Gerrard Winstanley

English reformer and activist (1609-1676)

Gerrard Winstanley (19 October 1609 – 10 September 1676) was an English Protestant religious reformer, political philosopher, and activist during The Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell. Winstanley was the leader and one of the founders of the English group known as the True Levellers or Diggers for their beliefs, and for their actions. The group occupied public lands that had been privatised by enclosures and dug them over, pulling down hedges and filling in ditches, to plant crops. True Levellers was the name they used to describe themselves, whereas the term Diggers was coined by contemporaries.


  • You speak and preach of the life of love. But you have not the power of it; your verbal profession, without the pure righteous action, shews you generally to be outlandish men, of several nations, under the government of darkness, and that you are not yet the true inhabitants of the land of love. Before you live you must die, and before you be bound up into one universal body all your particular bodies and societies must be torn to pieces; for the true light is coming now once more, not only to shake the earth (that is, Moses's worship) but heaven also. That which you call gospel-worship and the kingdom without shall fall, that so the kingdom within may be established. For all your particular churches are like the enclosures of land which hedges in some to be heirs of life, and hedges out others; one saying Christ is herewith them; another saying no, but he is there with them. Buttruly brethren, you shall see and find that Christ who is the universal power of love is not confined to parties or private chambers; but he is the power of life, light and truth now rising up to fill the earth (mankind) with himself.

The True Levellers Standard Advanced (1649)

  • In the beginning of Time, the great Creator Reason, made the Earth to be a Common Treasury, to preserve Beasts, Birds, Fishes, and Man, the lord that was to govern this Creation; for Man had Domination given to him, over the Beasts, Birds, and Fishes; but not one word was spoken in the beginning, That one branch of mankind should rule over another.
  • And the Reason is this, Every single, Male and Female, is a perfect Creature in himself; and the same Spirit that made thh Globe, dwels in man to Govern the globe; so that the flesh of man being subject to Reason, his Maker, hath him to be his Teacher and Ruler within himself, therefore needs not run abroad after any Teacher or Ruler without him, for he needs not that any man should teach him, for the same Anoynting that ruled in the Son of man, teacheth him all things.
  • But for the present state of the old World that is running up like parchment in the fire, and wearing away, we see proud Imaginary flesh, which is the wise Serpent, rises up in flesh and gets dominion in some to rule over others, and so forces one part of the Creation man, to be a slave to another; and thereby the Spirit is killed in both. The one looks upon himself as a teacher and ruler, and so is lifted up in pride over his fellow Creature: The other looks upon himself as imperfect, and so is dejected in his spirit, and looks upon his fellow Creature of his own Image, as a Lord above him.
  • O thou Powers of England, though thou hast promised to make this People a Free People, yet thou hast so handled the matter, through thy self-seeking humour, That thou has wrapped us up more in bondage, and oppression lies heavier upon us; not only bringing thy fellow Creatures, the Commoners, to a morsel of Bread, but by confounding all sorts of people by thy Government, of doing and undoing.
  • O thou A-dam, thu Esau, thou Cain, thou Hypocritical man of flesh, when wilt thou cease to kill thy younger Brother? Surely thou must not do this great work of advancing the Creation out of Bondage; for thou art lost extremely, and drowned in the Sea of Covetousnesse, Pride, and hardness of heart. The blessing shall rise out of the dust which thou treadest under foot, Even the poor despised People, and they shall hold up Salvation to this Land, and to all Lands, and thou shalt be ashamed.
  • We are made to hold forth this Declaration to you that are the Great Councel, and to you the Great Army of the Land of England, that you may know what we would have, and what you are bound to give us by your Covenants and Promises; and that you may joyn with us in this Work, and so find Peace. Or else, if you do oppose us, we have peace in our Work, and in declaring this Report: And you shall be left without excuse.
    The Work we are going about is this, To dig up Georges-Hill and the waste Ground thereabouts, and to Sow Corn, and to eat our bread together by the sweat of our brows.
  • That so long as we, or any other, doth own the Earth to be the peculier Interest of Lords and Landlords, and not common to others as well as them, we own the Curse, and holds the Creation under bondage; and so long as we or any other doth own Landlords and Tennants, for one to call the Land his, or another to hire it of him, or for one to give hire, and for another to work for hire; this is to dishonour the work of Creation; as if the righteous Creator should have respect to persons, and therefore made the Earth for some, and not for all: And so long as we, or any other maintain this Civil Propriety, we consent still to hold the Creation down under that bondage it groans under, and so we should hinder the work of Restoration, and sin against Light that is given into us, and so through fear of the flesh man, lose our peace. And that this Civil Propriety is the Curse, is manifest thus, Those that Buy and Sell Land, and are landlords, have got it either by Oppression, or Murther, or Theft; and all landlords lives in the breach of the Seventh and Eighth Commandements, Thous shalt not steal, nor kill.
  • O what mighty Delusion, do you, who are the powers of England live in! That while you pretend to throw down that Norman yoke, and Babylonish power, and have promised to make the groaning people of England a Free People; yet you still lift up that Norman yoke, and slavish Tyranny, and holds the People as much in bondage, as the Bastard Conquerour himself, and his Councel of War.
  • If you look through the Earth, you shall see, That the landlords, Teachers and Rulers, are Oppressors, Murtherers, and Theeves in this manner; But it was not thus from the Beginning. And this is one Reason of our digging and labouring the Earth one with another; That we might work in righteousness, and lift up the Creation from bondage: For so long as we own Landlords in this Corrupt Settlement, we cannot work in righteousness; for we should still lift up the Curse, and tread down the Creation, dishonour the Spirit of universal Liberty, and hinder the work of Restauration.

A Declaration from the Poor oppressed People of England

  • And whereas the Scriptures speak, that the mark of the Beast is 666, the number of a man; and that those that do not bring that mark in their hands or in their foreheads, they should neither buy nor sell, Revel. 13.16: and seeing the numbering letters round about the English money make 666,* which is the number of that kingly power and glory (called a man); and seeing the age of the creation is now come to the image of the Beast or half day, and seeing 666 is his mark, we expect this to be the last tyrannical power that shall reign; and that people shall live freely in the enjoyment of the earth, without bringing the mark of the Beast in their hands or in their promise; and that they shall buy wine and milk without money or without price, as Isaiah speaks.

Quotes about

  • Prior to the middle of the nineteenth century, the ideal of equality was an aspiration that occasionally produced social violence but lacked both a theory and a strategy. Thus, in seventeenth-century England, Gerrard Winstanley, the leader of a radical group called the Diggers, exhorted his followers to seize the commons and turn them into arable land. He formulated something like a communistic doctrine that denounced commerce in land or its product. During the French Revolution, a century and a half later, the French radical François-Noël Babeuf organized a “Conspiracy for Equality,” which called for the socialization of all property. Neither man, however, had a doctrine capable of demonstrating how the kind of social revolution he advocated would come into being. The same held true of socialist idealists active in the early nineteenth century, such as the Comte de Saint-Simon and Charles Fourier, who pinned their hopes on persuading the rich to part with their wealth.
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