Gerrard Winstanley and the Failed Digger Revolution (Commentary)

This commentary is based on the classroom activity: Gerrard Winstanley the Failed Digger Revolution

Q1: Study sources 2 and 3. Why was Gerrard Winstanley considered to hold radical views on land ownership.

A1: Gerrard Winstanley argued that "in the beginning of time God made the earth". Therefore "landowners either got their land by murder or theft". In this way "man was brought into bondage, and became a greater slave than the beasts of the field were to him."

Q2: Describe what is taking place in source 5. What do do you think Gerrard Winstanley might have said about these events?

A2: Source 5 shows Sir Henry Tichbourne giving free bread to the people who worked for him on his estate. In source 2 Gerrard Winstanley claims that "landowners either got their land by murder of theft." He therefore believed that Tichbourne had no right to own this large estate in Hampshire and that it should be handed over to the whole community. Winstanley also argued that "one man should not teach and rule over another". He would therefore have disapproved of the power that Tichbourne had over his workers. Winstanley believed in social equality and would have disapproved of the contrasts in wealth in this picture. For example, compare the clothes of the Tichbourne family with those worn by their workers.

Q3: Use sources 6, 7, 9 and 10 to explain what is going on in source 8.

A3: The Diggers believed "that the land belonged to the whole people of England" (source 6). In April 1649 a small group of Diggers under the leadership of Gerrard Winstanley (source 9) went to St George's Hill, near Weybridge in Surrey, where "they proceeded to dig and sow seed in the common land" (source 7). Source 8 shows the Diggers taking over the land. It also illustrates the Diggers being "repeatedly attacked and beaten" (source 10).

Q4: Why was the Digger Revolution unsuccessful?

A4: Digger communities were established in Surrey, Northamptonshire, Kent and Buckinghamshire. According to John F. Harrison (source 10) the Diggers had their crops uprooted, their tools destroyed and their houses set on fire. Local magistrates also imposed heavy fines were imposed. These measures were successful and by 1650 the "Digger movement was effectively dead".