Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Lilburne, John
LILBURNE, JOHN (1614?–1657), political agitator, was the son of Richard Lilburne (d. 1667) of Thickley Puncherdon, Durham, by Margaret, daughter of Thomas Hixon, yeoman of the wardrobe to Queen Elizabeth (Visitation of Durham, 1615, p. 31; Foster, Durham Pedigrees, p. 215). His father signalised himself as one of the last persons to demand trial by battle in a civil suit (Rushworth, vii. 469). Robert Lilburne [q. v.] was his elder brother. A younger brother, Henry, served in Manchester's army, was in 1647 lieutenant-colonel in Robert Lilbune's regiment, declared for the king in August 1648, and was killed at the recapture of Tynemouth Castle of which be was governor (Rushworth, vii. 1226; Clarke Papers,i. 142,368,419; Carlyle Cromwell, Letter xxxix.) A cousin, Thomas, son of George Lilburne of Sunderland, was a staunch Cromwellian while the Protector lived, but in 1660 assisted Lord Fairfax against Lambert, and thus forwarded the Restoration (Thurloe, vii, 411,436; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1659-60 p. 294, 1663-4 p. 445; Le Neve, Monumenta Anglieana, ii, 108).
Lilbune was born at Greenwich (Innocency and Truth Justified, 1645, p. 8). At the close of a letter appended to that pamphlet and dated 11 Nov. 1638, he describes himself as then in his twenty-second year; in the portrait prefixed to another he is described as twenty-three in 1641 (An Answer to Nine Arguments written by T. B., 1645). The 'Visitation' appears to prove that in each case his age was understated. He was educated at Newcastle and Auckland schools, and then apprenticed by his father to Thomas Hewson, a wholesale cloth merchant in London, with whom he remained from about 1630 to 1636 (The Legal Fundamental Liberties of the People of England, 1649, 2nd edit., p. 25; Innocency and Truth Justified, p.8). In his spare time he read Foxe's 'Book of Martyrs' and the Puritan divines, and about 1636 became acquainted with John Bastwick, then a prisoner in the Gatehouse. Lilbune'a connection with Bastwick, whose 'Litany' he had a hand in printing, obliged him to fly to Holland. The story that he was Prynne's servant seems to be untrue (Bastwick, Just Defence; Prynne, Liar Confounded, 1646, p. 2; Lilburne, Innocency and Truth, p. 7). On his return from Holland, Lilburne was arrested (11 Dec. 1637) and brought before the Star Chamber on the charge of printing and circulating unlicensed books, more especially Prynne's 'News from Ipswich.' In his examinations he refused to take the oath known as the 'ex-officio' oath—on the ground that he was not bound to criminate himself, and thus called in question the court's usual procedure (see Gardiner, History of England, viii. 248; Stephens, History of the Criminal Law, i. 343). As he persisted in his contumacy, he was sentenced (13 Feb. 1638) to be fined 500l., whipped, pilloried, and imprisoned till he obeyed (Rushworth, ii. 463-6; State Trials, iii. 1315-67). On 18 April 1638 Lilburne was whipped from the Fleet to Palace Yard. When he was pilloried he made a speech denouncing the bishops, threw some of Bastwick's tracts among the crowd, and, as he refused to be silent, was finally gagged. During his imprisonment he was treated with great barbarity (Lilburne, The Christian Man's Trial, 1641; A Copy of a Letter written by John Lilburne to the Wardens of the Fleet, 4 Oct. 1640; A True Relation of the Material Passage of Lieutenant-Colonel John Lilburne's as they were proved before the House of Peers, 13 Feb. 1645; State Trials, iii. 1315). He contrived, however, to write and to get printed an apology for separation from the church of England, entitled 'Come out of her, my people' (1639), and an account of his own punishment styled 'The Work of the Beast' (1638).
As soon as the Long parliament met, a petition from Lilburne was presented by Cromwell, and referred to a committee (Commons' Journals, ii. 24; Memoirs of Sir Philip Warwick, p. 247). On 4 May 1641 the Commons voted that Lilburne's sentence was 'illegal and against the liberties of the subject,' and also 'bloody, wicked, cruel, barbarous, and tyrannical (ib. ii. 134). The same day Lilburne, who had been released at the beginning of the parliament, brought before the House of Lords for speaking words against the king, but as the witnesses disagreed the charge was dismissed (Lords' Journals, iv. 233).
