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Presidential Address: Collective Mentalities in mid-Seventeenth-Century England: III. Varieties of Radicalism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 February 2009


SINCE the terms radical and radicalism were not in use before the nineteenth century, it may fairly be asked what they signify when applied to the mid-seventeenth century. The simplest answer is a pragmatic one: by radical I mean anyone advocating changes in state, church or society which would have gone beyond the official programme of the mainstream puritan-parliamentarians in the Long Parliament and the Westminster Assembly of Divines. In the Parliament I therefore exclude here the ‘political Independents’, alias the War Party, other than the handful of pre-1647–8 republicans. In the Assembly I exclude the ‘Five Dissenting Brethren’, who were the spokesmen of moderate Congregationalism, but outside it I include some religious Independents whose radicalism will be presently defined. To borrow another nineteenth-century figure of speech, if we look to the Left of the mainstream Puritans and Parliamentarians, what a bewildering profusion of groups and individuals appears. It is scarcely necessary to have studied the period at all to be familiar with the names of many such sects or movements, if not perhaps of all: Anabaptists, Antinomians, Behmenists, Brownists, Comenians, Diggers, Familists, Fifth-Monarchy Men, Grindletonians, Levellers, Mortalists, Muggletonians, Quakers, Ranters, Seekers, and Socinians. Yet simply to reel off such a list is to omit many interesting and remarkable groups and individuals: would-be reformers of the professions and of law, medicine and education, free-traders, agricultural improvers, philo-semites and proto-feminists, to mention only some of the most obvious. Any reader of Thomas Edwards' Gangraena and other contemporary commination or of Christopher Hill's The World Turned Upside Down and his other writings will be familiar with most of them and no doubt with others too.

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1 Conveniently reprinted by The Rota (Exeter, 1977).

2 The ‘anti’ literature is voluminous. Besides Edwards, I have consulted the following: Baillie, Robert, alias Baylie, , A Dissuasive from the Errours of the Time … (1645)Google Scholar; Featley, Daniel, The Dippers Dipt … (1645)Google Scholar; Pagitt, Ephraim, Heresiography … (five editions 16451654)Google Scholar; Prynne, William, Twelve Considerable Serious Questions touching Church Government … (1644)Google Scholar; Independency Examined, Unmasked, Refuted … (1644); A Fresh Discovery of newblazing Firebrands … (1645); Rutherford, Samuel, A Survey of the Spirituall Antichrist … (1648)Google Scholar; A Free Disputation. Against pretended Liberty of Conscience … (1649). And this is to omit works by Benjamin Bourne, Thomas Gataker, Obadiah Howe, John Tickell and others.

3 Hill, Christopher, The World Turned Upside Down Radical Ideas during the English Revolution (1972)Google Scholar; see also Puritanism and Revolution (1958); Change and Continuity in 17th-century England (1974); Milton and the English Revolution (1978); The Experience of Defeat (1982); Collected Essays (3 vols., Brighton, 19851987)Google Scholar.

4 In order of appearance: Dickens, A. G., Lollards and Protestants in the diocese of York 1509–1558 (Oxford, 1959)Google Scholar; The English Reformation (1964), ch. 2; Aston, Margaret, Lollards and Reformers: Images and Literacy in Late Medieval Religion (1984)Google Scholar, ‘Lollardy and the Reformation’ (first published 1964); White, B. R., The English Separatist Tradition (Oxford, 1971)Google Scholar; Hill, C., ‘From Lollards to Levellers’, in Cornforth, M. (ed.), Rebels and their Causes (1978)Google Scholar, repr. in Hill, Collected Essays, vol. 2, ch. 7.

5 Lecler, J., Toleration and the Reformation (2 vols. Engl. translation 1960)Google Scholar; Jordan, W. K., The Development of Religious Toleration in England (4 vols., Cambridge, Mass., and London, 19321940Google Scholar; repr. Gloucester, Mass., 1965); Kamen, H., Rise of Toleration (1967)Google Scholar.

6 Rabb, T. K., ‘Sir Edwyn Sandys and the Parliament of 1604’, Am. Hist. Rev. lxix (1963)Google Scholar; Ashton, R., ‘The Parliamentry Agitation for Free Trade in the opening years of the reign of James I’, Past and Present, xxxviii (1967)Google Scholar; debate between Rabb and Ashton, ibid., xl (1968), xliii (1969).

