Clanfield and Bampton Historical Society

Archive 2012-2013


The Burford Mutiny. Muriel Pilkington


March 20th 2013. 7.30pm Bampton Village Hall


A quest for equality and free speech may have been suppressed when a mutiny by the Levellers ended with the death of three of them, shot in the grounds of Burford Church, in 1649, but, as Muriel Pilkington told us in a detailed and fascinating talk, their legacy spread abroad, and lives on, even in the constitution of the USA.

The Levellers, a movement which developed in the New Model Army that Parliament, under Oliver Cromwell, created to counter King Charles I’s despotic reign, have been accused of being the forerunners of Communism, but as Mrs Pilkington pointed out, their demands were what most now take for granted - though the free press that Britain has had for more than 300 years has perhaps taken a step backwards thanks to recent Parliamentary machinations.

Having, after years of major battles and minor skirmishes, finally defeated King Charles’ army – the King spent some three years living in Christ Church College, during which time Oxford was the de facto capital of England with the Privy Council meeting in the college’s Great Hall – the New Model Army was, after Charles’s execution in January 1649 and the setting up of an English republic, neglected and seething with discontent.

Mutinous soldiers in the south-west marched north, another contingent from Banbury marched south, and they met in Burford, but celebrated their amalgamation rather too well and were easy prey for the forces Cromwell sent against them. Many fled but 300 or so were rounded up and imprisoned in Burford Parish Church. A court was set up in Burford School, the ringleaders of the mutiny sentenced to death, and three of them shot.

The Levellers’ aspirations are celebrated peacefully these days with a march through Burford on the second Saturday each May: when first mooted, in 1975, Douglas Hurd, a predecessor of David Cameron as MP for the constituency, tried to have the march banned, but fellow MP Tony Benn outwitted him by getting the prior approval of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and so it continues. As Mrs Pilkington conjectured, how different English history might have been had the Levellers, not Cromwell, been successful that day in Burford.

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© 2012 The Carter Institute