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Jonathan Michael Gray

June 2008
UMI Number: 3313580

Copyright 2008 by
Gray, Jonathan Michael

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I certify that I have read this dissertation and that, in my opinion, it is fully adequate in
scope and quality as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

(David Como) Principal Adviser

I certify that I have read this dissertation and that, in my opinion, it is fully adequate in
scope and quality as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

(Carolyn Loi^gee) (/

I certify that I have read this dissertation and that, in my opinion, it is fully adequate in
scope and in quality as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

(Barbara Pitkin)

Approved for the Stanford University Committee on Graduate Studies.


This dissertation addresses the question of how the English reformation was
accomplished. Through an exploration of fifteenth and sixteenth-century theological
manuscripts, popular published tracts, sermons, state papers, court proceedings, and
episcopal registers, it argues that oaths were crucial to the implementation of the
Henrician and Elizabethan reformations and to the confessionalization of England.
Using oaths as a lens of inquiry, this dissertation sheds new light on the strategies and
interworkings of the Henrician and Elizabethan regimes, the implementation of the
settlements of 1534 and 1559 on the ground, and the response of the English populace
to these settlements. It also examines the employment of oaths in heresy trials to
elucidate the process through which a distinct Protestant identity coalesced in
England. It concludes that even as the English state increasingly turned to oaths to
enforce its religious policy, the English people likewise employed oaths to resist this
religious policy. Oaths thus became the primary device through which the state and
people negotiated the reformation in England.

It is neither possible nor desirable to earn a PhD in history without
accumulating a vast array of debts of gratitude. It is with nothing but pleasure that I
acknowledge those individuals who have invested in me and contributed to this
This dissertation would not have been possible without the resources of
numerous libraries. I am grateful to the following English institutions who opened
their doors to me and allowed me to consult their manuscripts: the British Library, the
National Archives, Lambeth Palace Library, Cambridge University Library, the
Bodleian Library, Corpus Christi College Library (Cambridge), Emmanuel College
Library, Corpus Christi College Library (Oxford), Christ Church Library, Guildhall
Library, Inner Temple Library, Canterbury Cathedral Archives, the Centre for Kentish
Studies at Maidstone, and the Lancashire Record Office. The staff of Green Library,
Stanford has gone the extra mile to accommodate my research. Special thanks are due
to Mary Munill in the interlibrary loan department and Benjamin Stone, the British
studies curator who made my life much easier by arranging the purchase of SP1 for
I have had the great fortune of working under truly excellent advisors and
mentors at every stage of my academic development. Eric Carlson kindly agreed to
supervise the undergraduate honors thesis of a student with whom he had no previous
experience. He has continued to follow my academic career at each subsequent stage
and has offered much valued advice and friendship. I am grateful to Jeff Watt for
overseeing my masters' thesis, helping me learn sixteenth-century French, and
providing a model of a balanced history professor who has finds time to enjoy life,
serve his family, and work-out while still doing excellent work. Jeff has also read
portions of this dissertation and provided feedback. Special thanks go out to Joe Ward
who talked me out of quitting graduate school during my first few trying months in
Mississippi, and then convinced me to apply to Stanford's PhD program when I was
ready to stop with an M. A. At Stanford, Paul Seaver taught me paleography and
guided me as I sought out a dissertation topic. I have never encountered a better

listener than Professor Seaver! Barbara Pitkin welcomed a history student into
religious studies and oversaw my field on Reformation theology and practice. She has
always been free with her expertise and time and graciously agreed to serve on my
committee and read my dissertation. When I first arrived at Stanford, Carolyn Lougee
accepted me as an orphaned advisee. My conception of the field of early modern
Europe is a result of her patient tutelage and teaching. I also thank her for reading and
commenting on my dissertation. My largest academic debt is to David Como.
Professor Como is a paragon of a learned, professional advisor. He taught me the
history of Tudor-Stuart England, guided this dissertation from inception to
completion, strengthened my raw skills as a teacher, and mentored me in all aspects of
the discipline of history. To all of these professors I offer my sincerest gratitude.
No matter how excellent the professional guidance, I would not have
completed graduate school without the amazing support of friends and family. Toby
Bates and J. R. Duke offered their friendship to a lonely westerner in Mississippi.
Their hospitality was a manifestation of Southern culture at its best. At Stanford, the
members of Inter-Varsity Graduate Christian Fellowship provided essential
community without which scholarship dries out. My best memories of Stanford are of
the good times shared on IV-Grad retreats, ski trips, and in small group meetings.
Special thanks go out to Paul Leu and Pete Sommer. Throughout my entire
development as a scholar, Ashley Jensen has been there for me. He has listened to
countless phone diatribes in which I lamented on the travails of being a graduate
student. His own much harder journey through medical school and residency provided
me with a model of perseverance and balance. He also introduced me to my
incredible wife, who quickly became my biggest cheer-leader. Even after our
marriage removed ulterior motives for flattery, Karin has continued to encourage me
in every way! Yet no one can equal the positive influence of my parents. Their
supportfinancial, emotional, and spiritualhas molded me into the scholar and
person who I am today. It is to them that I gratefully dedicate this dissertation.
Praise the Lord, for He is good. Omnia ad Dei gloriam.



Section I: The Ideological Underpinnings of Oaths

Chapter 1: The Theological and Social Importance of Swearing in Medieval

And Early Modern Europe 19

Chapter 2: Vows, Oaths, and the Formulation of a Subversive Ideology 73

Section II: 'Kings Be Not Kinges of Tongues'?: Oaths and the Henrician Religious

Prologue 111

Chapter 3: Oaths, Subscriptions, and the Implementation of the Parliamentary

Reforms of 1534 117

Chapter 4: The Origin and Motivation of Henry's Use of Oaths and

Subscriptions to Enforce His Reformation 159

Chapter 5: Responses to the Professions of Succession and Supremacy 212

Chapter 6: Oaths and the Pilgrimage of Grace 240

Conclusion of Section 2: How Effective Were the Henrician Professions? 276

Section III: Confessionalization and Truth: Perjury, Equivocation, and Dissimulation

in Protestant Heresy Trials, 1525-1559

Prologue 287

Chapter 7: Oaths, Lollards, and Early English Protestants 293

Chapter 8: A Time of Transition: Truth and Equivocation in the 1530s

and 1540s 321

Chapter 9: Oaths, Recantations, and Propaganda in Marian England 343

Section IV: Oaths and Religion under Elizabeth I

Prologue 375

Chapter 10: The Administration of the Elizabethan Oath of Supremacy 382

Chapter 11: Elizabethan State Oaths Excluding the Oath of Supremacy 446

Chapter 12: Conscience, the Word of God, and the Sanctity of Oaths:
the Religious Opposition to Elizabethan State Oaths 508

Conclusion 534

Appendix 542

Bibliography 569

"No naturall chyldren of God are they/ regenerate of the spretet/ but verye bastardes/
borne of fleshe & blood. Not the chyldren of promes are they with Isaac/ but the
carnall chyldren of bondage with Ismael/ to whom belongeth no heretage in Christ.
These be no natural poyntes of a louynge sonne to buffett & beate his father/ or to
teare the fleshe from his bones. To name him in his most angre and spyght/ or to
spytte hym out of his mouthe with cruelte and vengeaunce. But they are the frutes of
an unreasonable beast/ of an outragious wode dogge/ of a furious serpent/ of an ympe
of helle/ and a verye lymme of the deuyll."1
So wrote the English Protestant exile John Bale in 1543 about people who
swear vainly. Bale's passionate denunciation of oath abusers was not exceptional in
late medieval and early modern religious writings. The English Evangelical Thomas
Becon, for example, wrote of perjury, "O wyckednesse, more than can be expressed.
O shameful synne worthy [of] all kynd of punyshment. O incomparable vice worthy
to be reuenged not with papers wearyng only, but wyth the moost byter & intolerable
paynes, that are prepared in hell for Satan and hys ministers."2 Perjury, often defined
by religious writers simply as the misuse of oaths, was a mortal sin that, left
unconfessed, would send the swearer strait to hell, claimed John Fisher.3 Moreover, it
was not just any mortal sin. It was one of the worst. Homicide was better, for it killed
only the body while perjury murdered the soul.4 Becon, Thomas Wygenhale (a
medieval monk who wrote a lengthy manuscript treatise on oaths), and John Bradford
proclaimed that it was the second worst sin possible, after idolatry.5 According to
Thomas Wygenhale, one should choose the hardest death rather than offend God by

[John Bale], A Christen exhortation vnto customable swearers. What a ryght and lawfull othe is:
whan, and before whom, it owght to be. Item. The maner ofsayinge grace, or geuynge thankes vnto
Goc/([Antwerp], [1543?]), sig. D2r.
Thomas Basille [Thomas Becon], An inuectyue agenst the moost wicked and detestable vyce of
swearing ([1543]), sig. F2r.
Cecilia A. Hatt (ed.), English Works of John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester (1469-1535): Sermons and
Other Writings, 1520-1535 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 248. For different definitions of
perjury, see note 109 of chapter one of this dissertation.
This statement was often repeated in late medieval writings on oaths and was usually attributed to
Augustine. See for example CIC, C. 22 q. 4 c. 1, Friedberg, 1:883-884; Priscilla Heath Barnum (ed.),
Dives and Pauper, EETS, o.s., 275 (London: Oxford University Press, 1976), 252; Bale, Christen
exhortation, sig. Cl v .
Becon, An inuectyue, sig. Clr; John Bradford, The Writings of John Bradford, ed. Aubrey Townsend,
PS, vol. 4 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1848), 11; CUL MS. Ii. i. 39, fol. 4V.

perjury.6 Andrew Chertsay, the early sixteenth-century compiler of The arte or crafte
to lyue well, asserted that only a bishop could absolve perjury, while canon law
maintained that unconfessed perjurers should be expelled from the community of the
faithful.7 Clearly the abuse of oaths was serious business.
The significance of oaths is highlighted not only by the vehement quality of
diatribes against the misuse of oaths, but also by the sheer quantity of works dealing
with oaths. Any perusal of English religious writings of the fifteenth and sixteenth
centuries will reveal the great importance of oaths to the devout. In the later Middle
Ages, oaths were discussed in Latin systematic theological treatises, in vernacular
instructions for parish priests, in devotional literature aimed at laymen, in sermons
delivered to laymen, in popular poetry and stories, and even in the commonplace
books of the nascent middle class.8 Religious works on oaths thus targeted every level

"Maiore ratione omnes christian! citius deberent mortem durissimam eligere quam deum offenderent
periurando"; CU MS. Ii. i. 39 (Thomas Wygenhale's Speculum iuratoris), fol. 86v. Wygenhale (also
known as Wignhal or Wygnale) was a canon of the Monastery of the Blessed Mary of West-Durham
(Norwich) and perpetual vicar of the Church of the Holy Trinity in Cambridge; Ibid., fol. 2r.
Wygenhale's treatise is the only full length medieval work dedicated to swearing, as far as I am aware.
It survives only in manuscript. In addition to the copy at Cambridge University Library, copies of it
survive in the British Library (Harleian MS. 148) and the National Library of Wales (MS. 22688B).
[Andrew Chertsey], [The crafte to lyue well and to dye well], ([Westminters?], [1505]), fol. 31 v ; C1C,
C. 22, q. 1 c.17, Friedberg, 1: 866.
For systematic theology see, Thomas Aquinas, "Question 89," Religion and Worship, ed. and trans.
Kevin D. O'Rourke, vol. 39 of Summa Theologiae (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964); Gulielmus
Peraldus, Sumarium summe virtutum et vitiorum per figures ([Lyons?], 1500), fols. 167v-179r; John
Wycliffe, Johannis Wyclif tractatus de mandatis divinis : accedit tractatus de statu innocencie. . . ., ed.
Johann Loserth and F. D. Matthew (1922; reprint, New York : Johnson Reprint, 1966), 187-206;
Vincent of Beauvais, Speculum morale, vol. 3 of Speculum quadruplex sive speculum maius (1624;
reprint, Graz, Austria: Akademische Druck, 1964), 1181-1191, 1281-1282. Many vernacular
instructions for parish priests were guides on how to conduct confession. As such, they also targeted
lay audiences, instructing the laity how to confess. One very popular treatise in this vein which
contained a bit on oaths was Lorens d'Orleans' Somme le roi. Derivatives of the Somme le roi include
Domincian Laurent, The Book of Vices and Virtues: A Fourteenth Century English Translation of the
"Somme le roi" of Lorens d'Orleans, ed. W. Nelson Francis, EETS, o.s., 217 (London: Oxford
University Press, 1942); A Myrour to Lewde Men and Wymmen: A prose version of the Speculum Vitae,
ed.from B.L. MS Harley 45, ed. Venetia Nelson (Heidelberg: Carl Winter, 1981); Dan Michel's
Ayenbite oflnwy : or, Remorse of Conscience, ed. Richard Morris, EETS, o.s., 23 (London: Oxford
University Press, 1965); [Domincian Laurent], This book was compyled and made atte requeste ofkyng
Phelyp ofFraunce . . . whyche book is callyd infrensshe. le liure Royall that is to say the ryal book, or
a book for a kyng. . .. [Craxton's Royal Book] ([Westminster], 1485 or 1486); Arthur Brandeis (ed.)
Jacob's Well, An English Treatise on the Cleansing of Man's Conscience, EETS, o.s., 115 (London:
Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1900); F.N.M. Diekstra (ed.), Book for a Simple and Devout Woman: A
Late Middle English Adaptation of Peraldus' Summa de Vitiis et Virtutibus and Friar Laurent's
Somme le Roi, (Groningen: Egbert Forsten, 1998). For a very substantial section on oaths, see Dives
and Pauper, 221-262. Other examples of treatises designed for a lay audience with sections on oaths

of society. The coming of the Reformation did nothing to stem the tide of writings on
oaths. Protestant heavyweights like Thomas Becon and John Bale wrote whole
treatises on the issue.9 Swearing was important enough to warrant Archbishop
Thomas Cranmer allotting an entire sermon (one of only twelve) to it in his 1547 Book
of Homilies.10 Likewise, the 1553 primer dedicated one of its fourteen lessons (one
for every day of the week, morning and evening) to teaching about swearing oaths.''
The works of John Hooper, John Bradford, Henry Bullinger, and Hugh Latimer also
contained sections on oaths and swearing.12 Oaths were thus an issue of considerable
consequence to religious writers of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

include Richard Whitford, A werke for Householders, vol. 5 of Richard Whytford's Thepype or tonne of
the lyfe of perfection, ed. James Hogg (Salzburg: Institut fur Anglistik und Amerikanistik, Univsitat
Salzburg, 1979); Andrew Chertsey, Ihesus. Thefloure of the commaundementes of god with many
examples and auctorytees extracte and drawen as well of holy scryptures as of other doctours and good
auncient faders, the whiche is moche vtyle and prouffytable vnto all people. The. x. commaundementes
of the lawe. Thou shalt worshyp one god onely. And loue hym with thy herte perfytely . . . Thefyue
commaundementes of the chyrche. The sondayes here thou masse and thefestes of commaundement. . . .
The foureymbres vigyles thou shaltefaste, and the lente entyerly ([1510]). For sermons dealing with
oaths, see Woodburn O. Ross (ed.), Middle English Sermons: Editedfrom British Museum MS. Royal
18 B. xxiii, EETS, o.s, 209 (London: Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press, 1940), 22-23, 99-
109, 117; Bodleian Library, Ashmole MS. 750, fols.42v-48; John Mirk, Mirk's Festival: A Collection of
Homilies, ed. Theodore Erbe, EETS, e.s., 96 (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Triibner, 1905), 113-114,
300-301. For popular poetry on swearing, see Stephen Hawes, The conuersyon ofswerers (1509);
Robert Mannying, Robert ofBrunne 's 'Handlyng Synne,' AD 1303, with Those Parts of the Anglo-
French Treatise on Which It Was Founded, William of Wadington 's 'Manuel des Pechiez, ed. Frederick
J. Furnivall, EETS, o.s. 119 (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Triibner, 1901), 23-29, 96-102. A fifteenth-
century adaptation of Handlyng Synne is included in Peter ldley 's Instructions to his Son, ed. Charlotte
D'Evelyn (Boston: D.C. Heath, 1935). For commonplace books with sections on oaths, see The
Commonplace Book of Robert Reynes ofAcle: An Edition of Tanner MS 407, ed. Cameron Louis (New
York and London: Garland, 1980), 143-146; A Common-place Book of the Fifteenth Century,
Containing A Religious Play and Poetry, Legal Forms, and Local Accounts (from Brome Hall), ed.
Lucy Toulmin Smith (London: Triibner, 1886), 79; Richard Hill, Songs, Carols, and Other
Miscellaneous Poems, from the Balliol MS 354, Richard Hill's Commonpace-Book, ed. Roman
Dyboski, EETS, e.s. 101 (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Triibner, 1907), 43-44, 70. Finally, the sheer
volume of late medieval sources that deal with swearing is made abundantly manifest in G. R. Owst,
Literature and Pulpit in Medieval England(Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1966), 414-425.
Becon, An inuectyue; Bale, Christen exhortacion.
[Thomas Cranmer?], "Against Swearyng and Perjurie," in Certain Sermons or Homilies (1547) and A
Homily against Disobedience and Wilful Rebellion (1570), ed. Ronald B. Bond (Toronto, Buffalo, and
London: University of Toronto Press, 1987), 128-136.
Joseph Ketley (ed.), The Two Liturgies, A.D. 1549, A.D. 1552: with Other Documents Set Forth by
Authority in the Reign of King Edward VI, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1844), 425.
John Hooper, Early Writings of John Hooper, ed. Samuel Carr, PS, vol. 20 (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1843), 323-325,476-479,482-483; Bradford, Writings of John Bradford, 9-11; Henry
Bullinger, The Decades of Henry Bullinger, trans. H.I., ed. Thomas Harding, PS, vol. 7 (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1849), 238-252; Hugh Latimer, Sermons by Hugh Latimer, ed. George
Elwes Corrie, PS, vol. 27 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1844), 345-346, 380, 407; Hugh

Sources on oaths from the sixteenth century are not confined, however, to
religious works. The Henrician and Elizabethan State Papers are filled with
correspondences, commissions, and official documents relating to oaths, for oaths
were an important vehicle through which Henry VIII and Elizabeth I implemented
their religious settlements. Henry enforced his split from Rome with the oath of
succession and numerous oaths of supremacy, he retaliated against the Catholic rebels
of the Pilgrimage of Grace with another oath of allegiance, and Elizabeth enforced her
Protestant religious settlement with her own oath of supremacy. Oaths were also
integral to the Tudor church's prosecution of heresy, papistry (after 1534), and
nonconformity. Bishops and other ecclesiastical judges forced those suspected of
heterodoxy and heteropraxy to disclose their beliefs and reveal their associates by
tendering the suspects the ex officio oath, an oath of inquisition that bound the swearer
to answer truthfully each and every question asked by the judge. This oath became a
great matter of controversy during the sixteenth century; manuscripts (and a few
printed works) attacking this oath survive in abundance.
Thus, the large quantity and strong quality of sources on oathsreligious,
governmental, and legalattest to the importance of swearing oaths in early modern
England. Yet surprisingly, no historian has yet attempted a systematic study of oaths
in sixteenth-century England. This dissertation is an attempt to correct this
historiographical oversight, to bring into focus the role played by oaths in the political
and religious reformations that rocked England from 1534 to 1603. It will argue that
oaths were crucial to the implementation of the Henrician and Elizabethan
reformations and to the confessionalization of England. Oaths were not only essential
to the enforcement of the settlements of 1534 and 1559: they were also a primary
means through which the English people resisted, acquiesced in, or negotiated the
Reformation. And because oaths were so significant to the development of the
Reformation, an elucidation of the theory, practice, and employment of oaths in
sixteenth-century England will also shed light on other important issues in early
modern English history such as the internal workings and dynamics of the Henrician

Latimer, Sermons and Remains of Hugh Latimer, ed. George Elwes Corrie, PS, vol. 28 (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1845), 64, 70, 134.

and Elizabethan regimes, the formation and solidification of confessional identities,
and the role of conscience in an individual's attempt to come to terms with the
religious and political changes of the sixteenth century.
Furthermore, although this dissertation is source-based and not driven by the
desire to answer a pressing historiographical question, the importance of oaths in
sixteenth-century England means that the study of them will speak to a variety of
issues of current historiographical debate. For example, one of the knottiest questions
of English Reformation historiography in the past ten years is the so-called riddle of
compliance. Revisionist historians have convincingly demonstrated that most
medieval Englishmen were happy with their religion. The medieval Catholic church
was thriving in England. The few Englishmen who questioned its doctrine or opposed
its practices were isolated and not influential. The Protestant Reformation thus
received very little popular support in England. In general, it was pushed on the
English populace by a government that enacted reforms because of the capricious will
of the sovereign or because a minority of reformers played a disproportionate role in

the determination of royal policy. As J. J. Scarisbrick has famously proclaimed, "On

the whole, English men and women did not want the Reformation and most of them
were slow to accept it when it came." The problem with this interpretation is that it
fails to explain how, in the end, most Englishmen did accept and even embrace the
Reformation.15 The simple assertion that the crown pushed the Reformation on the
people is insufficient, for, in the words of Ethan Shagan, "the Tudor government

The essential works of revisionism are J. J. Scarisbrick, The Reformation and the English People
(Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1984); Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in
England, C.1400-C.1580 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992); Christopher Haigh, English
Reformations: Religion, Politics, and Society under the Tudors (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993). For a
more moderate restatement of the revisionist theses articulated in a digestible case-study, see Eamon
Duffy, The Voices of Morebath: Reformation and Rebellion in an English Village (New Haven, CT:
Yale University Press, 2001).
Scarisbrick, Reformation and the English People, 1.
Duffy has long admitted that the Reformation was eventually successful in England. Christopher
Haigh originally opposed Duffy on this point. Haigh maintained that at best, the Reformation de-
catholicized the English laity without protestantizing them in return. More recently, however, Haigh
has modified his position and confessed that the Reformation was a success, at least in forcing the laity
to learn their catechism and in imbuing the populace with anti-Catholic sentiment; Haigh, "Success and
Failure in the English Reformation," Past and Present 173 (2001): 28-49; Haigh, "Why did it happen?"
The Tablet, April 20, 2002,

possessed no bureaucracy, no police force, no standing army, and was utterly reliant
upon local collaborationfrom the haughtiest justice of the peace to the lowliest
village constablefor the maintenance of ordinary administration."16 For the English
Reformation to have been a success, the English people had to cooperate with it; they
had to go along with the reforms enacted by the government without raising extensive
opposition. Yet if they were largely content with Catholicism, why did they do so?
This is the riddle of compliance. Christopher Marsh put it succinctly, "If England's
people were, in Scarisbrick's phrase, 'profoundly addicted to the old ways', why were
their withdrawal symptoms not more agonizing?"17
One of the chief ways historians have answered the riddle of compliance has
been to stress the continuity of evangelical Protestant religion with traditional
Catholicism. Historians who advanced this argument believed that the English laity
accepted the Reformation because it was not an abrupt, revolutionary rupture with the
past. It was "a gradual, practical, piecemeal, and often reluctant affair."18 These
historians emphasized the similarities between evangelical Protestantism and
traditional Catholicism. They of course recognized that Protestantism changed many
facets of doctrine and practice, but they maintained that these changes were grounded
in an underlying bedrock of continuity that provided reassurance to the laity and made
the changes seem less alien. Marsh, for example, claimed that the heart of sixteenth-
century parish religion was Christian charity, community, and peace. The basic
Christian teachings of love and forgiveness not only gave the laity a sense of
familiarity amidst evangelical change: they also encouraged the laity to "hold their

Ethan Shagan, Popular Politics and the English Reformation (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 2003), 2.
Christopher Marsh, Popular Religion in Sixteenth-Century England: Holding Their Peace (New
York: St. Martin's Press, 1998), 198.
Marsh, Popular Religion, 88. Marsh's Popular Religion was one of the first books to emphasize the
continuity of the English Reformation. It is a balanced, insightful, and well-argued book. As such, it
seems odd that Marsh is rarely cited by other post-revisionists. The actual continuity thesis, to my
knowledge, has its origins in the scholarship of Robert Scribner, who first espoused it in the 1980s.
Scribner, however, studied the German Reformation. See Scribner, "Ritual and Reformation," in The
German People and the Reformation, ed. R. Po-shia Hsia (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1988):
122-144; Scribner, "The Impact of the Reformation on Daily Life," in Mensch und Objekt im
Mittelalter und in der Fruhen Neuzeit: LebenAlltagKultur, ed. Gerhard Jaritz (Vienna: Verlag der
Osterreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1990): 315-343.

peace" in the face of divisive issues. ' 9 Similarly, Alexandra Walsham focused on the
doctrine of providence and the continuity it provided. Providence helped "anchor the
Reformation" in that it downplayed complex Protestant theological issues like
predestination and fit into "pre-existing convictions about divine intervention in the
earthly world."20 Moreover, providence offered the English laity with a sort of
functionalism, since implicit in the doctrine was the belief that prayers and good
behavior caused God to respond favorably, while sin provoked his wrath. This
functionalism served as a recognizable replacement to the mechanical efficacy of the
sacraments and the practice of magic repressed by the reformers.
Tessa Watt has found that the content of popular cheap print in the later
sixteenth century also highlighted beliefs and practices continuous with the Catholic
past. Heroic figures (martyrs instead of saints), visions of hell, miraculous tales,
pictures, and basic lessons of morality were prevalent. "Religion is about the same
fear of death and personal judgment which preoccupied medieval Catholics; it is about
practical lists of good and bad behavior; and about stories of miracles, a virgin birth,
heroism and even love and trickery."22 Instead of showing how Protestant religiosity
was similar to older Catholic traditions, Susan Wabuda emphasized the "proto-
Protestant" practices in late medieval Catholicism. Not only were Christo-centric
devotions increasing at the end of the fifteenth century, but preaching was becoming
more widespread as well. Quarterly sermons preached by mendicants, Paul's Cross
sermons, commemorative sermons funded by endowments, and even regular homilies
in English by the parish priest all contributed to the increasing centrality of preaching
in late medieval Catholicism. The Protestant emphasis on the Word, then, was less
foreign to many parishioners than had been thought.23 By stressing the continuities
between late medieval Catholicism and evangelical Protestantism, Marsh, Walsham,

Marsh, Popular Religion, passim.
Alexandra Walsham, Providence in Early Modern England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999),
Walsham, Providence in Early Modern England, 95, 149-165, 328-331, 334.
Tessa Watt, Cheap Print and Popular Piety, 1550-1640 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1991), 126.
Susan Wabuda, Preaching During the English Reformation (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 2002).

