Introduction: the 1723 Loyalty Oaths

The 1723 Oaths Legislation

The government response to the discovery of the Atterbury plot extended beyond the punishment meted out against the leading plotters. The issue of the London Gazette dated 25-28 May 1723 reported that on 27 May George I had attended parliament and given royal assent to the Bills to inflict pains and penalties upon John Plunkett, George Kelly and Francis Atterbury. Among the other measures to receive royal assent on the same occasion were ‘An Act for granting an Aid to His Majesty by laying a Tax upon Papists’ (Catholic Taxation Act) and ‘An Act to oblige all Persons being Papists..., and all Persons ... refusing or neglecting to take the Oaths appointed for the Security of His Majesty’s Person and Government..., to register their Names and real Estates’ (1723 Oath Act, see Appendix 1).50 The Catholic Taxation Act was designed to raise the sum of £100,000 through a tax imposed upon all Papists aged eighteen years and over, and was in addition to the existing double land tax already imposed upon Roman Catholics.51 The Act detailed the amounts to be raised from the Catholic communities in each English county. The sum to be obtained from Catholics in Devon was £613 16s with a further £5 14s 8½d raised from the city of Exeter. This compares to £915 8s to be raised in Somerset and £371 6s 1¼d. Those liable to pay the additional tax were defined as anyone who refused to take the oaths of allegiance, supremacy and abjuration as embodied within the 1715 Oath Act.52 The measure was debated at length and received considerable opposition from the Tories.53 Given what has already been said concerning Jacobitism as a largely protestant movement the measure was harsh. It was designed to deter Catholic powers on the continent from supporting any future attempts at restoring the Stuart monarchy by highlighting the potential impact upon Roman Catholics in Britain.54 The enforcement of the three loyalty oaths was embodied in the 1723 Oath Act. This declared that all persons failing to take the oaths of allegiance, supremacy and abjuration by 25 December 1723 must register their names and real estates before the courts. The penalty for failing to comply with this second Act was the forfeiture of estates. Whilst the legislation was aimed primarily at Roman Catholics, it also targeted non-jurors who refused the oaths.

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  1. The two Acts are 9 Geo. I c. 18 and 9 Geo. I c. 24 respectively. [back]
  2. 9 Geo. I, c. 18. Colin Haydon, Anti-Catholicism in eighteenth-century England: A Political and Social Study (Manchester, 1993), 122-24. [back]
  3. 1 Geo. I, c. 13, entitled ‘An Act for the further security of his majesty’s person’. See Oath-taking in England 1534-1715 on this. [back]
  4. Haydon, Anti-Catholicism, 122-23; ‘Second Parliament of George I: First session – begins 9/10/1722’, The History and Proceedings of the House of Commons: volume 7: 1714-1727 (1742), 282-318. [ Date accessed: 17 October 2005.] [back]
  5. Cruickshanks & Erskine-Hill, 167. [back]