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Bom circa 1614 in Greenwich; died Aug. 29, 1657, in Eltham, Kent. Prominent figure in the 17th-century English Civil War (in Russian, the Bourgeois Revolution). Leader and ideologist of the Levelers.
The younger son of a minor gentry landowner, Lilburne was apprenticed to a London cloth merchant in 1630. He joined a Puritan sect. Imprisoned in 1638, he was freed by the Long Parliament in 1641. Lilburne was active in the first civil war, of 1642–46, and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel. In 1645 he refused to recognize the Covenant. As a protest against the policies of the Presbyterians, he retired. In a series of pamphlets Lilburne supported bourgeois-democratic ideas concerning popular sovereignty and the natural rights of man. As a radical petit bourgeois democrat, Lilburne held that the issue of political reforms was foremost. Opposing the monarchial form of government and the existence of a house of lords, he supported a republic and attacked all feudal privileges. He advocated equality for all before the law and defended freedom of religious belief, the inviolability of individuals and property, and freedom of the press. Against the background of the bourgeois revolution, these demands were directed toward the complete destruction of the feudal estate system and an affirmation of the principles of the bourgeois democratic republic. Lilburne’s demands for elimination of monopolies and patents, abolition of tithes, and reduction of tax burdens were of considerable importance for extending the revolution. At the same time he opposed elimination of private ownership.
In 1646, by order of the House of Lords, Lilburne was again thrown into prison. The Agreement of the People, prepared by Lilburne and his followers in 1647, was a program document for the Levelers. Lilburne was freed in 1648. He sharply criticized the position of the Independents, who came to power in 1649; the Independents had rejected plans for democratic transformations. In March 1649, Lilburne was once more arrested and imprisoned in the Tower. But even here he did not cease his struggle. In the spring of 1649 he and his supporters published A Manifestation ... and An Agreement of the Free People of England, which contained summaries of their political and socio economic views. His trial (October 1649) turned into a personal triumph, ending with a verdict of not guilty. However, in 1652 he was exiled from England. Returning to his native land in 1653, he was again arrested. In spite of the court’s verdict of not guilty, he was a virtual prisoner almost until his death.
In spite of his petit bourgeois limitations, Lilburne played an enormous role in the English revolution and was one of the most prominent representatives of the democratic movement.
WORKSIn Russian translation:
Lilburne, J. Pamflety. Moscow, 1937.
G. R. LEVIN