Watt, and Wabuda thus offered explanations for why the English populace cooperated
with the religious change. The English laity complied because the changes were not
too drastic and were implemented within a recognizable framework.
Chapter one of this dissertation will test the answers to the riddle of
compliance offered by Marsh, Walsham, Watt, and Wabuda by determining whether
the continuity thesis holds true for oaths. In this chapter, I will show that oaths were
considered essential to the proper worship of God and the maintenance of society.
Their great religious significance meant that any change in the theory or practice of
oath-taking had the potential to disrupt the religiosity of the English people. Flushing
out the theory and practice of oath-taking in England before, during, and after the
Reformation will reveal how contiguous the Protestant theory and practice of swearing
oaths was with that of medieval Catholicism. While it would be ludicrous to assert
that the English people chose to accept or reject the Protestant Reformation solely on
this basis, the great importance of oaths in sixteenth-century religion suggests
nonetheless that this issue had the potential to affect considerably the reception of
Protestantism. Oaths could provide links with the past or make the novelty of
Protestantism more apparent.
Of course, there are many other answers to the riddle of compliance besides
emphasizing the continuity between medieval Catholicism and Reformation
Protestantism. Diarmaid MacCulloch, for example, has explored the possible appeal
of Protestantism to the English populace. MacCulloch noted the attraction of the
Protestant message of liberty, especially insofar as this message reverberated with the
socially oppressed, who seized on the fact that many Evangelical advocates of
religious reform also supported social reform. Protestant calls for justice and poor
relief, and their denunciations of practices such as enclosing common land, raising
rents, forestalling (deliberately withholding goods until a scarcity drives up market
prices), and corruption within the legal system appealed to those with a sense of social
grievance. MacCulloch also observed that the Protestant allowance of clerical

Diarmaid MacCulloch, The Boy King: Edward VI and the Protestant Reformation (New York:
Palgrave, 1999), 121-126. For similar arguments, see Shagan, Popular Politics, 273-280; Alec Ryrie,

marriage and divorce contributed to a message of sexual liberty, while the attack on
papal history seemed freeing to young people.25 Other historians have likewise
emphasized non-theological reasons for accepting reform. Norman Jones wrote,
"Property was the great sweetener of the Reformation," while "Religion was relative
when family solidarity was involved."26 Ethan Shagan structured his entire
explanation of the English Reformation around the premise that Englishmen and
women accepted the Reformation because they stood to gain something, and that
something was often not spiritual. A minor official might accept royal supremacy in
order to gain the support of the crown for his cause in a local dispute. A humble
parishioner might participate in the dissolution of the monasteries by secretly
"appropriating" monastic property for the ostensible reason of preventing its seizure
by the government. These actions undertaken for familial, political, or economic
advancement did not amount to Evangelical conversion, but they did provide a "point
of entry" through which Protestantism could slowly gain acceptance by the English
The sum of all these answers to the riddle of compliance is that individuals
chose to cooperate with the state and accept the Reformation for a variety of
idiosyncratic and personal reasons. One person may have accepted royal supremacy
of the church in order to gain patronage. Another may not have considered the
changes in the liturgy of 1549 to be particularly drastic. No single answer to the riddle
of compliance will ever suffice since the motivations for a group as large as the
English populace to accept or reject the Reformation are as variegated as the number
of individuals within the group. Recognizing this principle, this dissertation (chapter
one excepted) will not use oaths as a lens for offering yet another answer to the riddle

The Gospel and Henry VIII: Evangelicals in the Early English Reformation (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2003), 146-153.
MacCulloch, Boy King, 129-140. For more on the appeal of the Reformation to youth, see Susan
Brigden, "Youth and the English Reformation," in The Impact of the English Reformation 1500-1640,
ed. Peter Marshall (London: Arnold, 1997), 55-84.
Norman Jones, The English Reformation: Religion and Cultural Adaptation (Oxford: Blackwell,
2002), 4, 198.
Shagan, Popular Politics. For Shagan's explanation of the English populace's acceptance of royal
supremacy, see pages 29-60. For a case-study on the dissolution of the monasteries, see pages 162-196.
For his use of the term "point of contact" (originally employed in a different manner by Geoffrey
Elton), seepage 15.

of compliance. Instead, it will shift the question from Why the majority of the English
population complied with the religious changes instituted by the state to How the
English Reformation was accomplished. The focus of this dissertation, then, is not the
reasons why the crown enacted reform or why the populace accepted it but rather the
processes and mechanisms through which that reform was executed and established.
This is the subject of sections two and four of this dissertation. Section two examines
the role of oaths in the accomplishment of the Henrician Reformation, notably the
rejection of papal authority and the establishment of royal supremacy in the 1530s.
Section four illuminates the same process in Elizabeth's reign. In seeking to answer
how these reformations were accomplished, we will touch on three related subthemes,
each of which has historiographical implications.
First, chapters three, ten, and eleven look at how the crown implemented the
settlements of 1534 and 1559 on the ground and in the parish. Historians have already
utilized wills, churchwardens' accounts, official propaganda, and sources relating to
treason trials to explore the implementation of the Henrician Reformation.28 Oaths,
however, are also an ideal lens through which to examine this process, for Henry VIII
famously required all his adult male subjects to swear an oath in support of his new
marriage in 1534 and forced those who held clerical or political office to swear
another oath renouncing papal authority and acknowledging royal supremacy of the
church. Oaths were thus a central component in the implementation of the Henrician
Reformation. Of course, historians have long recognized the importance of these
oaths, yet their accounts of the actual implementation of these oaths at the parish level
have remained surprisingly short, simple, and vague.29 As we shall see in chapter
three, the administration of oaths in the mid-1530s was significantly more complex
than has previously been thought. This complexity, in turn, further illuminates the

For the story of the implementation of the Henrician Reformation as revealed by a study of wills, see
Robert Whiting, '"For the Health of My Soul': Prayers for the Dead in the Tudor South-West," in
Marshall (ed.), Impact of the English Reformation, 121-142. For a similar story through the use of
churchwardens' accounts, see Ronald Hutton, "The Local Impact of the Tudor Reformations," in Ibid.,
142-167. For a classic study on the crown's use of propaganda and force (such as treason trials) to
implement the reforms of the 1530s, see G.R. Elton, Policy and Police: The Enforcement of the
Reformation in the Age of Thomas Cromwell (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972).
An exception to this rule is Elton's Policy and Police, 224-230. Nevertheless, Elton's account still
fails to do full justice to the use of oaths to implement the settlement of 1534.

strategy that Henry pursued in implementing his reforms. Likewise, an oath of
supremacy was key to the implementation of the Elizabethan settlement. Chapter ten
shows that the administration of the Elizabethan oath of supremacy was no less
complex than that of her father's oaths, though again historical oversimplification of
this process has masked the ramifications of the administration of this oath. Chapter
eleven then examines how the Elizabethan regime employed other oaths besides the
oath of supremacy as a means of strengthening the Elizabethan Protestant settlement.
Secondly, chapters four, ten, and eleven address the question of how the Tudor
monarchs decided to use oaths in the way they did. These chapters provide insight
into the inner operations of the Henrician and Elizabethan regimes. A key issue of
historiographical debate here is the extent to which the policies of Henry and Elizabeth
were controlled by dynamics at court. Eric Ives, for example, is a leading proponent
of the position that many of the policies of the 1530s came about through the influence
of competing court factions.30 By contrast, George Bernard has vehemently
maintained that the influence of faction was limited; Henry was very much his own
master.31 As for Elizabeth's reign, a previous generation of historians such as Conyers
Read and J. E. Neale depicted a Privy Council bitterly divided over policy or
patronage and manipulated by the queen, while more recent accounts by Simon
Adams, Patrick Collinson, and Stephen Alford have painted a different picture, one
where a relatively united Council (often supported by Parliament) was at loggerheads
with a recalcitrant queen.32 Tracing the formation and implementation of Tudor policy
on the administration and non-administration of oaths serves as a detailed case-study

Eric Ives, "Stress, Faction and Ideology in Early-Tudor England,' HistoricalJournal 34 (1991): 196-
197; Eric Ives, "Henry VIII: the Political Perspective," in The Reign of Henry VIII: Politics, Policy and
Piety, ed. Diarmaid MacCulloch (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995), 29-33.
G. W. Bernard, Power and Politics in Tudor England (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2000), 7-10.
Conyers Read, "Faction in the English Privy Council under Elizabeth," Annual Report of the
American Historical Association 28 (1911): 111-119; J.E. Neale, "The Elizabethan Political Scene," in
his Essays in Elizabethan History (London: J. Cape, 1958), 59-74; Simon Adams, Leicester and the
Court: Essays on Elizabethan Politics (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002), 13-19, 28-33,
30-40; Patrick Collinson, Elizabethan Essays (London: Hambledon Press, 1994), 39-42; Stephen
Alford, The Early Elizabethan Polity: William Cecil and the British Succession Crisis, 1558-1569
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 28-33, 57-59, 213-219. In contrast to Adams and
Alford, Susan Doran has reasserted the importance of faction in the 1560s insofar as it relates to the
Hapsburg marriage; Susan Doran, "Religion and Politics at the Court of Elizabeth I: The Hapsburg
Marriage Negotiations of 1559-1567," English Historical Review 104 (1989): 909-926.

of the process of governing. As such, chapters four, ten, and eleven not only
contribute to the debate on faction: they also explore the exact role of the monarch,
councilors, Parliament, and lesser local authorities in influencing, determining, and
executing royal policy.
Finally, chapters five, six, and twelve examine how the English people
responded to the state oaths of the Reformation. The main contention of these
chapters is that the English did not respond to the Reformation passively. They did not
restrict themselves to the two options presented to them in Tudor state oaths: fully
accepting a policy by swearing an oath or fully opposing it by refusing to swear.
Chapter five explores the variety of techniques people employed to mitigate the full
force of an oath without overtly refusing to swear. Equivocation, conditional
protestations, and even mental reservation were all utilized by Englishmen in the
1530s who did not fully agree with the content of the oath but also did not want to face
the consequences of refusing to swear. Englishmen in the North went even further in
swearing their own oaths during the 1536 rebellion known as the Pilgrimage of Grace.
Chapter six explores these rebellion oaths and argues that the pilgrims swore them in
part as a response to the oath of succession. By declaring the people's interpretation
of the oath of succession, the pilgrims publicly commented on the king's recent
religious policy and set the parameters of their allegiance. Chapter twelve shifts the
spotlight to the refusal of Roman Catholics and Puritans to swear the Elizabethan state
oaths. This refusal was not passive. Catholics and Puritans constructed a powerful
rationale to justify their refusal to swear by appropriating and then intensifying the
state's own propaganda on the sanctity of oaths. Each of these chapters thus
demonstrates that the English people used oaths to negotiate the Reformation.
This emphasis on oaths as means by which the English people commented on
the crown's religious policy and negotiated the Reformation supplements the recent
historiographical trend of acknowledging the role of humble members of society in the
political process. Historians (mostly of seventeenth-century England) have been
increasingly concerned with popular politics, which, in the words of Ethan Shagan,
"simply refers to the presence of ordinary, non-elite subjects as the audience for or

interlocutors with a political action." Of course, the majority of English people were
not able to participate in the standard vehicles of national politics such as Parliament
or the court, so the bestowal of a political voice on the masses has necessarily
involved a widening of the definition of politics. Tim Harris and John Walter explored
crowd violence as a form of popular political awareness and agency. Walter has also
contended that grumbling, cursing, appeals, petitions, threats, and shaming were all
"means by which 'ordinary people' could influence the exercise of power." Alastair
Bellany demonstrated that the growth in news media, especially scribal and oral news,
constituted a forum that allowed an ever wider number of people to access and
comment on national politics. Steve Hindle maintained that the institution of parish
vestries and the mechanisms of law that developed from the increase of litigation in
the seventeenth century demonstrate "the widespread participation in the processes of
governance" by the middling sort.37 Indeed, the number and variety of methods
employed by common people to participate in and influence national politics has
caused some leading historians to posit the existence of a public sphere in early
modern England, albeit not a public sphere of the classic definition of Jiirgen
Habermas. David Zaret argued that in revolutionary England, "Communication
change propelled by commerce and textual reproduction led to novel political
practices that constituted a public sphere in which participants issued reasons to
defend opinions on setting a legislative agenda." More recently Peter Lake, Michael

Shagan, Popular Politics, 19.

Tim Harris, London Crowds in the Reign of Charles II: Propaganda and Politics from the
Restoration until the Exclusion Crisis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987); John Walter,
Understanding Popular Violence in the English Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
John Walter, "Public Transcripts, Popular Agency and the Politics of Subsistence in Early Modern
England," in Negotiating Power in Early Modern Society: Order, Hierarchy and Subordination in
Britain and Ireland, ed. Michael J. Braddick and John Walter (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 2001), 123-148 (quotation from 128).
Alastair Bellany, The Politics of Court Scandal in Early Modern England: News Culture and the
Over bury Affair, 1603-1660 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 74-135. For the ground-
breaking article on the political relevance of news, see Richard Cust, "News and Politics in Early
Seventeenth-Century England," Past and Present 112 (1986): 60-90.
Steve Hindle, The State and Social Change in Early Modern England, c.1550-1640 (New York: St.
Martin's Press, 2000), quotation from 23.
David Zaret, Origins of Democratic Culture: Printing, Petitions, and the Public Sphere in Early-
Modern England (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000), 278.

Questier, and Steve Pincus contended that a public spherethat is, "spaces or modes
of communication or making pitches in which appeals to a general audience were
made through a variety of media appealing to a notion of the public good (or religious
truth)"originated in Elizabethan England as a result of efforts from those at the
center of the regime to combat the threat of Catholicism and to influence the queen to
take a certain action.39 This dissertation contributes to the historiography of popular
politics and the public sphere in two ways. Firstly, it adds swearing oaths to the
widening canon of popular political actions.40 As we shall see, the oath of succession
and the Elizabethan bond of association provided a mechanism for a non-elite subject
to declare his support or opposition to the Henrician and Elizabethan settlements,
while the pilgrims' oaths were a popular attempt to influence the relio-political policy
of the Henrician regime. Secondly, by tracing the origin of the Elizabethan oaths of
allegiance and the opposition to the ex officio oath, chapter eleven delineates the exact
roles of councilors, members of Parliament, and various lesser local officials in their
attempts to use oaths to mold public opinion and shape national policy. In essence, we
will tell how a particular activity of the public sphere (namely, swearing oaths) came
about in sixteenth-century England.
Sections two and four of this dissertation thus provide insight into how the
Reformation was accomplished in England by using oaths to elucidate how the
Henrician and Elizabethan regimes formulated specific policies, how Henry and
Elizabeth implemented the political and religious reforms of 1534 and 1559, and how
the English people responded to these reforms. Section three addresses another
important theme of the English Reformation: how an English Protestant identity
coalesced under the persecution of a hostile state. Recent historiography has stressed

Peter Lake and Steve Pincus, "Rethinking the Public Sphere in Early Modern England," Journal of
British Studies 45 (2006): 270-292, quotation from 277. An early version of Lake's thesis is Peter Lake
and Michael Questier, "Puritans, Papists, and the 'Public Sphere' in Early Modern England: The
Edmund Campion Affair in Context," Journal of Modern History 12 (2000): 587-627.
The only historian who has approached oaths as a means for common people to gain agency is Steve
Hindle. Hindle explored the phenomenon of "swearing the peace" wherein individuals could place
bonds of good behavior on one another by appearing before a judge and swearing that they were afraid
that a certain person would slay or physically harm them; Hindle, State and Society, 97-115. Hindle's
account of oaths in the process of "binding over" is excellent. We shall see, however, that swearing the
peace was by no means the only way in which common people could play a role in politics through the
swearing of oaths.

the inchoate, varied, and indefinite nature of early English Protestantism. Historians
have come to recognize that in the 1520s, 1530s, and (to a lesser extent) the early
1540s, the "religious situation itself was fluid and indeterminate. Boundaries were
unclear, where they existed at all, and identities were nascent and contested."
Indeed, most historians prefer to eschew the term "Protestant" altogether when
describing the religious movements of the first two decades of the English
Reformation, preferring the vaguer term "Evangelical." 2 By the middle of the
sixteenth century, however, there clearly was a group of people in England who could
be described as Protestant in the full sense of the word. So one of the chief tasks of
the historian of the early English Reformation is to illuminate, in the words of Peter
Marshall and Alec Ryrie, "the highly complex and multifaceted processes through
which an English Protestant movement was formed and sustained, and a distinctive
Protestant identity created, in these crucial years." Section two sheds light on one of
these processes of confessionalization: the swearing or avoiding of oaths in heresy
trials. Oaths were an integral part of the public prosecution of heretics. As such,
swearing was a means through which Protestants articulated, renounced, or hid their
beliefs. Chapter seven shows how English "Protestants" of the 1520s and 1530s
inherited a legacy of Lollardy that led them to perjure themselves and to dissimulate
their faith. Although this practice allowed them to save their lives and to arouse a
significant amount of popular sympathy, it prevented the formation of a strong
confessional identity since it cast doubt upon Protestant doctrine and limited the extent
of proselytization. Chapter eight tells a story of transition. It explores how Protestants
in the 1530s and 1540s employed strategies such as equivocated or oathless
abjurations in order to appease the Henrician regime without committing perjury or

Peter Marshall and Alec Ryrie, "Introduction: Protestantisms and their beginnings," The Beginnings
of English Protestantism, ed. Peter Marshall and Alec Ryrie (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
2002), 6.
The use of the term Evangelical instead of Protestant to describe the English reformers of the 1520s,
1530s, and 1540s was first advocated by Diarmaid MacCulloch. For MacCulloch, the central rallying
point of Evangelicalism was "the need to reconstruct religion out of the scriptural text of the Good
News"; Diarmaid MacCulloch, "Henry VIII and the Reform of the Church," in MacCulloch, The Reign
ofHenry VIII, 169. A belief in justification by faith alone and a rejection of purgatory and the cult of
the dead on this basis is usually considered another defining aspect of English Evangelicalism. See
Peter Marshall, Religious Identities in Henry VIII's England (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006), 7.
Marshall and Ryrie, "Introduction," in Beginnings of English Protestantism, 12-13.

betraying their true beliefs. The Protestant practice of equivocation has received much
historiographical emphasis,44 but the role of oaths in this processespecially the
apparent collaboration of conservative prelates like Bishop Edmund Bonner in
tolerating oathless abjurationshas hitherto escaped historians' notice. Chapter nine
then deals with the Protestant usage of oaths in Marian heresy trials. In contrast to
earlier practice, many Marian Protestants refused to recant and used oaths as a means
to justify their behavior and attack the integrity of their opponents. Dissimulation and
perjury, then, corresponded with a period of confessional fluidity, while transparency
and an emphasis on swearing truthfully corresponded with the solidification of a
Protestant identity. The practice of swearing, avoiding, or explaining oaths during
Protestant heresy trials was thus a significant component in the confessionalization of
If oaths therefore played a crucial role in the accomplishment of the English
Reformation and the confessionalization of England, then it follows that any
examination of oaths in the English Reformation will have relevance not only to
historiographical debates about the English Reformation and Tudor polity in general
but also to more specific debates about the power of oaths in early modern England.
Some historians have contended that oaths became less effective in the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries as English men and women lost faith in the power of an oath to
bind one's conscience. There are three theories as to why this happened. First,
Christopher Hill has argued that oaths began to be replaced in the seventeenth century
by the tendency to speak the truth simply because such a practice was better suited to
success in a capitalist economy in which a untarnished reputation was essential to the
establishment of good credit.45 Hill, however, provided no real evidence to
substantiate this claim, and the sources examined in this dissertation are likewise

See Susan Wabuda, "Equivocation and Recantation During the English Reformation: The 'Subtle
Shadows' of Dr Edward Crome," Journal ofEcclesiastical History 44 (1993): 224-242; Megan
Hickerson, "Ways of Lying: Anne Askew and the Examinations," Gender and History 18 (2006): 50-65;
Alexandra Walsham, Charitable Hatred: Tolerance and Intolerance in England, 1500-1700
(Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2006), 194-195.
Christopher Hill, Society and Puritanism in Pre-Revolutionary England (New York: Schocken
Books, 1964), 397, 399, 417-418. Keith Thomas also endorsed this theory in Religion and the Decline
of Magic (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1971), 68.

insufficient to test this hypothesis. Second, some historians have claimed that the
Reformation's curtailment of the sacramental and "magical" power of the medieval
priesthood led to a general disenchantment of the world that was specifically
manifested in (among other things) a waning belief that God would or could punish
perjurers. Keith Thomas, for example, declared that "the oath became less important
because the terrors of supernatural vengeance had steadily receded."46 Chapter one of
this dissertation will test this theory by analyzing Protestant rhetoric on oaths to see if
it was indeed shorn of the threat of divine wrath on abusers of God's name. Finally,
some historians of the seventeenth century have argued that the multiplicity of
contradictory oaths of the English Civil War, the Restoration, and the Glorious
Revolution undermined the validity of oaths by making perjury common and virtually
unavoidable.47 In opposition to this theory, Edward Vallance has contended that the
strategies many Englishmen employed to navigate the maze of oaths in the English
Revolution were based on a desire to avoid perjury and thus indicate a continued
belief in the sanctity of oaths.48 Of relevance here is the fact that the same
circumstances that supposedly led to the deterioration of the efficacy of oaths in the
seventeenth centurynamely, the state successively imposing conflicting oaths on the
populacewere also present in sixteenth-century England. Henry VIII, for example,
demanded that all the clergy of the realm take an oath of supremacy to him that
explicitly opposed the oath to the pope sworn by all prelates. 9 Henry also
administered an oath to the rebels of 1536 that deliberately invalidated the oaths they
had sworn in the Pilgrimage of Grace.50 Indeed, one of the recurring themes of this
dissertation is the dilemma created by the succession of oaths: how to act when faced

Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic, 67. For more background on this theory see John Spurr,
"A Profane History of Early Modern Oaths," Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 6th Series, 11
(2001): 40-41.
Hill, Society and Puritanism, 409-418; John Spurr, "Perjury, Profanity and Politics," The Seventeenth
Century 8 (1993): 29-50. Even though Spurr contended that the prevalence of perjury in seventeenth-
century England was a reaction to the official abuse of oaths by the state, he has also maintained that
there never was a golden age where oaths were taken with absolute sincerity and functioned as an
ultimate guarantee of the truth. See Spurr, "A Profane History of Early Modern Oaths," 61-62.
Edward Vallance, "Protestation, Vow, Covenant and Engagement: Swearing Allegiance in the
English Civil War," Historical Research 75 (2002): 408-424.
See chapter four of this dissertation.
See chapter six of this dissertation.

with the demand to swear an oath that conflicted with a previous promise sworn
before God. This dissertation thus concludes with an inquiry into whether the
experience of swearing oaths in the English Reformation resulted in a general loss of
faith among the English populace in the power of an oath to bind one's conscience.

