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Civil War Pamphlets - London's Liberty in Chains Discovered: John Lilburne

London's Liberty in Chains Discovered: John Lilburne


Source: http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/hart-tracts-on-liberty-by-the-levellers-and-their-critics-vol-3-1646#lf1542-03_head_046


Title Page

London's Liberty In Chains

Published by

Lieutenant Colonel John Lilburn
prisoner in the Tower of London,

 Octob. 1646.


Jer. 22. 15. 16. 17.
Shalt thou reign, because thou closest thyself in Cedar? Did not thy Father
eat and drinke, and do judgement and justice, and then it was well with him?
He judged the cause of the poor and needy, then it was well with him:
Was not this to know me, saith the Lord?
But thine eyes and thine heart are not, but for thy covetousness,
and for to shed innocent blood, and for oppression and violence to do it.
Therefore thus saith the Lord concerning Jehoiakim the son of Josiah
King of Judah, they shall not lament for him, saying, Ah Lord, or ah his glory.



It is to be observed, that the illegal election of great ministers and officers for the administration and execution of justice, and where the people have been and are deprived of this their just right and liberty; there have ever all actions and practises of injustice and oppressions abounded: freedom and liberty being the only jewels in esteem, with the commonalty, as a thing most previous unto them, and meriting that men should expose themselves to all danger, for the preservation and defence thereof against all tyranny and oppression of what nature and condition soever.

For prevention therefore of these mischiefs and miseries, (which through evil government of magistrates by their injustice and other the oppressive practices) do usually fall upon kingdoms and cities. And for that all lawful powers reside in the people, for whose good, welfare, and happiness, all government and just policies were ordained: and forasmuch as that government which is violent and forced, (not respecting the good of the common people, but only the will of the commander) may be properly called tyranny: (the people having in all well-ordered and constituted commonwealths, reserved to themselves the right and free election of the greatest ministers and officers of state.) Now although the tyranny whereby a city or state oppresseth her people, may for the present seem to be more moderate then that of one man; yet in manythings it is more intolerable: and it will clearly appear, that the miseries wherewith a tyrant loadeth his people, cannot be so heavy as the burthens imposed by a cruel city.

Therefore all free cities, lest their government should become a tyranny, and their governors, through ambition and misgovernment, take liberty to oppress and enslave the people to their lusts and wills; have in their first constitutions provided, that all their officers and magistrates should be elective by votes and approbation of the free people of each city; and no longer to continue than a year, (as the annual consuls in Rome.) By which moderation of government, the people have still preserved their ancient liberty, enjoyed peace, honour, and accord: and have thereby avoided those calamities incident to people subjected to the laws and arbitrary dominion of their insulting lords and magistrates (or masters;) of all which this honourable city, and metropolis of this kingdom, upon the first erecting of this island into a monarchy, or kingdom, by that valiant, wise, and victorious prince, Alfred, who first freed the land from under the Danish yoke and slavery, under which it had a long time groaned did with the approbation of their King, and states, then assembled in parliament, for their well-being, and more peaceable good government, agree, and by a perpetual law, ordain, that all their governors, and magistrates, should be annual and elective, by the free votes of the freemen of the city, then, and yet, called by the names of barons, and burgesses of London, as appears by their general charters of confirmation of their liberties, by several princes (before and since the conquest) although in process of times, their titles, and names of their offices, be changed yet the power and right of election still remains, and ought to continue in the body of commonalty, and not in any particular or select persons of any company, or brotherhood whatsoever. And for illustration, and more clear manifestation hereof, I need none other evidence, or proof, than the charter of King John, granted to the citizens before the incorporation of any company: the first company that was incorporate, about the year of our lord, 1327. Being more than an hundred years after the date and grant of the aforesaid charter; which hath been since by sundry kings and parliaments confirmed. Their charter I have here set down at large; which, compared with the protestation, will make good your right, and justify your claim to vote in electing the Mayor of this city.

The Charter.

