Pollock on the Oath of Allegiance in English History

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Source: Cyclopedia of Political Science, Political Economy, and of the Political History of the United States by the best American and European Authors, ed. John J. Lalor (Chicago: M.B. Carey, 1899). 3 vols. Chapter: OATH OF ALLEGIANCE

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Sir Frederick Pollock (1845-1937) was one of the leading English legal historians of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He was a practicing barrister as well as a Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Oxford.


OATH OF ALLEGIANCE, The. (IN ENGLISH HISTORY). The natural history and antiquity of oaths in general were discussed some time ago by Mr E.B. Tylor. (Macmillan's Magazine, "ordeals and Oaths," May, 1876.) Mr. Tylor has, among other interesting points, made it all but certain that our formula, "So help me God!" is of Scandinavian or pre-Christian origin; a discovery which throws an unexpected light on the much abused dictum that Christianity is parcel of the common law of England, and the proposition, confidently advanced at a later time, that the oath of allegiance taken by members of parliament is in some way (notwithstanding the removal of Jewish disabilities) a bulwark of the Christian religion in England. This statement, however, errs only in generality and in being out of date. It is perfectly true that the oath of allegiance was, down to the Catholic emancipation, one of the chief statutory defenses of the Protestant religion, though in a political rather than a theological sense; and for many years later it contained a promise to maintain and support the Protestant succession to the crown as limited by the act of settlement. The history of the oaths of allegiance and supremacy and of the various transformations they have undergone, is a varied and complex one.

—Before we go back to the beginning, it may be as well to look at the end. As late as 1868 the English oath of allegiance was reduced by the promissory oaths act to its present simple, not to say meagre, form, which stands thus: "I,—do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to her majesty Queen Victoria, her heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God."

—What the substance of the oath as thus reduced may amount to would not be a very profitable question to discuss at large. It certainly does not promise anything beyond what is at common law the duty of every subject, and it seems to follow that it could not be broken except by some act which was otherwise an offense at common law, for example, treason or sedition, or perhaps also the vaguely defined offense of disparaging the dignity of the crown. And it seems at least a tenable view that the words "according to law" not only express the limit within which the crown is entitled to obedience, but cover the possibility (a possibility, fortunately, of the most remote kind) of the course of succession being legally varied.2 Such is the bare residue of the formidable and elaborate fabric of oaths and declarations raised up by parliaments of former generations against the pope and the pretender. We say against the pope and the pretender; for our modern oaths of allegiance are of statutory devising, and date from Henry VIII.'s assertion of the crown's ecclesiastical supremacy as against the see of Rome. The earliest point of history we have to observe is of a distinguishing kind, namely, that the modern oath of allegiance is a thing apart from the older oath of fealty, though formed on its analogy. Side by side with the fealty due from a man to his lord in respect to tenure, there was recognized in England, it would seem as early as the tenth century, an obligation of fealty to the crown as due from every free man without regard to tenure.3

—Sometimes we find mixed or transitional forms. Thus, there is preserved among the so-called statutes temporis incerti an oath taken by bishops, which, translated, is as follows: "I will be faithful and true, and faith and loyalty will bear to the king and to his heirs kings of England, of life and of member and of earthly honour, against all people who may live and die: and truly will acknowledge, and freely will do, the services which belong to the temporalty of the bishoprick of N., which I claim to hold of you, and which you render to me. So help me God and the Saints."4

—This bears considerable generic resemblance to the modern oath. But it is not simply an oath of allegiance in the modern sense: it includes an oath of fealty in respect of a specific tenure, namely, for the temporalities of the see holden of the crown. This is made more evident by comparison of the common forms of a free man's homage and fealty: "I become your man from this day forth, for life, for member and for worldly honour, and shall bear you faith for the lands that I claim to hold of you; saving the faith that I owe unto our lord the king * * I shall be to you faithful and true, and shall bear you faith of the tenements I claim to hold of you, and loyally will acknowledge and will do the services I owe you at the times assigned. So help me God and the Saints."