When the civil war broke out, Lilburne, who had in the meantime taken to brewing, obtained a captain's commission in Lord Brooke's foot regiment, fought at the battle of Edgehill, and was taken prisoner in the fight at Brentford (12 Nov. 1642; Innocency and Truth Justified, pp. 41, 65). He was then put on his trial at Oxford for high treason in bearing arms against the king, before Chief-justice Heath. Had not parliament, by a declaration of 17 Dec. 1642, threatened immediate reprisals, Lilburne would have been condemned to death (Rushworth, v. 93; A Letter sent from Captain Lilburne, 1643; The Trial of Lieutenant-Colonel John Lilburne, 24-36 Oct. 1619, by Theodorus Varax, pp. 33-9). In the course of 1643 Lilburne obtained his liberty by exchange. Essex gave him 300l. by way of recognition of his undaunted conduct at his trial, and he says that he was offered a place of profit and honour, but preferred to fight, though it were for eight pence a day, till he saw the peace and liberty of England settled (Legal Fundamental Liberties, p. 27). Joining Manchester's army at the siege of Lincoln, he took part as a volunteer in its capture, and on 7 Oct. 1643 was given a major's commission in Colonel King's regiment of foot. On 16 May 1644 he was transferred to Manchester's own dragoons with the rank of lieutenant-colonel. He left the army on 30 April 1645), finding that he could not enter the new model without taking the covenant.
Lilburne had gained a great reputation for courage and seems to have been a good officer, but his military career was unlucky. He spent about six months in prison at Oxford, was plundered of all he had at Rupert's relief of Newark (22 March 1644), was shot through the arm at the taking of Walton Hall, near Wakefield (3 June 1644), and received very little pay. His arrears when he left the service amounted to 880l. (Innocency and Truth Justified, pp. 25, 43, 46, 69; The Resolved Man's Resolution, p. 32). He also succeeded in quarrelling, first with Colonel King and then with the Earl of Manchester, both of whom he regarded as lukewarm, incapable, and treacherous. He did his beet to get King cashiered, and was one of the authors of the charge of high treason against him, which was presented to the House of Commons by some of the committee of Lincoln in August 1644 (Innocency and Truth, p.43; England's Birthright 1645, p. 17, The Just Mam's Justification). The dispute with Manchester was due to Lilburne's summoning and capturing Tickhill Castle against Manchester's orders, and Lilburne was one of Cromwell's witnesses in his charge against Manchester (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1644- 1645, p. 146; Englad's Birthright, p. 17; Legal Fundamental Liberties, p. 30).
Besides these feuds Lilburne soon engaged in a quarrel with two of his quondam fellow sufferers. On 7 Jan. 1645 be addressed a letter to Prynne, attacking the intolerance of the presbyterians, and claiming freedom of conscience and freedom of speech for the independents (A Copy of a Letter to William Prynne upon his last book entitled 'Truth Triumphing over Error,' &c, 1645), Prynne, bitterly incensed, procured a vote of the Commons summoning Lilburne before the committee for examinations (17 Jan. 1645), When he appeared (17 May 1645) the committee discharged him with a caution (Innocency and Truth Justified, p. 9; The Reasons of Lieutenant-Colonel Lilburne sending his Letter to Mr. Prynne, 1645). A second time (18 June 1645) Prynne caused Lilburne to be brought before the same committee, on a charge of publishing unlicensed pamphlets, but he was again dismissed unpunished. Prynne vented his malice in two pamphlets: 'A Fresh Discovery of prodigious Wandering: Stars and Firebrands, and 'The Liar Confounded,' to which Lilburne replied in 'Innocency and Truth Justified' (1645), Dr. Bastwick took a minor part in the same controversy.
Meanwhile Lilburne was ineffectually endeavouring to obtain from the House of Commons the promised compensation for his sufferings. He procured from Cromwell a letter recommending his case to the house. His attendance, wrote Cromwell, had kept him from other employment, and 'his former losses and late services (which have been very chargeable) considered, he doth find it a hard thing in these times for himself and his family to subsist' (Innocency and Truth Justified, p. 63). Lilburne hoped also to attract the notice of parliament by giving them a narrative of the victory of Langport, which he had witnessed during his visit to Cromwell (A more full Relation of the Battle fought between Sir T. Fairfax and Goring made in the House of Commons, 14 July 1645).