IOhannes Dei gratia Rex Anglię, Dom. Hibernię, Dux Norman. Aquitanię, & Comes, Anjou. Archiepisc. Episcop. Abbatis, Com. Baron. Justic, Vic. Prapositis, & omnibus Ballivis fidelib. suis. Salutem, Sciatis nos concessisse, & pręsenti Charta nostra confirmasse Baronibus nostris de London, quod eligant sibi Majorem de seipsis singulis annis, qui nobis sit fidelis, discretus & idoneus ad regimen Civitatis: ita quod cum electus fuerit; nobis, vel Justic. nostro, si pręsentes non fuerimus, pręsentetur, & nobis Juret fidelitatem: & quod liceat eis ipsum in fine Anni amovere, & alium substituere si voluerunt vel eundem retinere. Ita tamen quod nobis ostendatur idem vel Justic. nostr. si pręsentes non fuerimus. Concessimus etiam eisdem Baronibus nostris, & hac Charta nostra confirmavimus quod habeant bene & in pace quiete & integre omnes libertates suas quibus hactenus usi sunt, tam in Civitate quam extra tam in terris quam aquis, & omnibus aliis locis. Salva nobis Chamblengeria nostra. Quare volumes & firmiter pręoipimus quod prędicti Barones nostri Civitatis nostrę London eligant sibi Majorem singulis Annis de scipsis predicto modo: & quod omnes prędictas Libertates, &c. bene &c. in pace beant sicut prędict. &c. Testibus &c. Anno regit decimo sexton.

JOHN by the grace of God, King of England, Lord of Ireland, Duke of Normandy, Aquitaine, and Earl of Anjou, to his arch-bishops, bishops, abbots, earls, barons, justices, sheriffs, stewards, and all his bayliffs, and faithful subjects greeting; know ye, that we have granted, and by this present charter, have confirmed to our barons of London, that they may choose to themselves every year a Mayor of themselves, who is faithful to us, being discreet and fit for government of the city. So that when he shall be chosen, he be presented to us, or to our justice, if we be not present, and swear to us fidelity, and that it may be lawful for them at the end of the year, to remove him, and appoint another, or retain him, if they please; yet so, as the same be showed to us, or to our justice, if we be not present. Moreover, We have granted to our said barons, and by this our charter have confirmed, that they may well, and in peace quietly and fully have and enjoy all the liberties which hitherto they have used, as well in the city as without: in the land as in the waters, and in all other places, saving to us our chamberage; wherefore we will and firmly command, that our said barons of our city of London, may yearly elect a Mayor of themselves, after the aforesaid manner, and have and enjoy, well and in peace, wholly and fully, all their said liberties, with all things appertaining to the same aforesaid; witness, &c. In the 16. Year of our reign.

Wherein is fit to be observed. 1: that all the free-men of London be all and every of them barons, being so intitled and ordained by the King's grant or charter. 2. That every of them hath his free vote in the election of their Mayor. 3. That they have liberty to choose any baron or burgess from amongst themselves, without restriction or reference to any particular person or persons, or to any other fraternities of aldermen, commmon-council men, or any other particular gown or livery-men only; so as he be faithful, discreet, and such as they judge fit to govern. 4. That no Mayor may continue in office above one year, without a new election. 5. That aldermen were likewise eligible by the commonalty, and but to continue for the year, patent 22. Edw. 2. No. 2. Cook 2. Part institutions, fol. 253. 6. Sheriffs are only eligible by the barons or burgesses of the city, as appeareth by the charter of Henry the 3. Made in the 11. Year of his reign, confirmed after by Henry the 5. Charta de 2. Hen. 5. Part. 2. No. 11. But of late years the aldermen and common-council of this city, by their power and policy, have invaded your rights and just privileges, and contrary to the fundamental law of the land, & the ancient customs of the city, most injuriously have betrayed the trust reposed in them: spoiled you of your liberties: taken upon them (of themselves, with some selected companies) without the free vote, the rest of the barons or free, burgesses (the commonalty) of this city, the sole power & government of the city, changing and altering your laws and customs at their pleasure, and choosing of majors and sheriffs, such, and whom they pleased, hindering and prohibiting all others (who ever had the like equal right and interest with them) to have their votes in the choice and election of the Mayor and sheriffs. Whence have ensued many calamities and miseries, even to the endangering of the utter overthrow and desolation of this most famous and honourable city of Europe, being wholly disfranchised of those liberties, and immunities, which even the meanest borough or corporation in England now enjoyeth.

Hence, by their craft and policy, have so many monopolies and patents under pretext of public good, been brought in, and set up to the ruining of thousands, and great decay of trade & traffic, bringing in and countenancing of arbitrary laws, and unlimited power and government, and whereby tyranny, injustice, and oppression, have without control been exercised and practised by these your late governors and rulers, as well as by those your former governors and magistrates, not by the commonalty.

