Lilburne, John, 1614?–1657, English political leader and pamphleteer of the Levelers. He was tried before the court of the Star Chamber as early as 1638 for printing and distributing antiepiscopal works. Imprisoned from 1638 to 1640, he was released with the aid of Oliver Cromwell and in the course of the first civil war rose (1642–45) to be a lieutenant colonel in the parliamentary army. He resigned from the army because he refused to sign the Presbyterian Covenant required for admission to the New Model Army. Lilburne then became a pamphleteer and leader of a large following of common soldiers and artisans who hoped for a fundamental, democratic revision of the constitution and the social system. After 1646 he spent much of his life in prison or exile but continued his propaganda work even there. His pamphlet England's Birthright (1645) contained the principles that became the basis for the Leveler program later stated in An Agreement of the People. Lilburne protested the arbitrary rule of the Rump Parliament and, though no royalist, protested the tribunal that condemned Charles I to death. In 1649, Lilburne, with several of his associates, was tried for treason and acquitted. Under the Commonwealth, Lilburne was banished (1652), returned to England, and was again tried and acquitted (1653). Deemed dangerous, he was held in prison. In his last years he became a Quaker.
See biography by P. Gregg (1961); see also bibliography under Levelers.