Radical Balladry and Tunes for Toilers: Diggers’ Song

Digger Song

This is another tune from Roy Palmer’s A Ballad History of England. Like the others I’ve posted up, I don’t the words for it. Its place amongst the other ballads, which I copied from Roy’s book, suggests that it comes from the seventeenth century. So, I wonder if it’s about the Diggers, the Civil War Communist movement, that attempted to set up an ideal community on common land at St. George’s Hill in Surrey in 1649. They were inspired by Gerrard Winstanley, a cloth trader and farm labourer, whose Communist ideas were based on his radical mysticism, in which he hailed Christ as ‘the head Leveller’. The Digger movement was eventually suppressed by the local landlords, who destroyed the colony’s crops.

They and the Levellers still exert a certain influence on British Socialism and radicalism today. There was a drama documentary about them made by one of the radical British directors in the 1970s. This is still available on DVD from the British Film Institute, I believe. I have seen copies around in various record and DVD stores, so it’s definitely still around, if you’re interested. More recently, the British film, A Field in England, was released the other year. Set in the Civil War, it was about the debates over society, politics and religion of the period through the perspective of the local characters debating what they should do over a particular field. Possibly not one of the most exciting ideas for a film, it was nevertheless praised by the critics for its ability to create drama and tension through skilful direction and camera work. I’ve also got a feeling that amongst the great British thesps starring in the movie was Sean Bean, best known as ‘Sharpe’ from the series of books and TV series set in the Napoleonic Wars.

An excerpt from Winstanley’s A New-Yeers Gift for the Parliament and Armie of 1650 is included in the collection of 17th century political texts, Divine Right and Democracy: An Anthology of Political Writing in Stuart England, ed. by David Wootton, (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1986) 317-332.

On the other hand, the tune could simply be about people who have to dig for their living, rather than the radical political movement. In which case, it’s still interesting as another document on working class life from that period.

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2 Responses to “Radical Balladry and Tunes for Toilers: Diggers’ Song”

  1. jess Says:

    Here’s the words

    And yes, its a song of the Diggers

    “You noble Diggers all, stand up now, stand up now,
    You noble Diggers all, stand up now,
    The wast land to maintain, seeing Cavaliers by name
    Your digging does maintain, and persons all defame
    Stand up now, stand up now.

    Your houses they pull down, stand up now, stand up now,
    Your houses they pull down, stand up now.
    Your houses they pull down to fright your men in town
    But the gentry must come down, and the poor shall wear the crown.
    Stand up now, Diggers all.

    With spades and hoes and plowes, stand up now, stand up now
    With spades and hoes and plowes stand up now,
    Your freedom to uphold, seeing Cavaliers are bold
    To kill you if they could, and rights from you to hold.
    Stand up now, Diggers all.

    Theire self-will is theire law, stand up now, stand up now,
    Theire self-will is theire law, stand up now.
    Since tyranny came in they count it now no sin
    To make a gaol a gin, to starve poor men therein.
    Stand up now, Diggers all.

    The gentrye are all round, stand up now, stand up now,
    The gentrye are all round, stand up now.
    The gentrye are all round, on each side they are found,
    Theire wisdom’s so profound, to cheat us of our ground
    Stand up now, stand up now.

    The lawyers they conjoyne, stand up now, stand up now,
    The lawyers they conjoyne, stand up now,
    To arrest you they advise, such fury they devise,
    The devill in them lies, and hath blinded both their eyes.
    Stand up now, stand up now.

    The clergy they come in, stand up now, stand up now,
    The clergy they come in, stand up now.
    The clergy they come in, and say it is a sin
    That we should now begin, our freedom for to win.
    Stand up now, Diggers all.

    The tithes they yet will have, stand up now, stand up now,
    The tithes they yet will have, stand up now.
    The tithes they yet will have, and lawyers their fees crave,
    And this they say is brave, to make the poor their slave.
    Stand up now, Diggers all.

    ‘Gainst lawyers and ‘gainst Priests, stand up now, stand up now,
    ‘Gainst lawyers and ‘gainst Priests stand up now.
    For tyrants they are both even flatt againnst their oath,
    To grant us they are loath free meat and drink and cloth.
    Stand up now, Diggers all.

    The club is all their law, stand up now, stand up now,
    The club is all their law, stand up now.
    The club is all their law to keep men in awe,
    But they no vision saw to maintain such a law.
    Stand up now, Diggers all.

    The Cavaleers are foes, stand up now, stand up now,
    The Cavaleers are foes, stand up now;
    The Cavaleers are foes, themselves they do disclose
    By verses not in prose to please the singing boyes.
    Stand up now, Diggers all.

    To conquer them by love, come in now, come in now
    To conquer them by love, come in now;
    To conquer them by love, as itt does you behove,
    For hee is King above, noe power is like to love,
    Glory heere, Diggers all.

    This is a good site for Digger Literature;


  2. jess Says:

    This, though, is not usually included in ‘Digger Collections

    “The Diggers Christmass-Caroll.

    This for a Christmasse-Caroll was invented,
    Which here unto your view is now presented;
    ‘Twas writ at that time which you Christmasse call
    And had come forth then; but this is all
    The reason why it came not forth before,
    Because we thought for to have added more.
    Accept of this therefore with all thy heart,
    Thou maist hereafter see a Second part.

    To the Tune of the Spanish Gypsie.