7 Lilburne, John, Englands Birth Right Justified Against all Arbitrary Usurpation whether Regall or Parliamentary, Or under what Vizor soever (10 1645), pp. 811Google Scholar, reprinted in W. Haller (ed.), Tracts on Liberty in the Puritan Revolution 1638–1647 (3 vols., N.Y., 1934, repr. 1965), iii, 257–307, esp. pp. 266–9.

8 Cooper, J. P., ‘Social and Economic Policies under the Commonwealth’, in Aylmer, G. E. (ed.), The Interregnum The Quest for Settlement 1646–1660 (1972; repr. 1974)Google Scholar, 121–42, 211–12, 226–8; Thirsk, Joan and Cooper, J. P. (eds.), Seventeenth-Century Economic Documents (Oxford, 1972) nos. V, 37, 39, VII, 10Google Scholar; Appleby, Joyce O., Economic Thought and Ideology in Seventeenth-Century England (Princeton, 1978)Google Scholar.

9 webstar, charles, The Great Instauration. Science, Medicine and Reform 1626–1660 (1975)Google Scholar.

10 See Thirsk, Joan, ‘Industry in the Countryside’, in Fisher, F. J. (ed.), Essays in the Economic and Social History of Tudor and Stuart England (Cambridge, 1961)Google Scholar; Seventeenth-Century Agriculture and Social Change’ in Land, Church and People: Agricultural History Review, Supplement, xviii (1972)Google Scholar; Everitt, Alan, Change in the Provinces in the Seventeenth Century (Leicester, 1969)Google Scholar; Everitt, , ‘Nonconformity in country parishes’, in Agricultural Hist. Rev. xviii, Supplmt. (1972)Google Scholar. A comprehensive range of references down to c. 1970 can be found in Hill, , World Turned Upside Down, ch. 3, ‘Masterless Men’, esp. pp. 3545Google Scholar. See also Sharp, B., In Contempt of All Authority Rural Artisans and Riot in the West of England, 1586–1660 (Berkeley, Call., 1980)Google Scholar, and, most recently, for a rather different topographical approach, Underdown, David, Revel, Riot and Rebellion: Popular Politics and Culture in England 1603–1660 (Oxford, 1985)Google Scholar.

11 Hill, C., World Turned Upside Down, ch. 5. s. 2, pp. 65–8Google Scholar.

12 Darby, H. C. (ed.), A new historical geography of England (Cambridge, 1973)Google Scholar.

13 See most recently Taylor, Christopher, Village and Farmstead. A History of Rural Settlement in England (1983; paperback 1984)Google Scholar, and the great pioneering work of Hoskins, W. G., The Making of the English Landscape (1955; paperback Harmondsworth, 1970)Google Scholar.

14 Beier, A. L., Masterless Men The Vagrancy Problem in England 1560–1640 (1985), pp. 33–9Google Scholar; Slack, P. A., ‘Vagrants and Vagrancy in England,1498–1664’, Econ. Hist. Rev., 2nd ser. xxvii (1974), 360–79Google Scholar.

15 Walwyn, W., Walwyns Just Defence against the Aspersions cast upon him … (1649)Google Scholar, reprinted in W. Haller and G. Davies (eds.), Leveller Tracts 1647–1653 (N.Y., 1944); see pp. 362–4.

16 See Kishlansky, M., The Rise of the New Model Army (Cambridge, 1979), esp. chs. 7–8Google Scholar; and now Woolrych, Austin, Soldiers and Statesmen The General Council of the Army and its Debates 1647–1648 (Oxford, 1987), mainly chs. i–ivCrossRefGoogle Scholar.

17 Besides the works already cited by Hill and others, see Frank, J., The Levellers: A History of The Writings of Three Seventeenth-Century Social Democrats: John Lilburne, Richard Overton, William Walwyn (Cambridge, Mass., 1955; repr. N.Y., 1969)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Haller, W., Liberty and Reformation in the Puritan Revolution (N.Y., 1955)Google Scholar; Wolfe, D. M., Milton in the Puritan Revolution (N.Y., 1941)Google Scholar; Thomas, K., ‘The Levellers and the Franchise’, in Aylmer, (ed.), The Interregnum, 5778, 207–8, 219–22Google Scholar.

