Publicity, authority and legal radicalism at John Lilburne’s treason trial, 1649

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This article uses John Lilburne’s 1649 treason trial to explore the function of publicity in Leveller thought. It sets Lilburne’s demand for an open trial within the long- and short-term contexts of public trials in early modern England and the advent of extraordinary tribunals by parliament during the civil war of the 1640s. It argues that the Levellers attributed a particular significance to the transparency of legal proceedings. Publicity offered a means for the ‘free-born Englishman’ to verify that power was wielded legitimately, and opened up the possibility of resistance if they judged their fundamental rights and liberties to have been violated. In so doing, the article explores proposals for radical legal reform that emerged in the 1640s, and contrasts the Levellers’ immanent political ontology with the transcendental logic of monarchical power.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)661-677
Number of pages17
JournalHistorical Research
Issue number262
Publication statusPublished - 20 Oct 2020


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