Chapter 1: The Theological and Social Importance of Swearing in Medieval and
Early Modern Europe
Late medieval and early modern religious writers placed great emphasis on the
importance of oaths. Why? The most obvious answer is that oaths were integral in
the foundational text of Christianity, the Bible. From the very beginning of Yahweh's
relationship with his chosen people, he declared: "Thou shalt not take the name of the
Lord thy God in vayne. For the Lorde shal not holde him vngiltie, that taketh his
name in vayne."' This precept was not only one of the Ten Commandments, but,
along with the commandment against idolatry, one of only two that contained a clause
expressing God's displeasure with violators of his ordinance. This was the
justification of Becon and Bradford for claiming that vain swearing was the second
worst sin after idolatry. Moreover, the Ten Commandments were also key to the
Catholic Church's drive to educate the laity. The Lateran Council of 1215 made
annual confession compulsory for the laity. But for confession to function as it
should, priests had to be educated and the laity needed to be able to recognize their
sins. So the Lambeth Constitutions of 1281 specified that all parish priests must teach
their parishioners four times a year on the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the two
evangelical precepts of love, as well as on the seven sacraments, deadly sins, principal
virtues, and works of mercy.2 This educational drive formed the primary impetus for
the many late medieval religious writings with sections on the Ten Commandments,
which in turn meant an emphasis on oaths.3

'Exod. 20:7, Deut. 5:11.

Phyllis Hodgson, "Ignorancia Sacerdotum: A Fifteenth-Century Discourse on the Lambeth
Constitutions," Review of English Studies 24 (1948): 1-2.
John Bossy has contended that late medieval piety placed more emphasis on the seven deadly sins
than it did on the Ten Commandments; John Bossy, "Moral arithmetic: Seven Sins into Ten
Commandments," Conscience and Casuistry in Early Modern Europe, ed. Edmund Leites (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1988), 214-234. A focus on the seven deadly sins, however, did not
marginalize oaths, for manuals on confession contained substantial discussions of oaths in sections on
the seven deadly sins as well. The misuse of oaths, usually labeled as perjury or blasphemy, was often
a branch of one of the seven deadly sins, though which sin it fell under varied. Peraldus divided his
treatise into eight sins, adding sins of the tongue (under which he discussed oaths) to the standard seven.
The Book for Simple and Devout Women, an English adaptation of Peraldus, and The Book of Vices and
Virtues instead esteemed sins of the mouth as one of the seven, including both gluttony and evil speech
as subsets of this sin. Jacob's Well simply placed swearing under gluttony. The Destructorium
vicorium classified evil oaths under greed, while the Fasciculus Morum put them under envy.

But the Ten Commandments were not the only part of the Bible that discussed
oaths. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught:
Agayne ye have herde howe it was sayd to them off olde tyme/ thou shalt not
forswere thy silfe/ but shaltt performe thyne othe to God. But 1 say vnto you
swere not at all: nether by heven for hit ys goddes seate: nor yet by the erth/
ffor it ys hys fote stole: Nether by Ierusalem/ ffor hit ys the cite of the grete
kynge: nether shalt thou sweare by thy heed/ be cause thou canst not make one
heer whyte/ or blacke: But your communicacion shalbe/ ye/ ye: nay nay. For
what soever is more then that/ cometh off yvell.4
It appears that Jesus taught simply to tell the truth at all times and cease swearing
oaths. Thus, since most Christians would acknowledge that Jesus's teaching took
priority over the old law, the devout should have ceased swearing altogether. Some
fathers of the early Church (Origen, Cyprian, Gregory Nazianzen, and Basil) seem to
have adopted this position.5 Chrysostom most vehemently decried oaths, dedicating
an entire Lenten sermon series to the eradication of all swearing in Antioch.6 Other
fathers, however, did not interpret Jesus's teaching as completely forbidding the
practice of swearing. Jerome construed Jesus's command in Matthew 5 to mean that
one should not swear by creatures since Jesus qualified his statement to "swear not at
all" by disallowing oaths by heaven, earth, Jerusalem, or one's head.7 Augustine
reasoned that Matthew 5 could not be taken literally since the Apostle Paul swore in
his epistles (Rom. 9.1, Gal. 1.20, Phil. 1.8). Swearing was a necessary evil; it could be
done to convince others of the truth in light of their weakness. According to

Matt. 5:33-37, Tyndale's New Testament of 1526. For a similar statement, see James 5:12.
Origen, De Principiis, trans. Frederick Crombie, in Fathers of the Third Century: Tertullian, Part
Fourth; Minucius Felix; Commodian; Origen, Parts First and Second, ed. Alexander Roberts, James
Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe (1885, repr., Peabody, MA: Henrickson, 1995), 368,; Cyprian, "On the Morality," The Treatises of Cyprian,
trans. Ernest Wallis, in Fathers of the Third Century: Hippolytus, Cyprian, Caius, Novatiam, Appendix,
ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe (1886, repr., Peabody, MA:
Henrickson, 1995), 470,; Gregory Nazianzus, "The Second
Oration on Easter," in Cyril ofJerusalem, Gregory Nazianzen, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace
(1894, repr.,Peabody, MA: Henrickson, 1995), 429,;
Basil, St. Basil: Letters and Selected Works, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace (1895, repr., Peabody,
MA: Henrickson, 1995), 128, 238, 239,
John Chrysostom, The Homilies on the Statutes to the People ofAntioch, ed. W.R.W. Stephens, in St.
Chrysostom: On the Priesthood; Ascetic Treatises; Select Homilies and Letters; Homiles on the
Statutes, ed. Philip Schaff (1889, repr., Peabody, MA: Henrickson, 1995), 317-489. 09.html.
Jerome, S. Hieronymi Presbyteri Opera, Pars 1, 7: Commentariorvm in Mathevm, Corpus
Christianorum Series Latina, vol. 77 (Turnholti: Brepols, 1969), 32-33.

Augustine, Matthew 5 should be understood "as a precaution, lest by swearing one
should acquire facility in so doing, then from this facility he should acquire a habit,
and, finally, as a result of the habit, he should fall into perjury."8
The interpretations of Matthew 5 by Jerome and Augustine won the day in
medieval and early modern Europe. They were incorporated into the standard gloss of
Matthew 5 in the Vulgate, codified in canon law, and replicated in medieval sermons
and manuscripts.9 Apart from a handful of Lollards and some sects of Anabaptists,
Christians of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries did not eschew swearing altogether.
They rejected a literal understanding of Jesus's words and upheld swearing oaths in
particular situations. Something beyond a literal reading of the Bible, then, came into
the considerations of later medieval and early modern religious writers who stressed
the importance of oaths. The Bible was certainly foundational, but it had to be
interpreted in light of other conditions that necessitated the swearing of oaths.
The question then remains: why did religious writers emphasize oaths? What
caused them to reject a literal interpretation of Matthew 5? I will argue in this chapter
that medieval and early modern writers believed oaths were indispensable to both
theology and society. Oaths were a vital gateway through which human society was
able to experience God. They were a kind of ark whereby human beings gained
access to God's power and could harness his omniscience and omnipotence as a
guarantor of the truth of their statements. Yet like the ark of the Hebrews, oaths as
manifestations of God's power and majesty had to be approached with reverence and
awe, lest the majesty of God be insulted and he punish his people. Oaths could be
sworn only in specific circumstances in certain ways. The more one valued the
majesty of God's name and, as a result, oaths, the stricter one constrained the use of

Augustine, Lying (De mendacio), trans. Sarah Muldowney, in St Augustine: Treatises on Various
Subjects, ed. Roy J. Deferred (Washington D.C.: The Catholic University Press, 1952), 90. See also
Augustine, Our Lord's Sermon on the Mount, trans. William Findlay, ed. D. S. Schaff, in St. Augustin:
Sermon on the Mount, Harmony of the Gospels, Homilies on the Gospels, ed. Philp Schaff (1888, repr.,
Peabody, MA: Henrickson, 1995), 22, http://www
Biblia Latina cum glossa ordinaria : facsimile reprint of the editio princeps Adolph Rusch of
Strassburg 1480/81, intra. Karlfried Froehlich and Margaret T. Gibson (Brepols: Turnhout, 1992);
CIC, C. 22 q. 1 c. 2-8, Friedberg, 1:861-863; C1C, X.2.24.26, Friedberg, 2:369-371; Barnum, Dives and
Pauper, 231; Ross, Middle English Sermons, 23.

oaths. The people who most esteemed oaths were the same ones who most
condemned swearing. Yet very few people condemned swearing oaths altogether, for
to do so would deprive God of a form of worship and humans of a crucial way to
access God. Furthermore, oaths were the divine glue that bound society together.
Without God as a guarantor of truth, society would degenerate into chaos, an apolitical
Hobbesian state of nature without distinction or order. Thus, oaths not only were
absolutely essential for society, but they also attest to the paramount importance of
religion in medieval and early modern society. Politics and society could not be
divorced from religion.
An additional issue this chapter will examine is how views of oaths changed
during the sixteenth century. The sixteenth century was a time of radical religious
change. The Protestant Reformation transformed the religious world of the English
people, though not beyond all recognition. Areas of continuity with medieval religion
remained. How did the Reformation affect the religious theory of oaths? Did the
sixteenth-century reformers adopt the same position toward oaths as their predecessors
or did they institute new doctrines? As we discuss the religious and social theory
underlying the swearing of oaths, answers to this questions will become clear.

The Theological Significance of Oaths

A. Oaths as a Form of Worship of God
An oath, most simply and universally defined, is citing someone (or
something) as witness to the truth of one's statement. Yet because the purpose of an
oath is to make the person to whom it is sworn believe that the swearer's statement is
true, the person or being cited as witness must possess greater authority than the
swearer, otherwise the witness adds nothing to the credibility of the swearer. For
example, if I attempt to convince my friend that I did indeed lock the door by citing
my dog as witness, this oath does not make my statement any more believable, for my
dog lacks both the ability to recognize the locking of a door and the power
communicate to my friend the truthfulness of my statement. So as Hebrews 6:16 says,

men "sweare by him that is greater then them seines."10 For medieval and early
modern religious writers, the person cited as witness in an oath wasor at least should
bealways God. Why? The simplest answer would be that God commanded that
oaths be sworn in his name.'' But there were deeper reasons for swearing by God,
reasons that explain why God would command his people to swear by him. First, the
person whom one cited as witness had to have the ability to discern whether the
swearer's declaration was true or false. Who but God had the capacity always to know
the veracity of any statement? Thus, by swearing by God, the swearer recognized
God's omniscience. Second, the person by whom one swore had to have the power to
punish the swearer if his or her statement was false: otherwise there would be no
incentive for the swearer to be truthful. Some oaths included an explicit malediction,
"as when one obliges himself or someone close to him to punishment if what he
alleges be not true."13 Even if such a curse was not vocalized in an oath, it was
nevertheless always implied. Edward VI's most vocal Protestant bishop, John Hooper,
believed that every oath contained an "execration," while John Bale specified that
when you swear, "thou makeste him iudge of thinge to auenge it of the yf it be false
but in the leaste pointe."14 Calvin agreed: "we cannot call God to be the witness of
our words without asking him to be the avenger of our perjury if we deceive."15
Furthermore, works on swearing were full of examples of God wrathfully punishing
those who falsely, vainly, or incorrectly invoked his name in an oath. Thus, in

Coverdale Bible of 1535.
"Thou shalt feare the Lorde thy God, and him onely shale thou serue, and sweare by his name"; Deut.
6:13; "Thou shalt feare the Lorde thy God, him onely shale thou serue, vnto him shalt thou cleue, &
sweare by his name"; Deut. 10:20, Coverdale Bible of 1535.
Frequently quoted passages are 1 Chron. 28:9 and Jer. 17:10.
Aquinas, Summa Theologicae, II-II, q. 89, a. 1.
Hooper, Early Works, Ml; Bale, Christen exhortacion, sig. B5V.
John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles
(London: S.C.M. Press, 1961), book 2, chap. 8, para. 24. For a similar quotes by other reformers, see
William Tyndale, The Works of the English Reformers: William Tyndale and John Frith, ed. Thomas
Russell (London: Ebenezer Palmer, 1831), 2: 291; Edmond Bicknoll, A Swoord agaynst swearyng,
conteining these principal poyntes. 1 That there is a lawful vse of an oth, contrary to the assertion of the
Manichees and Anabaptistes. 2 Howe great a sinne it is to sweare falsly, vainely, rashly, or customably.
3 That common or vsual swearing leadeth vnto periurie. 4 Examples of Gods iuste and visyble
punishment vpon blasphemers, periurers, and such as haue procured Gods wrath by cursyng and
bannyng, whiche we call execration (1579), fol. 12r.
For more on this, see below, pages 54-57 of this dissertation.

swearing by God the swearer recognized his omnipotence. Finally, the person whom
the swearers cited as a witness had himself to be always truthful, otherwise his
credibility as a witness was tarnished. Unfortunately, the psalmist declared that "all
men are lyers." 7 God, however, was always truthful, "for if he could be false, he
were not God."18 By citing God as witness in an oath, one recognized his essence as
truth. Thus, by calling on God in an oath, one proclaimed and acknowledged that he
was indeed God.19
If by citing God as witness, the swearer acknowledged his omniscience, his
omnipotence, and his essence as truth, then in the very act of taking an oath the
swearer actually worshiped God. The Swiss reformer Henry Bullinger and the English
Protestant minister Roger Hutchinson averred that one gave honor to the person by
whom one swore.20 The ecclesiastical lawyer Richard Cosin likewise declared:
"Swearing is a kinde of religious acte, whereby wee giue worship to God, as most
true, most iust, and knowing all thinges." Thomas Aquinas claimed that oaths were
latia (supreme worship that is due to God alone), while the author of Dives and
Pauper, as well as John Calvin (a century later) stated simply that oaths were a kind of

Ps. 115:11 (116:11 in modern Bibles), Coverdale Bible of 1535.
The Institution of Christian Man (The Bishop's Book), in Formularies of Faith Put Forth By
Authority During the Reign of Henry VIII. viz Articles About Religion, 1536. The Institution of a
Christian man, 1537. A Necessary Doctrine and Erudition For any Christian Man, 1543. ed. Charles
Lloyd (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1856), 139.
Thomas Wygenhale, citing Jerome, wrote that perjurers denied God: "Sed quocienscumque nomen
dei in vanum assumimus vel sine tribus comitibus iuramus tociens vincunr [vincuntur?] a viciis atque
peccatis. Ergo quocienscumque nomen dei in vanum assumimus vel sine tribus comitibus iuramus
tociens mortalier peccamus cum deum negemus"; CUL MS. Ii. i. 39, fol. 5r. Alexander Carpenter
implied the same idea when he asserted that false swearers deny Christ's divinity: "patet quod omnis
periurias quantum in se est deum falsum facit & mendacem & inquitum in se est tollit a deo etiam
veritatem: & cum deus sit Veritas quantum in se est aufert illi diuinitatem suam"; Alexander Carpenter,
Destructorium viciorum (Paris, 1521), sig. G5r. This same idea is repeated in the Bishop's Book: "And
so such perjured men, as much as is in them, make God no God"; Lloyd, Formularies of Faith, 139.
Finally, Edmond Bicknoll applied the idea to Anabaptists, saying that they deny that God is God
because they refuse to swear oaths; Bicknoll, SwoOrd agaynst swearyng, 12v. Thus, this idea was
constant from the fourteenth century to the seventeenth century.
Roger Hutchinson, The Works of Roger Hutchinson, ed. John Bruce, PS, vol. 22 (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1848), 21; Bullinger, Decades, PS, vol. 7, 248.
Richard Cosin, An apologie for sundrie proceedings by iurisdiction ecclesiasticall, of late times by
some chalenged, and also diuersly by them impugned. . . . Whereunto . . . I haue presumed to adionie
that right excellent and sound determination (concerning oaths) which was made by M. Lancelot
Androwes (1593), part 3, 33.

divine worship. The medieval priest Thomas Wygenhale proclaimed that one
venerated, loved, and feared whatever one swore by.23 Bale and John Downame went
so far as to say that one deified whatever one swore by.24 Indeed, the idea that
swearing is a form of worship lay behind the extremely common denunciation of oaths
by creatures. To swear by a creature was to give that creature the honor, worship, and
glory that belonged only to God. It was a kind of idolatry. Virtually every medieval
and early modern treatise that discussed oaths condemned swearing by creatures. As
we have noted, many writers followed Jerome and explained that Jesus's rejection of
oaths in Matthew 5 forbade oaths by creatures.26 Oaths by creatures were a serious
sin. According to canon law, clerics who continued to use them should be
excommunicated. Hooper declared: "Before all things beware of an oath by any
creature, except ye will be glad to have God's displeasure."28 Oaths were a form of
worship, and worship should be given to God alone. Downame summarized:
"whatever we sweare by, that we deifie, in communicating vnto it Gods
incommunicable attributes, as his omnipresence, omniscience, omnipotence, whereby
he can powerfully protect his truth, and punish al falsehood; al which are so peculiar
to God as that they cannot be communicated with a creature."29
Oaths, then, were the calling of God as witness to the truth of one's statement.
Every medieval and early modern definition of an oath emphasized the importance of

Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, II-II, q. 89, a. 4; Barnum, Dives and Pauper, lll-l'i'h; Calvin,
Institutes, bk. 2, ch. 8, para. 23.
"hoc per quod iurat quilibet veneratur hoc amat hoc timet"; CUL MS. Ii. i. 39, fol. 86r.
Bale, Christian exhortation, sig. C3r; John Downame Foure treatises, tending to disswade all
Christians from foure no lesse hainous then common sinnes; namely, the abuses of swaering,
Drunkenesse, Whoredome, and Briberie (1608), 12.
Brandeis, Jacob's Well, 154; Book for a Simple and Devout Woman, 1, 62; Barnum, Dives and
Pauper, 226, 232-233; Chertsey, floure of the commaundements, fol. 28v; Carpenter, Destructorium
viciorum, sig. G4V; Wycliffe, Tractatis de mandatis, 201; Lilian M. Swinburn (ed.), Laterne ofLi^t,
EETS, o.s., 109 (London, Kegan Paul and Humpfrey Milford, 1917), 89; Christopher White, Ofoathes
their obiect, forme, and bond: the punishment of periurie, and the impietie of papall dispensations. . . .
(1627), 5; "Against Swearyng and Perjurie," in Bond, Certain Sermons, 130; Bullinger, Decades, PS,
vol. 7, 248; Bale, Christian exhortation, sigs. B3V, C2v-3r; Downame, Foure treatises, 12. This list is
not exhaustive, but the idea should be clear.
See page 20 of this dissertation.
C1C, C. 22 q. 1 c. 9, Friedberg, 1:863.
Hooper, Early Works, 479.
Downame, Foure treatises, 12.

God's name. In fact, the use of God's name was what separated an oath from a
simple promise. Hooper wrote: "To swear is to protest and promise the thing we
swear to be true before him that knoweth the thoughts and cogitations of the heart: that
knoweth onely and solely God."31 Downame claimed that while the person to whom
you made a promise could release you from your obligation, he could not release you
from a promissory oath since an oath invoked the unchanging name of God. Oaths
were thus placed on a higher plain than promises. The standard medieval gloss on
Hebrews 6 read, "just as men [are bound] profusely by promises, [they are bound]
more profusely by oaths."33 Augustine recognized that while some people allowed
simple lies in certain circumstances, no one condoned confirming a lie with an oath:
Only in the worship of God may they grant that we must not lie; only from
perjuries and blasphemies may they restrain themselves; only where God's
name, God's testimony, God's oath is introduced, only where talk of divine
religion is brought forth, may no one lie, or praise or teach or enjoin lying or
say that lying is just. . . . By no means should they [lies] be permitted to mount
so high that they reach unto perjuries and blasphemies. No cause ought ever
be pleaded as an excuse for perjury or for what is more execrable, namely,
blaspheming God.34

A few examples will suffice: "To call God as witness is called 'swearing' (jurare), because almost as
a principle of law (jure), that which is said under the invocation of a divine witness is held to be true";
Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, II-II, q. 89, a. 1; "An oath is the calling or taking to witness of God's
name, to confirm the truth of that we say"; Bullinger, Decades, PS, vol. 7, 246; "Notandum igitur
imprimis quod iurare est Deum vel eius creaturam in testem accipere quod fit intrinsecus vel extrinsecus
per voces vel signa quecimque sensibilia"; Wycliffe, Tractatus de mandatis, 194. Wycliffe's definition
highlights that fact that oaths by creatures were still considered oaths and therefore binding, even
though forbidden as idolatry and thus unlawful.
Hooper, Early Works, All.
Downame, Foure treatises, 65-66. It is worth pointing out that Downame was exceptional in
claiming that promissory oaths could never be dissolved by the party to whom the promise was sworn.
The author of Dives and Pauper, for example, claimed that the person to whom the oath was sworn
could dispense with the oath depending on the content of the oath. If the oath was to perform some act
of worship to God, he could not release you from the oath. But if the oath was made in favor of the
person to whom it was sworn, he then could release you from your oath; Barnum, Dives and Pauper,
245-246. Christopher White explicitly rejected Downame's understanding of dispensation. White, like
Downame, saw a promissory oath as creating an obligation both to the person to whom it was sworn
and to God, but White maintained that "it is plaine, that both obligations are but conditional; that to
God, as the swearer stands bound to man; and that to man alwayes implyes voluntatem recipiendi, if he
to whom the premise is made, will accept the thing promised"; White, Ofoathes, 52.
"sicut inter homines abundenter per promissiones: sed abudantius per iuramentum"; Biblia Latina
cum glossa ordinaria.
Augustine, Contra mendacium, in St Augustine: Treatises on Various Subjects, 173, 175. A similar
though truncated statement is found in Andrew Chertsey's The crafte to lyue well and to dye well: "and

Lying with an oath was more horrible to Augustine because an oath involved the
naming of God. It is clear that this invocation of God was what made an oath so
important to medieval and early modern writers.
B. What to Swear by: Oaths and the Sacred in Medieval England
Because an oath was a form of worship of God, oaths became associated with
the sacred in medieval Europe. Oaths were often sworn before or by relics. For
example, in 1538 Thomas Hore, prior of Cardigan, narrated the story of the finding of
an image of the Virgin Mary. No matter how many times the image was brought to the
church of Cardigan, it returned to the spot of its discovery. When the Church of Our
Lady was build on the spot of its discovery to house the image, a taper was lit before
the image that burned for nine years continuously without using wax until someone
swore falsely on the taper. Thenceforth, the taper was "enclosed and taken for a greate
rely que, and so worshipped and kyssed of pylgremes, and used of men to sweare by in
difficill and harde matters." 5 Crosses and altars were common relics upon which
oaths were often made. The vicar of Halywell recounted the story of a man who
swore falsely on a "holy rood," after which he was unable to remove his hands. When
he applied more force in the effort, he lost his footing and hung suspended on the cross
for three days until he repented his perjury.36 Similarly, included in the Alphabet of
Tales was a story emphasizing the gravity of swearing by relics. When a justice of the
peace could not determine which party was truthful in a local dispute, he made both
parties swear an oath before the altar. The guilty party "bagan to wax all seke & ill at
ease." The justice, not totally satisfied, then took both parties to St. Pancras's grave
and made them swear again. This time, the perjurer was not able to remove his hand
from the grave, and his hand began to swell up. Thus, "so yit vtno bis day in bat
contrey bai swer yit vppon Saynt Pancras tombe, and any bing be in varyan emang

yet it shole be worse yf a man affermed ye lesynge by othe for than a ma[n] sholde forswere hym"; fol.
Thomas Wright (ed.), Three Chapters of Letters Relating to the Suppression of Monasteries,
(London: John Bowyer Nichols and Son, 1843), 186 {LP, XIII (i) 634).
Whitford, Werkefor HousHolders, 27-28.

bairn." In the absence of saints' relics, oaths were sometimes sworn simply by saints
themselves. "By Saint Mary," (often shorted to "Mary") was so common an oath that
even the zealous reformer Hugh Latimer confessed to using it.38 Hence, even though
oaths were theoretically restricted to the worship of God alone, medieval people often
connected them to the more accessible, tangible manifestations of God's power in the
world: relics and saints.
Yet, the most tangible manifestation of God's presence in the world was of
course the corporal body of Christ transubstantiated from bread during the mass. So
medieval people naturally associated oaths with the mass. Indeed the Latin word
sacramentum, from which we derive the English word "sacrament," originally meant
"oath." Just as soldiers professed their loyalty to and bound themselves under their
captains in the Roman Empire with an oath of allegiance, so Christians professed their
loyalty and allegiance to Christ through the sacraments.39 Yet the connection between
oaths and the sacrament of the altar was not merely etymological, it was also practical.
Treaty oaths between sovereigns, for example, were usually sworn immediately
following the mass.40 William Tyndale lamented how oaths sworn on the holy
sacrament were so lightly broken. After the Gospels, the most common book used
to solemnize an oath was the mass book. The mass also had relevance to sinful oaths.
Some medieval writers believed that God would forgive light or forgotten oaths when
the offender heard mass. Conversely, the author of Dives and Pauper assured that a

