Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Diggers (True Levellers)
Their original name came from their belief in Christian communism based upon a specific passage in the Book of Acts. The Diggers attempted to reform (by "levelling" real property) the existing social order with an agrarian lifestyle based upon their ideas for the creation of small egalitarian rural communities.
1649 was a year of great social unrest in England. The Parliamentary victors of the First English Civil War failed to negotiate a constitutional settlement with the defeated King Charles I. Members of Parliament and the Grandees in the New Model Army when faced with Charles's perceived duplicity, reluctantly tried and executed him.
Government throught the King's Privy Council was replaced with a new body called Council of State, which due to fundamental disagreements within a weakened Parliament, was dominated by the Army. Many people were active in politics, suggesting alternative forms of government to replace the old order. These ranged from Royalists who wished to place King Charles II on the throne; Men like Oliver Cromwell who wished to govern with a Parliament voted in by an electorate based on property, similar to that which was enfranchised before the civil war; Agitators called Levellers, who were influnced by the writings of "Freeborn John" Lilburne, who wanted parliamentary government based on an electorate of every male head of a household; Fifth Monarchy Men who advocated a theocracy; and True Levellers called Diggers led by Winstanley who advocated a more radical solution.
Winstanley and fourteen others published a pamphlet in which they called themselves the True Levellers to distinguish their ideas from the Levellers. Once they put their idea into practice and started to cultivate common land they became known as "Diggers" by both opponents and supporters. The Diggers' beliefs were informed by Gerrard Winstanley's writings, which encompassed a worldview that envisioned an ecological interrelationship between humans and nature, and acknowledged the inherent connections between people and their surroundings.
An undercurrent of political thought which ran through English society for many generations and re-surfaced from time to time, for example during the Peasants' Revolt in 1381 and was present in some of the political factions of the 1600s, including those who formed the Diggers, held a common belief that England had become subjugated by the "Norman Yoke". This legend offered an explanation that at one time a golden Era had once existed in England before the Norman Conquest in 1066. From the conquest on, the Diggers argued, the "common people of English" had been been robbed of their birthrights and exploited by a foreign ruling class. The Diggers believed that if only the common people of England would form themselves into self-supporting communes, there would be no place in such a society for the ruling classes. The ruling elite would be forced to join the communes or starve as there would no longer be anyone left to hire to work their fields or pay rent to them for use of their property.
St. George's Hill near Cobham, Surrey
The Council of State received a letter in April 1649 reporting that several individuals had begun to plant vegetables in common land on St. George's Hill near Cobham, Surrey, at a time when food prices reached an all-time high. Sanders reported they had invited "all to come in and help them, and promise them meat, drink, and clothes." Their intentions were to pull down all inclosures and cause the local populace to come and work with them. They claimed that their number would be several thousand within ten days. "It is feared they have some design in hand." In the same month the diggers issued their most famous pamphlet and manifesto called "The True Levellers Standard Advanced"English Diggers
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