Robert Lockyer was born in London in about 1626. (1) On the outbreak of the English Civil War, Lockyer joined the Parliamentary Army (Roundheads) and served as a private trooper. It is believed that he became a Leveller in November 1647, after reading the An Agreement of the People. (2)
Oliver Cromwell made it very clear that he very much opposed to the idea that more people should be allowed to vote in elections and that the Levellers posed a serious threat to the upper classes: "What is the purport of the levelling principle but to make the tenant as liberal a fortune as the landlord. I was by birth a gentleman. You must cut these people in pieces or they will cut you in pieces." (3)
In July, 1648, the Levellers published their own newspaper, Moderate Intelligencer. Edited by Richard Overton it included articles by John Lilburne, John Wildman and William Walwyn. The newspaper controversially encouraged soldiers in the New Model Army to revolt. In March 1649, Lilburne, Wildman, Overton and Walwyn were arrested and charged with advocating communism. After being brought before the Council of State they were sent to the Tower of London. (4)
Levellers in the army continued to protest against the government. The most serious rebellion took place in London. Troops commanded by Colonel Edward Whalley were ordered from the capital to Essex. A group of soldiers led by Robert Lockyer, refused to go and barricaded themselves in The Bull Inn near Bishopsgate, a radical meeting place. A large number of troops were sent to the scene and the men were forced to surrender. The commander-in-chief, General Thomas Fairfax, ordered Lockyer to be executed.
Lockyer's funeral on Sunday 29th April, 1649, proved to be a dramatic reminder of the strength of the Leveller organization in London. "Starting from Smithfield in the afternoon, the procession wound slowly through the heart of the City, and then back to Moorfields for the interment in New Churchyard. Led by six trumpeters, about 4000 people reportedly accompanied the corpse. Many wore ribbons - black for mourning and sea-green to publicize their Leveller allegiance. A company of women brought up the rear, testimony to the active female involvement in the Leveller movement. If the reports can be believed there were more mourners for Trooper Lockyer than there had been for the martyred Colonel Thomas Rainsborough the previous autumn." (5)
Lockyer's failure to be promoted may have been the consequence of his radical politics. He was rumoured to have supported the Leveller Agreement of the People at the army rendezvous at Ware in November 1647. He is next heard of in April 1649 when, according to the Moderate Intelligencer, he was twenty-three. The volatile political situation in the capital in the wake of the king's execution prompted the New Model Army's commanders to shift some units to new quarters on the outskirts where they would be less susceptible to Leveller propaganda. Colonel Edward Whalley's regiment was already restless on account of parliament's refusal to release the four imprisoned Leveller leaders from the Tower of London. When Captain John Savage's men were assigned new quarters in Essex they baulked. Seizing the troop's colours, they barricaded themselves in The Bull inn near Bishopsgate, a radical meeting place. Captain Savage tracked them down there and demanded that they hand over the colours and return to their obedience. But the men defied him, Lockyer proclaiming that "the colours belonged as well to them as to him, and that they had as well fought for them as he". Other officers arrived on the scene, but the men still refused to return to obedience unless a fortnight's wages and their arrears were paid to them. Colonel Whalley cut short the parley, and singled out Lockyer with an order to obey. The trooper turned for advice to his comrades, who all shouted ‘No, No’. As a crowd gathered in the street, and the situation seemed on the verge of spinning out of control, the commander-in-chief himself - Sir Thomas Fairfax - arrived with Lieutenant-General Oliver Cromwell, "furiously breathing forth nothing but death to them all". Those who had not slipped away were arrested and the next day the six ringleaders were sentenced to death. All expressed contrition for their acts, but Fairfax insisted that Lockyer, deemed the most guilty, should die.