Mary Macleod Banks (ed.), An Alphabet of Tales: an English 15' Century Translation of the
"Alphabetum Narrationum " ofEtienne de Besancon, EETS, o.s., 127 (London: Kegan Paul, Trench,
Triibner, 1905), 286-287. This story is also recounted by Wygenhale; CUL MS. Ii. i. 39, fol. 38v.
Latimer, Sermons and Remains, 79.
Bullinger, Decades, PS, vol. 7, 235; Heinrich Zwingli, Exposition of False Faith, in Zwingli and
Bullinger: Selected Translations with Introductions and Notes, ed. G. W. Bromiley (Philadelphia:
Westminster Press, 1953), 265. Medieval writers sometimes used sacramentum to refer to an oath, but
usually they employed iusiurandum or, even more commonly, iuramentum.
Cal SP Venice, VII 76.
"If the kings of the earth, when they break that sacrament between them, do say on thiswise: The
body of our Savior . . . be broke unto my damnation, if I break this oath; then is it a terrible oath, and
they had need to take heed how they make it; and if it be lawfully made, not to break it at all. But as
they care for their oaths, which they make in wedlock, so they care for this"; Tyndale, The Practice of
Prelates, in Works of the English Reformers, 1:446-447.
Thomas Frederick Simmons (ed.), The Lay Folks Mass Book or the Manner of Hearing Mass with
Rubrics and Devotions for the People in Four Texts and Offices in English according to the Use of York
From Manuscripts oftheXth to theXVth Century, EETS, o.s., 41 (London: N. Triibner, 1879), 367;

forswearer was "vnable for to reseyuyn J?e sacrament of be auter ]3at is Crist hymself,
souereyn trewbe, vndyr forme of bred."43 It makes sense that people would associate
the calling forth of God as their witness with the "making" of God since in both
activities, God was made accessible to the common person. Indeed, since Christ was
corporally present in the consecrated host, swearing by the mass was equivalent to
swearing by God to some medieval Christians. For instance, a commonplace book
written in the start of Henry VIII's reign contained a song against swearing by the
mass. It commenced:
The mass is of so high dignytee,
bat no thyng to it comprehendid may be;
For ther is present in the trynyte,
On God in persones thre.
(Refrain) I consaill you both more & lesse,
[Beware of sweryng by be masse.]44
It is clear that the writer discouraged swearing by the mass not because it was a
creature, but because it was so holy that it should be approached only with reverence
and solemnity. The writer's concern was that the mass (like the name of God) should
not be taken in vain! By contrast, sacramentarian Protestants were believed to reject
oaths by the mass based on their denial of the real presence. In 1536, Robert Wymond
was accused of saying "that any man may swere by the masse for the masse was not of
godes makyng."45 Ten years later, Richard More allegedly proclaimed, "If he swear
by the Mass he sweareth by none oath, for God was not in the Sacrament of the
Altar."46 These examples demonstrate that the connection between oaths and the mass
was based on the presence of God in the mass.
Although the holiness of relics, saints, and the mass led to their association
with oaths, no sacred object was more connected to oaths than the Gospels. The
majority of solemn oaths in medieval and early modern England were sworn on the
Gospels. Charles V swore his treaty oath to Henry VIII "by God our creator in the

Hill, Songs, Carols, and Other Miscellaneous Poems, 70; Susan Brigden, London and the Reformation
(Oxford: Clarendon, 1989), 13.
Barnum, Dives and Pauper, 235.
Hill, Songs, Carols, and Other Miscellaneous Poems, 42.
Wymond, however, denied the accusations made against him; NA SP1/113, fol. 90r {LP, XI 1424).
Richard More admitted this, but repented of his heresy. Bishop Bonner concluded that he was a
"simple man" and had learned the opinion from others; NA SP1/218, fol.l40r {LP, XXI (i) 836).

word of the king on our faith and honor and the holy Gospels of God corporally
touched."47 Fifteenth-century jurors in criminal and civil cases placed their hands on
the Gospels when they swore, afterwards kissing the book. Oaths of canonical
obedience usually ended with the phrase "God help me and the holy Gospels of
God."49 Recantation oaths like that of Christopher Grevill in 1512 included the
expression "I swer by theis holy euangelies by me bodely here touched."50 Oaths of
office almost always concluded with similar phrases such as "so god helpe you and the
holie euangelies," or "by the holy contents of this book."51 Examples of swearing on
or by the Gospels could be continued endlessly, but it should be clear that a book of
the Gospels was the most common accoutrement to a solemn oath.
But why were oaths sworn so often on or by the Gospels? Put simply, the
Gospels were the word of God. Since the word of God incarnate was Jesus Christ, the
Gospels were in a sense God.52 Archbishop Arundel, in his attempt to make the
Lollard William Thorpe swear on the Gospels, declared: "it is all one to swear by the
word of God, and by God himself."53 The Gospels were also tangible witnesses of the
incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus and his promise that those who believe in

"a dieu nostre createur en parolle de Roy sur nre foy et honneur et les sain[t]s euangilles de dieu
corporellement toucheee"; BL Cotton MS. Vespasian C vii, fol. 23r.
Commonplace Book of Robert Reynes, 143-144.
"sic me deus adiuvet et hec sancta dei euangelia"; Lambeth Palace Library, Warham's Register, fol.
2V. This is Archbishop Warham's oath of canonical obedience to the pope, but virtually every oath by a
bishop, prior, abbot, or simple parish priest ends in a similarif not identicalform, as can be seen in
any medieval episcopal register. Almost all canonical oaths before the Reformation were sworn in
Latin. The exceptions were those of nuns, who evidently were not expected to understand Latin. For
example, Isabell Sakefeld's oath of canonical obedience as prioress of the House and Priory of the
Blessed Lady in Clerkenwell ended with "So god me helpe and this booke and the holy contentes of the
same"; Guildhall Library MS. 9531/10 (Tunstall's Register), fol.50r.
Lambeth Palace Library, Warham's Register, fol. 159r.
For some examples of common oaths of office, see BL Cotton MS. Vespasian C xiv, fols. 425r-444r;
BL Royal MS. 9 A xiv, fols.l5v-20v; BL Lansdowne MS. 155, fols. 50v-51r, 286r-290v; BL Lansdowne
MS. 621, fols. 105r-112v;BL Lansdowne MS. 762, fols. 40r-45v; BL Harleian MS. 160, fols. 185r-199r;
BL Harleian MS. 433, fols. 301r-305v; BL Harleian MS. 785, fols. 90v-93v; BL Harleian MS. 6873, fols.
2r-15v. Although this list is not comprehensive, it certainly will provide the reader with a sense of the
standard forms of oaths of office.
"In the begynnynge was that worde/ and that worde was with god: and god was thatt worde"; John
1:1; Tyndale's New Testament of 1526.
John Bale (ed.), The Examination of William Thorpe, in Select Works of John Bale, ed. Henry
Christmas, PS, vol. 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1849), 113. Bale edited and published
this treatise during the Reformation, but it is originally a fifteenth-century Lollard work.

him will have eternal life. By swearing on the Gospels, then, the swearer called the
second person of the Trinity (Christ) as his or her witness since it was in the Gospels
that Jesus Christ's divinity was revealed. The Gospels were the means through which
people came to know Christ. As a consequence, when one forswore himself on the
Gospels, he denied their contents and forsook their benefits.55 The sermon on perjury
in Cranmer's Book of Homilies expanded:
So that whosoever wilfully forsweareth hymself upon Christes holy evangely,
thei utterly forsake Gods mercy, goodnes and truth, the merites of our savior
Christes nativitie, lyfe, passion, death, resurrection and ascencion. They refuse
the forgevenesse of synnes promised to all penitent sinners, the joyes of
heaven, the company with angels and sainctes for ever, all whiche benefites
and comfortes are promised unto true Christian persones in the gospel.
The same held true for swearing by the missal, by the saints, or by relics. When one
swore falsely by them, one forsook their benefits: "Unless in truth do I here swear,
have I never the help of mass, nor the prayers of the saints never help me, and that I
lose forever the bliss of heaven and am damned into the pit of hell."57 Medieval and
early modern writers also believed that the act of laying one's hand on a book (or
relic) re-enforced this idea in a tangible, corporal way. The Fasciculus Morum taught:
And one should notice here that a person who knowingly lies with perjury first
of all commits himself to the devil; and when he touches the Book or some
sacred object with his hand, by this hand the devil holds him until he returns to
penance, to the extent that when he takes food, he takes it from the devil's
hand; likewise, if he crosses himself or does something of this sort, it all is
done from the devil's hand.58

For a thoughtful, detailed sixteenth-century definition of the Gospel, see Martin Luther, A Brief
Instruction on What to Look for and Expect in the Gospels, in Martin Luther's Basic Theological
Writings, ed. Timothy Lull (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989), 104-111.
Carpenter, Destructorium vicorium, fol. G5r.
"Against Swearyng and Perjuie," in Bond, Certain Sermons, 133. For a similar quote from a
fifteenth-century source, see Barnum, Dives and Pauper, 235.
This is from a middle English adaption of Peraldus and the Somme le roi made around 1400. I have
modernized the spelling and syntax of this quote. The original reads, "pan is pis pe vnderstondynge of
his ope pat him forswerep: 'Bot if his sop be bat I here swere, haue I neuer helpe of masse, ne [prayers]
of alle halwes neuer pey me helpe, and pat I lese foreuer pe blisse of heuene and dampned be into pe
pyne of helle bot I ri?t"; Book for Simple and Devout Women, 279. Also see Carpenter, Destructorium
viciorum, fol. G5r.
Siegfried Wenzel (ed. and trans.) Fasciculus Morum: A Fourteenth-Century Preacher's Handbook,
(University Park, PN: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1989), 165-167.

The swearer's physical contact with the Gospels while taking his oath was the means
through which the devil took hold of him. Hence, medieval and early modern
Christians swore on or by the Gospels (as on or by relics or saints) because they were
a kind of window to God, a way in which God's divinity and power could be
understood and accessed in the everyday human world.
Although relics, the mass, and the Gospels all reflected and mediated God's
power, they did not all do so equally. It followed that not all oaths were equally
solemn or potent. The more a particular object on or by which one swore had access
to God, the more convincing and binding was one's oath. When Richard Duke of
York was forced to swear loyalty to Henry VI after his capitulation at Dartford in
1452, Richard emphasized the power of his oath by covering all the bases. He swore
"by the holy Evangelies conteyned in this Boke that I lay my hande upon, and by the
holy Crosse that I here touche, and by the blessed Sacrament of oure Lordes body that
I shall nowe with his mercy receyve."59 Andrew Chertsey would have approved, for
he maintained that an oath by God and the evangelists is more binding than an oath
just by God, which in turn was more binding than an oath by the evangelists alone.60
Most people, however, considered oaths upon the Gospels ("book oaths") to be of
greater weight than simple oaths. For example, when John Danyell in 1556 asked
Edward Horsey to divulge information which Horsey had sworn to secrecy "on a
testament," Horsey replied, "I wyll not breake my nothe [oath] on a boke for all the
good [gold?] yn yngland, how wolde you or any man trust me whan I swear a symple
othe yf I break my boke othe?"61 The profusion of oaths by the Gospels and relics in
medieval England was a result of the belief that these kinds of oaths were more
powerful since the book or relic gave one more direct access to God, and that access to

Rotuli Parliamentorum, ut et petitiones, etplacita in Parliamento tempore Edwardi R.I -[adflnem

HenriciR.VI1.J (1767-1777), 5:346-347.
Chertsey, Floure of the commaimdments, fol. 25v.
NA SP 11/8, no. 36, fol. 61r; calendared in C.S. Knighton (ed.), Calendar of State Papers Domestic
Series of the reign of Mary I, 1553-1558 (London: PRO, 1998), #405.

God (specifically his knowledge of truth and his ability to punish falsehood) was the
primary end of an oath.
Yet the access to God made possible through the invocation of a part of his
deity in an oath could also be abused. Medieval clerical writers strongly attacked the
practice of swearing oaths by Christ's members such as his blood, his bones, or his
feet. They classified such practices as blasphemous oaths. Blasphemy, according to
its foremost historian Edwin Craun, was "speech which misrepresents God's nature by
somehow falsifying his properties."63 Swearing an oath by a creature was wrong
because it bestowed on that creature the attributes of God: his omniscience and
omnipotence. Even though a blasphemous swearer invoked Christ's corporal and thus
his human characteristics, no medieval writer was heterodox enough to suggest that
Christ was a creature. Rather, swearing an oath by Christ's members was
blasphemous because it treated God with contempt and irreverence, "for to swear
oathes per membra is to treat God as a created thing, to speak of God as if he were
another human being or a physical object, not the transcendent God of Christian
Medieval clerical writers, however, went beyond decrying oaths by Christ's
members as blasphemy, suggesting that such oaths physically mutilated Christ's
corporal body. The reason for this assertion is not completely clear. Two Scriptural
references were occasionally cited in conjunction with this claim. The first was Psalm
21:17 (Psalm 22:16 in modern versions of the Bible): "quoniam circumdederunt me
canes multi / concilium malignantium obsedit me foderunt manus meas et pedes
meos." (For many dogs have surrounded me, a gathering of evil men has besieged me,
they have pierced my hands and my feet.)65 The second, more common reference was

By way of contrast, Thomas Wygenhale wrote that perjury in common speech was just as serious and
solemn as perjury upon a book, for in both cases the perjurer cited God as witness and was thus
doomed"; CUL MS. Ii. i. 39, fols. 22v-23r.
E. D. Craun, '"Inordinata Locutio': Blasphemy in Pastoral Literature, 1200-1500," Traditio 39
(1983): 143.
Craun, '"Inordinata Locutio'," 151.
The most salient example of this comes from a medieval English sermon: "Almyghty God
conpleyneb hym of pise grett swerers be be holy profhete, seying on pis wyse, 'Circumdederunt me
canes multi, et consilium malignancium obsedit memany houndes,' seyb Crist, 'hast goyn a-bowte
me and be counsell of wicked men hath blynded me. tei haue revysed and bridlyd my hondes and my

Hebrews 6:6: "et prolapsi sunt renovari rursus ad paenitentiam rursum crucifigentes
sibimet ipsis Filium Dei et ostentui habentes." ([It is impossible for] those who fall
away to be restored again to repentance while they crucify for themselves the son of
God afresh and expose him to public shame.) For example, the author of Dives and
Pauper wrote: "Of swiche foule swereris spekith Sent Powyl & seyth as mychil as is
in hem bey don Godys sone eft upon be cros & han but a iape and a scorne of his
passioun, rursum crucifigentes sibimet ipsis filium Dei et ostentui, id est, irrisioni
habentes, ad Hebreos vi."66 Yet the problem with this connection was that the writer
of Hebrews did not specifically mention that blasphemous swearers crucified Christ
again, but more generally that those who had fallen away re-crucified Christ. So the
question remains, why did medieval writers claim that blasphemous oaths rent Christ's
Perhaps the original idea behind the connection of blasphemous oaths by
Christ's body to his crucifixion was to tap into the powerful devotional impulse in
medieval Europe that emphasized Christ's passion and then use it for a didactic
purpose.67 Meditation upon Christ's passion might logically lead to an abhorrence of
the sins for which Christ sufferedand still suffers according to some of the more
vivid medieval writers. And blasphemous oaths were especially keen candidates for
such an application because the exact nature of the sin (speaking of Christ's members
in an irreverent way) called to mind the suffering these same members underwent on

fete, and bei haue nowmbred all my bones, for som caches my hede, som my bonys in is mowthe, like
as he wold burste hem all to morcels.' A-nobur caches al be blessed bodye in is mowthe, like as he
wold swalowe it vp and make an ende bere-of. Som be be blode, some be be herte, som be be sides,
som be be fote, som be be nayles, and he bat can reken vp moste grett othes holdes hym-selfe moste
vurthye amonge bese grett swerers"; Ross, Middle English Sermons, 99-100. This quote is also
included in Owst, Literature and the Pulpit, 422. For other examples of allusions of Psalm 22 in this
context, see Vincent of Beauvais, Speculum quadruplex, 3:1189; Carpenter, Destructorium vicorium,
sig. G6V.
Barnum, Dives and Pauper, 239. Tyndale's translation of Hebrews 6 is as follows: "For it is nott
possible that thye/ which wer eonce lyghted/ and have tasted of the hevenly gyft/ and are become
parttakers of the holy goost/ and have tasted of the good worde of god/ and off the power off the wordle
to come: yf they faule/ shulde be renued agayne vnto repentaunce: for as moche as they have (as
concernynge themselves) crucified the sonne of god a fresshe/ makynge a mocke of hym"; Tyndale's
New Testament of 1526.
For the importance of the devotional impulse on Christ's passion in late medieval Europe, see Duffy,
The Stripping of the Altars, 234-238; Lucien Febvre, "The Origins of the French Reformation: A Badly-
Put Question?" in A New Kind of History: From the Writings of Febvre, ed. Peter Burke, trans. K. Folca
(London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1973), 61.

the cross. This association is obvious in a fifteenth-century homily on swearing
preserved at the Bodleian Library. The preacher first claimed that blasphemous oaths
hurt God "asmeche as is in hem be dou god[e]s sone est [christ] vp on pe cros." He
then elaborated:
and ne hadde he [Christ] wepte salt water with his eyne for our gilt & nou3t for
his own shulde we neuer ell asworny be godes ey3in. And ne hadde he be
stougyn to the herte & schad his precious blod to washe vs from our synys
shulde we neuer ell asworn be godes herte ne be godes blod. And ne hade he
suffrid the depe wondes & bitter peynys yn his bodi & in his bonys to sauyn vs
from helle pyne shuld we neuer ells sworn be his wondes bodi blod ne
The idea was to call a person's mind to the suffering of Christ's body on the cross and
then suggest that blasphemous oaths were just as painful to Christ as his passion. Of
course, the implication of this is that the mutilation of Christ's body by blasphemous
oaths was more figurative than literal. The more theologically astute medieval writers
shared this figurative interpretation of blasphemous oaths. For example, Vincent of
Beauvais wrote: "The third [kind of blasphemy] is shamefully and irreverently to take
the holy members which Christ offered up for our redemption as if to tear him
outrageously limb by limb."69 Thomas Wygenhale claimed that these oaths crucified
Christ "quantum in ipsis est."7 Using the English equivalent of the same phrase, the
Myrour to Lewde Men and Wymmen taught that "it semep bat suche eche day doth him
on be rode & departep & terep him lyme mele, and schedeb his blood eche day newe
in as moche as in hem is."1 "As i f and "seemeth" were the words that connected an
oath by Christ's members to his crucifixion. Thus, the connection of blasphemous
oaths to the dismemberment of Christ was sometimes more of a simile than a literal
Yet the representations of popular piety from the fifteenth century were less
nuanced and more literal in their depiction of the dismemberment of Christ through

Bodleian Library, Ashmole MS. 750, fol. 47 rv .
"Tertius est turpiter & irreuerenter assumere sacra membra, qui Christus pro nostra redemptione
suscepit, ipsumque quasi membratim enormiter lacerare"; Vincent of Beauvais, Speculum quadruplex,
3:1181-1182. My italics.
CUL MS. Ii. i. 39, fol. 89r.
Myrour to Lewde Men and Wymmen, 217. My italics.

blasphemous oaths. First, some of the didactic books aimed at the laity eschewed all
figurative language and suggested that blasphemous oaths rent Christ's body afresh
each time they were uttered. Andrew Chertsey wrote that blasphemous swearers were
worse than the Jews, who, ignorant of his divinity, crucified Christ once, while a
blasphemous swearer knowingly "crucyfyeth hym and beteth him wt his tongue as
many tymes as he swereth."72 The author of Jacob s Well asserted that when you
swear by God's (or his saints') soul, body, heart, flesh, bones, pain, death, feet, nails,
or other limbs, "panne bei rende god iche lyme fro ober, and arn werse ban iewys, for
bei rentyn hym but onys, and swiche swereys rendyn him iche day newe."1 The Book
of Vices and Virtues simply stated that "suche sweres hewen hym as smale or smaller
ban men dob a swyn in a bucherie."74 These books did not simply compare
blasphemous oaths to Christ's past passion: they depicted the oaths as causing his
passion again whenever they were sworn.
Second, the visual juxtaposition of blasphemous oaths with Christ's
dismemberment also suggested a more literal association. For example, at Broughton
church, Buckinghamshire, a wall painting depicts a Pieta scene in which Christ is
missing some of his members. Surrounding the virgin and Christ are a group of well-
dressed, armed figures (obviously gentlemen) holding Christ's various missing body
parts like a foot, a hand, bones, or a heart. Similarly, in Corby Church, Lincolnshire,
the remnants of a wall painting show the virgin holding the crucified Christ.
Surrounding this pieta scene are seven fashionably dressed men and their demons with
little caption boxes above the men's heads. Although most of the text has faded, the
bit that is still legible reads " ones," and it is likely that the full box contained the
phrase "by God's bones." Furthermore, demons are piercing the hand, foot, and side
of three of the men respectively. It seems clear that both of these paintings visually
represented that the swearing of blasphemous oaths dismembered Christ's body.

Chertsey, Floure of the commaundements, fol. 26r. My italics.
Brandeis, Jacob's Well, 153. My italics.
Laurent, Book of Vice and Virtues, 62.
Rosemary Woolf, The English Religious Lyric in the Middle Ages (Oxford: Clarendon, 1968), 397; E.
Clive Rouse, "Wall Paintings in the Church of St. John the Evangelist, Corby, Lincolnshire,"
Archaeological Journal 100 (1943): 157-163 (Doc: 160-176); Christopher Woodforde, The Norwich
School of Glass-Painting in the Fifteenth Century (London: Oxford University Press, 1950), 185-186.

