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Rev Hammer: Freeborn John

Rev Hammer: Freeborn John (Cooking Vinyl COOK CD 111)

Freeborn John
The Story of John Lilburne, the Leader of the Levellers

Rev Hammer

Cooking Vinyl COOK CD 111 (CD, UK, 1997)
Freeborn John Theatre Company FBJCD001(CD+DVD, UK, 2007)

Rev Hammer: Freeborn John (FBJCD001)

The History - The Cast - The Story - The Text - The Musicians - Comment


The History

English history has provided us with no more dramatic or colourful a character as John Lilburne. The leader of The Levellers, the radical reformers of the seventeenth century. Known by the people of England as Free-born John his unflagging opposition to authority came from a lifelong fight for liberty. Struggles for freedom of speech, freedom of the press, of conscience and many other `liberties' and `freedoms' resulted in his being whipped and pilloried by the King's Star Chamber, imprisoned by Parliament, banished into exile and twice put on trial for his life by Oliver Cromwell. He died a Quaker, in his early forties. Provocative, loquacious, yet passionately sincere, he was a rousing public speaker, a prolific writer, a man of immense vitality who attracted a huge personal following. John Lilburne claimed the rights of a Freeborn Englishman not to answer to interrogatories, he was entirely reckless of his personal comfort. He was the first English Radical. Such a life cannot be lived in vain. As we look back we find Lilburne's words to his Leveller Party: “And posterity we doubt not shall reap the benefit of our endeavours, what ever shall become of us.”

Pauline Gregg

John Lilburne - A Brief History

John Lilburne was born in Sunderland in 1615, one of four children brought up in the Puritan household of Richard and Margaret Lilburne. The Family were small landowners in Thickley Punchardon in County Durham.

At the age of fourteen he arrived in London to begin work as an apprentice to Thomas Hewson, a wool and cloth dealer. The London of this time was a hot bed of Puritanism and free thought. The Puritans themselves were a loose alliance of Presbyterians, independents and other sects who closed ranks on the King and the Anglican Church and believed in free interpretation of the scripts. Lilburne took readily to this Puritan cause.

On completion of his apprenticeship he became involved with the illegal printing and publishing of pamphlets critical of the church and the abuse of its' power.

On June 4, 1637, he witnessed the pillory punishment of three leading Puritan activists; Dr. John Bastwick, William Prynne and Dr. Henry Burton. These men were condemned to the pillory in New Palace Yard, to lose their ears, to be fined £5,000 each and to suffer perpetual imprisonment. In addition Prynne was branded in the cheeks with the letters `S' and `L' for “seditious libeller”. Lilburne had himself arranged the printing of Bastwick's “Letany” and in December 1637 was arrested in Soper Lane by agents of the stationers company. Once brought before the Star Chamber Court he refused to answer any questions until he knew of what he had been accused.

This was perhaps the earliest recorded example of defence by the Right of Silence. He stood his ground as a freeborn Englishman and questioned the very authority of the court. It was the first on many such stands and London was soon busy with talk of a new peoples champion, they called him Freeborn John. Lilburne was held in Fleet Prison until April 18, 1638 when he was stripped and tied to the cart tail and whipped from Fleet to Westminster. On arrival at New Palace Yard he was placed in the pillory and gagged until he bled. He still succeeded in throwing pamphlets into the waiting crowd! John Lilburne was to spend the next two and a half years in prison while outside the country moved towards civil war. Lilburne's eventual release came through Parliament and Oliver Cromwell, and when King Charles raised his standard at Nottingham in August 1642 it was natural for Freeborn John to take the Parliamentarian side.

He held the rank of Captain when after an heroic defence of the town of Brentford he was captured by the Royalist side led by Prince Rupert of the Rhein in the November and imprisoned in Oxford Castle. Here he was charged with High Treason for raising arms against the King. He faced certain execution. His life was saved by his wife Elizabeth. She obtained from Parliament a written threat of retaliation against Royalists who were held prisoner and although heavily pregnant, she rode overnight from London to Oxford, across enemy lines to present this letter and save her beloved husband. Lilburne was eventually freed after a prisoner exchange and returned to London a Parliamentarian hero.