—Moreover, the ceremonies of homage and fealty have in no way been abrogated or superseded by any of the statutes imposing political oaths. In England an oath of homage is to this day taken by archbishops and bishops, in a somewhat fuller form than the old one above cited. An oath of fealty is stated in our law books of the thirteenth century to be required from every one attending the sheriff's tourn, and Coke speaks of it in Calvin's case, as if it had been still in use in his time.5 There appears no reason why this oath of fealty should not in theory still be due from every subject at common law, though it would be doubtful who had authority to administer it, and what would be the legal consequence, if any, of a refusal to take it.

—Shortness of time and space, however, forbid the further discussion of the doctrine or history of allegiance at common law. We must pass on to the additional obligations imposed by a series of statutes, from which the oath of allegiance in its existing form and application is lineally derived.

—In the spring of 1534, when the last hopes of a reconciliation with Rome were exhausted, there was passed "An act for the establishment of the king's succession," (25 H. VIII., c. 22), the objects of which were to declare valid the king's marriage with Anne Boleyn, and to limit the succession of the crown to his issue by her. It also enacted that all subjects of full age should make a corporal oath that they would "truly, firmly and constantly, without fraud or guile, observe, fulfill, maintain, defend and keep to their cunning wit and uttermost of their powers, the whole effect and contents of this present act." The oath was not further specified in the act itself, but a form was at once prepared and used, and was expressly authorized by statute in the next session. (26 H. VIII., c. 2.) This, as the earliest specimen of its kind, deserves the honor of being given in full, with the original spelling: "Ye shall swere to beare faith, truth and obedyence alonely to the Kynges Majestye and to his heires of his body of his moost dere and entirely belovyd laufull wyfe Quene Anne, begotten or to be begotten. And further to the heires of oure said Soveraign Lorde accordyng to the lymytacion in the Statute made for suretie of his succession in the crowne of this Realme mencioned and conteyned, and not to any other within this Realme nor foreyn auctorite or Potentate; And in case any othe be made or hathe be made by you to any persone or persones, that then ye do repute the same as vayne and adnyehillate; And that to your connynge wytte and utter moste of your power, without gyle, fraude or other undue meane, you shall observe, kepe, mayntene 8 defende the saide acte of successyon, and all the hole effectes 8 contentes therof, and all other actes and statutes made yn confirmacion or for execucion of the same or of any thynge therin conteyned; and this ye shall do ayenst all maner of persones of what estate, dignyte, degree or condicion so ever they be; And in no wyse do or attempte, nor to your power suffre to be done or attemptid, directly or indirectly, any thinge or thinges prively or appartlye to the lette, hindrannce, damage or derogacion therof or of any parte of the same by any maner of meaner or for any maner of pretence; So helpe you God, all Sayntes and the Holye Evangelystes."

—Within two years the calamitous end of the marriage with Anne Boleyn brought about a new "Act for the establishment of the succession of the imperial crown of this realm," (28 H. VIII., c. 7), which, after repealing the former acts and making minute provision for the descent of the crown, appointed a new oath of allegiance, and declared that refusal to take it should be deemed and adjudged high treason. There is no variation worth noticing in the form of the words, save that Queen Jane is substituted for Queen Anne. In the same session (c. 10) there followed an "Act extinguishing the authority of the bishop of Rome," which introduced a special oath of abjuration. The preamble is a notable specimen of the inflated parliamentary style of the time. It sets forth how "the pretended power and usurped authority of the bishop of Rome, by some called the pope, * * did obfuscate and wrest God's holy word and testament a long season from the spiritual and true meaning thereof to his worldly and carnal affections, as pomp, glory, avarice, ambition and tyranny, covering and shadowing the same with his human and politic devices, traditions and inventions, set forth to promote and stablish his only dominion, both upon the souls and also the bodies and goods of all Christian people": how the pope not only robbed the king's majesty of his due rights and pre-eminence, "but spoiled this his realm yearly of innumerable treasure"; and how the king and the estates of the realm, "being overwearied and fatigated with the experience of the infinite abominations and mischiefs preceding of his impostures," were forced of necessity to provide new remedies. The oath of abjuration was to be taken by all officers, ecclesiastical and temporal, and contained an undertaking to "utterly renounce, refuse, relinquish or forsake the bishop of Rome and his authority, power and jurisdiction."