Were not the land-money, ship-money (and many other illegal taxes and impositions) with rigour and force exacted of you citizens by these your illegal governors? Were not many of you free barons of this city (for refusing to pay those exactions, and to part with your estates by such illegal tyrannous courses) imprisoned by these your governors (thus illegally forced upon you without your own free election?) Were not the cruel edicts, and bloody tyrannous decree of the star-chamber, high commission, and council-table, with all readiness in a compulsive torrent executed? Nay, to reckon up in particular, the several cruelties, exactions, oppressions, insolences, violences, and the illegal practices and proceedings of these your magistrates, and their subordinate ministers; would require a particular tractate, which I rather desire might be buried in oblivion, by a timely restoration of you to your ancient and just freedoms in electing your own officers. But if still you be denied justice, and may not enjoy your due and accustomed privileges; I shall be occasioned to remonstrate at large, and in particular, set forth your several heavy burthens, harsh dealings, great grievances, and several encroachments upon your franchises: how, and by whom your rights and liberties have been invaded: and how you are enslaved, that were and are (or at least of right ought to be) free burgesses and barons, but now captivated to the laws, covetous lusts, and the arbitrary unlimited power and dominion of your illegally imperious lording magistrates.

Therefore, for the present, I will insist only upon the manner of the election of your now new Lord Mayor: the narrative whereof will fully discover, how much the barons of this city suffer, and that by their long forbearance, or rather neglect, to own and claim their just privileges and immunities (if they stoutly stand not up) and resolve to be no longer robbed and spoiled of their birth-right and inheritance; they are, and will be then in danger to be reduced into a condition worse than ever any of your progenitors, were, under the bastard Norman bondage. For indeed, you citizens are but free-men in name, as in truth this your giving up yourselves to the power and government of men, without your free and public choice and approbation, demonstrates: and therefore (truly) you can be accompted none other than mere slaves to your thus elected governors, as the rest of the whole nation is become, unto lawyers, attorneys, clerks, solicitors, and cruel jailors, and such instruments of contentions, by whom the peace and flourishing state of this kingdom is quite devoured, and the people wholly enslaved to their wills; for truth hereof, I appeal to all the inhabitants of every county throughout this kingdom, whose estates, purses, and persons, have for these many score of years groaned under the inhuman burden thereof; all which, is farther demonstrated unto us all, the inhabitants of this land, by the (still continued) frequent, unjust, and illegal commitments of your fellow-citizens, and all the free commoners of England to the several murdering-houses (styled prisons) in this kingdom, abounding in cruelty, murder, and oppression: being most wickedly and powerfully countenanced and supported by their potent adherents.

I have shewed you, how by right, the meanest baron of this city of London (by their charter) hath as good right to have his vote in the election of the new Mayor, and other the subordinate officers, as the Lord Mayor, or any aldermen (for the time being) with their golden chains. Notwithstanding this undoubted right be acknowledged; yet is it denied to the people upon bare surmises, and vain pretences of danger, by tumults and disorder, if the same should be yielded unto, which in truth is, but a poor allegation, and frivolous excuse: the vanity and weakness whereof, must needs be apparent to any who is impartial, and not carried aside with desire of rule, through ambition, and blinded with affection, or beastly besotted, and against nature and reason, loving bondage more than liberty. For what mischief (I pray you) do we find, or have we ever heard of in any town, city, or corporation, (where the citizens have, and enjoy this freedom) of any disorder or tumults that have grown thence?

Were not the sheriffs (till now of late) ever chosen by the freeholders in full country? & yet we find not that choosing to have been complained of but rather (only) by prerogative power taken away to defrauding the people of their free choice due & of right belonging unto them, by the great charter of the kingdom. And how are the commons and burgesses now assembled in that high court of parliament, elected? Whether by the sheriff, and some few selected grandees of each county, or by the majority of voices of all & every the free-holders that will appear, & give their votes upon the day assigned by proclamation, if our great senators come in place, and be chosen by the general and free voice of all, and not of a few (like some) which hath been the right manner of election from the first establishment of this kingdom, and so hath continued to this day, being conceived to be the best form of government, and so hath been found to be by approved experience? For, did Rome ever so flourish, as when, not anything was done but by the senate and people there? But of this, expect a larger discourse.

