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allegiance, oaths of

allegiance, oaths of. The vicissitudes of oaths of allegiance reflect not merely dynastic fortunes but the changing priorities of different generations. The first oath of which we know, to Edmund in the 10th cent., offered ‘fealty as a man ought to be faithful to his lord’. It was presumably to guard against a vassal putting his lord before the king that William I imposed the oath at Salisbury in 1086 on his tenants-in-chief, and homage between vassal and lord normally included the phrase ‘save the duty owed to the king’. Matters became more complex when religious and party issues were added in the 16th and 17th cents. Elizabeth's oath of allegiance in 1559 required the specific repudiation of any jurisdiction by any foreign prince, person, prelate, or potentate. After the Gunpowder plot, James I demanded an oath repudiating papal authority and promising to divulge ‘all treasons and traiterous conspiracies which I shall know or hear of’. As soon as Charles I had been executed in 1649, Parliament asked for an oath approving the measure and accepting the abolition of the monarchy, and all the changes of regime up to the Restoration were accompanied by debates on an appropriate oath. Charles II made his office-holders swear that it was not lawful ‘upon any pretence whatsoever’ to take up arms against the king. During the excitement of the Popish plot, Parliament added oaths against transubstantiation, which James II promptly ruled aside in his Declaration of Indulgence of 1687. The next bouleversement, which brought in William and Mary, declared that Charles II's oath against taking up arms was no longer necessary, but the repudiation of non-resistance forced 400 non-jurors to resign their benefices. Dynastic and religious considerations continued to complicate allegiance until the 19th cent. Jacobites could not take the oath to George I and his successors, and catholics, Jews, and atheists remained excluded from Parliament until the oath was amended in 1829, 1858, and 1888. The existing oath of allegiance, based upon the Promissory Oaths Act of 1868, is nearly as simple as that of Edmund.

J. A. Cannon

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