—In 1544, however, it had been discovered that in these oaths of allegiance and supremacy, though they seem to a modern reader pretty stringent and comprehensive, "there lacketh full and sufficient words"; and in the act further regulating the succession to the crown (35 H. VIII., c. 1) occasion was taken to provide a new consolidated form to replace the two previously appointed oaths. This is very full and elaborate; some of its language survived down to our own times, as will be seen by the following extract: "I, A B, having now the veil of darkness of the usurped power, authority and jurisdiction of the see and bishop of Rome clearly taken away from mine eyes, do utterly testify and declare in my conscience that neither the see nor the bishop of Rome nor any foreign potentate hath, nor ought to have, any jurisdiction, power or authority within this realm, neither by God's law nor by any other just law or means, * * and that I shall never consent nor agree that the foresaid see or bishop of Rome, or any of their successors, shall practice, exercise or have any manner of authority, jurisdiction or power within this realm or any other the king's realms or dominions, nor any foreign potentate, of what estate, degree or condition soever he be, but that I shall resist the same at all times to the uttermost of my power, and that I shall bear faith, truth and true allegiance to the king's majesty and to his heirs and successors, * * and that I shall accept, repute and take the king's majesty, his heirs and successors, when they or any of them shall enjoy his place, to be the only supreme head in earth under God of the church of England and Ireland, and of all other his highness dominions * *."

—Refusal to take the oath is, as before, to subject the recusant to the penalties of high treason. Apparently this act remained in force till Mary's accession, in 1553. One of the first proceedings of her reign was to abolish all statutory treasons not within the statute of Edward III, by which the offense of high treason was and still is defined. (1 Mar., st. 1, c. 1.) Thus, the penalty for not taking the oath of allegiance and supremacy was abrogated, and the oath of course became a dead letter, though not dealt with in express terms. Nor was it revived in the same form when the reformation again got the upper hand with the accession of Elizabeth. The first act of parliament of her reign 6 —which, in repealing the reactionary legislation of Philip and Mary, names "Queen Mary, your highness' sister," with a significant absence of honorable additions—created a new and much more concise oath of supremacy and allegiance, to be made by all ecclesiastical officers and ministers, and all temporal officers of the crown, and also by all persons taking orders or university degrees. It is short enough to be cited in full: "I, A B, do utterly testify and declare in my conscience that the queen's highness is the only supreme governor of this realm and of all other her highness' dominions and countries, as well in all spiritual or ecclesiastical things or causes as temporal, and that no foreign prince, person, prelate, state or potentate hath or ought to have any jurisdiction, power, superiority, pre-eminence or authority, ecclesiastical or spiritual, within this realm, and therefore I do utterly renounce and forsake all foreign jurisdictions, powers, superiorities and authorities, and do promise that from henceforth I shall bear faith and true allegiance to the queen's highness, her heirs and lawful successors, and to my power shall assist and defend all jurisdictions, pre-eminences, privileges and authorities granted or belonging to the queen's highness, her heirs and successors, or united or annexed to the imperial crown of this realm. So help me God and by [sic] the contents of this Book."

