John Lilburne, an English agitator, born at Thickney Puncharden, Durham, in 1618, died in 1057. He was apprenticed at 12 years of age to a clothier in London, from whom as well as from his father he imbibed opinions in opposition to the existing hierarchy. In 1636 he went to Holland for the purpose of getting Dr. Bastwick's pamphlet against the bishops printed; and he subsequently privately circulated this publication, with others of a similar character, in England. Having been betrayed by an associate, he was arraigned before the court of the star chamber, and was condemned, in February, 1637, to receive 500 lashes, to be pilloried and confined in the Fleet prison, and to pay a fine of £500 and give security for his good behavior. His fearless bravery on this occasion when confronted with his judges gained him the name of "Free-born John." Four years later the house of commons declared the punishment illegal, barbarous, and tyrannical; and as a reparation he subsequently received from parliament £3,000 out of certain sequestered estates.
Upon the establishment of a parliamentary army he enrolled himself as a volunteer, and fought at Edgehill and Brentford. At the latter place he was taken prisoner, and would have been executed as a rebel had not Essex, the parliamentary general, threatened retaliation on royalist prisoners. Disliking the Presbyterian tendencies of Essex, he obtained a commission as major of foot under the earl of Manchester, and subsequently, as lieutenant colonel of dragoons in Manchester's own regiment, fought at Marston Moor. For his intemperate language and publications against Prynne, Lenthal, and other Presbyterian leaders, he was committed to Newgate on a charge of seditious practices. On this occasion Marten interfered in his behalf. He took an active part in organizing the " Levellers," and his pamphlets appealing to the fanaticism of the soldiery were a leading cause of the disaffection which prevailed in the army in 1648-'9. He accused Cromwell and Ireton of a design to usurp the sovereignty; and for reading to a numerous assemblage at Winchester house a pamphlet entitled " England's New Chains," he was in March, 1649, committed by order of parliament to close custody in the tower, whence his political pamphlets issued without cessation.
Various unsuccessful attempts were made to conciliate him. He was tried in October by a common jury, a special commission of members of parliament being appointed to determine his sentence, and was acquitted, the populace celebrating the event by bonfires all over London. A medal commemorating the trial was subsequently struck, having the following inscription: "John Lil-burne saved by the power of the Lord, and the integrity of the jury, who are judges of law as well as of fact." He soon after retired to Holland, but returned to England in 1653, and was again arrested, tried, and acquitted. Finally he settled in Eltham, Kent, and joining the Quakers preached the doctrines of that faith until his death. An account of his trial, entitled "Truth's Victory over Tyrants," was published in 1649.