letter:Historical relief

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The Independent Online
From Mr Gerald Isaaman

Sir: The scrabble for justice by Michael Goldman in the case of the great pee ("A pee spells trouble for Scrabble champion", 6 June) ought not to be allowed to disappear without reminding your readers of a piece of history worth retelling. I refer to the trial for his life of John Liburne, the Leveller, in London's Guildhall, in October 1649.

Liburne was refused a copy of the indictment of treason against him, refused counsel and refused time to prepare his defence, having languished in the Tower of London for seven months while the state gathered its evidence against him. He had to stand throughout the trial and when it came to him to defend himself he asked the judges for an hour in a private room "to ease and refresh my body".

The plea was rejected. So Liburne called for a piss pot and did his pee there and then in the grandeur of Guildhall before the panoply of the judges of all England. The jury, of course, let him go free.

It is worth adding that the charges against Liburne included bringing the House of Commons "into hatred and infamy" by writing and printing sundry "scandalous, poisonous and traitorous books" in which he asserted that "the government aforesaid it tyrannical, usurped and unlawful". Those "books" were the pamphlets of the day, the forerunner of the modern newspaper.

Yours sincerely,


Garrick Club

London, WC2