Introduction: Research Areas

4. Politicisation of the Devon Population

A final area for further research suggested by the oath rolls is that of levels of political engagement among the Devon population. This has already been touched upon in the discussion of the Atterbury plot and the suggestion that support existed in the county for the Jacobite movement. On the surface, county politics were particularly moribund during the eighteenth century. Only one parliamentary election took place for the county seats before 1790, and that was a by-election contested by two rival Tory candidates in 1712. Between 1688 and 1832 county members were chosen from only ten families, most particularly the Bampfyldes, Courtenays and Rolles.139 A more dynamic situation existed in the parliamentary boroughs, of which there were eleven in the eighteenth century.140 Nonetheless, there were relatively few opportunities for the mass of the Devon populace to have their voices heard on matters of national importance during the period. However, whatever reservations there may be for interpreting the motivations of the oath-takers as anything other than a desire to avoid paying the levy on Catholic estates, the oath-taking may still be regarded as an exercise in public engagement with national politics. However much people may have resented having to take the oaths, that they were required to do so in the first place suggests that the loyalty of the population at large (not just officeholders and those eligible to vote) was worth securing. How far the inhabitants of different parishes were prepared to engage in this process is a further area that would repay further research. In particular, it might be asked whether the estimate that 1 in 5 of the adult population of the county took the oaths holds true for all parishes, or whether more people turned out to swear in some areas than others. For example, less than forty years after Monmouth’s rebellion, it might be asked whether the inhabitants of east Devon parishes whose fathers had been among the rebels would be more or less likely to swear allegiance to the King in the aftermath of a Jacobite rebellion. Moreover, as noted above, a study of the women who swore the oaths would help to reveal which sections of the female population were considered (or considered themselves) of sufficient importance to take part in the oath-taking.

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  1. Eveline Crucikshanks, Stuart Handley and D.W. Hayton, The History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1690-1715 (5 vols, Cambridge, 2002), ii, 134-136. Hoskins, Devon, 182-84. [back]
  2. Hoskins, Devon, 184-87. [back]