He had become a Lieutenant-Colonel before he left the army on April 30, 1645, nine months after Marston Moor and two months before the decisive victory at Naseby by Cromwell's well disciplined New Model Army. King Charles was Parliament's prisoner but Lilburne's uncompromising nature soon landed him in trouble when through many pamphlets and speeches he accused the new ruling assembly of as much tyranny and abuse as had been known under the King and Anglican church. “A Remonstrance of Many Thousand Citizens” was published in July 1646 and resulted in Lilburne's imprisonment by the House of Commons. It was at this time with the leadership of Lilburne, that the Leveller Party was born. They proposed manhood suffrage, an idea of political democracy so far ahead of its' time that it was not realised until 1884. The Levellers were fierce individualists, their “rights” as Freeborn Englishmen were paramount. They demanded freedom of work, freedom of worship and freedom in the choice of government. Freedom meant powers and rights as wall as an absence of coercion. The constantly expressed the need to check the strong and protect the weak. Encouraged by Leveller activists the army moved to impeach Parliament. Soldiers were unhappy at the huge arrears in their pay. By December 1648 the army had purged Parliament of all those hostile to it. The country was now run by a military dictatorship.

John Lilburne had been busy with Thomas Prince, William Walvyn and Richard Overton preparing the Leveller manifesto “The Agreement of the People” but in March 1649, two months after the execution of Charles I, after a brief spell of liberty, he and the three were arrested and taken to the Tower of London. Lilburne asked, “We were ruled by King, Lords and Commons; now by a General, a Court Martial and a House of Commons, and we pray you what is the difference?” Thousands signed petitions for their release organised by Mary Overton, wife of Richard, but accused of High Treason in his writings, John Lilburne was again on trial for his life.

Whilst their leader sat incarcerated in the Tower there was a Leveller inspired mutiny amongst the army in Burford, Oxfordshire. Oliver Cromwell eventually placed just under four hundred men under arrest in Burford church. They all believed they would be shot at dawn but the next day only three were executed as an example. Along with Robert Lockier, a Leveller soldier who was executed for his beliefs a month earlier in London, these men died as martyrs for the liberties of their country, wearing the sea-green emblem of the Levellers on their chests.

Lilburne's trial climaxed in October 1649 when he was found not guilty on High Treason by a jury of peers. A medal was struck to commemorate his acquittal.

Now John Lilburne, a free man worked as a soap boiler to provide for his family. His life so far had left him penniless. His wife Elizabeth had struggled to keep the family going throughout their married life, six of their ten children were to die as infants. Lilburne took extra work as unofficial solicitor and expert on law and for two years the family were united for their longest period. It was as a result of a private case in 1651 that Lilburne, unhappy at a legal ruling by the Committee of Haberdasher's Hall published a document couched in his old style.

He accused the committee of corruption. Parliament treated his pamphlet as libellous and imposed the monstrous fine of £7,000. They also took the opportunity to rid themselves of Freeborn John for good by exiling him on pain of death should he return. The punishment was so severe that few could believe it; Lilburne was stunned. He left Dover on December 31st and sailed for Holland. He spent the next two and a half years in exile in the low countries while away across the sea his wife and children were sick with poverty. In desperation, in June 1653, he sailed from Calais back to England to risk death, to stand defiant one last time, centre stage as Freeborn John.

Oliver Cromwell was now running the country, he had expelled what was left of Parliament and needed no further disruption from Lilburne who was brought to trial at the Old Bailey on July 13, 1653. The trial proved long and hard, thousands flocked to see and hear Freeborn John defend himself against the might of Cromwell and the court. Lilburne's defence was stout. He played to the people with an abandon ha had never before displayed. The crowd cheered everything he said. He knew it would be his last public stand. The jury returned the verdict of “not guilty of any crime worthy of death!” The crowds were ecstatic, “Long live Lilburne!” was the cry from most every corner of the land.

Lilburne's triumph spelt not liberty but renewed imprisonment. He was removed to the Tower of London for “the peace of the nation!” Later he was moved away from the mainland altogether and imprisoned in Mount Orgueil Castle, a Norman fortress on the island of Jersey.

In 1656 the firebrand Leveller announced his acceptance of the Quaker faith and this marked the end of his political activity.