But all chance of obtaining what he asked was entirely destroyed by a new indiscretion. On 19 July he was overheard relating in conversation certain scandalous charges against Speaker Lenthall [see Lenthall, William]. King and Bastwick reported the matter to the Commons, who immediately ordered Lilburne's arrest (Commons' Journals, iv. 213). Brought before the committee for examinations, Lilburne refused to answer the questions put to him unless the cause of his arrest were specified, saying that their procedure was contrary to Magna Charta and the privileges of a freeborn denizen of England (Innocency and Truth, p. 13; The Liar Confounded, p. 7). In spite of his imprisonment Lilburne contrived to print an account of his examination and arrest, in which he attacked not only several members by name, but the authority of the Commons house itself (The Copy of a Letter from Lieutenant-Colonel Lilburne to a friend, 1645). The committee in consequence sent him to Newgate (9 Aug.), and the house ordered that the Recorder of London should proceed against him in quarter sessions. The charge against the speaker was investigated, and voted groundless, but no further proceedings were taken against Lilburne, and he was released on 14 Oct. 1645 (Commons' Journals, iv. 235, 237, 274, 307; Godwin, History of the Commonwealth, ii. 21).
Lilburne was for a short time comparatively quiet. He presented a petition to the Commons for his arrears, but, as he refused to swear to his accounts, could not obtain his pay. His case against the Star-chamber was pleaded before the Lords by Bradshaw, and that house transmitted to the Commons an ordinance granting him 2,000l. in compensation for his sufferings (A True Relation of the Material Passages of Lieutenant-Colonel John Lilburne's Sufferings, as they were represented before the House of Peers, 13 Feb. 1645–6; Lords' Journals, viii. 201). But the ordinance hung fire in the Commons, and in the meantime Prynne and the committee of accounts alleged that Lilburne owed the state 2,000l., and Colonel King claimed 2,000l. damages for slander. In this dilemma Lilburne wrote and printed (6 June 1647) a letter to Judge Reeve, before whom King's claim was to be tried, explaining his embarrassments and asserting the justice of his cause (The Just Man's Justification, 4to, 1646). Incidentally he reflected on the Earl of Manchester, observing that if Cromwell had prosecuted his charge properly Manchester would have lost his head. Lilburne was at once summoned before the House of Lords, Manchester himself, as speaker, occupying the chair, but he refused to answer questions or acknowledge the jurisdiction of the peers (16 June). They committed him to Newgate, but he continued to defy them. To avoid obedience to their summons he barricaded himself in his cell, refused to kneel or to take off his hat, and stopped his ears when the charge against him was read. The lords sentenced him to be fined 4,000l., to be imprisoned for seven years in the Tower, and to be declared for ever incapable of holding any office, civil or military (Lords' Journals, viii. 370, 388, 428–32; The Freeman's Freedom vindicated; A Letter sent by Lieutenant-Colonel John Lilburne to Mr. Wollaston, keeper of Newgate; The Just Man in Bonds; A Pearl in a Dunghill, 4to, 1646).
On 16 June Lilburne had appealed to the Commons as the only lawful judges of ‘a commoner of England,’ or ‘freeborn Englishman.’ On 3 July accordingly the house appointed a committee to consider his case, before which Lilburne appeared on 31 Oct. and 6 Nov., but the business presented so many legal and political difficulties, that their report was delayed (Anatomy of the Lords' Tyranny … exercised upon John Lilburne). Lilburne looked beyond the House of Commons, and appealed to the people in a series of pamphlets written by himself, his friend Richard Overton [q. v.], and others (A Remonstrance of Many Thousand Citizens; Vox Plebis; An Alarum to the House of Lords). He found time also to attack abuses in the election of the city magistrates, to publish a bitter attack on monarchy, and to quarrel with his gaolers about the exorbitant fees demanded of prisoners in the Tower (London's Liberty in Chains Discovered, 1646; Regal Tyranny Discovered, 1647; The Oppressed Man's Oppressions Declared, 1647). In the last-named he abused the Commons for delaying his release, and was therefore called before the committee for scandalous pamphlets (8 Feb. 1647). His attitude is shown in the title of a tract published on 30 April 1647: ‘The Resolved Man's Resolution to maintain with the last drop of his heart's blood his civil liberties and freedom.’ Despairing of help from the House of Commons, Lilburne now appealed to Cromwell and the army (Rash Oaths Unwarrantable; Jonah's Cry out of the Whale's Belly). The agitators took up his case and demanded Lilburne's release as one of the conditions of the settlement between the army and parliament (Clarke Papers, i. 171). When the army marched through London and Fairfax was made lieutenant of the Tower, Lilburne's expectations of immediate release were again disappointed. Though the committee at last reported (14 Sept.), the Commons referred the report back to it again, and appointed a new committee specially to consider the legal questions involved (15 Oct.). Lilburne was allowed to argue his case before the committee (20 Oct.), and on 9 Nov. the Commons ordered that he should have liberty from day to day to come abroad, to attend the committee and to instruct his counsel, without a keeper (The Grand Plea of Lieutenant-colonel John Lilburne; The Additional Plea; Commons' Journals, v. 301, 334). Before his release Lilburne offered, if he could obtain a reasonable proportion of justice from the parliament, to leave the kingdom and not to return as long as the present troubles lasted (Additional Plea; Commons' Journals, v. 326; Tanner MSS. lviii. 549). But ever since June his suspicions of Cromwell had been increasing, and he now regarded him as a treacherous and self-seeking intriguer. The negotiations of the army leaders with the king, and the suggestions of royalist fellow-prisoners in the Tower, led him to credit the story that Cromwell had sold himself to the king (Jonah's Cry; Two Letters by Lilburne to Colonel Henry Marten; The Jugglers Discovered, 1647). Cromwell's breach with the king, in November 1647, which Lilburne attributed solely to the fear of assassination, did not remove these suspicions, and the simultaneous suppression of the levelling party in the army seemed conclusive proof of Cromwell's tyrannical designs. Regardless of his late protestations, Lilburne, in conjunction with Wildman, with the ‘agents’ representing the mutinous part of the army, and with the commissioners of the levellers of London and the adjacent counties, drew up a petition to the commons, as ‘the supreme authority of England,’ demanding the abolition of the House of Lords and the immediate concession of a number of constitutional and legal changes. Emissaries were sent out to procure signatures, and mass meetings of petitioners arranged. Information of these proceedings was given to the House of Lords on 17 Jan. 1648, and on their complaint the House of Commons summoned Lilburne to the bar (19 Jan.), and after hearing his lengthy vindication committed him again to the Tower (Lords' Journals, ix. 663–666; Commons' Journals, v. 436–8; Truth's Triumph, by John Wildman; The Triumph Stained, by George Masterson; A Whip for the present House of Lords, by Lilburne, A Declaration of some proceedings of Lieutenant-colonel John Lilburne and his associates; An Impeachment of High Treason against Oliver Cromwell and Henry Ireton, by Lilburne, 1649). Six months later the presbyterian leaders in the Commons, calling to mind the charge which Lilburne had brought against Cromwell at his last appearance before the house, resolved to set him free. On 27 July Sir John Maynard, one of the eleven members impeached by the army in 1647, set forth his case in a powerful speech. On 1 Aug. the Commons passed a vote for Lilburne's release, and next day the Lords not only followed their example but remitted the fine and sentence of imprisonment which they had imposed two years earlier (A Speech by Sir John Maynard, 1648; Commons' Journals, v. 657; Lords' Journals, x. 407).
