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John Wildman

(c. 1623—1693) Leveller and conspirator


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John Wildman was born in Wremingham near Norwich. He died peacefully in bed on 2 June 1693 and was buried in Shrivenham, Berkshire. He was educated at Cambridge University and subsequently studied law in London. He entered the army in the late 1640s, achieving the rank of major in 1653. He rose to public prominence just prior to joining the army in October 1647, when he helped write The Case of the Army and the first Agreement of the People, the republican manifestos of the Levellers, who were opposed to any compromise with Charles I. In the army debates at Putney (1647) and Whitehall (1648–9), he defended this programme, especially against Oliver Cromwell and Henry Ireton. With John Lilburne and others he began pressing for a democratic republican constitution. This led to his first period of imprisonment for sedition from January to August 1648. On his release, due to the intervention of Sir John Maynard and Bulstrode Whitelocke, he helped draft a second Agreement of the People, which Lilburne and Richard Overton rejected as insufficiently radical. Wildman then turned his main attention to amassing a fortune from the purchase and sale of confiscated Church, Catholic and Royalist property. His brief rift with Lilburne was healed when both supported and profited from the revolt of the fenmen of Axholme in 1650–51. In 1654 Wildman was elected MP for Scarborough but the election was annulled after objections by his enemies in Axholme. Wildman then turned to plotting the overthrow of the Protectorate. Cromwell, flirting with the title of king, now appeared to Wildman to be a worse tyrant than Charles I had been, because Cromwell, unlike Charles, ruled with a standing army. Several Royalists and Levellers made common cause against the Protector. Wildman was arrested for plotting to assassinate Cromwell and was imprisoned for sixteen months, first at Chepstow Castle, then in the Tower. From within prison he continued plotting a joint Leveller–Royalist uprising, but he probably purchased his freedom and the return of his seized property in June 1656 by promising to spy on the Royalists for Cromwell. He may have betrayed a purely Royalist uprising in 1658. Nevertheless, he continued plotting against Cromwell and, with fellow republican Edward Sexby, made at least two further attempts to assassinate Cromwell. When Cromwell died of natural causes in 1658, Wildman conspired with George Villiers, the second Duke of Buckingham, for a Royalist invasion to depose Richard Cromwell and install the future James II as monarch. In 1659 Wildman was a regular member of James Harrington's Rota Club. At the same time, he was employed by the Council of Officers to help draft a constitution for the English republic.

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From The Continuum Encyclopedia of British Philosophy in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Philosophy.


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