John Lilburne, The Oppressed Mans importunate and mournfull Cryes to be brought to the Barre of Justice (1648)

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T.125 [1648.04] John Lilburne, The Oppressed Mans importunate and mournfull Cryes to be brought to the Barre of Justice (1648).

Full title

John Lilburne, The Oppressed Mans importunate and mournfull Cryes to be brought to the Barre of Justice, or, An Epistle writ by Lievt. Col. John Lilburne (without all shadow of Law and Justice, imprisoned in the Tower of London.) For all the moral honest Englishmen, in and about the City of London, whether Episcopalls, Presbyterians, or those commonly called Sectaries of what kind soever, Iohn Lilburne prisoner in the Tower of London, the 7. Aprill, 1648. sends heartie and respectfull salutations. In which he mournfully cries out to all men that have any sense of pietie, honour, honesty, pittie, compassion, christian simpathy, humanity, or English fellow feeling, to pittie and compassionate his pining languishing, and worse then sudden dying estate and condition. And the first day of the next Tearme being the 19 present, deliver his Petition hereunto annexed to the Judges of the Kings Bench in Westminster Hall, for a Habeas Corpus to bring him before them to receive a legall tryall, either to his iustification or condemnation, the severitie and stricktnesse of the law being all the mercie and pittie he craves from all his adversaries, chusing and desiring any speedy death in the world rather then to be mudered or starved in prison, which is likely shortly to be his unavoidable portion, if much longer he be continued in his uniust captivitie.

The second Edition, with an Addition reprinted the 18. Aprill. 1648.

This tract contins the following parts:

  1. Epistle (7 April, 1648)
  2. Petition (18 April, 1648)

Estimated date of publication

1648, no month given.

Thomason Tracts Catalog information

Not listed in TT.



Text of the Pamphlet

VVOrthy Gentlemen, and fellow Country men, the Law of this Land is equally and alike our common birthright and inheritance (for all the distinguishing, deviding names amongst us) unto which the meanest man in England is as much intituled and intaled unto, as the greatest Subiect, and the parting with the priviledges therof (to any whatsoever) and the stooping or submitting to any arbitrary or unlimitted government (in any whomsoever) was by this present Parliament in the day of their straits, adjudged a prophannesse like Esaus, in selling their Birth right, and subiecting them and their posterities to vassalage and slavery, for the preventing of which, they exhort all the true hearted patriots of England, to stick close unto them, who then as they declare were ready to lay down their lives for the preservation of their lawes and liberties at the greatest earthly treasure and jewell that could here be possessed, 1. part [Editor: illegible] pag. 660. In the destruction of which we become beasts, and are no more men but in shap. 1. part book dicl. pag. 140, 163. 201. And all liberty and property of meum and tuum is thereby totally levelled, destroyed, and confounded, for the avoiding and preventing of which, that much to be honoured Lawyer Sir Edward Cook, which deserves the highest praises from the plain and well minded people of England, of any Lawyer that ever lived therein, for that most inestimable pains of his, in compiling in English his Foure parts of his Instituts, which discovers so much of the peoples rights by law, that I am confident this present degenerated Parliament, and the present cowardly, corrupt, make-bate, lincie-woolsie generation of Lawyers, wish every one of them burnt, though I heartily wish and desire that every man in England, that hath any spare money and time would buy them, and read, and study them, as the absolutest discoverers of the true mind of the Law of England, of all the Lawyers workes that yet are extant in England, in the 2. part of which, in his exposition of the 29. chap. of Magna Charta, so. 51. he exhorts the Parliament it self. That in stead of the ordinary and precious tryall by the law of the land, they bring not in absolute, and partiall tryalls by discretion, or will or pleasure, For saith he most excellently, fol. 56. ibim. the law is the right line, whereby iustice distributive is guided and directed, and therefore all the Commissions of Oyer and terminer, of Gaole deliverie, of the peace, &c. have this clause, viz. To doe what belongs (or appertains) to iustice and law, and the custome of England. And that (saith he) which is called common right in the 2. Ed. 3. is called common Law in the 14. Ed, 3. &c. and in this sense it is taken, where it is said, that the thing or partie stands right in the court, that is to say, to the Law in the court.

