How to look for records of... Oaths of loyalty to the Crown and Church of England
How can I view the records covered in this guide?
1. Why use this guide?
This is a guide to records relating to oaths of loyalty to the Crown and Church of England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
These contain the names of:
- local government office holders
- the clergy
- individuals belonging to various occupational and religious groups
They illustrate the cultural, religious and political diversity of Britain in the early modern period.
2. Essential information
Between the 16th and 19th centuries various groups of people, from justices of the peace and church ministers to merchants, lawyers and members of the royal household, were required to swear oaths of loyalty to the Crown and the Church of England.
None can be said to include a majority of the population.
It cannot be assumed that all who were intended to subscribe did so.
Most surviving oath rolls date from after 1673, although the records C 215/6 and C 202/44/5 document the names of officers and men in the Royal Navy, arranged by ship, who took the oaths of allegiance and supremacy in 1660-1661.
3. The Solemn Association
The most comprehensive of these oaths was the ‘Solemn Association’ for the defence of the king and in support of the succession.
In 1696, following an attempt on the life of William III, Parliament passed ‘An Act for the Better Security of His Majesties’ Royal Person and Government’ (7&8 Will III c 26, 27; see The Statutes of the Realm, 1695-1701, pp 114-117).
3.1 What kinds of people do the records capture?
Under the terms of the act, it became compulsory for all office holders under the Crown, military and civil, to swear the oath in one of the courts of law.
These records demonstrate that it was not only office holders who swore the oath. They also include:
- the clergy
- the gentry
- freemen of city livery companies
In some counties, most adult males of status in the local community appear to have done so, and the names of women feature in many of the rolls.
The names of those who refused to swear the oath were often included.
3.2 How do I search these records?
Use the advance search option in Discovery, our catalogue to search by county (in England and Wales), by occupation group (for example, ‘weavers’ or ‘tinners’) or by diocese (for example, ‘St Asaph’) within:
Alternatively, you may wish to browse the records in our catalogue using the links provided above. This can prove very effective, particularly given the diversity of the Association Oath rolls.
Many of the records contain original signatures, but they also include marks and listings made by clerks.
4. Oaths taken abroad
The so-called ‘Foreign Plantations’ which you can browse within C 213/459-473 cover sworn oaths from:
- Channel Islands (Jersey and Guernsey)
- Colonies (namely Barbados, St James City in Virginia, New York, Bermuda, and the Leeward Islands)
- merchant groups in Holland, Malaga and Geneva
5. The Test and Corporation Acts
The Corporation Act of 1661 prohibited anyone who would neither swear the oaths of allegiance and supremacy nor take the sacrament of Holy Communion at a Church of England service from being elected to a post governing a city or corporation.
This act effectively excluded Roman Catholics and the more zealous protestant nonconformists from holding official positions.
From 1672 the Test Act required all post-holders, in civil or military positions, or those who held positions of trust under the sovereign, to submit a sacrament certificate confirming they had taken Holy Communion according to Anglican rites.
Between 1689 and 1702, the requirement to take the oaths was extended to beneficed clergy, members of the universities, lawyers, schoolteachers and preachers.
In 1828 the Test Act was abolished and replaced with a declaration (under the Sacramental Test Act of the same year) that the office holder, in exercising their authority and powers, would neither injure nor weaken the Church of England.
Rolls of oaths sworn under the Test Act and the subsequent declarations can be browsed by date within C 214.
6. Oaths to uphold the succession
The Security of Succession Act of 1702 introduced the oath abjuration, which demanded officials swear an oath of loyalty to the protestant succession and deny the son of the Catholic James II, deposed in 1688, his claim to the English throne.
These oaths were taken in court, either at one of the central law courts of Chancery or King’s Bench (or Common Pleas or Exchequer after 1702) or in the local Courts of Quarter Sessions .
For more information on records created or inherited by the Courts of Quarter Sessions please see the section of this guide entitled Record held elsewhere.
Oaths of allegiance, test and abjuration sworn and enrolled in Chancery are in the record series:
The names of those who took these oaths in the years 1673 to 1709 are in C 220/9.
For oaths sworn in King’s Bench, Exchequer and Common Pleas browse:
These records are arranged either chronologically or by type of oath, and they include no indexes of names.
Browse E 169, mentioned above, which includes:
- oaths sworn by Roman Catholics
- some post-1723 Quaker affirmations
Quakers, theologically opposed to the swearing of oaths, were legally permitted after 1723 to take a special affirmation of loyalty. Following the Catholic Relief Act of 1778, Roman Catholics were allowed to take the oath of allegiance.
In addition, browse KB 18 for a list of Roman Catholics in Lancashire who had been summoned in around 1723 to take the oath of allegiance but had failed to appear.
7. Oaths taken by lawyers and judges
Oaths taken by lawyers wishing to practise in a particular court can be found with the records of that court.
For Chancery, browse:
For Common Pleas, browse:
King’s Bench, browse:
Palatinates of Chester, Durham and Lancaster, browse:
After 1791 Roman Catholics were allowed to practise as lawyers after making a declaration and oath, and their names are normally enrolled separately.
The Promissory Oaths Act 1868 substituted new forms of oath or affirmation. Barristers’ Rolls, a register of members of the Bar and signed by barristers wishing to practise in the courts, are in:
For judicial oaths sworn by High Court judges, recorders and magistrates from 1910, which are also indexed by name:
Rolls containing the names of the officers of state who swore oaths before the clerk of the Crown, from 1639, are in:
8. Sacrament certificates
Sacrament certificates document where and when Holy Communion was taken along with the names clergymen, churchwardens and witnesses.
Those submitted to Chancery, King’s Bench and Exchequer can be browsed in:
The sacrament certificates in Chancery and King’s Bench are arranged chronologically, while in Exchequer they are arranged chronologically within parishes.
Most of these certificates relate to individuals who lived within a thirty mile radius of London and Westminster, which means the counties of Hertfordshire, Kent, Middlesex and Surrey are well represented.
Those submitted to the Chester Palatinate Court are in:
Between 1708 and 1711, foreign protestants could become naturalised by taking the oaths of allegiance and supremacy in court and producing a sacrament certificate.
Consult the enrolled records in:
9. Records held elsewhere
Search our catalogue for records held locally and refine your results using the filters.
Where they survive, records of the Court of Quarter Sessions are held by county record offices and may include both oath rolls and sacrament certificates.
10. Further reading
Some of the publications below may be available to buy from The National Archives’ bookshop. Alternatively, click on the links to view the books in The National Archives’ library catalogue and see what is available to consult at our building in Kew.
W Gandy, Lancashire Association oath rolls AD 1696 (1921)
J Gibson, The hearth tax, other later Stuart tax lists and Association Oath rolls (Federation of Family Historians, 1996)
J Gibson, Politics and loyalty in post-revolution Oxfordshire: The ‘1690’ county parliamentary poll: an edited transcript; the Association Oath rolls, 1695-6: analysis (Oxford: Oxfordshire Family History Society, 2011)
E Vallance, Revolutionary England and the national covenant: state oaths, Protestantism and the political nation, 1553-1682