—The oath was not imposed on all subjects, and the only penalty for refusing it was forfeiture of the office in respect of which it ought to be taken. So far this presents a very favorable contrast to the violent legislation of Henry VIII. Under the act of Elizabeth the sanction is the mildest one compatible with the law being effectual; indeed, it is not properly a penalty, but a condition. The law no longer says to all sorts of men, "You must take this oath or be punished as a traitor," but only to men receiving office or promotion, "You must take this oath to qualify yourself for holding the place." But troubles were not long in gathering, and they bore their natural fruit in a return to disused severities. A new and more stringent anti-papal act was passed in 1563 (5 Eliz., c. 1), and it seems that even sharper measures had been first proposed. The obligation to take the oath of supremacy was extended to all persons taking orders and degrees, schoolmasters, barristers, attorneys, and officers of all courts. A first refusal to take the oath was to entail the penalties of premunire; a second, those of high treason. Temporal peers were specially exempted, "forasmuch as the queen's majesty is otherwise sufficiently assured of the faith and loyalty of the temporal lords of her highness' court of parliament." So matters stood till, early in the reign of James I., yet a new outbreak of indignation and panic was produced by the gunpowder plot. The Protestant majority was convinced by "that more than barbarous and horrible attempt to have blownen up with gunpowder the king, queen, prince, lords and commons, in the house of parliament assembled, tending to the utter subversion of the whole state," that popish recusants and occasionally conforming papists should be more sharply looked after. Hence the "Act for the better discovering and repressing of popish recusants" (3 Jas. I., c. 4), which established, among other precautions, a wordy oath of allegiance, supremacy and abjuration, which might be tendered by justices of assize or of the peace to any commoner above the age of eighteen; persons refusing it were to incur the penalties of premunire. This oath contains an explicit denial of the pope's authority to depose the king or discharge subjects of their allegiance, a promise to bear allegiance to the crown notwithstanding any papal sentence of excommunication or deprivation, and a disclaimer of all equivocation or mental evasion or reservation. About the middle of it occurs for the first time the "damnable doctrine and position" clause, as we may call it, which was long afterward continued in the interests of the Protestant succession against James II. and the pretender. The words are these: "And I do further swear that I do from my heart abhor, detest and abjure, as impious and heretical, this damnable doctrine and position, that princes which be excommunicated or deprived by the pope may be deposed or murdered by their subjects or any other whosoever." Here also we find the words, afterward discussed in relation to the admission of Jews to parliament, "upon the true faith of a Christian." They can not have been particularly intended to exclude Jews from office, as Jews were at that time excluded from the realm altogether. It has been plausibly conjectured that their real intention was to clinch the proviso against mental reservation or equivocation "by conclusively fixing a sense to that oath which by no evasion or mental reservation should be got rid of without (even in the opinion of the Jesuit doctors themselves) incurring the penalty of mortal sin." For in a certain treatise on Equivocation, of which a copy corrected in Garnet's handwriting was found in the chamber of Francis Tresham, one of the conspirators named in the act, and was much used on the trial, this point of mental reservation is fully discussed; and it is laid down that equivocation and reservation may be used without danger to the soul even if they are expressly disclaimed in the form of the oath itself. But there is this exception, that "no person is allowed to equivocate or mentally reserve, without danger, if he does so, of incurring mortal sin, where his doing so brings apparently his true faith toward God into doubt or dispute." It was probably conceived by the advisers of the crown that the words, "upon the true faith of a Christian," brought the statutory form of oath within this exception. (Judgment of Baron Alderson in Miller vs. Salomons, 7 Ex. 536, 537.) A few years later, in the session of 1610, a sort of confirming act was passed (7 James I., c. 6), which made minute provision as to the places where, and the officers by whom, the oath should be administered to various classes of persons.

—Shortly after the restoration an oath declaring it unlawful upon any pretense whatever to take arms against the king, was imposed on all soldiers and persons holding military offices (14 Car. II., c. 3, as, 17, 18): and the act of uniformity (14 Car. II., c. 4, s. 6) contained a declaration to the like effect, and also against the solemn league and covenant. A similar provision in the corporation act was overlooked at the revolution, and escaped repeal till the reign of George I. In 1672 a revival of the anti-Catholic agitation followed upon Charles II.'s attempts to dispense with the existing statutes, nominally in favor of Romanists and Dissenters equally by a declaration of liberty of conscience. The result was, that a declaration against transubstantiation was added to the oaths of allegiance and supremacy, by a new penal statute entitled "An act for preventing dangers which may happen from popish recusants," (25 Car. II., c. 2). After the revolution of 1688, however, a new start was taken. By the combined effect of two of the earliest acts of the convention parliament (1 Will. 8 Mar., c. 1 and c. 8), all the previous forms of the oaths of allegiance and supremacy, expressly including the declaration as to taking arms against the king, were abrogated, and a concise form substituted, which stood as follows: "I, A B, do sincerely promise and swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to their majesties King William and Queen Mary. So help me God, etc.7 I, A B, do swear that I do from my heart abhor, detest and abjure, as impious and heretical, that damnable doctrine and position that princes excommunicated or deposed by the pope or any authority of the see of Rome may be deposed or murthered by their subjects or any other whatsoever. And I do declare that no foreign prince, person, prelate, states or potentate hath or ought to have any jurisdiction, power, superiority, pre-eminence or authority, ecclesiastical or spiritual, within this realm. So help me God, etc."

