My Video on Gerard Winstanley’s ‘The Diggers’ Song of 1649

The Diggers were a radical 17th century Protestant sect during the time of the British Civil War. They believed that all land should be held in common, all men being created equal by the Almighty, and were firmly against both the Cavaliers, the gentry and the priesthood. They tried to set up a colony in St. George’s Hill, a piece of common land near Weybridge in Surrey, but their homes were pulled down and the movement squashed. One of their leaders, Gerard Winstanley, who advocated their political and theological doctrines in his A New Yeeres Gift, also wrote this song about them.

In this video I explain that before the rise of modern newspapers, people got their news through broadside ballads, popular songs written about the issues and news of the day. I got this from Roy Palmer’s excellent A Ballad History of England (London: B.T. Batsford 1979), which collects various ballads from 1588 to the late 20th century. Ballads were still being written in the 20th century, though the medium had changed to recordings rather sheet music. One of the last was about a dispute at British Steel in 1975.

I recite the lyrics and then play the tune given in the book. I regret I can’t sing and play the keyboard at once.

The lyrics are

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 their law, stand up now.

Since tyranny came in they count it now no sin

To make a gaole a gin, to sterve 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 conjoin, 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 tithe 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 is 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 against 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,

Buth 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, now power is like to love,

Glory heere, Diggers all.

Similar to the Diggers were the Levellers, another radical Protestant sect which was extremely strong in the army. They believe in the extension of the franchise to the male heads of households, which was dangerously democratic for the 17th century, as well as state provided schools, hospitals and care homes for the elderly. They still exert a powerful influence in the Labour party.

Here’s the video.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 Responses to “My Video on Gerard Winstanley’s ‘The Diggers’ Song of 1649”

  1. Brian Burden Says:

    Very entertaining! Do you know Christopher Hill’s The World Turned Upside Down? This is a comprehensive study of these various lefty sects which came into being during the Civil War and immediately after. It’s a great read, and I recommend you get a copy if you don’t have one already.

    • beastrabban Says:

      Thanks. Brian. I think I’ve got it! It was massively influential, and started historians talking about the English Revolution rather than English Civil War.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: