Walwyn was a silkman in London who took the parliamentary side in the English Civil War. He advocated religious toleration and emerged as a leader of the Levellers in 1647, which led to his imprisonment in 1649.
In October 1645 Walwyn published England's Lamentable Slaverie, his famous rebuke to John Lilburne, in which he criticised his fellow Leveller for a misguided reliance on the Magna Carta of 1225 as the foundation for citizens' rights. He argued that Magna Carta was "more precious in your [Lilburne's] esteem than it deserveth", dismissing it as a small set of concessions "wrestled out of the pawes" of Norman conquerors and describing it as, "a messe of pottage" and, (in the following year), "but a beggerly thing containing many marks of intollerable bondage". Walwyn's critique of the appeal to Magna Carta was compelling and fundamentally accurate, and he proposed instead a fresh charter, a proto-social contract founded on equity and right reason, rather than on compromised accretions of the law.
During 1646 he wrote five pamphlets in response to Thomas Edwards' Gangraena, in which Walwyn was described as "a Seeker, a dangerous man, a strong head". In 1649, while held in the Tower of London on a charge of Treason, he published "The Fountain of Slaunder Discovered" and "Walwyns Just Defence" to defend his character against the publication of "Walwyn's Wiles". The pamphlet had seven authors who were the leading Baptist and Independent preachers in London at the time Arnald, Burnet, Foster, Kiffin, Lordall, Price, and Rosier, but was mainly drafted by John Price who had previously attacked Walwyn in print after four of the Leveller petitions were burnt by the common hangman in June 1647 (see "Gold Tried in the Fire"). In Price's opinion it was Walwyn, not Lilburne, who was the most dangerous of the Leveller leaders. In 1653, when Lilburne was arrested having returned from exile in Bruges, Overton and Prince rallied support, Walwyn however was arrested and held in the tower until Lilburne's trial was concluded.
This pamphlet was written by seven of the leading London Independent and Baptist preachers and published whilst Walwyn and the other Leveller leaders were held in the tower. The full title was "Walwyn's Wiles, or the Manifestators manifested, ... declaring the subtle and crafy wiles, the atheistical, blasphemous soul-murdering principles and practices of Mr William Walwyn". Walwyn's Wiles was a response to the jointly signed Leveller pamphlet "A Manifestation" (April 14, 1649) which whilst it denied that they intended to level men's estates also stood firm on the principles outlined in The Agreement of the People.
In the ten pages of Wiles Walwyn is variously described as a Jesuit, a bigamist, of having persuaded a woman to commit suicide, and that he would "destroy all government", that he had said "that it would never be well until all things were common", and that he had also said that there would be "no need for judges ... take any other tradesman that is an honest and just man and let him hear the case".
In response Walwyn published two pamphlets "The Fountain of Slaunder Discovered" in which he defended his morality, and which had written a year before but held back from publication. The second pamphlet was a direct response to Wiles as its full title "Walwyns Just Defence against the Aspertions Cast upon him, in a Late Un-Christian Pamphlet Entitled, Walwyns Wiles" makes clear. The Just Defence contains a great deal of detail of the Leveller movement and the Independents from 1646 onwards.
Political and Religious Writing
This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Lee, Sidney, ed. (1903). "Walwyn, William". Index and Epitome. Dictionary of National Biography. Cambridge University Press. p. 1364.