Cromwell had been made Lord Protector in 1653 and although attempts were made to gain mercy for Lilburne from his old military commander, liberty never again came to Freeborn John. He was eventually taken to Dover Castle ant it was whilst on a brief parole to visit his wife as their tenth child was being born that he died aged forty two. He died on August 29, 1657, the very day he was due back in captivity.

“His impatient spirit, wearied out with long and sore afflictions,” turned away from the prison cell, and he breathed his last in the arms of the women who had loved him with faith and devotion, who had served him with courage and a conviction that yielded only to his own, and knew no greater pride that that of being “John Lilburne's wife.” Oliver Cromwell died one year later.

The Cast

John Lilburne - Rev Hammer
Elizabeth Lilburne - Maddy Prior
Oliver Cromwell - Harry S. Fulcher
The Cavalier - Simon Friend
Nehemiah Wharton (The Parliament Soldier) - Justin Sullivan
Vox Populi (The Folk Singer) - Rory McLeod
Will o'the People (The Executioner) - Phil Johnstone
Mary Overton - Eddi Reader
The Leveller Mutineers - The Levellers
Prynne - Mary Harem
Bastwick - John Kiddey
Burton - Mike Gregovich

The Story

  1. Overture (0.22)
  2. Pillory Scene / Commons of England (June 1637) (5.41)
    Voice - John Lilburne
  3. The Whipping Song (3.04)
    Voice - Will o'the People - The Executioner
  4. The Battle of Brentford (2.48)
    Voice - Nehemiah Wharton - Parliament Soldier
  5. Elizabeth's Great Gallop (4.04)
    Voice (duet) - Drunken Cavalier & Elizabeth Lilburne
  6. The Return to London (5.00)
    Voice - Vox Populi - The Folk Singer
  7. England's New Chains (4.10)
    Voice - John Lilburne
  8. Speech #1 (0.19)
    Voice - Oliver Cromwell
  9. Bonny Besses (5.17)
    Voice - Mary Overton; chorus - The Women of the City of London
  10. Burford Stomp (2.25)
    Voice - The Leveller Mutineers
  11. Speech #2 (0.08)
    Voice - Oliver Cromwell
  12. Exile (1.40)
    Voice - John Lilburne
  13. The Return From Exile (1.51)
    Voice - Vox Populi - The Folk Singer
  14. Seventeen Years of Sorrow (2.54)
    Voice - Elizabeth Lilburne
  15. Lilburne's Death Song (4.41)
    Voice - John Lilburne
  16. Valediction (3.35)

The Text

Pillory Scene / Commons of England (June 1637)

Voice - John Lilburne

Prynne
Come sere me, sere me
Burn me, cut me, I fear not!

If you knew into what times you were cast,
It would make you look about you.
Come sere me, sere me
Burn me, cut me, I fear not!

Burton
Methinks I see Mount Calvary where
the three crossed were pitched
Bastwick
If I had as many lives as I have
hairs on my head or drops of blood in
my veins, I would give them all up for
this cause, for the Liberties of England!

Meet me by the gatehouse
At the dawning of the day
Put your hand upon your heart
Don't be turning away
Come out of her my people
This is no merry month of May

Come out of her my people,
From the gutter to the hill
Come out of her my people,
By your own free will
Come out of her my people
This is no merry month of May

Chorus
The world turned upside down
Rise up! Rise up!
The world turned upside down
Rise up! Rise up!
The world turned upside down
This is no merry month of May

From Durham down to London
Walk a Freeborn-mile
Come out of her my people
Walk a Freeborn-mile
Come out of her my people

Let no tyrant hand upon you
Be no slave, be no slave
Let no tyrant hand upon you
Be no slave, be no slave
Come out of her my people
This is no merry month of May

Chorus

The Whipping Song

Voice - Will o'the People - The Executioner

I stripped his back at the prison gates
And there his journey starts.
As the sun beat down on the bloody ground
I tied him to the cart
As the sun it burned and the cartwheel it turned,
And the people lined the way,
More welcome be his Cross of Christ
Than the Devil's dirty pay.

I heard he would not take the oath
Till first he'd been accused
He spoke out against the Church, the Courts
And the abuse.
At the Kings Gate some asked of me
What he had done wrong
No crime said I
But he claims the rights of a Free-born John.

