John Lilburne, known as “Freeborn John,” spent his life fighting for the rights of Englishmen. He was born in England in 1614 and he always possessed a curious and inquisitive mind. Lilburne was a member of the Puritan church and he spoke against the Church of England, which was headed by the King of England himself. The Court of High Commissions and the Star Chamber, which were used to root out heretics, questioned him. He refused to answer any questions or take the oath and was whipped publicly. John believed that you had the right to remain silent and not answer any questions that would convict you of a crime. Lilburne was known as “Freeborn John” because he always talked about “Freeborn Englishmen” in his speeches and writings. John was then put in prison for three years but by then the Puritans had control of the Parliament and demanded the release of “Freeborn John.”
The Puritan Parliament and their leader, Oliver Cromwell, took over control over England. Lilburne, being a Puritan himself, started on the same side as Cromwell but after Cromwell tried to make everyone in England Puritan he broke away. Lilburne was then questioned by a branch of the Parliament and thrown in prison without any trial. By this time “Freeborn John’s” popularity had been growing throughout England so in 1648 he was let out of prison. Even then John still spoke out against the government saying that the new government had just replaced the old as a new tyrant of England. John was soon arrested again and went before Cromwell’s Council of State.
Lilburne was once again sent to prison but the people of England petitioned against this and demanded he be released. Cromwell then stated “Either he or John Lilburne had to go,” which resulted in John being charged with high treason. “Freeborn John” demanded “Fair play” and refused to enter a plea of innocent or guilty at his trial. Lilburne kept interrupting others during the trial and when he was told to shut up he accused them of taking away his right of speech. Lilburne tried to get a written copy of charges brought against him, a lawyer, and the ability to bring witnesses into the court but all of these requests were declined since none of these were laws at the time.
John Lilburne refused to say anything that could be used against him. Since most evidence against him was from pamphlets he refused to say that he had in fact written them therefore the defense could not prove that he had written them. Lilburne ended the trial in a very emotional speech and the jury found him not guilty of the charges that had been brought against him. Cromwell was not happy with this verdict so he had John fined 1000 pounds and banished from England. Cromwell said that if “Freeborn John” should return to England he would be put to death. Not hindered by what Cromwell had done Lilburne came back to England and was once again put on trial.
This time in court was much different then the last time Lilburne had been taken to court. This time when John demanded a copy of the charges against him and a lawyer the judges granted his wishes. This was an important step in the law of today it is the first time the court had sustained these rights. Lilburne once again refused to say anything against him and was again found innocent. “Freeborn John” was now the most popular man in England but this would not hinder Oliver Cromwell in the least. Cromwell had Lilburne imprisoned on an isolated island where he could not communicate with friends and supporters. Finally when John was at poor health he was brought back to the mainland where he died two years later.
In his lifetime Lilburne had made a big step toward the rights that people should have. He brought about many rights we use today like the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. Some of the stuff Lilburne fought for is even in the Miranda rights that let criminals know of the rights they have when being arrested.