—In 1701 came the death of James II. at St. Germains, and the ostentatious recognition of the pretender as king of England by Louis XIV. Fuller and more stringent precautions were again thought needful, and in the very last days of William III.'s life an act was passed (13 8 14 Wm. III., c. 6), imposing on specified classes of persons, including peers, members of the house of commons, and all holding office under the crown, an oath of special and particular abjuration of the pretender's title. The declaration of 1672 against transubstantiation (which had been spared from the general abrogation of other existing tests at the beginning of the reign) was at the same time expressly continued. As the form settled by this act remained substantially unchanged down to our own time, it is here set out: "I, A B, do truly and sincerely acknowledge, profess, testify and declare in my conscience before God and the world, that our sovereign lord King William is lawful and rightful king of this realm and of all other his majesty's dominions and countries thereunto belonging. And I do solemnly and sincerely declare that I do believe in my conscience that the person pretended to be the prince of Wales during the life of the late King James and since his decease pretending to be and taking upon himself the stile and title of king of England by the name of James the Third, hath not any right or title whatsoever to the crown of this realm or any other the dominions thereto belonging. And I do renounce, refuse and abjure any allegiance or obedience to him. And I do swear that I will bear faith and true allegiance to his majesty King William, and him will defend to the utmost of my power against all traitorous conspiracies and attempts whatsoever which shall be made against his person, crown or dignity. And I will do my best endeavours to disclose and make known to his majesty and his successors all treasons and traitorous conspiracies which I shall know to be against him or any of them. And I do faithfully promise to the utmost of my power to support, maintain and defend the limitation and succession of the crown against him the said James and all other persons whatsoever as the same is and stands limited (by an act instituted an act declaring the rights and liberties of the subject and settling the succession of the crown) to his majesty during his majesty's life, and, after his majesty's decease, to the Princess Ann of Denmark and the heirs of her body being Protestants, and for default of issue of the said princess and of his majesty respectively, to the Princess Sophia, electoress and duchess dowager of Hanover, and the heirs of her body being Protestants. And all these things I do plainly and sincerely acknowledge and swear according to these express words by me spoken, and according to the plain and common sense understanding of the same words, without any equivocation, mental evasion or secret reservation whatsoever. And I do make this recognition, acknowledgment, abjuration, renunciation and promise, heartily, willingly and truly, upon the true faith of a Christian. So help me God."

—This oath was in addition to the oaths of allegiance and supremacy prescribed by the acts already mentioned of the first session of William and Mary's reign, not by way of substitution for them. It will be observed that the words "upon the true faith of a Christian" now reappear. In Queen Anne's reign the only alterations made were, first to put Anne's name for William's, and then to leave a blank to be filled in with the name of the sovereign for the time being.8 The accession of George I., in 1714, gave occasion for a full re-enactment of the oaths of allegiance, supremacy and abjuration, in what would now be called a consolidating act. (1 Geo. I., st. 2, c. 13.) All persons holding civil or military office, members of foundations at the universities, schoolmasters, "preachers and teachers of separate congregations," and legal practitioners, were required to take the oaths; besides which, they might be tendered by two justices of the peace to any one suspected of disaffection. Members of both houses of parliament are, as before, specially forbidden to vote without taking the oaths. The form was settled by inserting the name of George in the blank left by the last statute of Anne, but no provision was made in terms for substituting from time to time the name of the reigning sovereign. In 1766, upon the pretender's death, the oath of abjuration was made appropriate to the new state of things by inserting the words "not any of the descendants of the person who pretended to be the prince of Wales," etc.

—In this form the oaths remained for nearly a century, affected only by a certain number of special exemptions. The most important of these was made by the Catholic emancipation of 1829. The act which effected this (10 Geo. IV., c. 7) allowed Roman Catholics to sit in parliament, taking, instead of the oaths of allegiance, supremacy and abjuration, a single modified oath containing the substance of them expressed in a milder form. The Catholic member was required, instead of detesting and abhorring the "damnable doctrine and position," to "renounce, reject and abjure the opinion" that excommunicated princes might be deposed or murdered; and to disclaim the belief that the pope of Rome or any other foreign prince had or ought to have any temporal or civil jurisdiction, etc., within this realm. The words "upon the true faith of a Christian" were for some reason omitted, and the oath concluded thus; "And I do solemnly, in the presence of God, profess, testify and declare, that I do make this declaration, and every part thereof, in the plain and ordinary sense of the words of this oath, without any evasion, equivocation or mental reservation whatsoever." This act contains, for the first time, a standing direction to substitute in the form of the oath, as may be required, the name of the sovereign for the time being.