Chorus
So I whipped him from Fleet Prison
Down through Temple Bar
Up the Strand past Charing Cross
To New Palace Yard.
A Freeborn Englishman, a freeborn Son,
I whipped him while the crowds sang
“Free-born John”.

Five hundred blows, fifteen hundred stripes,
Wounds the size of tobacco pipes
And dust in his eyes.
I stood him in the pillory
And gagged him till he bled.
He threw pamphlets to a waiting crowd,
And I believe a nation read.

Chorus

The Battle of Brentford

Voice - Nehemiah Wharton - Parliament Soldier

It was in the early morning sir. Prince Rupert and his bloody
cavaliers came like a whirlwind,
swirling and screaming out of the mist of the old river.

They fell upon us sir.

My own regiment the Redcoats of Colonel Holles, we suffered the
heaviest losses. We began to fall back to the town of Brentford sir,
and when Brookes regiment saw our faces and our losses, well,
they began to retreat also. Ah! Who could blame them?

Captain Lilburne, well, he rode after us all, he grabbed our colours
sir and bid all those with weak hearts to march back to London, but
calling on those with the spirits of men and the gallantry of soldiers
to follow him back to Brentford.

Well, of course we all turned and followed him as a man sir, and for five
or six hours without powder, match or bullet we disputed that town.

We hid in hedges sir, and behind walls, seven hundred of us fought
many times our number. But in the end, those who weren't shot sir,
they just drowned in the river, and as I write to you now sir,
Captain Lilburne, the prize prisoner, sits chained as a beast in Oxford Castle.

Elizabeth's Great Gallop

Voice (duet) - Drunken Cavalier + Elizabeth Lilburne

Hey! Now my sweetest bess,
For why do you ride so fast?
Stop awhile with a Cavalier,
Come sit upon the grass.
For it's been awhile, it's been awhile,
It's been awhile and Oh!
Come sit awhile with a Cavalier
And we'll watch the evening go.

I am sorry sir, no time have I
No time have I to fail,
My husband sits on point of death
Down at Oxford Gaol.
For it's been awhile, it's been awhile,
It's been awhile and Oh!
My husband is in Oxford Gaol
And away to him I go.

But Bonny Bess no more no less
No dishonour did I think
Stop awhile with a Cavalier,
Come and have a drink
For it's been awhile, it's been awhile,
It's been awhile and Oh!
Come sit awhile with a Cavalier
We'll take it nice and slow.

I am sorry sir, but I must ride,
My husband dies at morn'.
And here inside is our child
Waiting to be born.
For it's been awhile, it's been awhile,
It's been awhile and Oh!
My husband is in Oxford Gaol
And away to him I go.

And tell me bess what sort of man
Could make you ride so fast,
As only a man in prison chains
Could let such a beauty pass.
For it's been awhile, it's been awhile,
It's been awhile and Oh!
Come sit awhile with a Cavalier
My tenderness I'll show.

I bid thee sir to let me pass
I ride to Free-born John,
I ride to speak unto the king
For the father of my son.
For it's been awhile, it's been awhile,
It's been awhile and Oh!
My husband is in Oxford Gaol
And away to him I go.

Oh! ride away go see your dog
A-rotting in his cell
I'll see you in heaven lass
When you leave him dead in hell.
For it's been awhile, it's been awhile,
It's been awhile and Oh!
I'll lay you down in clover grass
When you're back along this road.

Ah! sir I will return
Back along this road
And lay you down in clover grass
My tenderness I'll show.
For it's been awhile, it's been awhile,
It's been awhile and Oh!
Since I cut the throat of a Cavalier
We'll take it nice and slow.

The Return to London

Voice - Vox Populi - The Folk Singer

Chorus
Hey Now! You come and hear my song.
I'll tell you about a man named Free-born John.
Hey Hey Now! You come and hear my song.
The return to London of a Free-born John.

He's been whipped and gone to war,
Stood trial for treason and a whole lot more,
Ole King Charles he wants to take his head,
But Lilburne, he offered him a fight instead.

Chorus

Once they let him out of Oxford Gaol
He was soon back on the soldiers trail
And at Marstan Moor in a Dragoons coat
He had many a Cavalier by the throat.

Chorus

He fought for you, he speaks for me,
Seems every day he fights tyranny.
Once in awhile, you know, they come along,
Like a Robin Hood, like a Free-born John.

