Article on 1723 oath rolls in London Metropolitan Archives

I have written a short article on the 1723 oath returns to be found in London Metropolitan Archives which has now been posted on the LMA website.

The article will also appear in the LMA’s newsletter.

I will also be delivering a talk on 1723 oaths at the University of Liverpool’s Eighteenth-Century Worlds seminar on 11 March 2015.

Further rolls and some upcoming talks

I’ve identified another oath roll in TNA Exchequer papers: E 169/84. This is a list of Quaker asservations with around 35 names on it, including both men and women. The subscriptions were taken between 30th Oct and 28th Nov 1723.

I will be giving a paper on my research on the 1723 oaths in London on 15 October and in York on 28 October. The London talk will be recorded as part of the IHR’s podcast series. I have also produced a short article on the 1723 oaths for the London Metropolitan Archives autumn newsletter, out Oct/Nov.

A new, updated version of the finding list will be published shortly.

The end of oaths?

The 1723 oaths to George I are the last example of the tendering of a test of loyalty en masse in early modern England. In the introduction to the finding list, I pondered why this practice ended in the early eighteenth century. Some indication of the possible intellectual changes which may have brought mass oath-taking to an end can be found in the text of a charge to the Grand Jury of Gloucester delivered at the Midsummer sessions 1723 by the Whig Parliamentary diarist Sir Richard Cocks.

Given the timing of the charge, Cocks was clearly intent on reminding the grand jury of the importance of the work of the special sessions of that year, gathering subscriptions to the oaths to George I. But though homilies on the importance of oaths were commonplace in a legal context (whether delivered in ‘charges’ of this kind or assize sermons), Cocks’ reasoning was noticeably different from earlier treatments of the obligation of sworn statements. References to God or the binding power of oaths on the individual conscience are largely absent from Cocks’ text. Instead, political obligation is directed by law and by reason.

Addressing the issue of the king’s title and hereditary right, Cocks imagines the hypothetical case of a man renting land. If a ‘busy body’ were to tell the tenant that their good, kind landlord did not, in fact, have the title to the property that they leased but that it belonged instead to another who had a reputation for treating his tenants harshly what rational individual would switch landlords? Similarly, even if the Pretender did have a better hereditary title, Cocks argued that reason dictated it was better to give our loyalty to the king who could be trusted to govern within the laws and protect Protestantism (George I).

Cocks was also a religious controversialist but, in this charge, the confessional identity of the monarch is important primarily because this is now regulated by law (through the 1701 Act of Settlement). So, a Catholic Pretender cannot be our rightful monarch because he is legally disqualifed. Parliamentary statute is absolute: once again indulging in a hypothetical, Cocks argued that the public’s  duty of allegiance to George I would also be ended if he were to convert to Catholicism.

In this short charge, there is no room for extended discussion of the fine distinctions between de facto and de jure rulers, nor is there space for a casuistic exploration of the obligation of promises made before God. In Cocks’ view, law and reason are all and Parliament is paramount.

Cocks had begun his charge asking, seemingly rhetorically, ‘What Obligation can Art or Invention imagine, or find out, to supply the Place of Oaths?’ Yet, in his short ‘Charge’ he had laid out a theory of political obligation in which sworn bonds were subordinate to rational choice directed by the sovereign lawmaker, Parliament.

For Cock’s charge see

‘A Charge Given to the Grand-Jury Of the COUNTY OF GLOUCESTER, AT THE Midsummer Sessions, 1723’ by Sir Richard Cocks – 2nd edn.
in Charges to the Grand Jury 1689-1803, ed. G. Lamione, (Camden 4th series, vol. 43, London, 1992), pp. 175-89.


Article in Genealogists’ Magazine

The latest edition of the Genealogists’ Magazine (June 2014) includes an article by Sylvia Dibbs on the 1723 oaths of loyalty. It’s great that the oaths are being brought to the attention of family historians and I am pleased that the author has directed readers to the electronic finding list. The article also includes some interesting data drawn from the City of London returns. However, the link the author provides is for the History Working Papers draft version of the finding list. This is an older version of the list that was uploaded to enable those with information on the oath rolls to post comments. The most recent version of the finding list can be found and downloaded from this site (click on the ‘Finding List’ tab). This edition includes further information on the City and Exchequer rolls plus details of additional returns that have been identified for Kent and Westmoreland.

I am grateful to Jeremy Gibson for bringing Sylvia Dibbs’ article to my attention.

1723 oath pun

In a letter to the Earl of Oxford, Dr Thomas Tudway reported that in Sir Robert Walpole’s county (Norfolk) ‘where some gentlemen met at an adjourned sessions, for the people of those parts to take the oaths, … it being hot weather, the justices called out to have the windows opened, to let in the air, upon which a gentleman who had just taken them cried out, “Why, what the devil have we been doing all this while, I thought we had come hither to swear to keep out the h[ei]r.”’

Report on the Manuscripts of the Duke of Portland preserved at Welbeck Abbey, vol. v (Norwich, HMSO, 1899), p. 638.

In other news, I will be posting an updated version of the finding list shortly with new oath roll finds for Cumbria and Kent included.