Secondly, The law (saith he) is called right in opposition to wrong, or because it discovereth that which is tort, crooked, or wrong, for as right signifieth law, so tort, crooked, or wrong, signifieth iniurie, for iniurie is the contrary of right, and a right line measures it self and a crooked line, hereby the crooked cord of that which is called discretion, appeareth to be unlawfull, unlesse you take it as it ought to be, viz. discretion is to discern by the law what is iust.

Thirdly, Law (saith he) is called right, because it is the best birth right the subiect hath, for thereby his goods, lands, wife, children, his body, life, honour, and estimation are protected from iniurie and wrong, it being (as he saith) the surest sanctuarie that a man can take, and the strongest fortresse to protect the weakest of all, to every one of us there comes a greater inheritance by right, and the law, then by our parents, See also fol. 63. 97. ibim. and the 4, 5, 6. pages of my after mentioned Plea for a Habeas Corpus.

And truly Gentlemen, I cannot but acquaint you, that almost for this eleven yeares together, I have suffered abundance of lawlesse, bloody, wicked, cruell, barbarous, and tyrannicall(a) oppression, and never had legally to this houre any crime laid unto my charge, neither doth my conscience in reference to man accuse me of any, neither now I am confident can any be laid to my charge, unlesse it be for maintaining my self to be a man and not a beast, and standing for the lawes and liberties of my native Country, and keeping up as much as in me lyes, the right of propertie in meum and tuum, from being levelled and destroyed.

And yet even in the Tower of London, without all shadow or cullour of law and iustice, is my bodie unjustly detained in prison, by the Lievtenant thereof, by the power of armed men, who continually rob me of the priviledge of an English man, in debarring my friends from having free accesse to me, so that being in a manner destroyed in outward things, by reason of my long sufferings and large expences to preserve my self from utter ruin by my great and potent enemies, and having my own to the value of almost 3000. l. kept from me by the powerfull inflvence of the present Earle of Salisbury, old Sir Henry Vaine, my cruell Star Chamber Iudges, Mr. William Lenthall Speaker, my heavie adversarie, that hath maliciously and unjustly tost and tumbled me from Gaole to Gaole, and Mr. Oliver Cromwell, that usurper and murderer, who by his tyranny and usurped armed power, doth so over awe the major part of the Parliament, that they neither can, nor dare doe any man justice and right that he hates, being at present fit for nothing so much as to weare blew Iackets with Cromwells badges upon their armes, as his vassells and slaves.