18 Manning, B. S., ‘The Nobles, the People and the Constitution’, Past & Present, ix (1956)Google Scholar; (ed.), Politics, Religion and the English Civil War (1973), chs. 2–3; The English People and the English Revolution (1976), chs. 1–3, 8. Hill, C., The Century of Revolution. A History of England 1603–1714 (Edinburgh, 1961; rev. edn. London, 1980), ch. 8CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Ashton, R., The City and the Court, 1603–1642 (Cambridge, 1979), ch. 7Google Scholar.

19 Turnbull, G. H., Hartlib, Dury and Comenius. Gleanings from Hartlib's Papers (Liverpool and London, 1947)Google Scholar; H. R. Trevor-Roper, ‘Three Foreigners, the Philosophers of the English Revolution’, repr. in Religion, the Reformation and Social Change (1967), ch. 5; Webster, C., The Great Instauration; ‘The Authorship and significance of ‘Macaria, Past & Present, lvi (1972)Google Scholar; (ed.) Samuel Hartlib and the Advancement of Learning (Cambridge, 1970)Google Scholar.

20 Morrill, J. S., The Revolt of the Provinces 1630–1650 (1976)Google Scholar; (ed.), Reactions to the English Civil War (1982); R. Ashton in ibid, ch. 8 and in C. Jones, M. Newitt and S. Roberts (eds.), Politics and People in Revolutionary England (Oxford, 1986), ch. 7.

2I Lilburne, J., Englands New Chains Discovered … Parts One and Two (02 and 03 1649), repr. in Haller & Davies, Leveller Tracts, pp. 156–70, 171–89Google Scholar.

22 For whom see Jordan, W. K., Men of Substance A Study of the Thought of Two English Revolutionaries (Chicago, 1942)Google Scholar.

23 For the full text see Masson, D., The Life of John Milton … (7 vols., Cambridge and London, 18591894), v, 602–3Google Scholar, quoted by Hill, , World Turned Upside Down, p. 291Google Scholar; and Some Intellectual Consequences of the English Revolution (1980), p. 86. For Wall, see also Wolfe, D. M. (ed.), Leveller Manifestoes of the Puritan Revolution (N.Y., 1944), no. 16, p. 344Google Scholar, as an assessor to appoint electoral commissioners, January 1648/9; Parker, W. R., Milton. A Biography (2 vols. Oxford, 1968), p. 1069, n. 89Google Scholar; Katz, D. S., Philosemitism and the re-admission of the Jews to England 1603–1655 (Oxford, 1982), pp.31, 144, 186–7, 188–9Google Scholar; Thirsk, J. (ed.), The Agrarian History of England and Wales, V, ii (Cambridge, 1985), 555–7Google Scholar.

24 Fletcher, A. J. and Stevenson, J. (eds.), Order and Disorder in Early Modern England (Cambridge, 1985)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; contrast this with Brewer, J. and Styles, J. (eds.), An Ungovernable People (1980)Google Scholar.

25 Bamford, F. (ed.), A Royalist's Notebook: The Commonplace Book of Sir John Oglander of Nunwell (1936), pp. 104, 105–6, 109Google Scholar. For references to pillaging in Essex in 1642, see Hunt, W., The Puritan Moment (Cambridge, Mass., 1983), ch. IIGoogle Scholar.

26 Lindley, K., Fenland Riots and the English Revolution (1982)Google Scholar; Holmes, C., Seventeenth-Century Lincolnshire (Lincoln, 1980)Google Scholar, and ‘Drainers and Fenmen’, ch. 6 in Fletcher and Stevenson, Order and Disorder.

27 See note 20 above; also Underdown, D., ‘The Chalk and the Cheese.…’, Past & Present, lxxxv (1979)Google Scholar; Hutton, R., ‘The Worcestershire Clubmen in the English Civil War’, Midland History, v (19791980)Google Scholar; Gladwish, P., ‘The Herefordshire Clubmen: a re-assessment’, Midland History, x (1985)Google Scholar.