    You people which be wise,
    Will Freedom highly prise;
    For experience you have
    What ’tis to be a slave:
    This have you been all your life long,
    But chiefly since the Wars begun.
    When great Men disagree
    About Supremacy,
    Then doe they warn poor men
    To aid and assist them
    In setting up their self-will power,
    And thus they doe the poor devour.
    Yet they cunningly pretend
    They have no other end
    But to set the poor Free
    From all their slavery:
    And thus they do the poor deceive,
    In making them such things believe.
    Their blinde Guides will not spare,
    These things for to declare;
    Ye they aloud will cry,
    Stand for your liberty;
    The Gospel that lyes at the stake;
    Rise therefore ’tis time to awake.
    The Priests very sensible be,
    If the poor their Liberty see;
    Their Tythe-plundring trade will fall,
    And then farewell Tythes all.
    Then would they not be finely fed,
    But they must work for their own bread.
    The King an Army did gain,
    His power for to maintain;
    That Army did pretend
    For to be England’s friend,
    In saving of their Libertie
    Which lay at stake and like to die.
    Another Army then
    Was raised by mighty Men,
    That Army to oppose,
    Looking on them as Foes:
    Likewise these powers did agree
    To make the English Nation free.
    A Covenant they did take,
    And promises they did make
    All burthens to remove,
    And to unite in love;
    Yet we cannot see that good hour,
    The taking down of Kingly power.
    The Nation willingly
    Did maintain this Army,
    Their Freedom for to gain;
    But as yet all in vain:
    For still a Kingly power doth stand
    In many persons of this Land.
    A Kingly power I say
    Doth in most men bare sway,
    But chiefly in Lords of Mannors,
    And in the Priests and Lawyers:
    This Kingly power is their Self-will,
    Which in this manner they do fulfill.
    The Priests they tyrannize,
    By taking of the Tythes;
    The poor they much oppresse
    By their pride and idlenesse:
    No Scripture warrant they can show,
    Why any of these things they do.
    Therefore I pray consider,
    And lay your heads together;
    For you will never thrive,
    Whilst Priests do gain the Tythe.
    But let them work as well as you,
    For Reason bids them so to do.
    They neither plow nor sow,
    Nor do they reap or mow,
    Nor any seed do finde,
    But Priests the people grinde:
    The tenth of all things they do crave;
    And thus each man is made a slave.
    The Lawyers they are next,
    By whom the poor are vext;
    Their practice is most base,
    For they will plead mens Case,
    According to the length o’th’ Purse,
    And so the Lawyers prove a Curse.
    Another trick they have,
    The Nation to inslave;
    Mens quarrels they’ll maintain,
    Their Moneys for to gain:
    Therefore if Lawyers you uphold,
    They’l cheat you of your silver & gold.
    Therefore my brethren dear,
    The Lawyers quite Cashiere;
    Go not to them for Law,
    For they your sides will claw;
    They’l tell you that your case is good,
    When they doe mean to suck your blood.
    Therefore be rul’d by me,
    And do not Lawyers Fee,
    But end your suits at home,
    Lest you be overthrown;
    For if Lawyers gain your estate,
    You may repent when ’tis too late.
    Besides the Priests and Lawyers,
    There be the Lords of Mannors,
    Who lay claim to waste Land,
    Which by blood-shed was gain’d;
    For Duke William the Norman King,
    By much bloodshed this land did win.
    When he this Land had gain’d,
    He presently Ordain’d,
    That his chief Souldiers should
    This Land by parcels hold,
    Owning him to be the Supream,
    In paying tribute unto him.
    From hence came Lords of Mannors,
    VVith Fines, quit-Rents and Heriots,
    And all such cursed things,
    Which are payed to these Kings:
    And thus the people be broughtdown
    By Lords of Mannors who wear the Crown.
    The Lords of Mannors, I say,
    Do bear a mighty sway;
    The Common Lands they hold,
    Herein they are too bold:
    They will not suffer men to till
    The comon Lands, by their good wil.
    But Lords of Mannors must know,
    Their title to Commons is low;
    For why their title came in
    By WILLIAM the Norman King.
    But now the Norman successor is dead,
    Their Royalty to th’ Commons is fled.
    Therefore let me advise
    All those which Freedom prise,
    To Till each Heath and Plain,
    For this will Freedom gain:
    Heriots and Fines this will expell,
    A bondage great men know full well.
    For we do plainly see,
    The Sword will not set’s free,
    But bondage is increased,
    Because our wealth is wasted
    By paying Taxes and Free-quarter,
    Expecting Freedom would com after.
    But Freedom is not wonn,
    Neither by Sword nor Gunn:
    Though we have eight years stay’d,
    And have our Moneys pay’d:
    Then Clubs and Diamonds cast away,
    For Harts & Spades must win the day. ”

    Robert Coster; “The Diggers mirth or, certain verses composed and fitted to tunes, for the delight and recreation of all those who dig, or own that work, in the Commonwealth of England. Wherein is shewed how the kingly power doth still reign in severall sorts of men. With a hint of that freedom which shall come, when the father shall reign alone in his Son. Set forth by those who were the original of that so righteous a work, and continue still successful therein at Cobham in Surrey. ”

    Christopher Hill edited a selection of Winstanley’s work “The |Law of Freedom”, 1973. But mention should also be made of Andrew Hopton’s “Selected Writings of Gerard Winstanley, 1989.

    Hopton’s publishing venture, Aporia Press, reprinted many scarce and otherwise unobtainable tracts from the Thomason Collection.

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