And having never had to this day any allowance at all (as by law I ought to(b) have) from those that uniustly committed me, in the eye of reason I must of necessitie without your compassionate and resolved help speedily perish in a hole and a corner, which to doe in a fearefull and amazed silence, I had rather chuse to be cut in ten thousand pieces, or perish by the severest hand of iustice, neither indeed can I sit still or acquiese, in the deniall of justice or deliverance unto me, till I see it, that the use of any more meanes is in vaine, no more then I can cease to eate my meat, or weare my cloths to keep me warme. For as Christ saith, Mat. 11. 17. J have mourned unto them (that would causlesly destroy me) and they will not lament, and I have piped unto them, and yet they will not dance, and what to doe the next but what now I doe, I know not, secret things belonging unto God, but revealed things to me, and the generation in which I live, and therefore as a rationall creature (which is the image of God in which he created man) I act by those dictates, God dictates unto me as such a creature, the dictates of which are that it is as lawfull for me by the light of nature and the law of God (which hath commanded me to do no murder, and if not upon another then much lesse upon my selfe, and a murderer I am if I patiently and sottishly suffer another to murder me, without using all meanes whatsoever for my own preservation, and therefore I iudge it as lawful for me) by all meanes possible to preserve my life from beastlike, Barish & wolvish men, as from the destruction of savage beasts, bares, and wolves themselves, which for my president in my judgement was continually practised by Paul himself, who in his straits made use of meanes for his own preservation in as high a nature as I have ever done, yea, and set his Iudges together by the eares Acts 24. And for my part, I iudge the second table as much the law of God as the first table, and as wel worth my laying down my life for the preservation of it as the first, knowing amongst men no religion worth owning, commending or imbracing, but that which teacheth a man to live justly, honestly, and uprightly amongst the sons of men, and to do to all men as I would be done unto, and if I would have another to doe good unto me, much more am I bound to doe it unto my self, and therefore for those men that place all their religion in prating and talking of religion, I pray God keep me from their airie and Kemero religion, and continue me one of the practisers of the actions of religion, it being Christs rule, to know the tree by its fruit, and James. to iudge of the faith by the workes. And as for those men, that care for no more but to get liberty to meet freely together, to prate and discourse of religion, and will let others without any cause, perish, rot, and be destroyed in prison, without using any meanes for their deliverance or preservation, J thinke may iustly be numbred amongst the Goats which Christ sets upon his left hand, and commands to depart ye cursed into ever lasting fire, prepared for the Divell and his Angells, Mat. 25. 32, 33. to the end, whose condemnation was not for committing evill, but for not doing good to those that were in prison, or nakednesse, &c. And if it be the Apostles rule, that he that will not worke shall not eate, then he deserves without doubt to starve, that will willingly suffer another to tye his hands, and so keep him from working, and sit down in patient silence without the use of all meanes to git his hands untied, that so he may goe to work again to earn his bread again. And if he be worse then an infidell, as the Apostle avers, that doth not provide for his own familie, then surely he is the same, if not worse, if worse can be, that suffers any man by will and pleasure, to take by force and violence, without his consent, that away from him that he hath provided for his familie, and sits down in silence and patience without using all possible meanes to get it againe, especially if it be his trade, or his libertie, which while by imprisonment it is restrained, he cannot follow his trade, upon which the life and being of his familie depends, all which in every particular is my case, and therefore J both must and will stirre for my liberty and my right, without the speedy inioyment of which, I and my familie unavoidably perish, therefore in my own thoughts woe be unto me il J doe sit still, and yet in my actings J iudge it my duty and wisedome to goe gradually to worke, in the most iustest wayes that is sutable to christianitie and humanitie, and more then J have already done in a formall, magisteriall way, J cannot see J have to doe, saving the flying to the ordinary Judges in Westminster Hall for justice according to the Lawes of England, and if there J get it not, then J must of necessitie appeale to the body of the people, though it may be it may not help me, yet J must in duty and conscience doe it, (and iustifie it by the Parliaments doing it* themselves) though all their eares should be deafe to my cryes and lamentations, and if J perish I perish, but yet I know my portion is with the Lord of glory in heaven, where to goe is for me best of all, yet J must worke, and all my potent adversaries shall not let me: till J have fully finished my course, appointed in the secret decree of my father Jn order to which it was, that J lately pend and printed my Epistle to the Speaker, daited the 4. April, 1648. called the prisoners plea for a Habeas Corpus, in the 7, and 8, pages of which, I have partly expressed my desires to you, as there you may read, and also there printed a petition, which I there do, and still shall earnestly intreat all those amongst you (in the Parliaments words) that have any sence of pietie, honour, honesty, pittie, compassion, christian simpethy, humanitie, or English fellow feeling within your breasts, to goe up in person the first day of the next Tearme by six or seaven a clock in the morning, with that my petition, to the Iudges sitting on the Kings Bench in Westminster hall, being Wednesday the 19 of this present April, About which petition J further earnestly desire to propound these ensuing things to your serious consideration.

1. That upon the next Lords day, and the Lords day after, being the 9. and 16. of this present April, that you improve vigorously, your severall interests to make the petition, &c. as publique as possible you can, either by getting it publiquely read, with the preamble, before it, or else neere or at the meeting places, naile up the plea it selfe, so that the Petition and preamble to it may be read.

2. Appoint frequent meetings in your severall stations, that so you may understand one anothers minds about it, and make your number as considerable as possible you can, for it concernes all your lives, liberties and estates, as well as mine, for suffer your selves to be robbed of the law, or to be murdared in prison, without due tryall or legall conviction, as without your spredy help J am like to be, and I will not give 6 d. for all your estates.

