latter asserting that Clement Wrighter [q. v.] ‘had a great hand in the book.’
Meanwhile Overton had commenced a violent onslaught against the Westminster assembly, under the pseudonym of ‘Martin Marpriest,’ who was represented as the son of Martin Marprelate, the antagonist of the Elizabethan bishops. The series of tracts he issued under this name, of which the chief are ‘The Arraignment of Mr. Persecution,’ ‘Martin's Echo,’ and ‘A Sacred Synodical Decretal,’ were published clandestinely in 1646, with fantastic printers' names appended to them. The ‘Decretal’ is a supposed order of the Westminster assembly for the author's arrest, purporting to be ‘printed by Martin Claw-Clergy, printer to the reverend Assembly of Divines, for Bartholomew Bang-priest, and are to be sold at his shop in Toleration Street, at the sign of the Subjects' Liberty, right opposite to Persecuting Court.’ Prynne denounced these tracts to the parliament as the quintessence of scurrility and blasphemy, and demanded the punishment of the writer, whom he supposed to be Henry Robinson (A Fresh Discovery of some Prodigious New Wandering Blazing Stars, 1645, p. 9). Overton's authorship was suspected, but could not be proved (A Defiance against all Arbitrary Usurpations, 4to, 1646, p. 25). He did not own his responsibility till 1649, when the assembly of divines had come to an end (A Picture of the Council of State, 4to, 1649, p. 36).
In 1646 Overton, who had been concerned in printing some of Lilburne's pamphlets, took up his case against the lords, and published ‘An Alarum to the House of Lords against their Insolent Usurpation of the common Liberties and Rights of this Nation, manifested in their Attempts against Lieutenant-colonel John Lilburne,’ 4to, 1646. For this he was arrested by order of the house on 11 Aug. 1646, and, refusing to acknowledge their jurisdiction, was committed to Newgate (Lords' Journals, viii. 457; Hist. MSS. Comm. 6th Rep. pp. 46, 130). But, in spite of his confinement, he contrived to publish a narrative of his arrest, entitled ‘A Defiance against all Arbitrary Usurpations,’ and a still more violent attack on the peers, called ‘An Arrow shot from the Prison of Newgate into the Prerogative Bowels of the Arbitrary House of Lords.’ His wife Mary and his brother Thomas were also imprisoned for similar offences (ib. p. 172; Lords' Journals, viii. 645, 648; The Petition of Mary Overton, Prisoner in Bridewell, to the House of Commons, 4to, 1647).
The army took up the cause of Overton and his fellow prisoners, and demanded that they should be either legally tried or released (Clarke Papers, i. 171; Old Parliamentary History, xvi. 161). He was unconditionally released on 16 Sept. 1647 (Lords' Journals, ix. 436, 440). This imprisonment did not diminish Overton's democratic zeal. He had a great share in promoting the petition of the London levellers (11 Sept. 1648). He was also one of those who presented to Fairfax on 28 Dec. 1648 the ‘Plea for Common Right and Freedom,’ a protest against the alterations made by the council of the army in Lilburne's draft of the Agreement of the People. On 28 March 1649 he was arrested, with Lilburne and two other leaders of the levellers, as one of the authors of ‘England's new Chains Discovered.’ Overton, who refused to acknowledge the authority of the council of state or to answer their questions, was committed to the Tower (A Picture of the Council of State, 1649, pp. 25–45; Commons' Journals, vi. 174, 183; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1649–50, pp. 57–9). In conjunction with his three fellow-prisoners he issued on 1 May 1649 the ‘Agreement of the Free People of England,’ followed on 14 April by a pamphlet denying the charge that they sought to overthrow property and social order (A Manifestation from Lieutenant-colonel John Lilburne, Mr. Richard Overton, and others, commonly, though unjustly, styled Levellers, 4to, 1649).
On his own account he published on 2 July a ‘Defiance’ to the government, in the form of a letter addressed ‘to the citizens usually meeting at the Whalebone in Lothbury, behind the Royal Exchange,’ a place which was the headquarters of the London levellers. The failure of the government to obtain a verdict against Lilburne involved the release of his associates, and on 8 Nov. Overton's liberation was ordered (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1649–50, p. 552). The only condition was that he should take the engagement to be faithful to the Commonwealth, which he probably had no hesitation in doing. In September 1654 Overton proposed to turn spy, and offered his services to Thurloe for the discovery of plots against the Protector's government. In the following spring he was implicated in the projected rising of the levellers, and fled to Flanders in company with Lieutenant-colonel Sexby. There, through the agency of Sir Marmaduke (afterwards Lord) Langdale [q. v.], he applied to Charles II, and received a commission from him. Some months later he returned to England, supplied with Spanish money by Sexby, and charged to bring about an insurrection (Thurloe State Papers, ii. 590, vi. 830–3; Cal. Clarendon Papers, iii. 55; Egerton MS. 2535, f. 396).