On the day of Lilburne's release Major Huntington laid before the lords his charge against Cromwell. Lilburne states that he was ‘earnestly solicited again and again’ to join Huntington in impeaching Cromwell, ‘and might have had money enough to boot to have done it,’ but he was afraid of the consequences of a Scottish victory, and preferred to encourage Cromwell by a promise of support (Legal Fundamental Liberties, 1649 ed., ii. 32). Nevertheless all Lilburne's actions during the political agitation of the autumn of 1648 were marked by a deep distrust of the army leaders. He refused to take part in the king's trial, and, though holding that he deserved death, thought that he ought to be tried by a jury instead of by a high court of justice. He also feared the consequences of executing the king and abolishing the monarchy before the constitution of the new government had been agreed upon and its powers strictly defined. The constitutional changes demanded by Lilburne and his friends had been set forth in the London petition of 11 Sept. 1648 (Rushworth, vii. 1257), and he next procured the appointment of a committee of sixteen persons—representing the army and the different sections of the republican party—to draw up the scheme of a new constitution. But when the committee had drawn up their scheme, the council of officers insisted on revising and materially altering it. Lilburne, who regarded these changes as a gross breach of faith, published the scheme of the committee (15 Dec.) under the title of ‘The Foundations of Freedom, or an Agreement of the People,’ and addressed a strong protest to Fairfax (‘A Plea for Common Right and Freedom,’ 28 Dec. 1648). The council of officers also, on 20 Jan. 1649, presented their revised version of the scheme to parliament, also calling it ‘An Agreement of the People’ (Gardiner, Great Civil War, iii. 501, 528, 545, 567; Old Parliamentary History, xviii. 516; Legal Fundamental Liberties, pp. 32–42). The difference between the two programmes was considerable, especially with regard to the authority given to the government in religious matters. Moreover, while the officers simply presented the ‘Agreement’ to parliament for its consideration, Lilburne had intended to circulate it for signature among the people, and to compel parliament to accept it. He now appealed to the discontented part of the army and the London mob, in the hope of forcing the hands of parliament and the council of officers. On 26 Feb. he presented to the parliament a bitter criticism of the ‘Agreement’ of the officers, following it up (24 March) by a violent attack on the chief officers themselves (England's New Chains Discovered, pts. i. ii.; answered in ‘The Discoverer,’ attributed to Frost, the secretary of the council of state). Parliament voted the second part of ‘England's New Chains’ seditious, and ordered that its authors should be proceeded against (27 March). Lilburne and three friends were brought before the council of state, and after refusing to own its jurisdiction, or answer questions incriminating themselves, were committed to the Tower, 28 March (The Picture of the Council of State; Commons' Journals, vi. 183; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1649–50, p. 57). Immediately a number of petitions in Lilburne's favour were presented—one from London, another from ten thousand well-affected persons in the county of Essex, and a third from a number of women (Commons' Journals, vi. 178, 189, 200). The leaders of the rising which took place in May 1649 threatened that if a hair of the heads of Lilburne and his friends were touched they would avenge it ‘seventy times sevenfold upon their tyrants’ (Walker, History of Independency, pt. ii. p. 171). Lilburne, whom it seems to have been utterly impossible to deprive of ink, fanned the excitement by publishing an amended version of his constitutional scheme, a vindication of himself and his fellow-prisoners, a controversial tract about the lawlessness of the present government, and a lengthy attack on the parliament (An Agreement of the Free People of England, 1 May 1649; A Manifestation from Lieutenant-colonel John Lilburne and others, commonly, though unjustly, styled ‘Levellers,’ 14 April; A Discourse between Lieutenant-colonel John Lilburne and Mr. Hugh Peter, upon May 25, 1649; The Legal Fundamental Liberties of the People of England Vindicated, 8 June 1649). None the less on 18 July the house, at Marten's instigation, ordered Lilburne's release on bail on account of the illness of his wife and children (Commons' Journals, vi. 164). A compromise of some kind seems to have been attempted and failed, and then on 10 Aug. Lilburne published ‘An Impeachment of High Treason against Oliver Cromwell and his Son-in-law, Henry Ireton,’ combining the accusations he had made against Cromwell in January 1648 with the charges brought by Huntington in August following. Of more practical importance was a tract appealing to the army to avenge the blood of the late mutineers, which Lilburne personally distributed to some of the soldiers quartered in London (An Outcry of the Young Men and Apprentices of London, addressed to the Private Soldiers of the Army). Its immediate result was the mutiny of Ingoldsby's regiment at Oxford in September 1649. On 11 Sept. the parliament voted the ‘Outcry’ seditious, and ordered immediate preparations for Lilburne's long-delayed trial (The Moderate, 11–18 Sept. 1649; Commons' Journals, vi. 293). Three days later he was examined by Prideaux, the attorney-general, who reported that there was sufficient evidence to convict him (Strength out of Weakness, or the Final and Absolute Plea of Lieutenant-colonel John Lilburne; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1649–50, p. 314). Lilburne himself offered to refer the matter to a couple of arbitrators, or to emigrate to America provided that the money due to him from the state were first paid (The Innocent Man's First Proffer, 20 Oct.; The Innocent Man's Second Proffer, 22 Oct.).
