AGITATORS, or Adjutators, the name given to representatives elected in 1647 by the different regiments of the English Parliamentary army. The word really means an agent, but it was confused with “adjutant,” often called “agitant,” a title familiar to the soldiers, and thus the form “adjutator” came into use. Early in 1647 the Long Parliament wished either to disband many of the regiments or to send them to Ireland. The soldiers, whose pay was largely in arrear, refused to accept either alternative, and eight of the cavalry regiments elected agitators, called at first commissioners, who laid their grievances before the three generals, and whose letter was read in the House of Commons on the 30th of April 1647. The other regiments followed the example of the cavalry, and the agitators, who belonged to the lower ranks of the army, were supported by many of the officers, who showed their sympathy by signing the Declaration of the army. Cromwell and other generals succeeded to some extent in pacifying the troops by promising the payment of arrears for eight weeks at once; but before the return of the generals to London parliament had again decided to disband the army, and soon afterwards fixed the 1st of June as the date on which this process was to begin. Again alarmed, the agitators decided to resist; a mutiny occurred in one regiment and the attempt at disbandment failed. Then followed the seizure of the king by Cornet Joyce, Cromwell’s definite adherence to the policy of the army, the signing of the manifestoes; a Humble Representation and a Solemn Engagement and the establishment of the army council composed of officers and agitators. Having, at an assembly on Thriplow Heath, near Royston, virtually refused the offers made by parliament, the agitators demanded a march towards London and the “purging” of the House of Commons. Subsequent events are part of the general history of England. Gradually the agitators ceased to exist, but many of their ideas were adopted by the Levellers (q.v.), who may perhaps be regarded as their successors. Gardiner says of them, “Little as it was intended at the time, nothing was more calculated than the existence of this elected body of agitators to give to the army that distinctive political and religious character which it ultimately bore.”
See S. R. Gardiner, History of the Great Civil War, vols. iii. and iv. (London, 1905).