LILBURNE, JOHN (c. 1614-1657), English political agitator, was the younger son of a gentleman of good family in the county of Durham. At the age of twelve he was apprenticed to a clothier in London, but he appears to have early addicted himself to the " contention, novelties, opposition of government, and 1 The Span, lilac, Fr. lilac, mod. lilas, are adapted Irom Arab, lilak, Pers. tUak, variant of nilak, of a blue colour, nil, blue, the indigo-plant.
violent and bitter expressions " for which he afterwards became so conspicuous as to provoke the saying of Harry Marten (the regicide) that, " if the world was emptied of all but John Lilburn, Lilburn would quarrel with John, and John with Lilburn." He appears at one time to have been law-clerk to William Prynne. In February 1638, for the part he had taken in importing and circulating The Litany and other publications of John Bastwick and Prynne, offensive to the bishops, he was sentenced by the Star Chamber to be publicly whipped from the Fleet prison to Palace Yard, Westminster, there to stand for two hours in the pillory, and afterwards to be kept in gaol until a fine of 500 had been paid. He devoted his enforced leisure to his favourite form of literary activity, and did not regain his liberty until November 1640, one of the earliest recorded speeches of Oliver Cromwell being made in support of his petition to the House of Commons (Nov. 9, 1640). In 1641 he received an indemnity of 3000. He now entered the army, and in 1642 was taken prisoner at Brentford and tried for his life; sentence would no doubt have been executed had not the parliament by threatening reprisals forced his exchange. He soon rose to the rank of lieutenantcolonel, but in April 1645, having become dissatisfied with the predominance of Presbyterianism, and refusing to take the covenant, he resigned his commission, presenting at the same time to the Commons a petition for considerable arrears of pay. His violent language in Westminster Hall about the speaker and other public men led in the following July to his arrest and committal to Newgate, whence he was discharged, however, without trial, by order of the House, in October. In January 1647 he was committed to the Tower for accusations against Cromwell, but was again set at liberty in time to become a disappointed spectator of the failure of the " Levellers " or ultrademocratic party in the army at the Ware rendezvous in the following November. The scene produced a deep impression on his mind, and in February 1649 he along with other petitioners presented to the House of Commons a paper entitled The Serious Apprehensions of a part of the People on behalf of the Commonwealth, which he followed up with a pamphlet, England's New Chains Discovered, criticizing Ireton, and another exposing the conduct of Cromwell, Ireton and other leaders of the army since June 1647 (The Hunting of the Foxes from Newmarket and Triploe Heath to Whitehall by Five Small Beagles, the " beagles " being Lilburne. Richard Overton, William Walwyn, Prince and another). Finally, the Second Part of England's New Chains Discovered, a violent outburst against " the dominion of a council of state, and a constitution of a new and unexperienced nature," became the subject of discussion in the House, and led anew to the imprisonment of its author in the Tower on the nth of April. His trial in the following October, on a charge of seditious and scandalous practices against the state, resulted in his unanimous acquittal, followed by his release in November. In 1650 he was advocating the release of trade from the restrictions of chartered companies and monopolists.
In January 1652, for printing and publishing a petition against Sir Arthur Hesilrige and the Haberdashers' Hall for what he conceived to have been an injury done to his uncle George Lilburne in 1649, he was sentenced to pay fines amounting to 7000, and to be banished the Commonwealth, with prohibition of return under the pain of death. In June 1653 he nevertheless came back from the Low Countries, where he had busied himself in pamphleteering and such other agitation as was possible, and was immediately arrested; the trial, which was protracted from the 13th of July to the 20th of August, issued in his acquittal, to the great joy of London, but it was nevertheless thought proper to keep him in captivity for " the peace of the nation." He was detained successively in the Tower, in Jersey, in Guernsey and in Dover Castle. At Dover he came under Quaker influence, and signified his readiness at last to be done with " carnal sword fightings and fleshly bustlings and contests "; and in 1655, on giving security for his good behaviour, he was set free. He now settled at Eltham in Kent, frequently preaching at Quaker meetings in the neighbourhood during the brief remainder of his troubled life. He died on the 29th of August 1657.
His brother, Colonel Robert Lilburne, was among those who signed the death-warrant of Charles I. In 1656 he was M.P. for the East Riding of Yorkshire, and at the restoration was sentenced to lifelong imprisonment.
See D. Masson, Life of Milton (iv. 120) ; Clement Walker (History of Independency, ii. 247) ; W. Godwin (Commonwealth, iii. 163-177), and Robert Bisset (Omitted Chapters of the History of England, 191-251).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)