The Corkbush Field Mutiny, November 1647
Corkbush Field, near Ware in Hertfordshire, was the first of three Army rendezvous agreed by the Army Council at the Putney Debates. Having won the First Civil War, the New Model Army had become volatile and mutinous because Parliament was eager to disband the army without settling arrears of pay and other grievances of the soldiers. Support for the radical politics of the Levellers had grown amongst the soldiers through association between civilian Levellers and army Agitators.
The Army "Grandees", headed by Fairfax and Cromwell, were alarmed at the Levellers' extremism. A new manifesto had been prepared to be presented to the soldiers in place of the Levellers' Agreement of the People. Every soldier was to be asked to sign a declaration of loyalty to Fairfax and the Army Council.
When Fairfax arrived at the Corkbush rendezvous on 15 November 1647, Colonel Rainsborough attempted to present him with a copy of the Agreement, but Fairfax ignored him. Most soldiers in the seven regiments at the rendezvous readily signed the Grandees' declaration. Colonel Eyres, Major Scott and a few other officers who called for the soldiers to support the Agreement were placed under arrest.
Two unauthorised regiments tried, against orders, to attend the Corkbush rendezvous: Colonel Harrison's regiment of horse and Colonel Robert Lilburne's regiment of foot. Soldiers of both regiments arrived at Corkbush with copies of the Agreement of the People and the motto: "England's Freedom, Soldiers' Rights" stuck into their hats. Fairfax himself confronted Harrison's regiment and succeeded in pacifying the unruly troops in face-to-face argument. Cromwell rode among the ranks of Lilburne's regiment with his sword drawn, ordering the mutineers to tear the papers from their hats. The ringleaders were arrested and three were condemned to death at an improvised court-martial. After casting lots, one of them, Private Richard Arnold, was shot on the spot as an example.
With the commencement of the Second Civil War early in 1648, the Army closed ranks against the Royalists and their Scottish allies. Radical political activity died away until the outbreak of the Leveller mutinies in 1649.
S.R. Gardiner, History of the Great Civil War vol. iv (London 1894)
Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down (London 1972)
Roderick Moore, The Levellers: A Chronology and Bibliography, www.diggers.org