3. I earnestly intreat you at your first meeting amongst any of you, to resolve to send some of you to me, that so J may deliver unto you the Originall of my petition under my own hand, and acquaint you who I have alreadie fixed upon to speak to it when it is delivered in open Court, and see whether you approve of the partie or no, for abilities and resolution, and also that I may deliver three or foure copies of my plea for a Habeas Corpus, corrected with my own hand (for the printer hath made divers erratas) with a desire unto you, with so many of you as your selves shall thinke fit, to carrie one of them to Mr. Iustice Maron and another to Mr. Iustice Rowles, the Iudges of the Kings bench: and desire them to read it, and consider seriously of it against the Tearme, that so they may be fitted with courage and resolution enough not to break their oaths, but to doe me justice and right, according to the good, old, and iust law of the land, whosoever shall command them to the contrary. And I also shall further intreat you to carrie a third copie to Mr. Speaker, and deliver it to his own hands at his house, or else where, with your earnest desire to him, that he will discharge his duty in acquainting the house with my just and legall desires therein contained, that so they nor none of them may run upon the rocks (but at their perills) by commanding the Iudges to forsweare themselves, in not granting me a Habeas Corpus to bring or command my body and cause before them in open court, which is my right by law, As I have largely and fully proved in the foresaid plea, which command I shall look upon (if any such shall be) to be as traiterous a subvertion of the fundamentall lawes and government of England, as in the first Article of their impeachment they charge the Earle of Strafford with who lost his head as a Traytor therefore, as by his bill of Attainder you may read, printed in the 19. pag. of my late book, called the Peoples Prerogative, for I find by the notes of some present at the Earle of Straffords Arraignment, that the principall witnesses against the Earles first article, was Mr. Musgrave (who witnessed to this effect, that the said Earle made his will and pleasure Lord paramount above the law of England about prohibitions, and was angry with Iudge Hatten for granting them, (as Mr. Thorp witnessed he had heard the Iudge say) and in the hearing of Mr. Jo, Musgrave (late prisoner in the Fleet) did about the year 1631. Threaten to clap close by the heels all them that brought them into the Court to plead them before him, though they were & still are part of the antient and iust law of England, upon whose crime for the endeavouring to subvert the law, and introduce an arbitrarie tyrannicall government of will and pleasure. Mr. Iohn Pim in his first speech against the Earle upon Tuesday the 23. March, 1640. and the second day of his tryall, had these words, viz. that the Earle of Straffords crime was a treason far beyond the reach of words, and that no punishment could be thought upon sufficient to expiate crimes of such a transcendent nature.

And Mr. Glyn upon Wednesday the third day of the triall told the Lords at the bar, that the Lord of Strafford was impeached not with simple, but accumulitive Treason, in the masse of which taken in one view, he (the said Earl) should be undoubtedly found the most wicked and exorbitant Traytor that ever was arraigned at the Lords bar, and I am sure to stop habeas Corpesses is as great a Crime in law as to stop prohebitions; but if you should aske me the question whether J did not send my Plea to the Speaker in writing before I printed it.

J answer no, and the reason was, because if I had so done it is possible my adversaries might have prevented the printing, and publishing of it, neither have I yet sent him one in print, and the reasons of that are,

First, because if I should have sent it by a single friend it is possible he might have bin clapt by the heeles, or have come to some other trouble about it, or if he had not, yet he would not well have dared to have closely followed the Speaker for answer to it, which I much desire, & must strongly endeavour for.

And Secondly, to send it by my Wife is to no purpose at all but to throw it away as wast paper.

First, because that about September 1646. as she was following a Petition for me (being then with Child) at the House of Commons doore, she had like to have been murdered (without any offence in the world given by one Richard Vaughin a gold smith in Foster laine, and then Ensigne to that dayes guard, at which the members of the House were no whit offended, but rather rejoyced at it, the story of which you may reade in the 32. 33. pages of my book called, Londons liberties in Chains.

Secondly, because that by Col. Baxster and his Soldiers, she had like to have bin run through with their swords, for doing that which nature and humanity teacheth her to stick close to her husband in his adversity and affliction, the 19. of Jan. 1647. being that very day, that I my selfe had like to have been murdered by them for no other Crime, but for standing for my legall liberties, given me by the law my Country, as you may read in the relation thereof 24, 25, 26. pages of my Whip, in which regard, especially being great with child, she dare goe no more to the House of Commons to follow my businesse there, least for so doing she be murdered in good earnest, but besides if she durst goe again, yet,

Thirdly, I being so much at enmity with Baxster his under Officers and Soldiers as I am (who are on purpose (against all law and justice) set as a guard to keep the people of England from having free accesse to the House of Commons to seek for justice from them which is such a practise that all Pagan Judges in the world may justly blush at) they will be sure to deny my Wife any accesse at all, and therefore have I judged it altogether in vaine to send her any more to follow my businesse there, for me, And therefore in this Strait I must a little rest upon some of you.

