Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Comments From Christopher Thompson


I have just received these comments on my Essay Oliver Cromwell, the Levellers and the Putney Debates. While it is important to correct factual errors which I will do one does not have to agree with his more general summaries in the second part of the email. In fact, I will begin to reply to his assertions regarding Hill and Manning in particular shortly. I am publishing his remarks in full.

1) If you look at Past and Present (Number 88. August 1980), you will see, for example, that the Levellers did argue for manhood suffrage at the Putney debates. C.B.Macpherson's interpretation is based on a misreading of the text preserved amongst the Clarke Mss. There was no Digger group in existence in the autumn of 1647. I could continue with the errors of fact in this piece.

2) Many thanks for your e-mail. This would be a sizeable job. For example, you claim that the Levellers pioneered the use of petitioning, large-scale demonstrations, etc., as devices for exerting political pressure in the mid-1640s but, as Valerie Pearl showed back in 1961 in her book on London and the Puritan Revolution, these measures were first used in 1640-42 by Pym's Junto: John Adamson's recent book on The Noble Revolt leads to the same conclusion.

There were some elements within the Leveller movement but none, in the light of Rachel Foxley's work or that of Philip Baker that can justifiably be described as 'bourgeois.' Most academic historians, of whom I am one, do not accept or endorse a 'class explanation' of the struggles of the 1640s in England or the British Isles.

This is why figures like Christopher Hill (my old doctoral supervisor), Brian Manning, etc., are rarely cited in the literature nowadays. It would take me a significant amount of time to go through all of these matters in detail, but I will consider your request.

Christopher Thompson



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