—All this time the penalties of the statute of 1714 against a member of parliament who voted without having taking the oaths (or, in the case of a Catholic, the special oath provided by the Catholic relief act), continued in force, and very alarming they were. In addition to the pecuniary forfeiture of £500, they included disability to sue in any court, to take a legacy, to hold any office, and to vote at parliamentary elections. Disability to be an executor, which is also in the list, would at this day be regarded by many persons as rather a benefit than otherwise.

—The next step was in consequence of the persistent endeavors made through several years to procure the removal of Jewish disabilities. It would be too long to trace the history of this movement through its various stages; and the episode of Mr. Salomons' gallant attempt to take the position by a coup de main has now lost its interest for most people except lawyers who have a taste for ingenious argument on the construction and effect of statutes.9 In 1857 Mr. Salomons, being duly elected for Greenwich, took the oath on the Old Testament, omitting the words "upon the true faith of a Christian"; he was sued for the statutory penalty, as having sat without taking the oath; and it was decided (with one dissenting voice, but a weighty one)10 that these words were a material part of the oath, and could not be dispensed with otherwise than by legislation. At last, in 1858, a very odd and peculiarly English compromise was arrived at after the house of lords had rejected bills sent up from the commons. By one act (21 8 22 Viet., c. 48) a simplified form of oath, but still containing the words "upon the true faith of a Christian," was substituted for the oaths of allegiance, supremacy and abjuration in all cases where they were required to be taken. The application of this enactment to clerical subscriptions was afterward more especially regulated by the clerical subscription act, 1865 (28 8 29 Vict., c. 122).11 Then, by a separate act (21 8 22 Vict., c. 49), either house of parliament was empowered to permit by resolution "a person professing the Jewish religion, otherwise entitled to sit and vote in such house," to take the oath, with the omission of the words, "and I make this declaration upon the true faith of a Christian." It was also provided, that in all other cases where the oath of allegiance was required to be taken by a Jew, these words might be omitted. Such an exemption had once already been given by parliament in the eighteenth century, but, after the fashion of legislation in those days, only on a special occasion and for a limited purpose; and more recently to enable Jews to hold municipal offices. The act of 1858, being general in its terms, is a full statutory recognition of the civil equality of Jews with other British subjects, which, though long allowed in practice, had never yet been expressly declared.

—At length, in 1866, we come out into the daylight of modern systematic legislation. The parliamentary oaths act of that year (29 Viet., c. 19) swept away the former legislation relating to the oaths of members of parliament, and prescribed the following shortened form: "I, A B, do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to her majesty Queen Victoria; and I do faithfully promise to maintain and support the succession to the crown, as the same stands limited and settled by virtue of the act passed in the reign of King William the Third, instituted 'An act for the further limitation12 of the crown, and better securing the rights and liberties of the subject,' and of the subsequent acts of union with Scotland and Ireland. So help me God."

—For not taking the oaths only the pecuniary penalty of £500 was retained out of the terrible list enacted by earlier statutes. This act was excellent as far as it went, but it applied only to members of parliament. It is the fate of English legislation to be carried on as best it can, piecemeal, and at odd times. Measures which excite opposition pass through a struggle in which they are lucky if they escape without maim or grave disfigurement. As to those which do not excite opposition, it is for that very reason of no apparent political importance to push them on, and, as it is worth nobody's while to be much interested in them, they have to take their chance. In this case an act of the following year (the office and oath act, 1867, 30 8 31 Vict., c. 75) authorized the new parliamentary form of oath to be taken in all cases where the oath of allegiance was required as a qualification for office. Finally, the promissory oaths act of 1868 (31 8 32 Vict., c. 72) cut down the oath of allegiance in all cases to the form already given at the beginning of this paper, and substituted a declaration for an oath in the great majority of cases where an oath was formerly required. Still the work of simplification was not formally complete. A repealing act was passed in 1871 (34 8 35 Vict., c. 48), which struck off the statute book a long list of enactments imposing oaths for various purposes on various persons, and others partially amending or repealing them, from the middle of the fourteenth century downward. And so the story ends for the present; England no longer stands in fear of pope or pretender, and the modern oath of allegiance, devised for the protection of the realm against foemen and conspirators, and swollen with strange imprecations and scoldings, is brought back to the more plain and seemly fashion of the ancient oath of fealty. Yet our English ancestors were not capricious in the elaborate safeguards which they built up again and again round a ceremony originally of the simplest. Every clause and almost every word in the statutory oaths of allegiance, supremacy and abjuration was directed against a distinct and specific political danger. It is unhappily true that examples of repressive legislation against mere speculative opinions, though less common in England than elsewhere, are by no means wanting. But the political test oaths do not belong to this class. They were framed to discover and bring to punishment, or to disable and exclude from privileges, not the holders of theological opinions as such, but persons holding opinions, of which, rightly or wrongly, disloyal and seditious behavior was supposed to be the necessary or highly probable result. The attempt lately made, and for the present made with success, to use the parliamentary oath as a religious test, and thereby exclude a person obnoxious to a majority of the house of commons, partly for theological but much more for political and social reasons, has nothing to justify it in English history, or in the traditions of English politics. It is an unhappy example of the ignorance and confusion of mind concerning the institutions of their own country which are still too common among English legislators. (See ALLEGIANCE, and the note to the preceding article.)