Chorus

So I'll crack a keg in a Halfmoone Alley,
And raise a glass and to his side I'll rally.
In the Windmill Tavern or the Suburbs of Hell
His is the tale I've been born to tell.

Chorus

England's New Chains

Voice - John Lilburne

They call me the upstart monstrous lawyer
A mere legend of lies,
And I can pretend it was worth the war
If I cover up my eyes
And I walk in blindness, 'cross the stones
And down to Traitors Gate.
Here we go again, it's still the same
England's new chains.

I've been the willing soldier
And I've fought the bloody years
And I can pretend it was worth the pain
If I cover up my ears
And I walk in silence, 'cross the stones
And down to Traitors Gate.
Here we go again, it's still the same
England's new chains.

Maybe time will tell
Who survives the fire
And maybe time will tell
Why we've been fighting all this while

I am a Free-born Englishman
I am any mothers son
I can pretend it was worth the war
If I cut out my tongue
And I walk in silence, 'cross the stones
And down to Traitors Gate.
Here we go again, it's still the same
England's new chains.

... and we are held faster than before!

Speech #1

Voice - Oliver Cromwell

I tell you sir, you have no other way to deal with these men,
but to break them to pieces, if you do not break them,
they will break you.

Bonny Besses

Voice - Mary Overton
Chorus - The Women of the City of London

So at five in the morning with William Walvyn,
They dragged Honest John to the Tower.
With Thomas Prince and Richard Overton
They dragged Honest John to the Tower.

Once more high treason was the given reason
When they dragged Honest John to the Tower.
And the women of the city rose up in disgust and pity
When they dragged Honest John to the Tower.
And the street threw up this bloody cry ...

Chorus
We are the Bonny Besses in the sea-green dresses,
And we spit on your abuse of this power.
And we say, “Free Honest John from the Tower”.

And Parliament said, “Women go tidy your beds!”
When they dragged Honest John to the Tower.
And Parliament said, “Some things are above women's heads!”
When they dragged Honest John to the Tower.
And the street threw up this bloody cry ...

Chorus

Forty Thousand names wanted to break their chains
Of our four friends there in the Tower
Forty Thousand names wanted to break their chains
When they dragged Honest John to the Tower.
And the street threw up this bloody cry ...

Chorus

Burford Stomp

Voice - The Leveller Mutineers

Chorus
They'll bury us down further in the ground,
Than we ever dug down for a living.
Seven years of fighting for the
Dead Man's Shilling.

Four hundred honest men
Ran to Cromwell's Call
Four hundred honest men
Now waiting by the wall

Chorus

We are four hundred honest men
And nothing have we got,
For Free-born John is in the Tower
And tomorrow we'll be shot.

Chorus

Speech #2

Voice - Oliver Cromwell

The Kingdom cannot be settled so long as Lilburne is alive!

Exile

Voice - John Lilburne

If you're going across the sea,
To dear old London town,
Kiss the lips of my true love
They're soft as eiderdown.

Tell her if I was a thief
It's time with her I'd steal
And walk with her where once we walked
In love 'cross Finsbury Field.

I'm stuck out here in Flanders now
Where it's flat as flat can be.
While she has no way to feed our kids
Away across the sea.

So if you're going overseas
To dear old London town
Find the man that exiled me
And beat him to the ground.

The Return From Exile

Voice - Vox Populi - The Folk Singer

Chorus
Hey Now! You come and hear my song.
I'll tell you about a man called Free-born John.
Hey Hey Now! You come and hear my song.
The return from exile of a Free-born John.

He's riding back across the water now,
And on my word, there'll be a bloody row.
Old Cromwell, he'd like to see him dead
But Lilburne, he'll offer him a fight instead.

Chorus

Down the Old Bailey he'll make his stand
A stand for the freedom of the common man.
He'll speak for you and he'll speak for me
Oh! He'll argue his way into history

Chorus

They banished him on pain of Death
You'll have to wait and see what happens next ...

Seventeen Years of Sorrow

Voice - Elizabeth Lilburne

Chorus
Seventeen years of sorrow pierce my heart
Seventeen years of sorrow pierce my heart
My one regret is for the time we spent apart.
Seventeen years of sorrow pierce my heart

You said you neither love a slave nor fear a tyrant,
While all these days you've been more a slave than most.
Chained by your own ideas of Freedom
Till you left the ones you love the most.