Finally, the most common and forceful examples of the belief that
blasphemous oaths actually dismembered Christ are contained in the poetry and
illustrative stories of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Robert Mannyng's
influential poem Handlyng Synne has a poignant stanza on Christ's members being
mutilated by blasphemous oaths.76 The entire premise of Stephen Hawes' poem The
conuersyon ofswerers was Jesus writing a letter to the princes of the world, explaining
how "cruell swerers whiche do god assayle / On euery syde his swete body to tere /
With terryble othes as often as they swere."77 The Destructorium vicorium and
Wygendale's Speculum iuratoris contain a story of a man who did not know which of
his three "sons" was truly his own because of his wife's infidelity. After his death, his
executor called together the three boys and said that the one who could best hit the
deceased body of the father with an arrow would inherit the estate. One boy, utterly
disgusted, refused to shoot his father's body. The executor heralded him as the true
son. The point of the story was to emphasize that blasphemous swearers were "sons
of the devil without any compassion in as much as with arrows of disgraces, they
wounded Christ as much as they could, tearing his members to pieces with so many
horrible oaths."78 A more common story described a man of upright character (usually
labeled as a justice of the peace) devoted to the virgin Mary. This man's only vice was
blasphemously swearing. One day, this man had a vision of the virgin. In the virgin's
arms was a mutilated, bloody infant. Mary asked the man what judgment he would
give on the malefactor who so harmed her child. Indignant, the protagonist cried that
the offender should be hanged. He then inquired who did this brutal crime. Mary
replied: "Thysilff,.. . hast thus hym yshent / And al to-drawe my deere, blessed
Mannyng, Handlyng Synne, 25.
Hawes, Conversyon ofswerers, sig. A2r.78 "filij diaboli sine aliqua compassione tot flagittiarum
ictibus quantum in se est vulnerant christum: quot horribilibus iuramentis membra sua dilacerant";
Carpenter, Destructorium vicorium, sig. G6r. This story is also in Wygenhale's Speculum iuratoris with
the following conclusion: "Et sicut Bastardi vulnerabant corpus patris eorum scilicet putatim propriis
sagittis ita filii diaboli cotidie sagittant & vulnerant corpus Jhu Christi suis linguis per membra sua
iurantes"; CUL MS. Ii. i. 39, fol. 89r.

childe, / And with grete othes his lyemes al to-rent / And all his noble bodye thus hast
bou defoiled."79 A final story recounted Christ himself accusing vain swearers of
tearing his body. Christ appeared on the day of judgment displaying his wounds and
Man, thow mayist here the soth se,
What I haue suffyr for the,
3e wer woll lef for to swere,
Be myn eyne and be myn ere,
Be my flesse and be my blode,
Be my leuer and be my lowde;
Man, yt was to the woll ryffe,
To sweryn be my wondys fyve,
Be my brayn and be my hede,
My sowle wos full oftyn rede;
Yt wos to the grete ondoyng,
So oftyn to make sweryng.
Thow woldyste me neuer clothe nor fede,
Thow woldyst me helpyn at no nede,
Oftyn thow woldyst for-swere the,
Man, wat sufferyste thow for me.80
These stories suggest that many medieval people believed that oaths by Christ's
members really did tear into his body.
The representations of blasphemous oaths in popular piety thus moved beyond
comparing blasphemous oaths to Christ's passion and suggested that blasphemous
oaths caused Christ's passion anew. In doing so, they highlighted the special, sacred
power of oaths. Medieval theologians taught that when one swore by the mass, by

Quote from Peter Idley, 119. For other sources that contain this story, see Bodleian Library MS.
Ashmole 750, fols. 47v"48r; Barnum, Dives and Pauper, 240-241; Mannyng, Handlyng Synne, 26-27;
Mirk, Mirk's Festival, 113-114.
Smith, A Common-Place Book of the Fifteenth Century (Brome), 79. For a similar quote see, The
Commonplace Book of Robert Reynes ofAcle, 281-283. What is interesting about both of these quotes
is that they are embedded in the famous poem "The Fifteen Signs before Doomsday" within the
fifteenth-century commonplace books of two middle-class men. As far as I can tell, the standard
versions of the "The Fifteen Signs before Doomsday" did not contain a speech by Christ condemning
swearers. For example, the version of the poem found in Cursor Mundi and in Chertsey's The crafte to
lyue well contain no allusion to swearers. Indeed, in his analysis of ninety-six versions of the poem,
William W. Heist did not ever mention a speech by Christ condemning swearers; William W. Heist,
The Fifteen Signs Before Doomsday (East Lansing MI: Michigan State College Press, 1952). Why the
version of the poem in the Reynes and Brome commonplace books is different is unknown to me.
Perhaps they demonstrate that the connection of oaths by Christ's members to his literal mutilation was
particularly salient in the fifteenth century, or among the middle-class? Or perhaps Robert Reynes and
the compiler of the Brome book had access to another, now lost version of the poem?

saints, by relics, or by the Gospels, the swearer gained access to the particular quality
of God manifested in the process, person, or thing by which he swore. That is why
oaths by items that more directly mediated God's holiness (such as the Gospels) were
more powerful than oaths by items that less directly reflected God's holiness (such as
minor relics). The popular belief that oaths by Christ's members allowed the swearer
to access and mutilate Christ's body is simply an extension of this logic. Christ's body
was certainly a direct manifestation of God's holiness, but to call it as witness in
common conversation (oaths by Christ's members were never required in formal or
legal situations) in an irreverent way as if it were a creature was to scorn it. Just as
perjurous oaths by the mass, saints, relics, or the Gospels abused the aspect of divinity
mediated through it, so did blasphemous oaths by Christ's body abuse his members.
Oaths gave the swearer the ability to contact God, either gloriously through the proper
worldly embodiments of God's divinity or blasphemously through the worldly
embodiments of Christ's humanity.81
C. What to Swear by: Oaths and the Sacred in Protestant England
The Protestant Reformation changed the way one worshiped God. Protestants
favored a more direct approach to God through the word; the mediation of the saints
was unnecessary and derogated the power of Christ. Moreover, the adoration of the
host was idolatry and the veneration of relics was superstition. And since oaths were a
form of worship, the Protestant Reformation affected oaths as well. More specifically,
Protestants restricted the acceptable nouns by which one could swear, rejecting oaths
by relics, saints, the mass, and the mass book. Although John Bale had been
clamoring against oaths by these objects throughout the 1540s, the issue rose to
national prominence when John Hooper was elected bishop of Gloucester in 1550.
Like Bale, Hooper considered oaths by saints and by the mass to violate God's
commandment on swearing. He was particularly angered by the ordinal of the first
Edwardian prayer book of 1549 since in it all clergymen at their ordination were
required to swear the oath of supremacy, which ended with the phrase "so help me

For more on the claim that blasphemous oaths gave the swearer the power to mutilate Christ's body,
see Melissa Mohr, "Strong Language: Oaths, Obscenities, and Performative Literature in Early Modern
England," (PhD diss., Stanford University, 2003), 19-26.

God, all saints and the holy Evangelist." As a result of this offending clause (and his
distaste for ecclesiastical vestments), Hooper initially refused to be ordained as bishop.
In July of 1550, Hooper explained his reasoning before Edward VI and his Privy
Council, whereupon the king conceded to Hooper's wisdom and struck out the
concluding clause of the oath that had displeased Hooper. In the second Edwardian
prayer book, the oath of supremacy closed with the phrase "so help me God through
Jesus Christ." After 1550, English Protestant condemnations of oaths by the mass
and saints were common. Hutchinson, for example, specified that swearing by the
mass or by saints was idolatry.83 Likewise, Downame condemned all "Papisticall
oathes, by the Angels, Saints, and their reliques; by their Idols, the Masses, Roode, and
such like." Indeed, the revised code of ecclesiastical law (the Reformatio legum
ecclesiasticarum) drafted in the later years of Edward's reign summed up this change
in oath-swearing when it declared: "It is our will that a lawful oath shall be taken in
these words and no others: 'May God so help me through our Lord Jesus Christ.'"
The Protestant condemnation of oaths by saints, relics, and the mass, however,
was not as discontinuous with medieval tradition as it may seem. The dividing point
was not whether people could lawfully swear oaths by creatures, but what exactly
counted as a creature. Everyone condemned oaths by creatures, but some medieval
writers, as we saw above, maintained that when oaths were sworn by relics, saints, and
the mass, they did not operate as creatures but rather reflected or channeled God's
power. Other medieval writers, such as Peraldus, condemned oaths by creatures
without adding a qualification allowing oaths by relics, saints, or the mass. St. Jerome
had gone even further by explicitly condemning oaths by saints.86 Furthermore,

Henry G. Russell, "Lollard Opposition to Oaths by Creatures," American Historical Review 51
(1946): 680-683. Also see Calvin's letter to Edward VI, where Calvin wrote, "Now there are manifest
abuses which are not to be endured; as, for instance, prayer for the dead, placing before God in our
prayers the intercession of the saints, and adding their names to his in taking an oath"; Hastings
Robinson (ed. and trans.), Original Letters Relative to the English Reformation, Written During the
Reigns of King Henry VIII, King Edward VI, and Queen Mary: Chiefly from the Archives of Zurich,
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1846), 709.
Hutchinson, Works, 21.
Downame, Foure treatises, 14.
Gerald Bray (ed.), Tudor Church Reform: The Henrician Canons of 1535 and the Reformatio Legum
Ecclesiasticarum (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press, 2000), 550-551.
Ross, Middle English Sermons, 23.

Protestants who rejected oaths by saints, relics, and the mass did so for the same
reasons as medieval Catholics had forbidden oaths by creatures in general: such oaths
deified creatures and robbed God of his glory.87 As such, Protestants inherited and
repeated the medieval Catholic view that oaths were a form of worship to be given to
God alone. What Protestants disputed was how God should be worshiped. Medieval
Catholics worshiped God (in oaths and otherwise) through saints, relics, and the mass.
For Protestants these practices were idolatry and superstition. In oaths, as in all forms
of worship, humans should approach God directly.
The other consideration that mitigated any discontinuity in the Protestant
rejection of oaths by specific creatures was the fact that English Protestants were
ambiguous about swearing on and by the Gospels. Some sects of medieval Lollards
had taken a firm stance against book oaths. The Laterne ofLi^t clearly stated, "But
neithir on bookis schullen swere neithir bi Goddis creaturis . . . But we mai in no case
swere bi bookis as we han seide aforne/ neithir bi lyueli [lively] creaturis as bi seyntis
or ony such othir."88 Similarly, William Thorpe refused to swear upon a book before
Archbishop Arundel, saying, "Sir, a book is nothing else but a thing coupled together
of divers creatures; and to swear by any creature, both God's law and man's law is
against."89 When Arundel argued that the Gospels, as the word of God, were God,
Thorpe responded, "that the holy gospel of god may not be touched with man's
hand."90 John Bale, the sixteenth-century editor of Thorpe's examination, took an
identical stance: "A dampnable vse haue ye brought into the worlde amonge manye
other, to sweare vpon a boke whych ys but a creature, where as mennys othes ought to
be vpon God onlye."91 Yet despite this opinion, the Homily against Swearing and
Perjury issued by Cranmer allowed book oaths, even emphasizing their gravity.92 The
Elizabethan oath of supremacy ended with the phrase, "So helpe me God and by the
Contentes of this Booke," as did many of the official oaths of office during Elizabeth's

See for example Downame, Foure treatises, 12.
Swinburn, The Laterne ofLijt, 89.
Bale, Examination of William Thorpe, in Bale, Select Works, 74. See a similar quote on 111.
Bale, Examination of William Thorpe, in Bale, Select Works, 114.
Johan Harryson [John Bale], Yet a course at the Romyshe foxe . . . (Zurich [Antwerp], 1543), fol. 90v.
See also Bale, Christen exhortacion, sig. C3V.
See the above quote on page 31 of this chapter.

reign. Witnesses and jurors continued to swear oaths on the Gospels in court as
well, evidently with no objection. It was not until the rise of Separatism that we see
this practice being called into question again. The Separatist leaders Henry Barrow
and John Greenwood, for example, refused to swear an oath upon a Bible because they
considered it an oath by a creature. Barrow boldly proclaimed to Archbishop Whitgift
"that that book was not the eternal word of God, that eternal God himselfe, by whom
onely I must sweare, and not by any bookes or Bibles."94 Likewise, Francis Johnson's
Brownist congregation was examined by a special commission in 1593 and tendered
the ex officio oath. Not only did many of them refuse to take the oath, but some of
them also specified that they "denieth to swear vpon any booke."95 These objections
did little good, for oaths upon the Gospels continued to be the predominant manner of
swearing in seventeenth-century England.96
Why did English Protestants continue to swear upon the Gospels? Perhaps
swearing "on" something did not necessary mean one swore "by" the thing, even if the
phrase "by the contents of this book" was common. After all, Downame and White
pointed out that swearing "by my faith" or "by my soul" should not be interpreted as
calling one's faith or soul as witness to the truth. Rather, it pledged the object to God

Statutes of the Realm, 4:352; NA C 254/179; NA C 254/179. In this last source, oaths number 4 and
11 end "as god help you and hys Saints", which suggests that oaths by saints were still sometimes
employed in Elizabethan England. This could be due to the laziness of the scribe. After having read
scores of collections of oaths of office, I believe that the standard practice was for the secretary to copy
the oath from another book. My guess is that scribes sometimes copied mechanically from medieval
forms without noticing certain outdated clauses. But the phrase "by the contents of this book" was not a
scribal error since it was ratified by an act of Parliament and promulgated throughout England.
Henry Barrow, The Writings of Henry Barrow 1587-1590, ed. Leland H. Carlson (London: George
Allen and Unwin, 1962), 194. For similar statements, see pages, 93-94, 656; John Greenwood, The
Writings of John Greenwood 1587-1590, Together with the Joint Writings of Henry Barrow and John
Greenwood, ed. Leland H. Carlson (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1962), 22, 170-171.
BL Harleian MS. 6848, fols. 32r-36r, quote from fol. 33v. See also BL Harleian MS. 6849, fols. 181r-
182r; BL Harleian MS. 7042, fols. 36v-38v; John Greenwood and Henry Barrow, The Writings of John
Greenwood and Henry Barrow, 1591-93, ed. Leland H. Carlson (London: George Allen and Unwin,
1970), 377, 380.
John Spurr, "A Profane History of Early Modern Oaths," Transactions of the Royal Historical
Society, 61 ser., 11 (2001), 46. By way of comparison, it is worth mentioning that Gerard ter Borch's
portrait "The Swearing of the Oath of Ratification of the Treaty of Minister" (1648) shows that in
contrast to the Catholics, who had their hands on a book, the Protestants swore with their hand raised
when swearing the Treaty of Westphalia. This suggests that some continental Protestants did not like to
swear upon a book.

as a surety and bound it to undergo punishment if the oath was false. While the
swearer could not pledge the Gospel in the same way, he or she did implicitly admit to
forfeiting the promises within the Gospel if the oath was false, a practice somewhat
similar to Downame and White's position. Alternatively, perhaps English Protestants
continued to allow oaths upon the Gospels because of their heightened esteem for the
Word of God. The fact that people traditionally saw book oaths as more binding
probably contributed to their persistence as well, for Elizabeth and the Stuarts had no
desire to give any excuse for the assertion that their state oaths were less binding than
earlier ones. This was Richard Cosin's explanation for the continuation of book oaths
in Elizabethan England: "The vse of this [a book of the Gospels] in particular; is to
strike a more aduised feare & reuerence into vs: when wee consider the reuerence due
to an oathe, as it is described in that booke; & the curses there threatened against
those, that for sweare themselues, or shall take the name of god vainely." Yet Cosin
also went on to cite Aquinas, Bonaventure, and other scholastics' assertion that oaths
by the Gospels were not oaths by creatures since the Gospels were a transparent
window of God's majesty." No matter why Protestants approved of book oaths, the
continued use of them doubtlessly provided another link to the pre-Reformation era of
The Protestant condemnation of blasphemous oaths by Christ's members as
mutilating his body also proved continuous with medieval rhetoric. In some sense,
this was counterintuitive. After all, Reformed Protestants denied the "making" of
Christ's body in transubstantiation. They averred that Christ's corporal body remained
inaccessible at the right hand of the Father in heaven. As such, should they not also
have denied the tearing of his body by blasphemous oaths? Melissa Mohr thought so,
arguing that "post-Reformation swearing has lost its ability to access and control
God's physical body," undergoing a spiritualization like that of the Lord's Supper.100
It is true that English Protestants placed less emphasis on the dismemberment of Christ
through blasphemous oaths. For example, this belief was not mentioned at all in
Downame, Foure treatises, 2; White, Of oaths, 5.
Cosin, An apologie for sundrieproceedings by iurisdiction ecclesiasticall, part 3, 29.
Cosin, An apologie for sundrie proceedings by iurisdiction ecclesiasticall, part 3, 34-35.
Mohr, "Strong Language," 30.

Cranmer's Homily against Swearing and Perjury. The story of the virgin and the
bloody child was also completely absent from Protestant rhetoric. Furthermore, Roger
Hutchinson contended that oaths by God's members reflected a belief in heretical
anthropomorphism. He averred that the laity must learn that these attributes of God
were metaphorical. God's heart signified his wisdom, for example. People who swore
by God's members swore by creatures, and oaths by creatures were forbidden.
Hutchinson thus implied that blasphemous oaths had no power to tear Christ's body.
Many English Protestants, however, continued to depict blasphemous oaths as
mutilating Christ's body. For example, the draft of an Elizabethan Parliamentary bill
proposed that at every quarter session, "there shall be inquirie made the Iustices
charging the grand inquest for commen blasphemers of the most reverent name of god
that is which teare god as it were in peaces swearing by the heart, nayles, feet, or any
other true or imagined part of god, or by his death, life, or any like thing."102 Bale
claimed that if thou swore by Christ's body, thou "doest as moche as in the lyeth (lyke
as the holye doctours confesse) to plucke him oute of heauen with violence / & to
crucifie him agayne a fresh."103 Bale later told the story of the three sons, asserting
that like the illegitimate sons who shot their father with arrows, blasphemous swearers
were not legitimate sons of God, for it was not natural for "a louynge sonne to buffett
& beate his father / or to teare the fleshe from his bones. To [sic] name him in his
most angre and spyght / or to spytte hym our of his mouthe with cruelte and
vengeaunce." Like Vincent of Beauvais, the author of the parliamentary bill and
Bale connected oaths by Christ's members to his passion figuratively with the phrases
"as it were," and "in as much as."105 Thomas Becon's language, however, was more
direct. Becon simply declared: "these wicked caytiffes crucify him dayly with theyr
vnlawfull oothes."106 John Downame also used vivid, unqualified language implying
the actual dismemberment of Christ by vain oaths. For example, Downame wrote:

Hutchinson, Works, 20-21.
BL Lansdowne MS. 105, fol. 200v.
Bale, Christen exhortacyon, sig. B6V.
Bale, Christen exhortacyon, sig. D2r.
For another clearly figurative equation of oaths by Christ's body with the tearing of his members, see
Foxe,^M(1583), 2103.
Becon, An inuectyue, sig. C2V. My italics.

"but most of all [they] blaspheme our Sauiour christ himselfe, pulling his soule from
his bodie, and tearing peecemeale his precious members one from another, diuerifying
their oathes according to the diuers parts of his sacred bodie."1 7 There was nothing
spiritualized in this mutilation of Christ's body.
In general, Protestants continued to suggest that blasphemous oaths had the
power to mutilate Christ's body not because they wanted to make a theological
statement on the exact accessibility of Christ's corporal body after the resurrection, but
because such stories emphasized the gravity of these oaths and warned the laity
against employing them. For both medieval Catholics and sixteenth-century
Protestants, the depiction of Christ being wounded by blasphemous oaths served a
useful didactic purpose. It stressed the serious nature of misusing oaths and provided
the laity with a vivid image which religious writers hoped would prevent them from
uttering blasphemous oaths in the future. Protestants shared with medieval Catholics
the belief that oaths, as a form of worship, must never be uttered in an irreverent
manner. Indeed, the changes they made concerning how an oath could be sworn only
served to increase the sanctity of oaths. Whereas medieval Catholics allowed the
swearing of oaths by the mass, by relics, and by saints as manifestations of God's
divinity, Protestants rejected this practice and claimed that such oaths scorned God by
bestowing upon a creature the glory owed only to him. It follows that Protestants
would be just as zealousif not morein using any strategy open to them to decry
the use of blasphemous oaths that scorned God by treating the second person of the
Trinity as a creature.

Downame, Foure treatises, 24. See a similar quote on 28. Melissa Mohr overlooked these
quotations by Downame and instead emphasized that Downame interpreted the dismemberment of
Christ's body spiritually because of his sentence, "As much as in them lyeth, they teare the precious
body of Jesus Christ in pieces and crucify him afresh"; Mohr, "Strong Language," 31. Mohr admitted
that Robert Mannyng used a similar qualifier ("all that we may") in his description of Christ's
mutilation in Hanndlyn Synne. Yet she argued that Mannyng's phrase "all that we may" signifies that
swearers can rent Christ's body, while Downame's phrase "as much as in them lyeth" means swearers
cannot tear Christ's body. I agree with her interpretation of Mannyng, for other evidence (like the
Virgin and bloody child story) in Hanndlyng Synne suggest a literal mutilation of Christ. I see no
reason, however, why the same should not be true of Downame's qualifier, especially since other
evidence in Downame's treatise (especially on pages 24 and 28) also supports a literal mutilation.

D. The Conditions of a Lawful Oath
So far, we have examined the theological theory behind swearing oaths. We
learned what an oath was, how it worked, and the importance of the words and manner
in which one swore. Because an oath invoked the name of the one holy, omniscient,
and omnipotent God, it was not something to be taken lightly. Religious writers of the
fifteenth and sixteenth centuries thus developed a fairly standard exposition on the
conditions under which one could swear a lawful oath: that is, an oath that would not
provoke the wrath of God. Inevitably, religious writers based their account on
Jeremiah 4:2: "et iurabis vivit Dominus in veritate et in iudicio et in iustitia." They
usually glossed swearing "the Lord liveth" as meaning that one should swear by the
name of God alone, a point already discussed. But they also specified that for an oath
to be lawful, one had to swear in truth (without deception or guile), in judgment (not
rashly, unadvisedly, or vainly), and injustice (not for an evil purpose or end). They
often called these three conditions the "companions" of a lawful oath.
The first condition of a lawful oath was that the oath must be sworn in truth.
At its most basic level, religious writers used this companion to attack perjury.
Although perjury could mean the abuse of oaths in a general sense, it also had the
specific meaning of confirming a lie with an oath.109 Swearing in truth meant both not
confirming an objective falsehood with an oath and also avoiding using an oath to

Vulgate. Coverdale translated this verse as follows: "And shalt swear: The Lorde lyueth: in treuth,
in equite and righteousness;" Coverdale Bible of 1535. I, however, will use the nouns "truth,"
"judgment," and "justice," which, as we will see, is a translation more in line with the interpretation of
this verse in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
The ambiguity in the definition of perjury is best illustrated by Thomas Wygenhale, who first gave
the specific definition of perjury and a few sentences later gave a more general definition: periurium est
mendacium iuramento firmatum. vnde quibusdam placet non esse periurium vbi non est mendacium &
sicut dicitur falsum sine mendacio ita iurari falsum sine perurio nee esse periuium nisi mens ab ore
diffenceat. . . . iuramentum tres habere comites veritatem & iudicium & iusticiam vbi ista defunt. non
est iuramentum sed periurium"; CUL MS. Ii. i. 39, fol. 39r. Alexander Carpenter defined perjury as
"veritatis abnegatio fraudulenta cum diuine attestationis acceptione"; Carpenter, Destructorium
viciorium, sig. G3V. Downame defined perjury as "nothing else but false swearing. Or more fullie, It is
a knowne or imagined vntruth, confirmed by oath, ioyned with deceit, which was either purposed and
intended before the oath was made, or resolued on aftewards"; Downane, Foure treatises, 47. Bale,
however, used the more general definition of perjury, saying it was simply "to abuse the name of God";
Bale, Christen exhortacion, sig. B2r. The standard gloss to Jeremiah 4:2 in the Vulgate defined perjury
as any oath missing the standard three companions; Biblia Latina cum glossa ordinaria.

deceive someone, even if the content of the oath was objectively true. This idea
sprang from the Augustinian theory of lying, which defined a lie "as a false statement
made with the desire to deceive."1'' Although all lying was wrong, the actual false
nature of the statement mattered less than the "intention of the mind." The main fault
in a lie was "the desire to deceive.""2 Since late medieval religious rhetoric was
"overwhelmingly Augustinian," and since perjury was simply a lie confirmed with an
oath, religious writers decried any deception through oaths.] 13 Gratian believed that
the person who thought "to go around" [circumuenire] his oath by using "cunning of
words" [verborum calliditate] was guilty of perjury.'14 The Book of Vices and Virtues
condemned swearing "bi art, or bi sophymme [sophistry]," while an anonymous
fifteenth-century sermon decried swearing "for defect and gile."115 The author of
Dives and Pauper wrote that if one "swere soth in gylous wordys & slye wordis for to
begylyn his euene cristene . . . God bat knowyth bi bou3t & bin conscience takit it
nout as bu menyst but as he vndirstondyt it to whome bu sweryst so in deseyt.""6
Such an oath was a double sin, for the shifty swearer both took God's name in vain
and deceived his fellow Christian. " 7 The author of Dives and Pauper brought this
point home with a story. Once a Christian borrowed some gold from a Jew and
refused to pay him back, claiming he had already repaid the gold. The Jew took him

"Potest igitur dici periurium iuramentum quod sit de falso vel cum dolo vel sine dolo. & de vero cum
dolo"; CUL MS. Ii. i. 29, fol. 39v.
' Augustine, Lying (De mendacio), in St Augustine: Treatises on Various Subjects, 60.
Augustine, Lying (De mendacio), 55-56. For a general discussion of Augustine's theory on lying put
in the context of dissimulation, see Perez Zagorin, Ways of Lying: Dissimulation, Persecution, and
Conformity in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1990), 19-25.
For the Augustinian nature of the late medieval thought on lying, see E. D. Craum, Lies, Slander,
and Obscenity in Medieval English Literature: Pastoral Rhetoric and the Deviant Speaker (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1977), 40-46.
"Queritur de eo, qui verborum calliditate se circumuenire putat ilium, cui iuramentum defert, an sit
reus periurii, nisi seruauerit quod iurasse creditur. . . . Quamcumque arte uerborum quis iuret, Deus
tamen, qui conscientiae testis est, ita hoc accipit, sicut ille, cui iuratur, intelligit. Dupliciter autem reus
fit, qui et nomen Dei in unanum assumit, et proximum dolo capit"; CIC, C. 22 q. 5 c. 8-9, Friedberg,
Laurent, Book of Vices and Virtues, 62; Bodleian Library MS. Ashole 750, fol. 46v.
Barnum, Dives and Pauper, 235.
Both the claim that God understands oaths in the same way as the person to whom the oath is sworn
and the argument that using equivocation (ambiguity of words) in an oath for deception is a double sin
are repeated often throughout late medieval writings. See for example: Laurent, Book of Vices and
Virtues, 63; Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, II-II, q. 89, a. 7; Mannyng, Handlyng Synne, 98; Chertsey,
Floure of the commaundements, fol. 24v; CIC, C. 22 q. 5 c. 8, Friedberg, 1:886; Brandeis, Jacob's Well,

to court, and the judge made the Christian swear an oath on a book that he had repaid
the Jew. In order to place his hand on the book, the Christian swindler handed his staff
to the Jew. Unbeknownst to the Jew, the staff was hollow and contained all his gold.
The Christian swore: "Be God, and be Sent Nicolas, and so helpe me God at pe
holydoom, Ye tok be al pat monye bat bu chalangist & more berto," which was
technically true since he had handed the Jew his gold-filled staff. But God would not
allow such an oath to stand. On his way home from court, the Christian grew weary
and took a nap by the side of the road. While he slept, a cart ran over the Christian,
killing him, breaking open his staff, and scattering the gold.118 Thus, to swear in truth
meant to swear truly without equivocation, deception, or guile.
As in most aspects of medieval oath theory, English Protestantson the
surface at leastaccepted the medieval claim that oaths sworn in truth precluded
deception or equivocation. The Henrician canons held true to medieval canon law and
stated that oaths must be understood according to the hearer.'19 The Protestant-
informed Edwardian Reformatio legum ecclesiasticarum was more overt in its
denunciation of deceptive swearing:
A perjurer is defined as someone who knowingly and cleverly cheats someone
with an oath designed to deceive, or who willingly violates a lawful oath, or
who twists his words when swearing in such a complicated way that the
meaning of the oath is not clear. Against this deceit we want this rule to be
always maintained, that what the person to whom the oath is sworn
understands by it according to the normal custom of speech, is what will be
believed as having been sworn.120
Radical Protestants like John Bale and John Hooper also decried the use of guile when
swearing.121 By Elizabeth's reign, both Puritans like James Morice and their
conformist opponents like Richard Cosin could agree that no one should use
equivocation or deception when swearing.122 Of course, as we shall see in chapter

