Gerrard Winstanley and the Diggers

Ben Sandell examines the origins, influence and significance of a group of often misunderstood radicals.

Introduction: the Short-Lived Radicals

Human history boasts two important traditions: one of control, harmony and discipline and another of expression, liberty and the pursuit of justice. The Diggers were intimately associated with the latter of those schools of thought, though the reality of implementing such ideas would push them in the direction of the former.

A loose social grouping, the Diggers emerged between 1649 and 1650 as a radical response to the post-civil war insurrection in 17th-century England. Their beliefs, desires and deep-felt hankering for liberty from the mythical ‘Norman yoke’ were something radically new – the product of a revolutionary epoch in which the traditional order of English post-conquest society had been undermined. It is in the Diggers that some modern commentators have seen the roots of modern socialism and even communism. But what were the conditions which led to the emergence of such a group? What did they actually achieve in the short time the Cromwellian regime tolerated their existence? And most importantly, what were their ideas?

The Emergence of a Sect

To continue reading this article you will need to purchase access to the online archive.

Buy Online Access  Buy Print & Archive Subscription

If you have already purchased access, or are a print & archive subscriber, please ensure you are logged in.

Please email if you have any problems.