New College of the Humanities

Why were there no Levellers in Scotland?

The Civil War began in Scotland, so why did its radical ideas not appear to take hold north of the border?

When a Scottish historian gives a lecture on what was formerly known as ‘the English Civil War’, one of the questions students ask is: why were there no Levellers in 17th-century Scotland? For some Scottish historians, this can be irksome. It looks on the surface to be une question mal posée: it tells us little about early modern Scottish society – and not much about Levellers – to ask why a phenomenon that was seemingly unique to England did not make an appearance somewhere else. The question speaks to that now outdated determinist historical narrative, still commonplace in popular histories and on television, in which the putatively democratic and secularising ideals espoused by the Levellers foreshadowed England's emergence as 'the first modern society'. By failing to produce any Levellers, 17th-century Scotland demonstrated that it was an essentially backward society, whose people had to await the liberating effects of full union with England before acquiring the wherewith al to stand up to their over-mighty magnates and tyrannising clerics.

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Why were there no Levellers in Scotland?


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