On this date in 1649, Robert Lockyer (or Lockier) was shot before the scenic backdrop of London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral* for the Leveller-inspired Bishopsgate mutiny.
These weeks following the epochal execution of the late king Charles I were also the climax of a pivotal intra-party conflict among the triumphant Parliamentarians … one whose class dimensions map a lot more readily to a modern template. Levellers were, “in a small way, the precursors of the ‘Socialists’ of 1849” in the words of this popular history.
The prosperous gentry represented by the Grandee faction were just fine with the whip hand they’d obtained in government by overturning the monarchy; against them were arrayed the more radical Levellers (or “Agitators”) who could not fail to notice that they had no say in electing the Parliament upheld by their victorious arms, and an oligarchy governing them that bore a suspicious resemblance to the supposedly defeated nobility.
So there was that.
Meanwhile, up in high statecraft, Oliver Cromwell was preparing to make his name accursed of Ireland by smashing up the island and the Grandees hit upon an arrangement as expedient for fiscal ambitions as for territorial: the soldiers assigned to this expedition would have the opportunity to opt out of it, for the low low price of forfeiting the substantial back pay they were due from those years of civil war — pay whose fulfillment was naturally a chief Leveller demand.
How did this cunning plan to pillage the soldiery’s pensions to conquer Ireland go over in the ranks? Reader, not well.
Since the same reason that shall subject them unto us in generall, or any of us singly, may subject us unto them or any other that shall subdue; now how contrary this is to the common interest of mankind let all the world judge, for a people that desire to live free, must almost equally with themselves, defend others from subjection, the reason is because the subjecting of others make(s) the subdued strive for Dominion over you, since that is the only way you have left them to acquire their common liberty.**
So there was that, on top of that.
Grumblings gave way to refusals to march, and the refusal by a regiment stationed in Bishopsgate to leave London lest it also leave its leverage soon became the eponymous mutiny of this post — the Bishopsgate Mutiny.
Grandees quelled this particular insubordination without need of bloodshed, but thought it meet to deliver a little anyway as proof in this fraught political environment against the next such affair. Six of the soldiers drew military death sentences; Cromwell pardoned five, but let known Leveller/Agitator firebrand Lockyer go to his death over the appeals of Leveller leaders like John Lilburne and Richard Overton.
The signal was unmistakable — certainly to the thousands who donned Leveller colors to follow Lockyer’s funeral procession through London.
*The Parliamentarians had twisted high church dogmatists by putting Old St. Paul’s Cathedral to profane use as a cavalry stable, which employment actually made it a sort-of suitable place for a military execution. (The current structure was rebuilt on the same site after the previous church succumbed to the Great Fire of London.)
** From Mercurius Militaris, quoted by Norah Carlin, “The Levellers and the Conquest of Ireland in 1649,” The Historical Journal, June 1987 — which, however, makes the case that while the Levellers were obviously not cool with the pay expropriation, their opinion on the Ireland conquest in the abstract was far from uniformly anti-imperial.
On this day..
- 1663: Gustav Skytte, pirate - 2020
- 1877: James Singleton, Beeville character - 2019
- 1827: Joseph Sollis, the sheriff unmanned - 2018
- 1896: Carl Feigenbaum, the Ripper abroad? - 2017
- 1803: Michael Ely, personator - 2016
- 1889: The first executions in French-occupied Tunis - 2015
- 1883: Henry De Bosnys, bane of Elizabeths - 2014
- 1940: Wilhelm Kusserow, Jehovah's Witness - 2013
- 1945: German soldiers for cowardice - 2012
- 1792: Jacob Johan Anckarström, assassin of Gustav III - 2010
- 1995: Nie Shubin. Oops. - 2009
- 1733: William Gordon, almost cheating death - 2008