You are even now as a candle
Burning out your heart to light the way.
But as you did what needed to be done
You let seventeen years of sorrow steal away.

Chorus

Lilburne's Death Song

Voice - John Lilburne

I've been in Tower, been in Newgate,
Been in Fleet, been in exile,
I've been in love with you daily.
Been impatient for change.

Again and again I've been
The one to do the leaving
But now I'm asking of you Lizzy
Don't be leaving me tonight.

Where freedom's flower sat high above
Now crushed beneath the iron glove
Where fire raged within me
Sits the dying of the light.

And as time and success have changed
The honest shape of many men
My time has come for Liberty
From the last of my gaols.

Is it the rattle of chains I hear
Or the old death rattle?
Will we fall away together
As I slip away tonight?

The Musicians

Rev Hammer Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar & Sitar
Phil Johnstone Electric Guitar Piano, Keyboards, Tambourine, Bazouki & Bass Guitar
Harry S. Fulcher Saxophone & Clarinets
Robb Heaton Drums (June 1637, England's New Chains & Bonny Besses)
Peter Blackett Electric Guitar (June 1637 & Bonny Besses), Percussion (Return to London & Bonny Besses)
Martin Pannett Bass Guitar (June 1637) & Lead Acoustic (Burford Stomp)
Mick West Bagpipe Chanter (Pillory Scene)
Mike Gregovich Bass Guitar (Return to London) & Tambourine (Bonny Besses)
Simon Friend Electric Guitar (Whipping Song)
Rory McLeod One Man Band (Return From Exile)
Alex Seel E-bow & Editing
Choir of Trinity Church, Salcombe (Death Song)
John Matthias Violin (Pillory Scene & Seventeen Years of Sorrow)
Rachel Auty Viola (Seventeen Years of Sorrow)
Antonia Elberg Cello (Seventeen Years of Sorrow)
Anna Cockcroft Violin (Valediction & England's New Chains)
Sue Capey Violin (Valediction & England's New Chains)
Steve Gleed Viola (Valediction & England's New Chains)
Rosalind Cox Cello (Valediction & England's New Chains)
The Levellers - Mark Chadwick - Lead Vocal & Acoustic Guitar; Charlie Heather - Drums; Jeremy Cunningham - Bass Guitar; Jon Sevink - Violin; Simon Friend - Banjo; with Jamie Jab - Backing Vocals
Backing Vocals by Rev Hammer and Phil Johnstone
The Bonny Besses are Nicola Sears, Camilla Bostock, Jude Cox, Sonia Powell, Rachel Auty

with Sarah Spencer-Chapman, Alison Baker, Amanda Burwell, Sarah Stockwell, Tracy Barker, Pip Harris, Dena Wheeler, Frances Johnstone, Jane Jones, Jane Wood, Annabel Levey, Jane Mason, Bonny Morgan, Cathy Rayner, Zuleika Robson

Strings arranged by Phil Johnstone.
Freeborn John was recorded and mixed at Horsecombe except Burford Stomp which was recorded at The Metway, Brighton.

Thanks to Cooking Vinyl, Pauline Gregg, West Country Television, Rob Wheeler, Andy Hawthorne, John Dagnell, Colin Mitchell, Nigel Morton and especially to Nic, Frances and Peggy.

The Levellers appear courtesy of China Records
Maddy Prior appears courtesy of Park Records
Eddi Reader appears courtesy of Warner Bros Records

Comment

The record tells the story of John Lilburne who was the leader of the Levellers, the radical reformers of seventeenth century England and features Rev Hammer, Rory McLeod, Eddie Reader, The Levellers (as the Levellers) and Maddy Prior.

Maddy plays the part of John Lilburne's wife Elizabeth and appears on two tracks, Elizabeth's Great Gallop, where she duets with Simon Friend and Seventeen Years of Sorrow, which is a Maddy solo.

The CD is certainly worth getting just to hear some new Maddy vocals but I also enjoyed some good songs, some interesting arrangements and I've learnt some history!

Chas Gilbert on the “prior-engagements” Maddy Prior mailing list

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Steve Edge for correcting an embarrassing error in the cast list.