28 Spufford, Margaret, Small Books and Pleasant Histories (1981)Google Scholar; Cressy, D., Literacy and the Social Order, Reading and Writing in Tudor and Stuart England (Cambridge, 1980)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Thomas, K., ‘The Meaning of Literacy in Early Modern England’, Baumann, G. (ed.), The Written Word: Literacy in Transition (Wolfson College Lectures, 1985. Oxford, 1986), ch. 4, pp. 97131Google Scholar.

29 Edwards, , Gangraena and other works cited in n. 2 aboveGoogle Scholar; J. C. Davis, ch. 6, in Manning (ed.), Religion, Politics and the English Civil War; and The Levellers and Democracy’, Past and Present, xl (1968)Google Scholar.

30 Howe, Obadiah, The Universalist Examined and Convicted … (1648)Google Scholar.

31 See note 7 above.

32 The Vindication of the Professors and Profession of the Law … (1646); What the Independents would have … (1647); Redintegratuio Amoris, or, A Union of Hearts … (1647); Unum Necessarium: Or, The Poor Man's Case … (1648); Monarchy No Creature of God's Making … (1652); Bodleian, Rawlinson MS. A 189, fols. 383–406; MacLysaght, E., Irish Life in the Seventeenth Century (2nd edn.Cork, , 1950), Appendix, pp. 417–46Google Scholar; Aylmer, G. E., The State's Servants16491660 (1973), pp. 76, 368Google Scholar. This long, very revealing letter written to Fleetwood in August 1655, was not cited in the D.N.B. article on Cook.

33 Vindication, p. 1.

34 Ibid., pp. 53, 77, 87-9. William Ball the pamphleteer was not the recruiter M.P. for Abingdon of that name, who died in the spring of 1648, but is described as Esquire of Barkham in 1646 and was still alive in the 1650s (Catalogue of the Pamphlets … collected by George Thomason, 1640–1661 (2 vols., 1908), Index, II, 468Google Scholar; Wing, D., Short-Title Catalogue … 1641–1700, vol. I (2nd edn.N.Y., 1972), B586598Google Scholar; Victoria County History of Berkshire, iii, 201, 238, 361; Brunton, D. and Pennington, D. H., Members of the Long Parliament (1954), 33, 207, 226Google Scholar; Cal. S.P. Dom., 1651, p. 503,1656–7, p. 580).

35 What the Independents would have.…, p. 9; Redintegratio Amoris, pp. 36–7, 46, 54, 78–9.

36 Great Instauration, ch. IV.

37 Monarchy No Creature, p. 35.

38 His works are conveniently summarised in Stearns, R. P., The Strenuous Puritan Hugh Peter 1598–1660 (Urbana, III., 1954)Google Scholar. There are also numerous references to him, as to Cook, in Webster's Great Instauration.

39 Stearns, pp. 264, 381.

40 E.g. Huehns, Gertrude, Antinomianism in English History with special reference to the period 1640–1660 (1951)Google Scholar, index entries, all relating to his first work, The Saints Perfect in this Life, Or Never (dated by Thomason, 7th 11 1647)Google Scholar.

41 A Survey of Tyrannic: Or, The Anatomizing of Tyrants … (1650. Dated by Thomason, 9th 08)Google Scholar.

42 For a convenient reprint, see John Jubbes, ‘Several Proposals for Peace and Freedom By an Agreement of the People’ (22 Dec. 1648), Doc. 14 in D. M. Wolfe (ed.), Leveller Manifestoes of the Puritan Revolution (New York, 1944; repr. 1967), pp. 311–21).

43 The Copies of Severall Letters Contrary to the Opinion of the present powers, presented to the Lord General Fairfax and the Lieutenant General Cromwell (London, 1648Google Scholar. Dated by Thomason 20th March 1648/9), p. 17, supporting the Agreement; A True Relation of the Proceedings in the Business of Burford With other Discourse of Publike Concernment (his text is dated London, 17th 09 1649) p. 16Google Scholar.For the Sacred Laws of the Land (Thomason, , 28th 11 1652)Google Scholar, by Francis Whyte (sic), is much more conservative and seems likely to be by another author.

44 The Sword's Abuse Asserted: Or, A Word to the Army (Thomason, , 19th 12 1648)Google Scholar. He is discussed in Jordan, , Religious Toleration, iv, 332–5Google Scholar.

45 Certain Considerations In order to a more speedy, cheap, and equall distribution of Justice throughout the Nation (London, dated 14th 11 1651), pp. 23Google Scholar.

46 Juries Justified … (London, dated 2nd 12 1651)Google Scholar. In style and force of argument this is far below the level of Walwyn's best tracts of the 1640s.

47 The authors name themselves as George Baldwin, Simon Turner, Philip Travers, William Tennant, Isaac Gray, and Robert Everard. The quotation is from p. 5.

48 Certain Proposals In order to a new Modelling of the Lawes, and Law-Proceedings … As Also: Certain Considerations for the Advancement of Trade and Navigation (submitted to Parliament, London, 16521653)Google Scholar. The two pieces are separately paginated.

49 Webster, Great Instauration, especially ch. V; Thirsk, , ‘Plough and Pen: Agricultural Writers in the Seventeenth Century’, in H. Aston, T. et al. (eds.), Social Relations and Ideas (Cambridge, 1983), and ch. 16Google Scholar, Agricultural Policy: Public Debate and Legislation’, section B, in Thirsk, (ed.), Agrarian History, v, iiGoogle Scholar and the older work by Fussell, G., The Old English Farming Books from Fitzherbert to Tull, 1523 to 1730 (1947)Google Scholar.

50 Morrison, P. G., Index of Publishers, Printers and Booksellers in Wing's STC … 1641–1700 (Charlottesville, Va., 1955)Google Scholar; anon, George Calvert's publishing career’, Journal of the Friends of Historical Society, XXXV (1938), 45–9Google Scholar; Plomer, H. R., Dictionary of Printers and Booksellers … from 1641 to 1667 (1907), pp. 42–3, 113Google Scholar.

51 August 1649. Only two copies are recorded as having survived; parts are reprinted in G. Orwell and R. Reynolds (eds.), British Pamphleteers(1948) I, 81–112; Walwyn's authorship is canvassed in Brailsford, H. N., The Levellers and the English Revolution, ed. Hill, C. (1961), p. 71 nGoogle Scholar. and in Lutaud, O., Cromwell, Les Niveleurs et la République (2nd edn.Paris, 1978), pp.7988Google Scholar.

52 Gimelfarb-Brack, M., Liberté, Egalité, Fratemité, Justice. La vie et l'oeuvre de Richard Overton (Berne, 1979)Google Scholar, Annex 4. See microfilms of the Thomason Tracts for ‘The Man in the Moon’, Mercurius Democritus, Fumigosus, etc.

53 The evidence is just short of conclusive, but seems overwhelmingly probable (see Edwards, Ruth Dudley, Victor Gollancz. A Biography (1987), esp. p. 257)Google Scholar.

54 ‘A Declaration of Some Proceedings of Lt. Col. Lilburne and his Associates’ in Haller, W. and Davies, G. (eds.), The Leveller Tracts 1647–1653 (N.Y., 1944), pp. 100–1Google Scholar.

55 See Brewster, D. E. and Howell, J., ‘Reconsidering the Levellers: The evidence of The Moderate’, Past and Present, xlvi (1970)Google Scholar; Frank, J., The Beginnings of the English Newspaper 1620–1660 (Cambridge, Mass., 1961), pp. 154–82 passimCrossRefGoogle Scholar; Cotton, A. N. B., ‘London Newsbooks in the Civil War: their political attitudes and sources of information’, Oxford, D.Phil, thesis, 1971Google Scholar, which corrects Frank, e.g. on the editorship of The Moderate.

56 W. R. Parker, Milton; French, J. M., the Life Records of John Milton (5 vols. New Brunswick, N.J., 19491958)Google Scholar; Milton, John, Complete Prose Works (8 vols. New Haven, 19531980)Google Scholar, see especially vols. II, 1643–1648, ed. E. Sirluck, and VII, 1659–1660, ed. A. Woolrych. Needless to say, there are many works on Milton which I have not consulted.

57 In an important paper, delivered in Oxford in May 1987, but unfortunately not published, Ms Sheila Lambert has suggested that this is so, and has offered some instances where drastic revision of previous views may be necessary, though I cannot claim her support for anything that is said here.