His trial at the Guildhall by a special commission of oyer and terminer lasted three days (24–26 Oct.) Lilburne began by refusing to plead, and contesting the authority of the court. He was indicted under two recent acts (14 May 1649, 17 July 1649), declaring what offences should be adjudged treason, and his defence was a denial of the facts alleged against him, and an argument that he was not legally guilty of treason. He carried on a continuous battle with his judges, and appealed throughout to the jury, asserting that they were judges of the law as well as the fact, and that the judges were ‘no more but cyphers to pronounce their verdict.’ Though Judge Jermyn pronounced this ‘a damnable blasphemous heresy,’ the jury acquitted Lilburne (Trial of Lieutenant-colonel John Lilburne, by Theodorus Varax, 1649; State Trials, iv. 1270–1470; the legal aspects of the trial are discussed in Stephen, History of the Criminal Law, 1883, i. 356, Willis BundSelections from the Slate Trials, 1879. i. 602, and Inderwick, The Interregnum, 1891, p. 275). Warned by the popular rejoicings, the council of state accepted the verdict, and released Lilburne and his associates (8 Nov. 1649).
So far as politics was concerned, Lilburne for the next two years remained quiet. He was elected on 21 Dec. 1649 a common councilman for the city of London, but on the 26th his election was declared void by parliament, although he had taken the required oath to be faithful to the commonwealth (Commons' Journal, vi. 338; The Engagement Vindicated and Explained). No disposition, however, was shown to persecute him. On 22 Dec, 1648 he had obtained an ordinance granting him 3,000l, in compensation for his sufferings, from the Star-chamber, the money being made payable from the forfeited estates of various royalists in the county of Durham. As this source had proved insufficient, Lilburne, by the aid of Marten and Cromwell, obtained another ordinance (30 July 1650), charging the remainder of the sum on confiscated chapter-lands, and thus became owner of some of the lands of the Durham chapter (Commons' Journals, i. 441, 447).
Now that his own grievance was redressed, he undertook to redress those of other people. Ever since 1644, when he found himself prevented by the monopoly of the merchant adventurers from embarking in the cloth trade, Lilburne had advocated the release of trade from the restrictions of chartered companies and monopolists (Innocency and Truth Justified, p. 43; England's Birthright Justified, p. 9). He now took up the case of the soap-makers, and wrote petitions for them demanding the abolition of the excise on soap, and apparently became a soap manufacturer himself (The Soapmaker' Complaint for the Loss of their Trade, 1650). The tenants of the manor of Epworth hold themselves wronged by enclosures which had taken place under the schemes fur draining Hatfield Chase and the Isle of Axholme. Lilhume took up their cause, assisted by his friend, John Wildman, and headed a riot (19 Oct. 1650), by means of which the commoners sought to obtain possession of the disputed lands. His zeal was not entirely disinterested, as he was to have two thousand acres for himself and Wildman if the claimants succeeded (The Case of the Tenants of the Manor of Epworth, by John Lilburne, 18 Nov. 1650; Two Petitions from Lincolnshire against the Old Court Levellers; Lilburne Tried and Cast, pp. 83–90; Tomlinson, The Level of Hatfield Chace, pp. 91, 258–76; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1652–3. p. 373). John Morris, alias Poyntz, complained of being swindled out of some properties by potent enemies, with the assistance of John Browne, late clerk to the House of Lords. Lilburne, who had exerted himself on behalf of Morris as far back as 1648. now actively took up his cause again (A Whip for the Present House of Lords, 27 Feb. 1647–8; The Case of John Morris, alias Poyntz, 29 June 1651).
Much more serious in its consequences was Lilburne's adoption of the quarrel of his uncle, George Lilburne, with Sir Arthur Hesilrige. In 1649, Lilburne had published a violent attack on Hesilrige, whom he accused of obstructing the payment of the money granted him by the parliamentary ordinance of 28 Dec. 1648 (A Preparative to an Hue and Cry after Sir Arthur Haslerig, 18 Aug, 1649). George Lilburne's quarrel with Hesilrige was caused by a dispute about the possession of certain collieries in Durham—also originally the property of royalist delinquents— from which he had been ejected by Hesilrige in 1649. In 1651 the committee for compounding delinquents' estates had confirmed Hesilrige's decision. John Lilburne intervened with a violent attack on Hesilrige and the committee, terming them 'unjust and unworthy men, fit to be spewed out of all human society, and deserving worse than to be hanged' (A just Reproof to Haberdashers' Hall, 30 July 165l). He next joined with Josiah Primat—the person from whom George Lilburne asserted that he had bought the collieries—and presented to parliament, on 23 Dec. 1651, a petition repeating and specifying the charges against Hesilrige. Parliament thereupon appointed a committee of fifty members to examine witnesses and documents; who reported on 16 Jan. 1653, that the petition was 'false, malicious, and scandalous.' Lilburne was sentenced to pay a fine of 3,000l, to the state, and damages of 2,000l, to Hesilrige, and 500l. apiece to four members of the committee for compounding. In addition he was sentenced to be banished for life, and an act of parliament for that purpose was passed on 30 Jan. (Commons' Journals, vii. 55, 71, 78; Calendar of the Proceedings of the Committee for compounding, pp. 1917, 2127, An Anatomy of Lieutenant-colonel J. Lilburne's Spirit, by T. M. 1649; Lieutenant-colonel J. Lilburne Tried and Cast, 1653; A True Narrative concerning Sir A. Hesilrige's possessing of Lieutenant-colonel J. Lilburne's estate, 1653).