I pray you, whence have we fetched this new wisdom? Surely, not from above, but beneath; it being none other than satanical pride in thus despising their fellows, and free commoners. For these can be of no other spirit, but such as affect tyranny, injustice, and oppression: and being thus, is it not then a lawless dominion, and so, not of god, but of the devil?

But let us now say somewhat of the election of the Mayor upon the 29. Of September, 1646. The day assigned for electing the Mayor of London; at which time Mr Wansie, a citizen and baron of London, came to the Guild-hall, London, the place appointed for electing the Lord Mayor for the year ensuing, (the door of the hall being kept shut) the Marshal of London, who was with divers others, standing with staves, to keep the door: but Mr. Wansie, with divers other citizens of London, desired that they might have liberty to go into the hall; telling them, that they came with intent to pass their free votes in electing the new Lord Mayor. But could not by any means obtain liberty to enter the hall, (although by them earnestly desired) but were kept out forcibly with halberds, bills, and staves, upon a special command of the now Lord Mayor, Thomas Adams: whereupon the said citizens having framed a protest, (which they intended to deliver in the open court) the said Mr. Wansie having the said protest in his hand, and reading it to the rest of the citizens there present; the said Marshal thereupon with force, and much violence, laid hold on him (with the said protest in his hand) and dragged him into the Guild-hall, and kept him there as a prisoner for the space of an hour, until the Lord Mayor and aldermen came from the sermon: and then he was brought before the Lord Mayor, and court of aldermen; who there examined him strictly about the said protest; demanding where he had it, and who delivered it to him. And then they all threatened him very violently, that they would send him to Newgate. But he answered, that he knew not the framer of it, nor him that delivered the said protest unto him: and then also affirming, that he and the rest of the citizens, intended to have subscribed it, and then to have delivered it unto his lordship, and the rest of the court. But the said protestation was detained from him. And he thereupon dismissed for the present, with engagement by promise, that he would attend his lordship the day following. But for more assurance, his lordship sent an officer for him (as for a delinquent.) Upon whose appearing before the Lord Mayor, the said Marshal made a great complaint against the said Mr. Wansie, for saying that he would question him the said Marshal for abusing him, as aforesaid, being very earnest with his lordship to have him committed. But the Lord Mayor and some of the aldermen for that time, dismissed and let him go.

Thus you may see how imperious this Marshal is (being none other than a mere vassal or servant unto the citizens of London) shewing and expressing his disaffection to all honest and good men, in the highest nature.

After the thus election of the Lord Mayor, the livery men departing, and the court not risen, the hall door then being opened; the Lord Mayor, Thomas Adams, gave command to the constables and halberd-men then standing at the door, that they should take care that no cloak-men should come in; fearing, as it is conceived, lest the citizens should come in, and protest against that unjust and undue election of the new Lord Mayor.

This brief relation, thus made unto you, may be a sufficient discovery of the intentions and sinister ends of your great masters, to continue you still under an enforced slavery and subjection, who esteeming you no other than as abjects, & as unworthy to have anything to do in the choice of your own officers, withholding from you your charter of liberties, and franchises, the more to blind you, and keep you in ignorance, that they may the better carry on their designs against you, for the continuance of your thraldom and to hold your necks under their yoke.

The very relation of the bad usage of Mr. Wansie, with the manner of the election of the Mayor, compared with your claim of right, and protestation against the same; is sufficient to shew & plainly set forth the illegality thereof, to which you cannot submit, without betraying your own liberty. Your protestation being in my hand, I held it my duty no longer to conceal it: but for your common good to publish the same; hoping, that as you have freely fought for your liberties, sworn to maintain your liberties, and largely contributed to the state to enable them to protect you in your liberties: so you will not sit still, and pass by this injury and indignity of those that would and do make themselves lords and masters over you, by violence and wrong: but constantly adhere to your protestation, continue the claim of your right, and with courage and resolution, maintain and preserve your just and undeniable liberties and privileges, which are thus unjustly extorted, and kept from you by fraud and force, lest it be said in after ages; these were the men, these were the fathers that durst not, would not, own their liberties and rights: these were the men, who when a free parliament were sitting subjected them, and their posterity to voluntary slavery. If you neglect this opportunity, and advantage offered you, for the regaining of your liberties, and recovery of your birth-right (the law;) the loss will be irrepayable, irrecoverable, bringing with it certain ruin, & unavoidable vassalage upon you, and your whole city; yea, though I am not a citizen, yet no stranger, nor foreigner, but a freeman of England, who hath freely hazarded all, for the recovery of the common liberty, and my country's freedom; and it is no small grief unto me; yea, it lies more heavy upon me, then all other my troubles undergone, to see our national and fundamental laws, rights, and privileges, thus trodden under foot, even by those, by whose endeavours we expected a restauration of the same. Oh! The unexpressable misery, and besotted condition possessing this nation, that we should be so regardless of ourselves and posterity, as thus in and by cowardly silence, to betray ourselves, and to beget children, to live and remain (by our means) bond-men, and bond-women, yea, slaves.

