The Putney Debates

Exterior, ,St Mary, Putney

St Mary the Virgin, Putney

October 28th – On this day in 1647 began in the church of St Mary The Virgin the so-called “Putney Debates”, chaired by Cromwell and attended by officers and men of his New Model Army, many of whom were “Levellers”, and addressing  nothing of less import than the post-Civil War future and constitution of England.

Interior of St Mary the Virgin, Putney

Interior of St Mary the Virgin, Putney

Among the issues discussed were not only whether power should be vested in the King and House of Lords or in the Commons, but also whether there should be universal – male – suffrage (“one man, one vote”).  Colonel Thomas Rainsborough, personifying the radical contingent, famously argued that:

“ … [T]he poorest hee that is in England hath a life to live, as the greatest hee … ”.

Among the outcomes was a declaration of “native rights” for all Englishmen, including  freedom of conscience, and equality before the law.

Rainsborough quotation, on display in St Mary the Virgin

Rainsborough quotation, on display in St Mary the Virgin

Footnote.  Rainsborough went on to be killed during the siege of Pontefract.  He was buried in the church of St John in Wapping on November 14th 1648.

Rainsborough plaque, St John, Wapping

Rainsborough plaque, in the churchyard of St John, Wapping

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