I am reading Democracy in Europe: A History by Luciano Canfora. In his short section on the English Civil War he states

There is another element in the Levellers' thinking that should also be taken into account: their reference to the "native* factor. During the second day at Putney, Henry Ireton, Cromwell's brother-in-law, argued that before William the Conqueror the Anglo-Saxons had a very ancient constitution based upon liberty and equality. The "inherent rights" of the English were inherited from this "constitution", and had been crushed under the rule of the Norman Kings until the reign of Charles I. Thanks to Ireton's elementary dialectic, this vision of England's distant and recent history led to the blocking of the radicals' demand for true universal suffrage. This ambiguity came from the phrase uttered by the Levellers' exponent himself: "We believe that all people who have not compromised their inherent right should have an equal vote in elections." The expression"inherent right", coupled with the theory of Anglo-Saxons' ancient liberty, was used as grounds for the argument that, in any case, not all members of the community were necessarily equal with regard to the right to vote, and that such a right was connected to "ethnic" origin.

I have not been able to find a mention of ethnic origin in connection with voting rights in the transcript of the Putney debates. Ethnic origin would indeed seem a pressing matter in a Kingdom/Commonwealth inhabited by many Scots and Irishmen.

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    Question implies that there was an agenda broader than Ireton's. Interesting. Any other research?
    – MCW
    Commented Dec 30, 2023 at 17:22
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    I suspect by "ethnic" here, they are largely talking culture (language, and the cultural package that often goes along with language). The physical people themselves couldn't have been noticeably different.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Dec 30, 2023 at 20:30
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    Ireton was Cromwell's son-in-law, not his brother-in-law. Commented Dec 31, 2023 at 13:47

1 Answer 1


Very good question. Given the ideology, which was that England was an Anglo-Saxon land of ancient freedom that was 'under the Norman yoke', perhaps English just means people who agree with the Levellers' republicanism. I can't remember which episode, but on the podcast the Rest is History, the guest author said that the Leveller version of universal suffrage would include everyone who was not on poor relief, not a woman, not a royalist and several other conditions.

Perhaps 'English only' meant 'non-Royalist only'?

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