Posts Tagged ‘Robert Coster’

Radical Balladry and Tunes for Toilers: The Diggers’ Christmas Carol

May 26, 2014

Ballad Seller pic

Not only has Jess provided the words to tune of the Diggers’ Song, which I posted this morning and which I’ve put up in my last post, but she also sent the lyrics for another Digger Song, The Diggers’ Christmas Carol. This expresses the Diggers’ hatred for the forces they felt were oppressing society and preventing humanity from enjoying true fraternal love, in which the Earth and its fruits and bounty would be held in common. These were priests, and the tithes which supported them, lawyers, the manorial lords and the monarchy itself. Lawyers were resented because it was felt that they were venal and exploitative, prolonging and exacerbating disputes in order to fleece their clients. Lastly, the people were oppressed by the feudal lords and the monarchy, who owed their position in society only to their descent from the Normans, who conquered England in 1066. This followed the standard 17th century liberal view that feudalism was a result of the Norman Conquest. It’s not actually true. Anglo-Saxon England was also a feudal state, though rather less developed. Nevertheless, this view of the origins of the feudal aristocracy continued as part of the Liberal view of history into the 19th century. The Diggers rejected the aristocracy and feudal rule, not just because of the injustice of elite, oligarchical rule, but also because the aristocracy’s tile to the land was based on warfare and violence, something the Diggers themselves profoundly detested.

Here are the lyrics, as Jess has given them. She also mentions the work of Christopher Hill and Andrew Hopton and his Aporia Press, who have published editions of Gerrard Winstanley and other Digger writings.

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.

1.
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.
2.
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.
3.
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.
4.
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.
5.
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.
6.
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.
7.
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.
8.
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.
9.
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.
10.
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.
11.
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.
12.
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.
13.
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.
14.
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.
15.
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.
16.
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.
17.
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.
18.
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.
19.
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.
20.
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.
21.
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.
22.
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.
23.
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.
24.
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.
25.
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.
http://www.bl.uk/reshelp/findhelprestype/prbooks/thomason/thomasoncivilwar.html

One of the bizarre works of 17th century mysticism from the British Civil War, A Fiery Flying Roll, published by Aporia, was for a long time one of the items listed in the Counterproductions’ catalogue. Counterproductions were a radical London bookshop, specialising in Anarchist and radical artistic literature – Decadent, Dada and Surrealist, as well as contemporary fringe literature and general high weirdness. Another of Aporia’s items which was also included in their catalogue was a radical appeal to stop people enlisting in the army for Cromwell’s invasion of Ireland. That’s important, and it’s a pity more people didn’t take heed of it, as then the atrocities Cromwell committed against the Irish people would never have occurred, and relations between Britain and the Emerald Isle would have been just that bit better.

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