William Walwyn

William Walwyn, the son of Robert Walwyn, was born in Newland, Worcestershire, 1600. As a young man he was apprenticed to a silkman in Paternoster Row. Later he started his own business and joined the Merchant Adventurers Company.

As a Puritan, Walwyn supported the Parliamentary army during the Civil War. In 1645 he published a pamphlet, England's Lamentable Slavery. In 1646 Walwyn joined with John Lilburne, and John Wildman to form a new political party called the Levellers. Their political programme included: voting rights for all adult males, annual elections, complete religious freedom, an end to the censorship of books and newspapers, the abolition of the monarchy and the House of Lords, trial by jury, an end to taxation of people earning less than £30 a year and a maximum interest rate of 6%.

Walwyn became the leader of the Levellers in London and in September 1647 helped organise a petition demanding male suffrage. Walwyn, along with John Lilburne and Richard Overton, published An Agreement of the People. When the reforms were opposed by officers in the New Model Army, Walwyn called for the soldiers to revolt. On 28th March 1649, Walwyn was arrested and charged with advocating communism. After being brought before the Council of State he was sent to the Tower of London.

On his release Walwyn wrote a large number pamphlets arguing for religious toleration. His best known work included The Fountain of Slander Discovered(1649), Counterfeit Preaching (1649) and Just Defence(1649).

William Walwyn died in 1681.

Primary Sources

(1) William Walwyn, England's Lamentable Slavery (1645)

This Parliament was preserved and established, by the love and affections of the people, because they found themselves in great bondage and thralldom both spiritual and temporal; out of both which the Parliament proposed to deliver them in all their endeavors, at least Declarations wherein never was more assistance given by a people. The greatest safety will be found in open and universal justice, who rely on any other will be deceived.

(2) William Walwyn, Just Defence (1649)

In the year 1646, whilst the army was victorious abroad, through the union and concurrence of conscientious people, of all judgments, and opinions in religion there brake forth here about London a spirit of persecution; whereby private meetings were molested, & divers pastors of congregations imprisoned, & all threatened; Mr. Edwards, and others, fell foul upon them, slander upon slander, to make them odious, and so to fit them for destruction, whether by pretence of law, or open violence he seemed not to regard; and amongst the rest, abused me, which drew from me a whisper in his ear, and some other discourses, tending to my own vindication, and the defence of all conscientious people: and for which I had then much respect from these very men, that now asperse me themselves, with the very same, and some other like aspirations, as he then did.

Persecution increased in all quarters of the land, sad stories coming daily from all parts, which at length were by divers of the Churches. Myself, and other friends, drawn into a large petition; which I profess was so lamentable, considering the time, that I could hardly read it with out tears: and though most of those that are called Anabaptists and Brownists congregations, were for the presenting of it; yet Master Good wins people, and some other of the Independent Churches being against the season, it was never delivered.

(3) William Walwyn, Counterfeit Preaching (February, 1649)

Neither will men ever live in peace, and quietness one with another, so long as this veil of false counterfeit preaching remaineth before their eyes, nor until the mock Churches are overturned and laid flat; For as long as men flatter themselves in those vain ways, and puff themselves up with vain thoughts, that they are in a way well pleasing to God, because they are in a Church way ... little or nothing caring, either for public Justice, Peace, or freedom amongst men; but spend their time in endless disputes, in condemning and censuring those that are contrary minded; whereby nothing but heats and discontents are engendered, backbiting and snarling at all that oppose them, will neither buy, nor sell with them, if they can choose, nor give them so much as a good look; but on all occasions are ready to Censure, one to be carnal, another erroneous; one an Atheist, another an Heretic, a Sectary, Schismatic, a Blasphemer, a man not worthy to live, though they have nothing whereof to accuse him.

(4) William Walwyn, John Lilburne and Richard Overton, Preamble to the third draft of The Agreement of the People (1st May, 1649)

We, the free People of England, to whom God hath given hearts, means and opportunity to effect the same, do with submission to his wisdom, in his name, and desiring the equity thereof may be to his praise and glory; Agree to ascertain our Government to abolish all arbitrary Power, and to set bounds and limits - both to our Supreme, and all Subordinate Authority, and remove all known Grievances. And accordingly do declare and publish to all the world, that we are agreed as followeth.

That the Supreme Authority of England and the Territories therewith incorporate, shall be and reside henceforth in a Representative of the people consisting of four hundred persons, but no more; in the choice of whom (according to natural right) all men of the age of one and twenty years and upwards (not being servants, or receiving alms, or having served the late King in Arms or voluntary Contributions), shall have their votes.