On this day in 1647, in the midst of the Civil War, the so-called “Putney Debates” began in the church of St Mary The Virgin.
The debates, chaired by Cromwell and attended by officers and men of his New Model Army, many of whom were “Levellers”, addressed nothing of less import than the post-Civil War future and constitution of England.
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 went on to be killed during the siege of Pontefract, and to be buried in the church of St John in Wapping on November 14th 1648.
For a fuller account of his extraordinary life, the reader is referred to “The Rainborowes” by Adrian Tinniswood.