Look but upon your industrious neighbour-nation, the Netherlands, how for a long time, under fair and colourable pretences, (as conformity, and religion,) they were spoiled of their lives, liberties and estates. But at the length, they discovered the cunning and crafty dealings and devices of the bishops, and their clergy, whom the Spaniard promoted, and used as his instruments, by whom he intended to bring those countries under the power of his sovereignty, and cruel will. These your neighbours were constrained to knit themselves together by bond and oath, to stand up for their common liberties, and countries safety, leaning every man (in matters of religion) according to that common principle, religio sua denda non cogenda, religion may be persuaded, not forced & the good success they have had therein, and tranquillity and security they thereby enjoy; may be great encouragement to us, not to despair of the recovery of our native, and just freedoms, and by the like means to put an end to these our troubles, & unnatural oppressions, if we will but tread in the same steps, each one labouring in his place to preserve the common liberties and laws of the kingdom, which makes us indeed true free-men, without seeking, or endeavouring to lord it thus (as now we do) one over another's faith; your brethren, together with you, and all the commons of England , have an equal interest, and property in the law, being all of us free-born Englishmen.

Therefore look about you, and be no longer deluded to be by a meet shadow of greatness and flattery, fooled into slavery; but according to your protestation, endeavour to preserve, or rather recover your lost liberties, which under conformity, and other specious pretences and glosses, you have been long deprived of: till when, expect not any justice or right to be done unto you: for, it is impossible, for those that have reduced you to this slavery, to degenerate so far from themselves, as to maintain or give you any assistance or countenance, in standing for liberty, until they lay down their offices and functions, which they all this time have unjustly usurped, and intruded themselves into. I will forbear to insist further upon this matter for the present, being ready and willing, if any should presume to question the citizens just rights, in the election of their Mayor; upon the peril of my head, and forfeiture of my life (if I be called thereunto, and may have a just and equal hearing) to prove and maintain, that it is the just and due right and liberty, for any free citizen and baron to give his vote in the election of the Mayor, and sheriffs, and other the public officers: the same being grounded upon the law of god and nations, and agreeable, as well with the fundamental laws of this kingdom, and customs of this city, as by the Charter and Acts of Parliament (yet unrepealed,) is confirmed.

But one thing I cannot pass by (which may cause some scruples) which is this:

By the words (barons of London) mentioned in King john his charter, whether, all, or but some special citizens of note, are to be understood; to be the electors of the Mayor and sheriffs of London;

That all and every citizen is there meant and implied; the very words of the charter itself clearly manifest: for, the liberties there granted by the charter, are to them all as barons, and not otherwise, not to any other particular persons of any society: yet the same may be farther cleared, thus; in that before the conquest; all free-holders of this kingdom, (as well as in Scotland are yet to this day) were called barons; and therefore saith Lamb. Fol 128 and 136, court-baron is so called because amongst the laws of King Edward the Confessor, it is said thus, barones vero qui suam habent curium de suis hominibus &c. barons are those who have their court for their tenants or men. And this jurisdiction hath every free-holder, according to Mirrour c. 1. Sect. 3. chescun, free tenant use jurisdiction ordinary: every free-holder hath this ordinary jurisdiction; and the name baron in the eye of the law hath relation to free-holders, saith Sir Edward Cook 1. Part, institut. Fol. 58. And in very ancient charters and records, saith he, the barons of London, and the barons of the cinque-ports, do signify, the free-men of London, and the free-men of the cinque-ports, Cook ibid. All which, I desire may be taken into due consideration: which, as I writ the protestation, so this I have published for the good of this famous city, and for the benefit of all the barons thereof; and if you will own this your right, and not suffer yourselves to be brought into voluntary servitude; I shall be encouraged to make a farther discovery of the privileges and just rights, now unjustly detained, and holden from you.


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