58 Parker, Henry, A Letter of due censure and redargution to Lieut. Coll: John Lilburne … (1650), p. 39Google Scholar.

59 Reprinted in H. Barbour and A. O. Roberts (eds.), Early Quaker Writings 1650–1700 (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1973), Part D. no. 9, pp. 407–21. Most of the work for this paper had been done before I read Reay, B., The Quakers and the English Revolution (1985)Google Scholar, in which this and other pamphlets cited here are discussed.

60 Nickolls, J. Junior (ed.), Original Letters and Papers of State Addressed to Oliver Cromwell … Found Among the Political Collections of John Milton (small folio. 1743), 99102Google Scholar.

61 Ibid., 29–33. Unlike Hering, apparently a lay London Baptist, Hickman is not in Greaves, R. L. and Zaller, R. (eds.), A Dictionary of English Seventeenth-Century Radicals (3 vols. Brighton, 19821984)Google Scholar, and is untraceable in other standard works of reference.

62 Hill, , ‘The Radical Critics of Oxford and Cambridge in the 1650s’, in Change and Continuity in 17th-century England (1974), p. 132Google Scholar; Hill, , World Turned Upside Down, pp. 296–8, 12Google Scholar.

63 Lamont, W. M., ‘The Left and its Past: re-visiting the 1650s’, in History Workshop Journal, xxiii (1987), pp. 142, 151Google Scholar.

64 James, Margaret, ‘The Political Importance of the Tithes Controversy in the English Revolution’, History, xxvi (1941), 118CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Hill, C., Economic Problems of the Church From Archbishop Whitgift to the Long Parliament (Oxford, 1956), esp. chs. V, VI, XI, XIIGoogle Scholar; Evans, Eric J., The Contentious Tithe (1976)Google Scholar: McGregor, J. F. and Reay, B. (eds.), Radical Religion in the English Revolution (Oxford, 1984)Google Scholar, references from the Index.

65 Wolfe, D. M. (ed.), Leveller Manifestoes (N.Y., 1944)Google Scholar; Sabine, G. H. (ed.) The Works of Gerrard Winstanley (Ithaca, N.Y., 1941)Google Scholar.

66 By the committees associated with Archbishops Ussher and Williams: see Shaw, W. A., A History of The English Church during the Civil Wars and under the Commonwealth (2 vols., 1900), i, 6573, ii, 287–94Google Scholar.

67 Veall, D., the Popular Movement for Law Reform 1640–1660 (Oxford, 1970)Google Scholar; Matthews, N. L., William Sheppard: Cromwell's Law Reformer (Cambridge, 1984)Google Scholar.

68 Williams, C. M., ‘Henry Marten: the anatomy of a radical gentleman’ in Pennington, D. H. and Thomas, K. V. (eds.), Puritans and Revolutionaries: Essays presented to Christopher Hill (Oxford, 1978), 118–38Google Scholar.

69 On which see now Woolrych, Austin, Soldiers and Statesmen The General Council of the Army and its Debates 1647–1648 (Oxford, 1987)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, which supersedes all previous accounts.

70 , W. L. (Leach, William of the Middle Temple, Gent.), A New Parliament, or Representative …… (1651), Wing 1775A, pp. 46Google Scholar, contains an ingenious scheme for handing in paper slips with only the names of the voters' preferred candidates showing; Edmund Leach of New England, Merchant, A short Supply or Amendment To the Propositions for the New Representative (dated by Thomason, 2 11 1651. E. 644–9), pp 57Google Scholar, glosses this (a) to guarantee the sitting Members of the Rump, (b) always to have a carry-over of ½ or 1/5 of MPs from one parliament to the next, and (c) only to allow the voters to ballot for two out of four nominees for each constituency. For the references to the two Leachs I am grateful to ProfessorWoolrych's, AustinCommonwealth to Protectorate (Oxford, 1982), pp. 21–2Google Scholar, although my emphasis is slightly different from his.

71 Kishlansky, Mark A., Parliamentary Selection Social and Political Choice in Early Modern England (Cambridge, 1986), for 1640–60CrossRefGoogle Scholar see particularly ch. 5.

72 DrBrooke, Humphrey, ‘The Charity of Church-Men ….’ (1649)Google Scholar, in Haller, and Davies, (ed.), Leveller Tracts, p. 345Google Scholar.

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