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1723 oaths to George I, tallies of payments

​Tallies of payments for City returns

The 1723 oaths to George I: a resource for family historians

Ted Vallance, University of Roehampton

Oath returns, as name-rich early modern sources, have already been significantly explored by family historians and finding aids have been produced by Jeremy Gibson for both the 1641 Protestation and the 1696 Association. However, in contrast to these sources, the 1723 oaths remain relatively neglected. One reason for this is that, in contrast to the Protestation and Association, there is no central collection of 1723 rolls. Instead, as persons swore at specially convened sessions of the peace in Midsummer and Michaelmas 1723, returns are typically found amongst quarter sessions papers in local archives. The subscription process adopted in 1723 poses another difficulty for those hoping to find 18th-century ancestors on these returns - unlike the Protestation which was subscribed in individual parishes, those taking the 1723 oaths had to travel to swear the oaths at sessions held at the nearest major town. Consequently, on many returns, there is often no specific information on where a subscriber had come from. To aid historians and genealogists hoping to use these documents, I have created a finding list of the 1723 oath returns, generously funded by the Marc Fitch Fund, available online.

Women subscribers

Despite these limitations, the 1723 oath returns represent a rich and distinctive set of historical sources. Their most striking feature is the high number of women subscribers (typically between a fifth and a third of all those swearing). The Oath Act which received the royal assent on 27 May 1723 required both men and women aged 18 years and over to swear the oaths of allegiance, supremacy and abjuration by 25 December or register their names and estates. Failure to register could lead to the confiscation of property, a clause which was enforced by rewarding informers with a portion of the estate. Even those who took the oaths incurred financial costs: subscription was charged at 3d while the issuing of a certificate confirming subscription (an important document for property owners), cost an additional shilling.

Given the conventional exclusion of women from political activity, the returns represent a considerable feminine intervention in the public sphere. It remains a matter of debate as to why so many women appeared on these returns. One reason suggested by Simon Dixon is that the oaths may have provided an opportunity to test the allegiances of Georgian women. Women had been prominent in anti-Hanoverian rioting at the beginning of George I’s reign and the legislation was part of the response of the government to the Jacobite Atterbury Plot of the previous year. Similarly, as subscriptions (especially of elite women) were widely reported in the press, the oaths could not only help Robert Walpole’s government to identify the disaffected, but also demonstrate the support it had from the feminine half of the population. However, the decision to require women as well as men to swear may also have been driven by financial considerations. By requiring individuals to swear or risk losing their estates, the Hanoverian regime drove not only female property holders, but also many women who simply anticipated that they might inherit or have to administer proper to subscribe.

1723 oaths to George I, City of London return

​City of London return, including key to those not signing and those who paid only 3d fee for subscription

​City of London returns

The financial aspects of the 1723 oaths are revealed in City of London returns. These returns include indications by the name of the individual whether they had paid. The return for each session was accompanied by a tabbed index to aid identifying subscribers. Those who had not subscribed were listed with the initials ‘N. S.’ beside their names. Indicating that non-subscription was carefully followed up; later sessions, from 17th December 1723 onwards, had an alphabetically organised list of ‘queries’ with many of the names within crossed out, presumably when the query had been resolved. These returns also include an unusual amount of detail concerning the place of residence, marital status and occupation of those swearing, possibly as a further aid to identifying those still yet to swear and/or to pay. The City returns show that the majority of those swearing opted for the more expensive (15d total) option of obtaining a certificate as well as making their oath. Given the threat that the estates of non-subscribers could be confiscated, it was obviously important for subscribers to be able to show that they had taken the oaths. It is hard to estimate how much money the government raised without a firm sense of the total number of individuals subscribing nationally. It may have been little more than was necessary to cover the costs of administering the oaths. However, given that the 1723 Oaths Act emerged as a legislative by-product of a £100,000 tax on Catholic estates, it is not implausible that these oaths were also partly intended as a revenue raising measure. The 1723 oath returns, then, especially the very rich returns held in  London Metropolitan Archives, not only offer an excellent resource for those interested in family history, but also give us a fascinating insight into how Walpole’s administration may have filled its coffers while also shoring up its political support.

Useful resources on 1723 oaths

Devon and Exeter oath returns with introduction and commentary by Dr. Simon Dixon

Finding-list for 1723 oath returns

Returns and associated documents in LMA:

CLA/047/LR/02/04/028, 1723 oath returns for the City of London
CLA/047/LR/02/01/016 (Old ref MISC MSS/16/13), Payment records and tallies of payment for oath subscription and the issuing of certificates for the city
CLA/047/LR/02/04/059 (Old ref. MISC MSS/63/16), Registration of and information concerning ‘Papists’ estates in the city.
MR/R/O/034, 036-037, Middlesex oath rolls – August to September 1723
MR/R/O/033, Draft Middlesex oath return August to December 1723
MR/R/O/035, List of affirmations from Middlesex Quakers, 1723
WR/R/O/013 (Mislabelled in box as MR), Index of those taking the oaths in Westminster
WR/R/O/014-22, Westminster oath rolls

 

Published:
28 October 2014
Last Modified:
28 October 2014

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