Lilburne spent his exile in the Netherlands at Bruges and elsewhere, where he published a vindication of himself, and an attack on the govemment (Lieutenant-colonel John Lilburne's Apologetical Narrative, relating to his illegal and unjust sentence, Amsterdam, April 1652 printed in Dutch and English; As you were, May 1652). In his hostility to the army leaders Lilburne had often contrasted the present governors unfavourably with Charles I. Now he frequented the society of cavaliers of note, such Lords Hopton, Colepeper, and Percy. If he were furnished with ten thousand pounds, he undertook to overthrow Cromwell, the parliament, and the council of state, within six months. 'I know not.' he was heard to say, 'why I should not vye with Cromwell, since I had once as great a power as he had, and greater too, and am as good a gentleman.' But with the exception of the Duke of Buckingham, non of the royalists placed any confidence in him. (Several informations taken concerning Lieutenant-colonel John Lilburne, concerning his apostacy to the party of Charles Stuart, 1653; Malice detected in printing certain Information, etc.; Lieutenant-colonel John Lilburne received; Cal. Clarendon Papers, ii. 141, 146, 213). The news of the expulsion of the Rump in April 1653 excited Lilbume's hopes of returning to England. Counting on Cromwell's placable disposition, he boldly applied to him for a pass to return to England, and, when it was not granted, came over without one (14 June). The government at once arrested him, and lodged him in Newgate, whence he continued to importune Cromwell for his protection, and to promise to live quietly if he might stay in England (A Defensive Deceleration of Lieutenant-colonel John Lilburne, 22 June 1653; Mercurius Politicus, pp. 2515, 2525, 2529; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1652-3, pp. 410, 415, 436). His trial began at the Old Bailey on 13 July, and concluded with his aquittal on 20 Aug. As usual Lilburne contested every step with the greatest pertinacity. 'He performed the great feat which no one else ever achieved, of extorting from the court a copy of his indictment, in order that he might put it before counsel, and be instructed as to the objections he might take against it' (Stephen, History of the Criminal Law, i. 367; State Trials, v. 407-460, reprints Lilbune's own account of the trial, and his legal pleas; see also Godwin, iii. 554). Throughout the trial popular Sympathy was on his side. Petitions on his behalf were presented to parliament, so strongly worded that the petitioners were committed to prison. Crowds flocked to see him tried; threats of a rescue were freely uttered; and tickets were circulated with the legend:
- And what, shall then honest John Lilburne die?
- Three-score thousand will know the reason why.
