This is a tremendous work of scholarship and a very enjoyable book. Brailsford was a prolific journalist and writer in the first half of the 20th Century and began work on this history of the Levellers on his retirement in 1946. On his death in 1958 the manuscript was almost complete. Christopher Hill edited the manuscript for publication, including some preparatory Notes and previous Articles to provide additional material on the Diggers and the later careers of the Levellers. This is much more than a history of the English Civil War: Brailsford has brought to life the exciting and turbulent days of the English Revolution, populating the book with the passionate characters of the period, with their eccentricities, their boldness and their determination. Brailsford did much to rescue the Levellers from being "a footnote in history" to the central characters in the first faltering steps towards democracy. Diggers, Ranters, Anabaptists and atheists came bursting out of the intellectual, political and military cauldron of the Civil War, with their visions and demands for a new society. Recent scholarship and broadcasting have made many of the characters and the debates of the period more familiar to us, but when I first read this book in the 1970's, this was the first time I had heard of John Lilburne and his gutsy wife Elizabeth. of Edward Sexby, William Walwyn and the tragic Thomas Rainsborough, of Richard Overton and Hugh Peters. Most importantly Brailsford underlines the importance of the Putney Debates, when Cromwell and the rank and file of the New Model Army gathered to debate the nature of government, Today the Putney Debates are recognised as a pivotal moment in the development of democracy in Britain. The book is an enjoyable read: the characters from almost 400 years ago sparkle from the pages. One example will give a hint of the determination of these (mostly) young people caught up in this extraordinary period: after being taken prisoner by the Royalists, John Lilburne was tried for treason - "he owed his life to his wife. She 'rushed violently into the House', addressed the Commons from the bar, and won from Parliament a threat of retaliation if the King should execute his prisoners. She then made her way, though she was with child, 'through all the strong courts of guard' to Oxford, and arranged an exchange of prisoners". Well worth reading and worth all five stars.
I cannot, cannot recommend this book highly enough. Ten stars. It's written by the finest journalist of the first half of the 20th century. His style of writing is simply to be envied; his talent as a historian is really first-rate. Buy Buy Buy.
So many groups, especially those from among the army in the Civil war. It is truly amazing how forward thinking the Levellers and othere like the Diggers really were. Sadly they could not convince the ruling classes to abandon their privileges. Surprise! Surprise!