Bamum, Dives and Pauper, 235-237.
Bray, Tudor Church Reform, 25.
Bray, Tudor Church Reform, 550-551.
Bale, Christen exhortacion, sig. A8V; Hooper, Early Writings, All. Bale's and Hooper's thoughts on
deceptive swearing are discussed in more detail in chapter seven.
"there can not be a greater dishonour or indignitie offred to the sacred Maiestie of God, then to make
his mos fearfull and reuerende name, a witnesse of falshoode or deceipt, neither let any man thinke that
by craftie or subtill swearing he can auoyde the detestable sinne of perjurie"; James Morice, A briefe

seven, Protestant practice did not always live up to the theory espoused here.
England's first Protestants did not hesitate to equivocate and perjure themselves, even
while continuing to decry such practices. For now, however, it is sufficient to
emphasize that English Protestants outwardly agreed with medieval writers that oaths
must be sworn in truth and that this condition precluded the use of guile or deception
when swearing.
Yet even if one swore truthfully without any intention of deception, oaths were
still illicit if one swore without necessity. These were oaths "against judgment,"
which writers often referred to as vain oaths. Although it was possible to take the
Lord's name in vain in many ways without an oath, religious writers usually described
vain oaths as customable, idle, frivolous, light, trifling, rash, unadvised, of sport, for
nought, or without necessity. It is clear that vain oaths were common oaths sworn in
everyday conversation and not in a solemn liturgical, legal, political, or otherwise
serious setting. Fifteenth and sixteenth-century religious writings are full of
denunciations of vain oaths.123 Some medieval writers considered vain oaths to be
only a venial sin, while perjury was a mortal sin. m But the general trend was to
emphasize the gravity of vain oaths, to impress upon the listener or reader the severity
of the sin of vain swearing.I25 This was because vain oaths, like oaths by Christ's
members, were a form of blasphemy. They were a way to despise or scorn the name

treatise ofoathes exacted by ordinaries and ecclesiastical iudges, to answere generallie to all such
articles or interrogatories, as pleaseth them to propound And of their forced and constrained oathes ex
officio, wherein isproued that the same are vnlawfull ([Middelburg], [1590?]), 5. For Cosin's rejection
of deceptive swearing, see Cosin, An apologie for sundrie proceedings by iurisdiction ecclesiasticall,
part 3, 12-13.
Virtually every religious treatise that mentioned oaths condemned vain swearing to some extent.
Citations of this could make up a chapter of their own, but I will give some examples as a place to start:
CUL MS. Ii. i. 39, fol. 119v; Brandeis, Jacob's Well, 153; Simmons, Lay Folks Catechism, 37-39;
Carpenter, Destructorium vicorium, sig. G4r; Wycliffe, De mandatis, 187, 192, 195; Wycliff, "The Ten
Commandments" in Select English Works of John Wyclifi vol 3, ed. Thomas Arnold (Oxford:
Clarendon, 1871), 84-85; Swinburn, Laterne of Lift 89; Bullinger, Decades, PS, vol. 7, 240-241;
Lloyd, Formularies of Faith, 139; Becon, An inuectyue, sigs. C1V-FT; Bale, Christen exhortacion,
passim; Bicknoll, Swoordagaynst swearyng, fol. 20v; Downame, Foure treatises, 19-23.
Laurent, Book of Vices and Virtues, 1-2.
Wygenhale went to great lengths to show that every oathno matter how slightuttered without all
of the three companions is a mortal sin that kills the swearer's soul and will send him or her to hell
unless repented; CUL MS. Ii. i. 39, fols. 6r, 20r, 36r, etc. Protestants, of course, rejected the distinction
between venial and mortal sins.

of God by not treating it with majesty. To swear vainly was to rob the name of God of
its reverence.
The other reason vain oaths were denounced so fervently was because they
were thought to lead to perjury. Augustine famously preached: "Swearing is a narrow
ledge, perjury a precipice. If you swear, you're near the edge; if you don't swear,
you're far away from it." Henceforth it became common to the point of banality to
write that the more you swear, the greater your chances of perjury. To swear vainly
and customably was sooner or later (usually sooner) to fall into the pit of perjury. This
raises the greatest paradox of late medieval and early modern rhetoric on swearing: the
more a writer esteemed swearing, the more he discouraged it. For example, John
Bale, arguably the hottest, most aggressive, and least compromising Henrician
Protestant, a man greatly concerned about the sanctity of oaths, forbade all manner of
private oaths. Unlike other English Protestants who allowed private oaths in weighty
matters, Bale declared that only oaths sworn before a magistrate or for a public
function beneficial to the commonwealth were licit.129 Oaths were a sacred gateway
whereby humans could call on the omniscience and omnipotence of God, but the very
sanctity, holiness, and majesty of God restricted the use of oaths to special
circumstances. Because medieval and early modern religious writers took oaths
seriously, they proclaimed that oaths must be sworn with discreet judgment, not

Diekstra, Bookfor a Simple Women, 266-268; John Bradford, Writings, 10-11; Tyndale, Works of
the English Reformers, 2:292; Bicknoll, Swoordagainst swearyng, fol. 20v.
Augustine, "Sermon 180," in The Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the 21s' Century, pt. 3,
vol. 5, Sermons on the New Testament (148-183), trans. Edmund Hill, ed. John E. Rostelle (New
Rochelle and New York: New City Press, 1992), 316.
Again, examples of this statement are too common to cite fully. The following examples should
suffice: Diekstra, Book for a Simple and Devout Woman, 278; Carpenter, Destructorium viciorum, sig.
G5V; Vulgate Gloss on Matt. 5, Biblia Latina cum glossa ordinaria; Barnum, Dives and Pauper, 227;
Bale, Christen exhortacion, sig. B8V.
Bale, Christen exhortacion, sigs. B5r-B6r. For a comparison to other English Protestants see Becon,
An inuectiue, sigs. I4r-I5v; Downame, Foure treatises, 10. Tyndale seems to have approached a similar
level as Bale: Tyndale, Works of the English Reformers, 2:292-293. The extent to which private
swearing was allowed also varied among continental Protestants. Zwingli, for example, condemned all
private oaths, as did Calvin in the 1536 edition of the Institutes. By 1559, however, Calvin had changed
his mind and allowed private swearing in grave matters; Calvin, Institutes, pg. 393, n. 34.

Thus, both medieval Catholics and sixteenth-century Protestants vehemently
opposed vain oaths. This statement stands in opposition to the claim that the
Reformation led to a stricter, more vocal opposition to vain oaths. John Bossy's
contention that the transition from medieval Christianity to the Reformation (both
Protestant and Catholic) was accompanied by a transition from the seven deadly sins
to the Decalogue, and from obligations to one's neighbor to obligations to God does
not apply to vain oaths, for, as we noted above (see footnote 3), medieval expositions
on the seven deadly sins also strongly decried vain oaths. Norman Jones, however,
has recently applied Bossy's insight to vain oaths and argued: "By late in Elizabeth's
reign the national sensitivity to the sin of blasphemy, to the once petty crime of
swearing oaths, and to the problem of drunkenness had increased along the general
concern about personal conduct."130 As far as this statement relates to oaths, it simply
is not true. Any perusal of medieval pastoral writings reveals a significant concern
over the sin of swearing vainly, a point that John Spurr has justly stressed. There was
basic continuity between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries when it came to
clerical denunciations of vain swearing.1
The belief that Protestants showed more concern over the misuse of God's holy
name than Catholics has its origin in sixteenth-century Protestant propaganda and thus
should be taken with a grain of salt. Bale, for one, delighted in depicting Roman
Catholics as vain and blasphemous swearers. In his play King Johan, the Roman
Catholic character Sedicyon swears profusely.132 The same is true for the Roman
Catholic character Infidelitas in Bale's Three Laws, and the behavior of Infidelitas
stands in contrast to the Protestant character Evangelium. The following example is
INFIDELITAS: Naye ser, by the roode, not yet a wholsom teacher.
EVANGELIUM: After what maner dyd he speake of me?tell
INFIDELITAS: He swore lyke a man, by all contentes of the Gospell;
He swore and better swore, yea, he ded sweare and sweare agayne
EVANGELIUM: That speakynge is soch as procureth eternall payne.

Jones, The English Reformation, 166. My italics.
Spurr, "A Profane History of Early Modern Oaths," 58.
See for example, John Bale, King Johan, in The Complete Plays of John Bale, ed. Peter Happe
(Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1985), 1:93.

Wyll not the people leave that most wycked folye,
And it so dampnable? To heare it I am sorye.133
The most influential work of Protestant propaganda, Foxe's Acts and Monuments,
added flesh and bones to Bale's fictional Catholics by depicting the leading Marian
Catholics such as Stephen Gardiner, Edmund Bonner, John Christopherson, and John
Story as blasphemous and vain swearers. For example, when Gardiner swore "by our
lordes body," Foxe added in the margin: "Well sworne and like a right Papist."134
Foxe also described the chastising of vain and blasphemous swearers as grounds for
suspicion of Lutheranism. Foxe used these portrayals of vain swearing to contrast
the godly behavior of Protestants with the depraved behavior of Catholics. In the end,
however, these depictions were propaganda and should not be taken at face value.
The visitation records of Edmund Bonner and Cardinal Pole, for instance, show a due
concern with the sin of vain swearing among these Marian Catholic bishops.
Furthermore, the Edwardian Protestant John Bradford admitted that both "papists" and
"carnal Gospellers" accused each other of vain and blasphemous swearing. All the
devout, whether Roman Catholic or Protestant, shared in the assumption that oaths
against judgment were wrong. Indeed, it was because this assumption could be taken
for granted that propagandists like John Bale and John Foxe could slander their
Catholic opponents' characters through the depiction of them as vain or blasphemous
The final component to a permissible oath was justice. Religious writers
uniformly condemned oaths that were unjust, illicit, or against the law. Indeed, if the
oath was not lawful, breaking it was not perjury.I38 An oath administered improperly

Bale, Three Laws, in The Complete Plays of John Bale, 2:102.

Foxe, AM(1583), 1215. For similar anecdotes concerning Bonner, Bishop Christopherson, Dr.
Story, and John Apowel, see pages 1474, 1693, 1990, 2060, 2102-2103.
Foxe,^M(1583), 904, 909.
For Bonner's 1542 injunction against vain and blasphemous swearing, see Guildhall MS. 9531/vol
12 (Bonner's Register), fol. 38Y, printed in David Wilkins (ed.), Concilia Magnae Britanniae et
Hiberniae . . . [MDJCCXVII (Henceforth cited as Concilia), (London, 1737) 3:866 {LP, XVII 282). For
Pole's visitation articles for Kent, see Foxe, AM(1583), 1969.
Bradford, Writings of John Bradford, 9-11.
"But I think that perjury is a violation of a lawful oath. . . . should he lie, he is not guilty of perjury
because he is not violating a lawful oath"; Thomas More, A Dialogue concerning Heresies, ed. Thomas
M.C. Lawler et. al., vol. 6, pt. 2 of The Complete Works of St. Thomas More (New Haven, CT: Yale
University Press, 1981), 765.

was sometimes considered to be unlawful. For example, the Court of Star Chamber
ruled that when a person lied under oath after the oath had been tendered to him by
another without authority, such a lie was not technically perjury. But when
religious writers spoke of an unlawful oath, they usually referred to an oath to commit
an evil or unjust act. Latimer, for instance, declared that if a group of thieves make an
evil oath not to disclose each other and then one of them gets caught, it is better for
him to break his oath and betray his fellows than keep his oath and thus facilitate
future robberies.140 However, the most common examples of evil oaths were Biblical:
David's oath to Nabal, Jephthah's vow to slay the first thing that he saw upon
returning home, Herod's oath to Herodias, and Joshua's oath to the Gibeonites.141
Such oaths, religious writers uniformly declared, should be broken rather than kept.
Most people would have agreed with William Tyndale's statement: "to swear to do
evil is damnable, and to perform that thing is double damnation."143 The sin of
swearing an illicit oath should not be compounded with the further sin of fulfilling it.
Nevertheless, the breaking of an evil oath was not always as straightforward as
it might seem. The story of Joshua's oath to the Gibeonites was particularly thorny for
religious writers. On the one hand, the oath clearly was illicit. God had commanded
the Israelites to destroy all the pagan tribes of Canaan. In spite of the Gibeonites'
deception of claiming not to live in Canaan, Joshua's sworn peace treaty with them
clearly violated this divine command. On the other hand, Israel kept this oath and God

This conclusion comes from a case from that took place in Michaelmass, Anno 23 and 24 of
Elizabeth. The plaintiff Robert Ruckell accused Robert Bridges and William Lockett of lying under
oath. Lockett was able to demonstrate that a town clerk of London had tendered him his oath, a man
who "had noo Aucthoritie to give an oath." So Lockett was not found guilty of perjury but rather a
misdemeanor, while Bridges was found guilty of perjury; BL Harleian MS. 2143, fol. 1 l v .
Latimer, Sermons, 519.
' 1 Sam. 25; Judg. 11; Matt. 14; Mark 6; Josh. 9. Joshua's oath to the Gibeonites was the only
ambiguous example.
This axiom held true for all religious writers, Catholic or Protestant, fifteenth or sixteenth-century.
For a representative example, see Carpenter, Destructorium vicorium, sig. G3V; Peter Idley, 153-154;
Chertsey, Floure of the commaundements, fol. 24v; CUL MS. Ii. i. 39, fol. 19v; "Against Swearying and
Perjurie," in Bond, Certain Sermons, 132; Bale, Christen exhortacion, sigs. A7V-A8V; Becon, An
inuectiue, sigs. G4r-H3r; Gardiner, De vera obedientia, in Obedience in Church & State: Three Political
Tracts by Stephen Gardiner, ed. intro. and trans. Pierre Janelle (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1930), 163.
Tyndale, An Exposition upon the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Chapters of Matthew, in Works of the
English Reformers, 2:293.

approved of it, for later, when Saul executed the Gibeonites, God punished Israel for
breaking its oath.' This led to the distinction in canon law between an oath made
illicit because of what was sworn and an oath made illicit because of the manner of
swearing.' The former, such as homicide or adultery, was illicit in its nature [in sui
natura] and should always be broken. The latter, such as swearing to marry after
having vowed chastity, was not inherently illicit but made so because of the particular
circumstances of the swearer. This kind of evil oath could still be kept, though
penance must be done for breaking it. The other example Gratian mentioned was that
of swearing not to do something expedient to one's salvation. As long as the person
could still be saved without impediment, he or she was not prohibited from fulfilling
this oath even though it should not have been sworn in the first place.146 Thus, while
everyone agreed with the simple statement that an oath sworn without justice should
be broken, there was an underlying haziness concerning what actually made an oath
unjust and when an unjust oath could still be fulfilled. Thomas More was certainly
right when he wrote: "Mary trouth it is that a mannes oth receyueth interpretacyon."147
As we shall see in chapter two, this ambiguity became important in the English
For an oath to glorify God, then, the oath had be sworn in the name of God (or
one of the corporal manifestations of his divinity for Catholics) and it had to be sworn
truthfully without an intention to deceive, gravely before a magistrate or in some other
equally solemn circumstance, and justly so that what one swore to do was not wrong.
Medieval Catholics and sixteenth-century Protestants agreed on these basic guidelines.
Oaths that lacked any of these conditions were sinful and a serious offense to the
majesty of God.
E. God's Wrath against Illicit Swearing
In medieval and early modern England, God did not take insults to his majesty
lightly. In order to protect his honor and reputation, God kept careful watch over the

Josh. 9; 2 Sam. 21.
"Iuramentum itaque multipliciter illicitum intelligitur. Est enim illicitum aliquando ex eo, quod
iuratur, aliquando ex modo iurandi"; CIC, C. 22 q. 4 c. 23, Friedberg, 1: 882.
CIC, C. 22 q. 4 c. 23, Friedberg, 1:882.
Thomas More, A Dialogue concerning Heresies, in Complete Works, 6:281.

use and abuse of oaths. Any person who swore falsely or vainly implied that God
either could not or would not punish his transgression, for otherwise the person would
not have sworn the illicit oath. Thus, he was denying either God's power or his nature
as truth. In essence, the swearer was denying God was God, a claim that God would
simply not tolerate. The Lord himself proclaimed that a curse (manifested to
Zachariah as a large flying book) "shal come to the house of the thefe, & to the house
of him, that falsely sweareth by my name: & shal remayne in his house, & consume it,
eith [both] the tymbre & stones therof"148 Medieval religious writers were keen to
authenticate this claim. Richard Whitford, for example, declared: "For his othe [God]
may slee or infecte your chylde/ or stryke your beestes in the feeldes / destroy your
corne and graynes / and cause pryuely many myscheues." To prove this was indeed
true, medieval authors often peppered their writings about oaths with stories of
providential punishment on false and vain swearers. Robert Mannyng told a tale a rich
man who, in his attempt to defraud a poor one, swore a false oath. The rich man bent
down to kiss the book to confirm his oath and was struck down by God, never to rise
again.15 Another common story was that of a blasphemous boy who, accustomed to
vain oaths, was carried away by demons before the eyes of his father. Sometimes
God tailored the punishment to suit the specific way in which the swearer abused his
name. Peraldus told the story of a knight playing chess who swore "by God's eyes."
Immediately, his eyes burst forth from his head and fell unto the board. Whitford
narrated a tale about one "maister Baryngton" who was a great swearer by God's
blood. One day in a tavern, Baryngton swore "By goddes blode this day is vnhappy."
He soon started to bleed through his nose. This aggravated him to the point that he
swore in anger by the different parts of Christ's body. Each time he named a new
body part of Christ, that part of his own body began to bleed until Baryngton finally

Zach. 5:1-3; Coverdale Bible of 1535.
Whitford, WerkeforHousholders, 23-24.
Mannyng, Handlyng Synne, 96. For a similar story see Peter ldley, 152.
Carpenter, Destructorium vicorium, sig. G5V; Peter ldley, 161. This story seems to have its origin in
St Gregory.
Peraldus, Sumarium summe virtutum et vitiorum, fol. 168r; Diekstra, Book for a Simple and Devout
Woman, 267.

expired. Many more examples could be given. Melissa Mohr made an astute
observation when she wrote: "The God of anti-swearing tracts is a great fan of poetic
Did the emphasis on God's punishment for vain or false oaths wane with the
coming of the Reformation? Did Protestants dismiss all these stories as superstition
just as they swept aside stories of miracles done by saints and relics? Keith Thomas
believed so, arguing that Protestants "diminished the role of supernatural sanctions in
daily life." Thomas continued: "The Protestant emphasis upon the individual
conscience inevitably shifted the ultimate sanction for truthfulness from the external
fear of divine punishment to the godly man's internal sense of responsibility."155 This
statement is not true, not at least in the sixteenth century. Protestant tracts against
swearing are just as full of stories of providential punishment as the tracts of the
fifteenth century. Perhaps the most famous and influential example of this is the last
section of Acts and Monuments, which John Foxe devoted to narrating stories of
providential punishment. Many of the victims of divine wrath mentioned by Foxe
were Roman Catholic persecutors of Protestants (thereby showing God's approval of
Protestantism) but a good number of them were perjurers and vain swearers of
unspecified doctrinal leaning.156 Similarly, Edward Bicknoll dedicated a full fourth of
his treatise against vain and false swearing to telling stories of providential
punishment.157 Moreover, he not only narrated contemporary stories of providential
punishment, but he also interpreted various pivotal events in English history as being
the result of God's punishment of perjurers.15 Not content to stop there, both
Edmond Bicknoll and Christopher White included stories from the continent of
providential punishment on vain and false swearers. White concluded: "It is a large
common place, and all parts of the world can administer examples of gods publike and

Whitford, Werke for Housholders, 25-26.
Mohr, "Strong Language," 12.
Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic, 67.
See for example the story of M. Burton on 2101, John Apowel and the blasphemous girl on 2102-
2103, or the Cornish gentleman under Edward VI on 2105; Foxe, AM(1583), 2101-2105.
Bicknoll, Swoord agaynst swearyng, fols. 30v-47r.
For example, Bicknoll claimed that the fact that none of Edward VI's descendants sat on the English
throne was divine punishment for Edward having violated his oath to Henry VI to hold himself content
with only his Duchy of York; Bicknoll, Swoord against swearyng, fol. 32r.

priuate reuenging hand on periur'd persons."159 John Downame went as far as to
assert that God does not limit his punishment to individual swearers but will visit the
entire community with his wrath. Like sixteenth-century Parisian Catholics who
believed that they had to purify their communities of all heretics to avoid God's anger,
Downame averred that God would punish the entire realm unless vain swearers were
stopped. The compilers of these stories took pains to specify that these stories were
not mere hyperbole. Whitford, Foxe, and Bicknoll all provided the locations of these
events and names of witnesses so the reader could verify for himself that these stories
were indeed true. '61 Clearly, stories of providential punishment were an essential part
of both medieval and early modern oath theory. These stories were so important
because they illustrated in graphic terms the theological significance of oaths. Foxe
hit the nail on the head when he wrote:
Fourthly and lastly, heere may also be a spectacle for all them which be
blasphemous and abhominable swearers, or rather tearers of God, abusing his
glorious name in suche contemptuous and despitefull sort as they vse to do.
Whome if neither the woorde and commaundemente of God, nor the calling of
the preachers, nor remorse of conscience, nor rule of reason, nor theyr
wytheringe age, nor hory haires will admonish: yet let these terrible examples
of Gods districte Judgement, somewhat mooue them to take heede tothem
Stories of providential punishment reminded the reader or listener that no matter how
grave or light the social and legal ramifications of one's oath might appear, an oath
was an invocation of the power and majesty of God, and God would not allow his
name to be abused.I63

White, Ofoathes, 18.
Downame, Foure treatises, 34. Wygenhale espoused a similar doctrine; CUL MS. Ii. i. 39, fol. 84r.
For an account of the sixteenth-century Parisian fear of the consequences of heretical pollution, see
Barbara Diefendorf, Beneath the Cross: Catholics and Huguenots in Sixteenth-Century Paris (New
York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 37-38, 178.
Whitford, Werke for householders, 26-28; Foxe, AM (1583), 2105; Bicknoll, Swoord agaynst
swearyng, fol. 36v.
Foxe,^M(1583), 2103.
This paragraph confirms the more general conclusions of Alexandra Walsham on Protestant
providentialism in her Providence in Early Modern England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).

