Discover your ancestor among the thousands of tradesmen who signed an oath of loyalty to King William of Orange after a series of assassination plots. The mainly protestant signatories of the Oath rolls swore their fidelity and vowed to revenge the King should the need arise. You can find not just your family member’s name among the rolls but also his trade.
Each record is a transcription from the original oath rolls. The amount of information varies but you can find out the following about your ancestor:
Parish – except for City of London records where just the city is displayed
Livery company – the professional guild for a particular trade or occupation
The collection includes 32,965 signatories of the association oath rolls for:
City of London Livery Companies, 1696
Oath rolls are an underused (though often difficult to use in their original formats) source of individuals' names in the 16th to early 18th centuries. They could contain the names of a substantial proportion of the adult male population within the areas which they covered, and so offer a valuable pre-19th century "census substitute".
Oaths of allegiance were used to secure the loyalty to the sovereign and to help identify potential opponents. They were relatively common in post-Reformation and revolutionary England. For example, the Jacobean loyalty oath of 1606 was intended to expose disloyal Catholics; during the Civil War years signatories to the Protestation Oath (1641) promised to defend 'the true reformed religion expressed in the doctrine of the Church of England' and confirmed their 'duty of allegiance' to 'maintain and defend His Majesty's royal person and estate, as also the power and privilege of Parliaments'.
In response to one of many actual or suspected Jacobite plots, in 1696 all substantial people and office-holders were 'invited' to subscribe to an association oath of loyalty to William III. They swore vengeance if any harm came to him. The Quakers refused to countenance any threat of violence or indeed to swear an oath at all, but most Protestants were only too eager to subscribe. No doubt many felt obliged to sign, regardless of their feelings.
The text of the oath was as follows:
“Whereas there has been a horrid and detestable conspiracy formed and carried on by Papists and other wicked and traitorous persons for assassinating his Majesty's royal person in order to encourage an invasion from France to subvert our religion, laws and liberty. We whose names are hereunto subscribed do heartily, sincerely and solemnly profess, testify and declare that his present Majesty King William is rightful and lawful King of these realms and we do mutually promise and engage to stand by and assist each other, to the utmost of our power in the support and defence of his Majesty's most sacred person and government against the late King James and all his adherents, and in case his Majesty come to any violent or untimely death (which God forbid), we do hereby further freely and unanimously oblige ourselves to unite, associate and stand by each other in revenging the same upon his enemies, and their adherents, and in supporting and defending the succession of the Crown according to an Act made in the first year of the reign of King William and Queen Mary, entitled 'An Act declaring the rights and liberties of the subject, and settling the succession of the Crown”.
The rolls are a very useful inhabitants' list and seem to survive in a fairly complete state mainly in class C 213 in The National Archives, Kew. They exist not only for England and Wales (with separate returns for the clergy), but also for the king's subjects abroad in such places as Barbados, the Channel Islands and North America. Most males over 20 seem to have signed.
However, they are not easy to edit, being written on long and often very large strips of parchment, usually by the subscriber and thus in a vast variety of hands, many virtually illegible. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that they have not been a favourite subject for record publication.
These records have been compiled by genealogist Cliff Webb.