[2.]There is, I conceive, nothing in law to prevent the crown, by and with the consent of the estates of the realm, in the ordinary form of an act of parliament, and with the advice of responsible ministers, from repealing or amending the act of settlement. In the event of its appearing likely that there should be a failure of the persons thereby defined as capable of succession, amendment would become necessary; for example, if they should not be or should cease to be Protestants.

[3.]It is remarkable that in the assize of Northampton (1176) the justices are directed to take the oath of fealty even from "rustics": "Item justitiœ capiant domini regis fidelitates * * ab omnibus, scilicet comitibus, baronibus, militibus et libere tenentibus, et etiam rusticis, qui in regno manere voluerint." Does this include men who were not free? In the earliest forms of the oath of fealty to the king, both in England and elsewhere, the promise was to be "fidelis sicut homo debet esse domino suo." Allen ("Royal Prerogative," pp 68-71) thinks this was a limitation of the subject's obedience, or reservation of his right to throw off allegiance if the king falled in his duties, and this is probable. But the words would likewise operate in the king's interest by adding the stricter personal bond of homage to the more general obligation of fealty.

[4.]Bishops after consecration swore fealty only; but on their election, and before consecration, they did homage. Glanvill, lib. 9, cap. 1, ad fin.

[5.]Strictly there is not any oath of homage distinct from the oath of fealty. The oath was always an oath of fealty, and the duty of homage, where it was present, carried with it the duty of swearing fealty to the lord. On the other hand, there might be, and often was, fealty without homage. (Allen, p. 62. Cp. Hargrave's and Butler's Notes on Co. Litt., 68a.) Homage was the privilege of the freeholder, being "the most honourable service, and most humble service of reverence, that a franktenant may do to his lord." (Litt., s. 85.) As to the common-law duty, cp. Selden. "Table Talk," s. v. "Fathers and Sons," "Every one at twelve years of age is to take the oath of allegiance in court-leets [sic] whereby he swears obedience to the king."

[6.]1 Eliz., c 1. In the argument in Miller vs. Salomons, in the Exchequer (7 Ex., at p. 478), it was erroneously stated to be the first statute on the subject.

[7.]The "etc." means, I suppose, "and the contents of this Book."

[8.]1 Anne, c. 16, 4 8 5 Anne, c. 20; and as to Scotland, 6 Anne, c. 66 (Statutes of the Realm, c. 14, in other editions).

[9.]One of the minor points taken by Mr. Salomons' counsel was that, as the act of George III. did not authorize the insertion from time to time of the reigning sovereigns' names, it expired at the end of the reign, or at all events when there ceased to be a king named George.

[10.]Sir Samuel Martin's, then a baron of the exchequer, and now the only survivor, as it happens, of the judges before whom the case was argued.

[11.]The oaths of allegiance, etc., were enforced on the clergy by Charles II.'s act of uniformity and various other statutes. The taking of them was part of the ordination service until separated from it by this act.

[12.]It may be worth while to explain to lay readers that this does not mean limiting the powers of the crown, but defining the course of the succession.