The Social Importance of Oaths
Oaths, then, were of great theological importance to the devout of the fifteenth
and sixteenth centuries. They were a means to worship God and to access his power
and knowledge for the purpose of affirming the truth of one's statement or to
guaranteeing the fulfillment of one's promise. But because God would punish
swearers who lied or broke their promises (even to the point of eternal damnation),
oaths became the best way to compel someone to tell the truth or discharge his or her
obligation. Oaths thus were foundational to early modern society. Indeed, oaths had
four crucial social functions in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries: they were the
basis of a just legal system, they ensured the faithful discharge of a person's office or
occupation, they confirmed political and ecclesiastical obedience and the ruler's
obligation to his or her subjects, and they helped denote social distinction and
Of course, since religious writers were usually clergy members, their main
focus was the theological significance of oaths, and they often did not discuss the
social importance of oaths in their treatises. There were exceptions, however. An
anonymous preacher in the early seventeenth century started out his assize sermon on
Jeremiah 4:2 by defining an oath as:
the last resolution (within the compasse of mans braine) in the search of trueth,
the strongest ligament in the body politicke for knitting the members to the
head and themselves among themselves, the safest groundworke for all lawfull
proceedinges in publicke Iustice, and lastly the most living and vndboutted
assurance for the ratifying either the testimonyes of actions past or the
promises of deedes to come.165
After establishing how important oaths were for a healthy commonwealth, the
preacher's "second search was for a fitt scripture which might serve as a piller or

Edward Vallance identified three of these four functions of oaths: "Oaths in early modern England
were used to underpin almost every element of church and state relations. In the fifteenth and sixteenth
centuries oaths fulfilled three basic roles: they bound those invested with public or spiritual office to
carry out their obligations faithfully; they gave the assurance of truthfulness to statements given in
court; and they tied subjects to giving obedience to their rulers"; Edward Vallance, Revolutionary
England and the National Covenant: State Oaths, Protestantism and the Political Nation, 1553-1682
(Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press, 2005), 19.
Bodleian Library, Ashmole MS. 1284, fol. 78r.

foundation for the underpropping of this building." In other words, the preacher
first examined the role of oaths in society to determine their consequence and then,
afterwards, searched through Scripture to find some Biblical grounds for his
predetermined argument. For him, oaths were more important as social instruments
than as theological invocations. The Homily against Swearing and Perjury from
Edward's reign also stressed the social significance of oaths:
By lawfull othes which kynges, princes, judges and magistrates doo sweare,
common lawes are kept inviolate, justice is indifferently ministered, innocent
persones, orphanes, widdowes and poore men are defended from murtherers,
oppressors and thiefs, that they suffre no wrong, nor take any harme. By
lawfull othes, mutuall societie, amitie and good order is kepte continually in all
commonalties, as boroughtes, citees, tounes and villages. And by lawful othes,
malefactors are searched out, wrongdoers are punished, and thei whiche
sustein wrong are restored to their righte. Therefore, lawfull swearyng cannot
be evill whiche bryngeth unto us so many godly, good and necessarie
Here quite explicitly was a rejection of the literal interpretation of Matthew 5 based
upon the social and political value of oaths.
Of all the social functions of oaths, their importance in the legal system was
the clearest. After all, there was and is no more effective way to subvert a legal
system than to lie. Then, as now, legal systems attempted to prevent lying by
administering oaths.168 The anonymous author of the 1594 manuscript treatise entitled
"A Pitfall for Perjurers" demonstrated the importance of this when he wrote:
[Perjury tendeth] also on [to the] vnavoydeable Overthrowe to the comon right
of euery good Subiect by vniuste losse of his goodes landes life Libertie
Creddit or what els soeuer yea and finally yt tendeth to thutter Subuersyon of
all good Lawe and Iustice be reson that vpon true or false othes all verdictes
Iudgement and decrees whatsoever are grounded.169

Bodleian Library, Ashmole MS. 1284, fol. 78r.
"Against Swearying and Perjurie," in Bond, Certain Sermons, 130.
The main difference in the administration of oaths in the modern American legal system is that
people generally no longer believe in the theological significance of oaths. If one does not believe in
God, one does not believe that an oath can call him to witness to the truth of one's statement. An oath
in court now simply allows the swearer to be charged with the formal crime of perjury if caught lying
"under oath." Courts can no longer assume that fear of divine punishment pressures the swearer to be
truthful. For the atheist or agnostic, only the legal ramifications of exposed perjury now serve as a
preventative for lying in court.
"A new Yeres Guyte ffor an Old Yeres Grief, called a Pitfall for Perjuros, or a Spectacle for
Brokesmouth called Rougecrosse and his perjured Compagnyons," BL Lansdowne MS. 77, fol. 210v.

Oaths were tendered not just to witnesses but to every person who had any role in the
trial. Defendants often swore an oath of purgation: that is, an oath that they were
innocent of the specific crime charged to them. But the word of the defendant alone
was usually deemed insufficient, so the accused gathered a number of compurgators to
confirm his oath. These people were usually acquaintances of the defendant and
shared his or her rank, profession, and sex. They then swore an oath to confirm the
truth of the defendant's oath.170 Furthermore, defendants in ecclesiastical courts
sometimes swore an oath to answer truthfully all questions offered to them by their
ordinary (commonly known as an ex officio oath), and both defendants and plaintiffs
swore an oath of calumny in which they declared the purity of their motives and their
avoidance of corruption.171 Jurors also had to swear oaths to judge the case
objectively and honestly.172 Latimer vehemently denounced jurors who violated their
oaths and "sold their souls unto the devil" by rigging verdicts for money.173 Even
judges took oaths to avoid corruption and judge justly.174 The document that best
exemplifies the importance of oaths in the legal system is an anonymous guide to the
courts leet and baron written under Elizabeth. Unlike earlier treatises on the courts
leet and baron by Anthony Fitzherbert, this treatise contained a considerable section on
oaths. First, the writer addressed what an oath was, the danger of breaking an oath,
when one should swear, by whom one should swear, and for what one should swear.

John Endell Tyler, Oaths; Their Origin, Nature and History (London: John W. Parker, 1834), 265-
267; Brigden, London and the Reformation, 148; C1C, X.5.34.1-16, Friedberg, 2:869-877. For English
ecclesiastical statutes on the process of purgation, see Tudor Church Reform, 45, 311. For a sixteenth-
century example of a purgation oath, see W.H. Frere (ed. and intro.) Registrum Matthei Parker diocesis
cantuariensis, A.D. 1559-1575, transcribed by E. Margaret Thompson, Canterbury and York Societies,
vols. 35-36, 38 ([Oxford]: Oxford University Press, 1928-33), 512. For Thomas More's insight on the
use of compurgation oaths in heresy trials, see Thomas More, The Devellation of Salem and Bizance,
ed. John Guy et al., vol. 10 of his Complete Works (New Haven and London: Yale University Press,
1987), 112-113.
The use of the ex officio oath against Elizabethan Catholics and Puritans is treated in chapters nine
and ten of this dissertation. For details on the oath of calumny, see Bray, Tudor Church Reform, 556-
For the forms of oaths of jurors in the fifteenth century, see The Commonplace Book of Robert
Reynes ofAcle, 143-144.
Latimer, Sermons, 380.
This was a version of the oath of calumny. Both the author of Dives and Pauper and Thomas Becon
emphasized the importance of the oath of a judge in the legal system: Barnum, Dives and Pauper, 253;
Becon, An inuectyve, sigs. F7r-G2v.

He then added a vivid description of the fires of hell prepared for perjurers.I75 Finally,
he included the forms of oaths of every officer or functionary connected to these
courts. The oath of the foreman was so substantial that it included an entire summary
of the theory on oaths delineated in the previous section of the treatise. Clearly, the
goal of this extended discussion of oaths was to impress upon all the participants of
the court the great weight and meaning of court oaths.
While oaths were essential to the just operation of the legal system, they also
contributed to the smooth running of quotidian society. This was because every
occupation or office with even the slightest degree of public responsibility had an oath
attached to it. From high-ranking crown officials in London to provincial justices to
city aldermen to masters of a craft to parish churchwardens to a humble midwife,
every person whose occupation or position included any obligation to society swore an
1nn ino

oath. Even the local ale-taster had his oath! These oaths detailed the specific
responsibilities of the particular office or occupation and bound the swearer to fulfill
the obligations of his position honestly, carefully, and to the best of his or her ability
with the help of God. As Susan Brigden recognized, they "signified both assent to the
duty and the belief that divine sanction had been given to the office-holder."179 Oaths
of office or occupation thus served to safeguard society against corruption or laziness.

CUL MS. Gg. vi. 1, fols. 152v-153r.
CUL MS. Gg. vi. 1, fol. 172r. For a printed example of another treatise on the courts leet and baron
that emphasized the importance of oaths, see lonas Adams, The order of keeping a court leet, and court
baron with the charges appertayning to the same: truely andplaynly deliuered in the English tongue,
for the profile of all men, and most commodious for young students of the lawes, and all others within
the iurisdiction of those courtes (1593), fols. A3'-B1V.
For a representative (but not comprehensive) list of manuscript sources of oaths of office and
occupation at the British Library, see footnote 51 of this chapter. Also see The book of oaths, and the
severall forms thereof, both antient and modern. Faithfully collected out of sundry authentike books and
records, not heretofore extant, compiled in one volume. Very useful for all persons whatsoever,
especially those that undertake any office of magistracie orpublique imployment in the Common-
wealth. Whereunto is added a perfect table (1649). For a fifteenth-century commonplace book that
includes oaths of masters of a craft, see The Commonplace Book of Robert Reynes ofAcle, 318-320.
Bonner's register contains an exhortation to ecclesiastical visitors explaining their oaths; Guildhall
Library MS. 9531/12, fols. 370v-371r. For examples of the oath of a midwife, see Guildhall Library
MS. 9531/12, fol. 34r; Frere, Diocesis Cantuariensis Registrum Matthei Parker, 470-471.
BL Harleian MS. 6676, fol. lv.
Susan Brigden, "Religion and Social Obligation in Early Sixteenth-Century London," Past and
Present 103 (1984): 87.

If one's office included direct service to the crown or church, oaths of
obedience were required as well. Oaths thus confirmed the political hierarchy.
Inferiors professed their loyalty and obedience to their superiors, and the highest
superior of all, the king, swore to govern lawfully and justly. For example, at a late
medieval English coronation, the new king swore to keep the laws and customs of
England (specifically the privileges and liberties granted to the clergy by Edward the
Confessor), to keep peace for the church and people, to execute justice, law,
discretion, mercy, and truth in his judgments, and to respect and protect just laws and
customs.180 After the king's coronation, the bishops and archbishops of the realm
swore fealty to the king for the lands they held in the name of the church. They were
followed by the temporal lords, who swore an oath of homage to serve the king.181
Like the state, the medieval church established its hierarchy of obedience
through oaths. At their institutions, newly ordained priests swore an oath of canonical
obedience to their bishop. Sometimes they also swore an oath of continual residence
and an oath to observe the customs of their cathedral.182 Heads of monasteries or
convents swore more detailed oaths with additional clauses specifying obedience to
their rule, their duty in an episcopal visitation, and their refusal to alienate monastic
property without the bishop's consent.183 A flurry of oaths accompanied the
consecration of a new bishop. The new bishop first swore an oath of fealty to the pope
(an archbishop swore this twice-once upon his consecration and once when he
received the pallium), then he swore an oath of canonical obedience to his
archbishop.184 Next the bishop-elect swore an oath (or oaths) to the king renouncing
any clauses in his papal bull of consecration that might be prejudicial to royal

Leopold G. Wickham Legg (ed.), English Coronation Records (Westminster: Archibald Constable,
1901), xxix, 87-88; BL Cotton MS. Tiberius E viii, fol. 100r_v; BL Lansdowne MS. 470, fol. l v ; BL
Lansdowne MS 870, fol. 9r; BL Harleian MS. 785, fol. 91 r .
Legg, English Coronation Records, lv-lvi.
For some examples, see Lambeth Palace Library, Reginald Pole's Register, fols. 67r-82r; Gladys
Hinde (ed.), The Registers ofCuthbert Tunstall Bishop of Durham 1530-59 and James Pilkington
Bishop of Durham 1561-76, Surtees Society, vol. 161 (1946) (Durham: Andrews & Co; London:
Bernard Quaritch, 1952), xxiii, 5, 8, 74, 121, 140, passim.
Guildhall Library MS. 9531/10 (Tunstall's Register), fols. 49v-50r, 57r, 6 3 \ 113r, 117r, 119r, 130r,
passim; Guildhall Library, MS 9531/11 (Stokesley's Register), fols. 61 r v , 67r"v, 97v.
Lambeth Palace Library, Warham's Register, fols. 2r-26v; Lambeth Palace Library, Cranmer's
Register, fols. l v -5 r ; Lambeth Palace Library, Pole's Register, 3V-12V; Wilkins, Concilia, 3:154-155,

authority, professing fealty to the king, and requesting restoration of the bishopric's
temporalities, which the bishop declared to hold from the king alone. At the new
bishop's enthronement, the members of the chapter of his cathedral, the clergy in his
city and diocese, and all his vassals would swear canonical obedience to him. As
we shall see, both oaths of royal obedience and oaths of canonical obedience would be
greatly changed during the Reformation. The point here is to establish the
significance of oaths as bonds wherein inferiors were obliged to obey their superiors.
Hence, oaths buttressed the social and political hierarchy.
The fact that oaths were used to buttress a hierarchy of obedience and to usher
in a new holder of a public office meant that they were also a means to accentuate
social distinction. Charles Phythian-Adams has shown that oaths accompanied every
rung of the social ladder in fifteenth and sixteenth-century Coventry life. The public
ceremony of taking an oath of office thus served as a kind of social coming of age rite
that signified the swearer's graduation from his previous social category and entry into
his new, higher social group.187 James Lee similarly analyzed the oaths of office of
the city of Bristol and concluded that they were a mechanism through which the city
elite maintained their monopoly of power.I88 Furthermore, not having to swear an
oath in certain circumstances was a mark of the highest elite. The idea behind this
privilege was that these people were so honorable that their mere word was as binding

Gilbert Bumet, History of the Reformation of the Church of England, ed. Nicolas Pocock (1865;
reprint, Westmead, Farnborough, Hants., England: Gregg International Publishers, 1969), 1:37,4:3-7;
Edward Hall, Hall's Chronicle; containing the History of England, during the Reign of Henry the
Fourth, and the Succeeding Monarchs, to the End of the Reign of Henry the Eighth, in Which Are
Particularly Described the Manner and Customs of Those Periods (London: J. Johnson et al., 1809),
788-789; Book of Oaths, 243-244; Wilkins, Concilia, 3:755; Thomas Rymer (ed.), Foedera,
conventiones, literae, et cujuscunque generis acta publico, inter reges Anglice et alios quosvis
imperatores, reges, pontifices, principes, vel communitates, ab ineunte sceculo duo-decimo, viz ab anno
1101, ad nostra usque tempore habita aut tractata; ex autographis, infra secretiores Archivorum
regiorum thesaurarias, per multa sazecula reconditis, fideliter exscripta (1726-35) 14:428-429.
Henceforth cited simply as Foedera.
Herbert Chitty (ed.), Registra Stephani Gardiner et Johannis Poynet, intro. Henry Elliott Maiden and
Herbert Chitty, Canterbury and York Society, vol. 37 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1930), 1-5;
W.H. Frere (ed.), Registrum Johannis Whyte, Episcopi Wintoniensis, A.D. MDLV1-MDE1X, Canterbury
and York Society, vol. 16 (London, 1914), 5-6.
Charles Phythian-Adams, "Ceremony and the Citizen: The Communal Year at Coventry 1450-
1550," in Crisis and Order in English Towns, 1500-1700: Essays in Urban History, ed. Peter Clark and
Paul Slack (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972), 59-62.
James Lee, '"Ye Shall Disturbe Noe Mans Right': Oath-Taking and Oath-Breaking in Late Medieval
and Early Modern Bristol," Urban History 34 (2007): 27-38.

to them as an oath. For example, writing from the Tower in the wake of Wyatt's
Rebellion, Princess Elizabeth wrote to Queen Mary: "If any euer did try this olde
saynge that a kinges worde was more than nother mans othe I most humbly beseche
your M. to verefae it in me."189 Throughout Elizabeth's reign, peers were still
claiming the privilege of giving their word of honor in lieu of an oath in court. In
1581, Lord Vaux was granted this favor in the Court of Star Chamber, but later in
Elizabeth's reign, the Star Chamber refused Henry Earl of Lincoln this privilege and
forced him to swear.1 Finally, the swearing of vain oaths was sometimes employed
by gentlemen as a mark of social distinction. John Spurr has demonstrated that
Charles II's lackeys used creative vain oaths to show off their wit, indicate their status,
and offend the bourgeois.191 This practice, however, was not a novel development of
the later seventeenth century. Many late medieval and sixteenth-century religious
treatises decried the detestable fashion among gentlemen of swearing vainly. Thus,
whether through the oath-taking ceremony of a new office, the privilege of not having
to swear an oath in court, or the creative use of vain oaths, oaths helped define and
underscore social distinction.
Court oaths and oaths of office and obedience were so ubiquitous in early
modern England that it was commonplace to designate a proctor or proxy to swear an
oath in another's name. The basis of this practice was supposedly an ancient group of
German ecclesiastics who interpreted Matthew 5 literally and thus felt that they could
not swear an oath without endangering their souls. (But the ecclesiastics evidently had
little scruple of letting others endanger their souls on behalf of the ecclesiastics!) A
more likely explanation for the prevalence of this practice was the time and expense

NA SP11/4, no. 2; fol. 3Ar, catalogued in Knighton (ed.), Calendar of State Papers Domestic Series
of the Reign of Mary 11553-1558, #107.
John Bruce, "Observations upon Certain Proceedings in the Star-chamber against Lord Vaux, Sir
Thomas Tresham, Sir William Catesy, and Others, for Refusing to Swear That They Had Not
Harboured Campion the Jesuit," Archaeologia 30 (1844): 67-68, 83; William Hudson, Treatise of the
Court of Star Chamber, ed. Francis Halgrave and Thomas Garden Barnes (1792, repr., Birmingham:
Legal Classics Library, 1986), 167. William Petyt claimed that barons did not have to take oaths in the
Court of Star Chamber or the Court of Wards until the end of Elizabeth's reign; Inner Temple Library,
Miscellaneous MS. 149, 154-155.
Spurr, "Perjury, Profanity and Politics," 40.
See for example: Mannyng, Handlyng Synne, 28; Peter Idley, 161; Foxe,/4M(1583), 2104;
Downame, Foure treatises, 19.
Tyler, Oaths: Their Origin, Nature and History, 30, 281-283.

involved in early modern travel. Treaty oaths, for example, were usually sworn twice:
once in the country of one monarch and once in the country of his opposite. Each
monarch would send ambassadors to the other to swear the oath by proxy. Bishops
often swore oaths of canonical obedience and (after 1534) supremacy through proxies
as well. Of all the oaths of supremacy sworn by Elizabethan bishops documented in
Matthew Parker's archiepiscopal register, only three were not sworn by proctors.195
Proctors swore oaths for people in court as well. The archiepiscopal Court of Arches,
for example, had a body of professional proctors whose occupation it was to represent
litigants and defendants. One of their duties was clearly swearing oaths.196 The use of
proctors to swear oaths in someone else's name suggests that oaths were so frequent in
early modern society that it was physically impossible for one always to swear the
oath in person.
If oaths were of great importance to late medieval and early modern society,
should not the rulers of that society have taken measures to insure oaths were
respected and perjury discouraged? In fact, they did. Becon, for example, closed his
work by collecting various medieval historical examples of severe punishments of
perjurers and vain swearers (like perpetual excommunication and capital punishment)
in England and abroad.I97 The chronicles of the sixteenth century are full of
observations of the punishment of perjurers. Wriothesley noted the case of seven

For an example of this see Lambeth Palace Library, Warham's Register, fols. 14r-15r.
Frere, Diocesis Cantuariensis Registrum Matthei Parker, 110 (Thomas Young), 134-135 (Richard
Curteys), 136-143 (Edmond GrindalYork). The rest of the oaths by bishops-elect in Parker's register
were sworn by proctors. It appears that bishops often swore the oath of supremacy at least twice: once
at their confirmation and once at their election. Parker, it seems, had a proctor swear for him at his
confirmation but was present himself at his consecration; Frere, Diocesis Cantuariensis Registrum
Matthei Parker, 4, 8-9, 29-32. The same thing happened at Bonner's confirmation and consecration;
Lambeth Palace Library, Cranmer's Register, fols. 241r, 259v.
See for example the bill to redress the number of proctors in the Court of Arches that argued that the
proctors should take a single comprehensive "juramentum calumpniae" rather than multiple oaths at
various stages of the trial; BL Cotton MS. Cleopatra F i, fols. 91-95. The bill is printed in John Strype,
Memorials of the Most Reverend Father in God Thomas Cranmer, Sometime Lord Archbishop of
Canterbury (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1812), 717-728. Strype believed that this bill was from 1536.
Stanford Lehmberg, however, placed the bill in 1529; Stanford E. Lehmberg, The Reformation
Parliament, 1529-1536 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970), 83-84. For a specific
example of a proctor swearing an oath for a defendant in an ecclesiastical court, see Frere, Diocesis
Cantuariensis Registrum Matthei Parker, 361-362. For the Henrician canons authorizing proctors to
take the oath of calumny in a party's stead, see Bray, Tudor Church Reform, 558-559.
Becon An inuectyue, sigs. M8v-N3r.

perjurers in the 1540s who were punished by standing upon the pillory, by having P
burned into their left cheek and their right ears cut, and by being imprisoned until they
could pay their fine.198 The punishments noted by Henry Machyn were typically
much milder, such as simply standing on the pillory and sometimes wearing papers.'"
In the fifth year of Elizabeth's reign, Parliament passed an act against perjurers that
punished convicted perjurers with the fine of twenty pounds, six months imprisonment
without bail, and a sentence of perpetual infamy that prevented their oaths from being
valid in court for the rest of their lives. If they could not pay the fine, they had to
stand on the pillory and have both of their ears nailed.200 Of course, these
punishments were not always carried out to the letter of the law. An anonymous
Elizabethan compiler of a guide to the courts leet and baron explained that while
perjurers should lawfully suffer time on the pillory, slit nostrils, cut ears, and
imprisonment, "our maistye of her wonderful clemency doth appease and mitegate the
punishment." Nevertheless, perjury was a crime that sixteenth-century rulers took
seriously and punished accordingly.
In fact, the sixteenth century was a time when the English state became more
active in punishing perjury and vain swearing. The Elizabethan statute against perjury
was the first actual statute to codify the exact punishment of perjurous individuals.
Previous statutes relating to perjury focused exclusively on corrupt juries who gave a
false verdict.202 The sixteenth century also witnessed a strong push to enforce a
stronger, uniform measure against vain swearing. The overtly Protestant committee
that meant to reform ecclesiastical law in 1551 recommended that those who swore
rashly should be compelled to pay twelve pence to the poor box the following Sunday
and to stand bareheaded in front of the congregation during the sermon. 3 Attempts
were made in 1553, 1559, and 1571 to push this new form of discipline through

Charles Wriothesley, A Chronicle of England During the Reigns of the Tudors, From A.D. 1485 to
1559, ed. William Douglas Hamilton, Camden Society, n.s., vol. 11 (Westminster, 1875), 1:150.
John Gough Nichols (ed.), The Diary of Henry Machyn, Citizen and Merchant-Taylor of London,
From A.D. 1550 to A.D. 1563, Camden Society, vol. 42 (London: J.B. Nichols and Son, 1868), 74, 250.
Statutes of the Realm, 5 Eliz 1, c. 9, 4:437.
CUL MS. Gg. vi. 1, fol. 152v.
See for example, Statutes of the Realm, 11 Hen. 7, c. 21, 2:584-585; 11 Hen. 7, c. 25, 2:589-590; 12
Hen. 7, c. 2, 2:636; 1 Hen. 8, c. 11, 3:6; 23 Hen. 8, c. 3, 3:365-366.
Bray, Tudor Church Reform, 548-549.

Parliament, though they failed for various reasons.204 In 1601, an independent bill
(independent from the attempt to reform ecclesiastical law) against usual and common
swearing passed the House of Commons but was killed by prorogation because of the
dispute between ecclesiastical and secular courts under whose jurisdiction swearing
fell.205 In 1624, Parliament finally passed a temporary act against profane swearing
that levied the twelve pence fine on a person each time he or she swore vainly, and
substituted time in the stocks and whipping if the offender was not able to pay.
Norman Jones was right to stress that this Parliamentary emphasis on vain swearing
was new. Yet such an emphasis did not arise out of a greater concern for the sin of
vain swearing among the devout, but out of a greater concern for the abuse of oaths
among ecclesiastical and royal authorities. Devout writers and preachers had been
decrying vain swearing for centuries. What was new in the sixteenth century was the
number of oaths imposed by the state on its subjects. Because it was a common belief
that vain swearing led to perjury, it was in the state's best interest to take a more active
role in policing vain oaths.
Of course, in a time such as the sixteenth century when the church and state
were inextricably interwoven, it is impossible to separate completely the social and
political motives for policing illicit oaths from the religious motives. Religious
writers certainly applauded any effort by the authorities to crack down on illicit
swearing. Thomas Wygenhale, for example, included a long diatribe against bishops
and secular rulers who neglected to punish perjurers and blasphemous swearers.
Thomas Becon more overtly recognized the dual significance of oaths when he
proclaimed that it was the duty of a ruler "no less to tender the glory of God, and to
make actes concerynyng the same, then to se that publique tranquilite & all thyngs
decent & comely for an honest outward order be mayntayned, preserued & kepte."
Both for theological and for socio-political reasons, oaths were of the utmost
importance in early modern England.