The government filled London with troops, but in spite of their officers, the soldiers shouted and sounded their trumpets when they heard that Lilburne was acquitted (Commons' Jounals, vii. 285, 294 ; Thurloe Papers, i. 367,429, 435, 441; Clarendon, Rebellion, xiv. 52; Cal. Clarendon Papers, ii. 237, 246). The government, however, declined to leave Lilburne at large. The jurymen were summoned before the council of state, and the council of state was ordered to secure Lilburne. On 28 Aug. he was transferred from Newgate to the Tower, and the lieutenant of the Tower was instructed by parliament to refuse obedience to any writ of Habeas Corpus (Commons' Journals, vii. 306, 309, 358; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1653-4, pp. 98-102; A Hue and Cry after the Fundamental Laws and Liberties of England). Consequently Lilburne's attempt to obtain such a writ failed (Clavis Aperiendum Carceris, by P. V., 1654). On l6 March 1654, the council ordered that he should be removed to Mount Orgueil Castle, Jersey; and he was subsequently transferred to Elizabeth Castle, Guernsey. Colonel Robert Gibbon, the governor, complained that he gave more trouble than ten cavaliers. The Protector offered Lilburne his liberty if he would engage not to act against the government, but he answered that he would own no way for his liberty but the way of the law (Cal. Sate Papers, Dom. 1654, pp. 33,46; Thurloe Papers, iii. 512, 629). Lilburne's health suffered from his confinement, and in 1654 his death was reported and described (The Last Will and Testament of Lieutenant-colonel John Lilburne). His wife and father petitioned for his release, and in Oct. 1655 he was brought back to England and lodged in Dover Castle (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1655, pp. 263, 556), Immediately after his return, he declared himself a convert to the tenets of the Quakers, and announced his conversion in a letter to his wife. General Fleetwood showed a copy of this letter to the Protector, who was at first inclined to regard it merely as a politic device to escape imprisonment. When Cromwell was convinced that Lilburne really intended to live peaceably, he released him from prison, and seems to have continued till his death the pension of 40's'. a week allowed him for his maintenance during his imprisonment (The Resurrection of John Lilburne, now a prisoner in Dover Castle, 1656 Cal. Stat Papers, Dom. 1656-7, p.21). He died at Eltham 29 Aug. 1657, and was buried at Moorfields, 'in the new churchyard adjoining to Bedlam' (Mercurius Politictus, 27 Aug.-3 Sept, 1657).
Lilburne married Elizabeth, daughter of Henry Dewell. During his imprisonment in 1649 he lost two sons, but a daughter and other children survived him (Biographia Britannica, p. 2957; Thurloe, iii. 512). On 21 Jan. 1659 Elizabeth Lilburne petitioned Richard Cromwell for the discharge of the fine imposed on her husband by the act of 30 Jan. 1652, and her request was granted. Parliament on a similar petition recommended the repealing of the act, and the recommendation was carried by the restored Long parliament, 15 Aug. 1659 (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1658-9, p. 260; Commons' Journals, vii. 600, 608, 760).
Lilburne's political importance is easy to explain. In a revolution where others argued about the respective rights of thing and parliament, he spoke always of the rights of the people. His dauntless courage and his powers of speech made him the idol of the mob. With Coke's 'Institutes' in his hand he was willing to tackle any tribunal. He was ready to assail any abuse at any cost to himself, but his passionate egotism made him a dangerous champion, and he continually sacrificed public causes to personal resentments. It would be unjust to deny that he had a real sympathy with sufferers from oppression or misfortune; even when he was himself an exile he could interest himself in the distresses of English prisoners of war, and exert the remains of his influence to get them relieved (Letter to Henry Marten, 8 Sept. 1652, MSS of Captain Loder-Symonds, but cf. The Upright Man's Vindication, 1 Aug. 1653; Lieut.-col. John Lilburne Tried and Cast). In his controversies he was credulous, careless about the truth of his charges, and insatiably vindictive. He attacked in turn all constituted authorities—lords, commons, council of state, and council of officers—and quarrelled in succession with every ally. A life of Lilburne published in 1657 supplies this epitaph:
- Is John departed, and is Lilburne gone!
- Farewell to Lilburne, and farewell to John...
- But lay John here, lay Lilburne here about,
- For if they ever meet they will fall out.
A similar saying is attributed by Anthony Wood to 'magnanimous Judge Jenkins.'
There are the following contemporary portraits of Lilburne; (1) an oval, by G. Glover, prefixed to 'The Christian Man's Trial.' 1641. (2) the same portrait republished in 1646, with prison bars across the face to represent Lilburne's imprisonment. (3) a full length representing Lilburne' pleading at the bar with Coke's 'Institutes' in his hand; prefixed to 'The Trial of Lieut.-col. John Lilburne, by Theodorus Varax,' 1649.[A bibliographical list of Lilburne's pamphlets compiled by Mr. Edward Peacock, is printed in Notes and Queries for 1898. Most of them contain autobiographical matter. The earliest life of Liburne is The Self-Afflicter lively Described, 8vo, 1657; the beat is that contained in Biographia Britannica, 1760, v. 2337-61. Other lives are cantain in Wood's Athenæ Oxon. and Guizot's Portraits Politiques des Hommes des differents Partis, 1651. Godwin, in his History of the Commonwealth, 1824, traces Lilburne's career with great care. Other authorities are cited in the text.]