Making ‘the Heads of the Proposals’: The King, the Army, the Levellers, and the Roads to Putney

The English Historical Review

This article offers a comprehensive account of the drafting of ‘the Heads of the Proposals’, the peace plan framed by the New Model Army in July 1647. Using overlooked manuscript sources, including newly uncovered papers of Commissary General Henry Ireton, the article reconstructs the complex process of negotiation, revision, and bargaining through which the Heads of the Proposals emerged. It charts the influence of King Charles I on the peace programme, and offers new insight into the monarch’s response to the Proposals. However, the article also demonstrates that army leaders invited radical London activists to Reading to participate in framing the Proposals. These activists sought, with limited success, to bring the Heads into conformity with their own vision for the polity, but quickly revolted when they recognised the degree to which the king’s input and interests were reflected in the developing programme. The resulting tensions ensured that even before the Heads of the Proposals were completed and published in August 1647, the plan provoked serious controversy among the army’s supporters, helping to undermine its prospects. It is demonstrated that many of the political conflicts that shook the army and the ‘independent coalition’ later in 1647 grew out of these disagreements at Reading over the Heads of the Proposals. The article not only clarifies the reasons for the failure of the Heads, but provides new insight into the origins of the ‘Leveller’ agitation and the Putney Debates, including the famous ‘franchise debates’.