to Holy Writ” (“Melchisedech and the Emperor: Icons of Subversion and Orthodoxy”, Proceedings of the Royal Anthropological Society, 1972, p. 6).

[33]Quoted in Hill, Milton and the English Revolution, p. 167.

[34]Quoted in Hill, op. cit., pp. 100, 101, 169.

[35]Quoted in Almond, op. cit., p. 51.

[36]Quoted in Hill, op. cit., p. 169.

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