And therefore in the last place, seeing by law that the Parliament it self hath often declared, though your number be never so great that goes up, there is no danger in law unto you carrying your selves (as in the least I doubt not but you will) quietly and peacably. First part book Decl. page 201, 202, 109, 148, 691. 720. so on the contrary, misbehaviour in Westminster Hall the Court siting is very dangerous by the Common Law, as, Sir Edward Cook declares in the 2. part instituts. fol. 549. & 3. part institutes chap. 102. fol. 218, viz. to strick, is the lose of the right hand, &c.

Therefore to wind up all I most humbly intreat you speedily to publish this in print amongst you to some purpose, that so by the knowledge hereof, your company may be the more considerable, and all of them the better know, how without detriment to themselves, or me, to behave themselves when they got up, the effectuall publishing of which, with the petition to it if you please. I shall take for a very great Obligation, and Tye to remain.

Your faithfull and ingaged Country-man
to serve you in the reall service of his
Country, zealously and Couragiously
to the last drop of his hearts blood.

John Lilburne.

The Petition thus followeth.

To the honourable the Judges of the Kings bench. The humble Petition of Lievt. Col. Iohn Lilburne Prisoner in the Tower of London,


THat your Petitioner is an Englishman and thereby entailed and intithled to the benefit of all the lawes of England which by your Oaths(†) you are sworne indifferently and equally without feare or partiallity to administer gratis to all persons rich and poore, without having regard to any person notwithstanding any command whatsoever to the contrary.

Now forasmuch as a Habeas Corpus is part of the law of England, and ought not by law to be denyed to any man(*) whatsoever that demand it, which though your petitioner earnestly endeavoured the last Tearme to obtaine, yet could not prevaile with his Counsell to move for it, although he hath almost this two yeares been detained in prison in the Tower of London, without all shadow of Law or Iustice, and by the Lievtenant thereof, hath been divorced from the societie of his wife, debarred from the free accesse of his friends, deprived of the use of pen, inke and paper: all which usages are against the expresse lawes and Statutes of this land, your petitioners birth right and inheritance.*

Therefore your petitioner humbly prayeth, according to his right, and your oaths, the benefit of a Habeas Corpus, (and that he may have it gratis according to the law of the land and your Oaths) to bring his body and cause before you in open Court, there to receive your award and Iudgement according to the declared Law of England.

John Lilburne.

And your Petitioner shall pray, &c.

Deare Country-men; Since I write this Letter to you I fully understand my Cromwellish-Adversaries have a Designe speedily to send me Prisoner to a Castle, many Myles remote from London: Where I cannot but believe they intend absolutely to murder me in good earnest: And therefore, in the bitternesse of my soule, and the anguish of my spirit, I mournfully implore the effectuall presence, of as many of you as possible can be at Westminster Hall to morrow morning, by six or seven a clock without Stafe or Sword, to deliver my Petition for mee, and I shall rest.

Yours in so doing much obleidged,

Iohn Lilburne.



 [a ] These are the words and Epithies of the Parliaments Votes of the 4. May 1641. in reference to my Star Chamber sufferings, see innocencie and truth iustified; pag. 65, 72. and my relation before the Lords of the 13. Feb. 1645. pag. 11. wher their votes are printed.

 [b ] As J fully proved in my speech of the 19. Ian. 1647. at the house of Commons barre, which you may read in my whip for the Lords. p. 21, 22.

 [* ] 1. book. pag. 197. 255. 278. 496. 636. 666. 700.

 [† ] Which is printed in Pultons collect, of Statutes fol. 144. and the peoples prerogative. p. 10.

 [* ] See 2. H, 5. ch. 2. Petition of right, 3. C. R, & the act that abolisheth ship money, 17. C. R. 2. partin. fo. 53. 55. 189. 615. 616. 4, part f. 71.

 [* ] 2. parinst. f. 56. 63. 97. 526.

 [† ] See the 26. of Magna Charta, and Sir Ed. Cookes exposition upon it, fol. 42 & 3. Ed. 1. ch. 26. and the exposition upon it in 2. par. in, f. 210. & f. 74. 533, 535. and the stat. of the 11. H. 4. N. 28. not printed for the Stat. book, but is printed in the 3. part inst. fol. 146, 224, 225.