Bray, "Introduction," in Tudor Church Reform, lxxxviii-xcix; Jones, English Reformation, 163.
Jones, English Reformation, 168.
Statutes of the Realm, 21. Jac, c. 20, 4:1230-1231.
CUL MS. Ii. i. 39, fols. 79r-82r. See especially Wygenhale's story of Henry III on fols. 79v-80r.
Becon An inuectyue, sig. N2V.

Oaths, then, were essential for the maintenance of justice, duty, obedience, and
hierarchy in society. As Daniel Featly recognized in the middle of the seventeenth
Oaths are necessary for the execution of the magistrate's office and the
preservation of human society. For without such oaths the commonwealth
hath no surety upon public officers and ministers: nor kings upon their
subjects; nor lords upon their tenants; neither can men's titles be cleared in
causes civil, nor justice done in causes criminal; nor dangerous plots and
conspiracies be discovered against the state.209
But of equal importance was the theological significance of oaths. Oaths were a form
of worship. In calling God as witness, the swearer acknowledged God's divinity and
glorified his name. Oaths also gave human beings the power to access God's
omniscience and his omnipotence, the ability to summon to one's cause the only being
who could always search the hearts of men to determine the veracity of their words
and the only judge who could always punish swearers if they lied or failed to fulfill
their oaths. It was this belief that oaths allowed the swearer to access God that made
them a matter of controversy in the sixteenth century in two ways.
First, Protestants challenged the traditional medieval practice of how oaths
were sworn. Yet this challenge was not about oaths per se or their ability to access
God, but rather the extent to which God diffused himself in the material world.
Medieval Catholics believed that "creatures" like saints, their relics, the mass, the
mass book, and the Gospels were permeated with the divine presence and thus were
earthly conduits of God's sacred power. Accordingly, they swore on and by these
quasi-divine creatures. Protestants, conversely, argued that giving veneration or
worship to any created thing, no matter how holy or closely connected to God, was a
form of idolatry that robbed God of the honor due to his name. As such, all
Protestants rejected swearing by relics, saints, and the mass, while the most radical
Protestants such as John Bale and the Elizabethan Separatists also condemned
swearing on the Gospels. These changes were a matter of degree rather than of

Daniel Featly, Dippers Dipt (1646), 142; quoted in Hill, Society and Puritanism, 383.

fundamental nature, and they reflected the broader theological debates of the sixteenth
century over how to worship God.
Second, the belief that oaths gave one the ability to access a holy, powerful,
and jealous God meant that oaths were not to be taken lightly. Although perhaps not
to the same extent, Protestants echoed the medieval popular belief that oaths by
Christ's members mutilated his body in order to emphasize the gravity of the sin of
blasphemous swearing. Moreover, stories of God visiting his wrath upon false, vain,
and blasphemous swearers were legion. To abuse the access to God's holy nature and
to blaspheme his name were serious sins that led to the death of the body and the soul.
Oaths should be sworn only in solemn circumstances with the utmost reverence. This
created the almost paradoxical belief that oaths were so sacred that they should be
sworn as little as possible. Swearing an oath was a form of worship, but because this
particular form of worship gave one direct contact with God, it was especially
dangerous to fallen, sinful man. So almost every religious writer averred that oaths
should be sworn only when three conditions were met: truth, judgment, and justice.
But the specific circumstances in which these three general conditions were fulfilled
was a matter of substantial debate. The high esteem in which nearly all early modern
Christians held oaths served to magnify any debate over the exact conditions of a
lawful oath and made it into a matter of considerable importance. As we will see in
chapters two and twelve, controversy over what particular oaths were evil (against
justice) and vain (against judgment) contributed significantly to confessional conflict
in sixteenth-century England. Furthermore, we shall see in chapters five and seven
that different understandings of how a statement was truthful led to the practice of
dissimulation by both Catholics and Protestants in sixteenth-century England.
Hence, the religious controversies of the sixteenth century did not challenge
the fundamental theory behind oaths. The application of oath theoryhow one should
swear and the exact circumstances that fulfilled the three conditions for a lawful
oathbecame disputed, but the foundational beliefs that oaths were a means to call
forth God's knowledge and power in support of the truth of one's statement and that
this practice was crucial to the worship of God and to the preservation of society were

not challenged in England. There were of course exceptions to this rule. Some sects
of Lollards appear to have completely rejected the swearing of oaths. Yet it seems that
most Lollards who refused to swear an oath did so not because they had a
fundamentally different opinion of oaths, but because they thought the particular oath
tendered to them was unlawful. We have seen that Lollards like William Thorpe
refused to swear because they believed the book on which the oath was tendered was a
creature. Insofar as some of the Lollards who appeared before Bishop Cuthbert
Tunstall in 1527 refused to swear an oath, their refusal seems to have stemmed from
opposition to the ex officio oathan oath against judgmentrather than to all oaths in
general.21 Many Lollards thus anticipated sixteenth-century Protestant concerns over
particular kinds of oaths (ex officio) and manners of swearing (on creatures), but these
concerns were a heightened extension of the same general theory of oaths as espoused
by mainstream medieval Catholics.21' Of course, some continental Anabaptists
interpreted Matthew 5 literally and rejected all oaths, but this particular Anabaptist

These Lollards were tendered the ex officio oath, an oath at the beginning of a trial in an
ecclesiastical court whereby the defendant swore to answer truthfully whatever question his judge might
ask him. It should be emphasized that most of these Lollards did swear this oath. William Pykas
refused to swear and when asked whether it was lawful to swear, he responded that he did not know
("Et deinde comperit William Pykas quem dominus missit se subire luramentum de fideliter
respondendo qui sic missus recusavit. Iterrogatus an liceat Jurare dicit quod nescit"); BL Harleian MS.
421, fol. 19v. Like Pykas, John Bradley, John Hubbert, John Girlyng, and Robert Best, all refused to
swear at first, but eventually gave in and swore; BL Harleian MS. 421, fols. 19v-20v. Best's initial
response to the tendering of the oath is telling, for Best informed Tunstall that he would not swear until
Tunstall declared to him the articles against him ("dixit quod si idem Reverendus pater declarabit
articles super quibus, Jurarit/ libenter subire luramentum hoc et tunc recitatis articulis per dictem
Reverendum patrem super quibus subiret luramentum et denuo missus tactis sacrosanctis dei evangeliis
Iuravit de fideliter respondendo"); BL Harleian MS. 421, fol. 20r. A common complaint against the ex
officio oath was that it was against judgment, for the defendant did not know the content of the
questions the oath bound him to answer. Thus, Best's response to Tunstall and then Best's willingness
to swear after Tunstall read him the articles against him indicates that Best's problem was not with
swearing per se, but with swearing the ex officio oath. The records of the Tunstall's 1527 campaign
against Lollards are in Foxe's manuscripts, BL Harleian MS. 421, fols. 1 lr-35r. Many of these have
been accurately summarized in John Strype, Ecclesiastical Memorials: Relating Chiefly to Religion and
the Reformation of It, and the Emergencies of the Church of England, under King Henry VIII, King
Edward VI and Queen Mary the First.. .. (London: John Wyat, 1721) 1:74-87.
For further discussion on tension among Lollards between rejecting all oaths and only oaths by
creatures, see Russell, "Lollard Opposition to Oaths by Creatures," 668-684; Anne Hudson, The
Premature Reformation: Wycliffite Texts and Lollard History (Oxford: Clardendon, 1988), 371-374. I
will address the Lollards' use of oaths in equivocation and dissimulation in chapter seven.

claim appears not to have been prominent in England until the 1570s at the earliest.
Thus, there was a consensus among English religious writers of the fifteenth and
sixteenth centuries that oaths were sacred forms of worship and a means for human
beings to access God, and consequently of great social and religious significance.
But if there was basic agreement among the clergy about oaths, to what extent
did the laity accept the teachings of religious writers on oaths? Did the practice of
swearing oaths line up with the theory behind it? Did most people actually believe
that oaths were sacred theological gateways through which God was worshiped and
society upheld? On one hand, the same religious writings that expound on the
theological and social significance of oaths betray the perception that many people did
not take oaths seriously. It was commonplace in literature on oaths to lament how
widespread perjury and vain swearing were in society.213 Moreover, the sheer amount
of ink spilled by the clergy on oaths suggests that their writings were an attempt to
convince and convert people away from their wrong opinions about oaths. They were
prescription rather than description. The fact that Thomas Wygenhale noted and
answered twenty-two common excuses for swearing illicitly illustrates the existence of
ideological justification for the casual treatment of oaths.214 Even if one mentally
accepted the standard religious rhetoric on oaths, practice could deviate from belief.

For a concise example of a continental Anabaptist rejection of oaths, see Michael Sattler's
Schleitheim Articles, in Michael G. Baylor (ed. and trans.), The Radical Reformation (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1991), 178. The best study of English Anabaptism is Irvin Buckwalter
Horst, The Radical Brethren: Anabaptism and the English Reformation to 1558 (Nieuwkoop: B. de
Graaf, 1972). Horst did not find any evidence of English Anabaptists actively refusing to swear oaths.
It is possible that the "Anabaptist Confession" discovered in England contained the Schleitheim Articles
with its rejection of swearing, but this confession has unfortunately not survived. See Horst, 50-51,
183-189. For an older, less comprehensive treatment of English Anabaptism, see Duncan B. Heriot,
"Anabaptism in England during the 16th and 17th Centuries," Transactions of the Congregational
Historical Society 12(1933):256-271; 13 (1939): 312-320. In the 1570s, the Lord North accused some
English sectarians of denying the lawfulness of all oaths; John Strype, The Life and Acts of Matthew
Parker, the First Archbishop of Canterbury in the Reign of Queen Elizabeth . . . To which is Added, an
Appendix, Containing Various Transcripts of Records, Letters . . . and Other Secret Papers. . . .
(London: John Wyat, 1711), 437.
A couple of examples will suffice. "Sed heu modernis temporibus ne dum laici ymmo clerici non in
vanum assumunt & sine tribus comitibus cotidi iurant deum tota die eciam blasphemant & execubiliter
[exsecrabiliter?] periurant"; CUL MS. Ii. i. 39, fol. 9r'\ "What perjuries, swearing and cursing is
everywhere, in every corner!"; Latiner, Sermons by Hugh Latimer, 380.
CUL MS. Ii. i. 39, fols. 3v-34r.

Jacque de Vitry told the story of a priest who exhorted a penitent woman in confession
to cease swearing customably:
She replied: "Sir, God help me, I'll not swear again." The priest said: "You
have just sworn." "By God, I'll refrain from it again." The priest told her her
speech should be "yea, yea," and "nay, nay," as the Lord had commanded, for
more than this was wrong. She replied: "Sir, you are right, and I tell you by
the blessed Virgin, and all the saints, that I will do as you command me, and
you shall never hear me swear."
But can Vitry's confused lay woman really be taken as representative of the laity?
Should clerical lamentations about the prevalence of vain and false swearing in society
really be taken at face value? As Alec Ryrie has demonstrated about the number of
Protestants or Catholics in pre-Elizabethan sixteenth-century England, clerical
statements about popular practice were often exaggerated and polemically biased, and
therefore cannot be taken as an accurate assessment popular practice. So to
discover whether the laity of England truly did share the opinions of the clergy
regarding oaths, we need to examine their actions when taking oaths. The Henrician
and Elizabethan oaths of supremacy, the oaths of Pilgrimage of Grace, and the oaths of
heresy trials provide us with a lens for determining if the practice of swearing oaths
lined up with its theory. Before we do all this, we need to look at the debate over
monastic vows in England and the subsequent establishment of a different ideology
that justified the breaking of oaths.

" 5 Jacques de Vitry, The Exempla or Ilustrative Stories from the Sermones Vulgares of Jacques de
Vitry, ed. and trans. Thomas Frederick Crane, Folklore Society, vol. 26 (1890, reprt.,
Nendeln/Liechtenstein: Kraus Reprint Limited, 1967), 91-92, 222.
Alec Ryrie, "Counting sheep, counting shepherds: the problem of allegiance in the English
Reformation," in The Beginnings of English Protestantism, ed. Peter Marshall and Alec Ryrie
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 87-91.

Chapter 2: Vows, Oaths, and the Formulation of a Subversive Ideology
In 1527, Henry VIII translated and printed a letter he had written to Martin
Luther wherein he defended the teaching of the Holy Catholic Church and
demonstrated to "all his faythfull and welbeloued subiectes" that Luther was an
abominable heretic. Henry began his attack on Luther by castigating Luther for
breaking his monastic vow of celibacy:
ye that so moche bost your selfe of holy scripture/1 marueyle ye can set so
lytell by your vowe/ whan ye rede therin this holy sayeng: If thou haue any
thynge vowed to god/ delay nat the performyng therof:for an vnfaithfull
promyse displeaseth god. Rede ye nat also there these wordes: To your lorde
god make ye vowes/ and fulfyll them? What say ye by these words/whan thou
hast made a vowe to thy lorde god/ come of and performe it: for thy lorde god
will haue a reknyng therof. And if thou dye/ it wyll by layde to thy charge for
a syn?

Henry then continued by refuting Luther's claim that vows were part of the Mosaic
ceremonial law from which Christ's death set us free. After all, did not the prophet
Isaiah declare that in a future time God's people should make vows to the Lord and
fulfill them, "shewing that vowes shulde haue in Christes lawe more strength/ & be
better kept/ than in the olde law"?2 Indeed, God struck down Ananias in the early
church because he had broken his vow to donate all the profits of the sale of his field
to God. Yet Luther showed contempt for these scriptures, setting his "owne
sensualyte" against them and continuing to "rayle agaynst all vowes (so manifest and
heynous an heresy/ that there neyther hath been herde a greatter or a more open
[heresy])." Henry clearly held vows in high esteem. To break them openly was a
mark of manifest irreligion and heinous heresy.
A decade later, however, the situation had changed. The dissolution of the
monasteries called into question the validity of monastic vows, for what became of a
monk's or nun's vows of poverty and obedience to a monastic rule and governor when

Henry VIII, A copy of the letters, wherin the most redouted & mighty prince, our souerayne lorde kyng
Henry the eight, kyng of Englande . . . made answere vnto a certayne letter of Martyn Luther, sent vnto
him by the same and also the copy of the foresaid Luthers letter, in such order, as here after foloweth
(1527), sig. C2r. The scriptures Henry quoted were: Ecc. 5:4, Ps. 76:11, Deut. 23:21.
Henry VIII, A copy of the letters, sig. C2V.
Henry VIII, A copy of the letters, sig. C3V.

they no longer were able to live in a monastic community and follow the precepts of
their rule? Henry was in an awkward position. He vehemently maintained the validity
of the monks' and nuns' vows of celibacy, but the dissolution had ispo facto rendered
void their vows of poverty and obedience.4 This ambiguity is captured well by an act
of Parliament in 1539. On one hand, the act decreed that religious persons "hereafter
shalbe put at their liberties from the daunger servitude and condicion of their Religion
and profession wherunto they were professed" and allowed to purchase, own, and
enjoy goods and land. On the other hand, the act maintained that those who had
voluntarily vowed celibacy were still forbidden to "marrie or take any wife or wyves;
but that they and everie of them be clerelie excluded and put from the same to all
intentes and purposes."5 Likewise, the Act of Six Articles of 1539 made it crystal
clear that vows of chastity or widowhood "advisedly made to God . . . shalbe alonely
taken and expounded and interpreted to bynde suche person or persons" as long as the
vow was made at the age of twenty-one or older.
To justify his release of English monks and nuns from some vows but not
others, Henry probably felt that another treatise was necessary. In fact, an anonymous
manuscript on religious vows among the state papers of 1539 most likely demonstrates
the crown's official policy on vows. The writer began by emphasizing that Scripture
declared that vows made to God must be fulfilled. Thus, monks, nuns, friars, and
secular priests who vowed celibacy were "bownden under the payne of mortall synne
& eternall damnacion to lyve so continually still unmaryed and never to take them
mates voluntarily in deide." But the writer did not stop the treatise there. Most likely
foreseeing the objection that Henry had dispensed monks' and nuns' vows of poverty
and obedience, the writer also proclaimed:
nevertheleisse hitt is to be knowon & understande that their is no suiche
manner vowe of perpetuall chaistitye, or eny other vowe that men do
commynly use to make, or maye make in eny lefull matter that is so

For examples from the 1530s of Henry strongly defending vows of chastity, see CCCC MS. 109, 48-
49; BL Cotton MS. Cleopatra E v, fols. 215, printed in Burnet, History of Reformation, 4:390-391; BL
Cotton MS. Cleopatra E v, fols. 312v-313r, 315 (Henry VIII editing of the Six Articles).
Statutes of the Realm, 31 Hen. VIII c. 6, 3:724-725.
Statutes of the Realm, 31 Hen. VII c. 14, 3:743.
NA SP1/152, fol. 25rCLPXIV (i) 1068 no. 2).

indifferent/ that the vower thereof before his vowe maye be saved withowt hitt:
of suiche firme bondayge & streynthe butt that a mans supreme sufferayn lorde
vnder God, his prince maye dispence with the same att all tyme when it shall
seem to hym ether necessary or verey expedient for the commyn weilthe.
Henry, then, wanted to uphold the binding nature of vows, though he also felt that he,
as sovereign lord of the realm and supreme head of the church, had the power to
dispense with them as he saw fit.
Yet this distinction between abrogating vows of poverty and obedience but
keeping celibacy was lost on some of Henry's subjects. The Evangelical radical John
Bale consciously rejected the logic that Henry could absolve monks from two of their
monastic vows but leave the third as binding:
Whan the kyngs grace of England by the autoryte of Gods wurd, discharged
the monkish sects of his realme, from their vowed obedience to the byshop of
Rome, ded he not also discharge them in conscience of that vowe of
Sodometry, whyche altogether made them Antichrists creaturs? If he dyd not so
minde it, why altered he their relygions?9
Others made the same mistake out of ignorance. Already in 1535, the commissioners
in the royal visitation of the monasteries, Thomas Legh and John Ap Rice,
encountered members of religious orders at Deny Abbey seeking to be freed from their
monastic vows, and Rice admitted that they had dismissed many religious people over
the age of twenty before they knew the king's wishes to the contrary. In 1540, the
Duke of Norfolk rebuked a man for marrying a nun. The man replied that he knew of
"no nuns nor religious folk in this realm, nor no such bondage, seeing God and the
king have made them free."'' Up to the very moment of the passing of the Six
Articles, Christopher Mont, Henry's ambassador to the German Lutheran princes,
could claim:
although he knewe not your graces consyderacions in that behalf, yet he might

NA SP1/152, fol. 25r (LP XIV (i) 1068 no. 2).
John Bale, The apology oflohan Bale agaynste a ranke papyst aunswering both hym and hys
doctours, that neyther their vowes nor yet their priesthode are of the Gospell, but ofAntichrist (1550),
sig. D2r' For a similar statement, see Robert Crowley, The confutation of xiii. articles, wherunto
Nicolas Shaxton, late byshop ofSaulburye subscribed and caused be setforthe in print the yere of our
Lord. M.L.xlvi. when he recanted in Smithfielde at London at the burning ofmestres Anne Askue, which
is liuely set forth in the figure folowynge (1548), sig. H6V.
NA SP1/98, fols. 40 r -41\ 48 rv (LPIX 651, 661).
NA SP1/163, fol. 38r (LP XVI 101).

well affirme that your highnes is not to scrupulouse in the matier de votis and
that sundry nonnes and religiouse women have ben discharged oute of their
houses with honest pensions during their lyves and not forbidden but suffred to
Thus, even though Henry tried to maintain the binding nature of the vow of celibacy
throughout his reign, his dissolution of the monasteries and absolution of English
religious from their vows of poverty and obedience had the effect in some of his
subjects' minds of releasing them from all their monastic vows.
Henry's condemnation of Luther because of Luther's violation of his vow of
celibacy and the resulting controversy over vows after Henry's dissolution of the
monasteries aptly introduce the two themes of this chapter: the English Protestant
attack on monastic vows and the unsuccessful attempt to prevent the attacks on vows
from applying to other forms of divine promises. First, monastic vows were a huge
issue in the English Reformation. Although the debate over monastic vows
commenced in the 1520s with Henry's letter against Luther, the royal dissolution of
the monasteries and the subsequent ambiguity over vows that it engendered propelled
vows into the limelight of English religious polemic. The back-and-forth nature of
England's reformations ensured that vows would remain a hot topic. Edward VI
eliminated the inconsistency of Henry's position by abnegating the vow of celibacy.
Mary re-established it. Elizabethan once again rejected it, though grudgingly. In an
attempt either to influence royal policy (under Henry) or to defend it (under Edward
and Elizabeth), Protestant reformers like William Tyndale, John Bale, George Joye,
John Ponet, Matthew Parker, and Peter Martyr Vermigli (who lectured on the topic
while a professor at Oxford) attacked vows.13 Conservatives like Thomas More,

Thomas Cromwell to Henry VIII, 24 April 1539, The Life and Letters of Thomas Cromwell, ed. R.B.
Merriman (Oxford: Clarendon, 1902), 2:220.
William Tyndale, A prologue to the first five books of Moses, in Works of the English Reformers,
1:38-49; Bale, The apology oflohan Bale agaynste a rankepapyst anuswering both hym and hys
doctours, that neyther their vowes nor yet their priesthode areofthe Gospell, but ofAntichrist (1550);
George Joye, The defence of the mariage ofpreists: agenst Steuen Gardiner . . . with a confutacion of
their vnaduysed vowes vnaduysedly diffined: whereby they haue so wykedly separated them whom God
cowpled in lawful! mariage (Auryk [Antwerp], [1541]), sigs. A8r-B8r, C3v-C8r; John Ponet, A defence
for mariage of pries tes by Scripture and aunciente wryters (1549), sigs. D7r-F6v; Matthew Parker, A
defence ofpriestes manages stablysshed by the imperiall lawes of the realme of Englande, agaynst a
ciuilian, namyng hym selfe Thomas Martin doctour of the ciuile lawes, goyng about to disproue the
saide manages, lawful! by the eternall worde of God, and by the hygh court of parliament, only

Richard Whitford, Stephen Gardiner, Thomas Martin, and Richard Smyth responded
to Protestant reformers and defended vows. Indeed, after justification and the nature
of Christ's presence in the Eucharist, vows were the most debated topic of the English
Reformation. To start, then, this chapter will explore the Protestant arguments against
the taking and keeping of monastic vows.
Second, this chapter will explore the wider ramifications of the Protestant
attack on monastic vows. Just as the dissolution of the monasteries and the abrogation
of vows of poverty and obedience allowed some to justify breaking their vows of
celibacy despite royal rhetoric to the contrary, so did the Protestant attack on vows of
celibacy propagate a set of arguments that could be easily adapted to substantiate the
transgression of any vow or promise. English Protestants were aware of this danger
and sought to prevent it. Henry's printed letter against Luther had publicly established
the image of Protestants as dishonest promise-breakers driven by lust, an image that
Protestants obviously disapproved. Furthermore, as we shall see in chapters three
through six, oaths were the primary means through which the English crown
implemented England's separation from Rome, and English Protestants had no desire
to undermine the validity of the various oaths of succession and supremacy. The

forbydden by forayne lawes and canons of the Pope, coloured with the visour of the Churche. Whiche
lawes and canons, were extynguyshed by the sayde parliament (1567), 181-185, 209-210, 224-246,
253-254, 268-269. The exact content of Vermigli's Oxford lectures is not known. The conservative
Oxford scholar Richard Smyth wrote a treatise, however, attacking Vermigli's teaching on vows at
Oxford. In response, Vermigli composed a long tract defending himself, in which it is safe to assume
that Vermigli articulated the same doctrine on vows that he taught in his Oxford lectures. Peter Martyr
Vermigli, Defensio D. Petri Martyris Vermiglii Florentini diuinarum literarum in schola Tigurina
professoris, ad Riccardi Smythaei Angli, olim theologiae professoris Oxoniensis duos libellos de
caelibatu sacerdotum, et votis monasticis (Basel, 1559), henceforth cited as Vermigli, De votis.
Thomas More, Dialogue concerning Heresies, 165, 360, 366; More, The Confutation ofTyndale's
Answer, eds. L.A. Schuster et. al., vol. 8 ofThe Complete Works of Thomas More (New Haven, CT:
Yale University Press, 1973), 51, 573, 725; Richard Whitford, Here begynneth the boke called the Pype,
or tonne, of the lyfe of perfection The reason or cause wherof dothe playnely appere in the processe
([1532]),fols. 2r-43r; Stephan Gardiner, Stephani Winton. episcopi Angli, ad Matrinvm Bvcerum, de
impudenti eiusdempseudologia conquestio (Louvain, 1544), fols. Gl r v ; Thomas Martin [Stephen
Gardiner?], A traictise declaryng and plainly prouyng, that the pretensed marriage ofpriestes, and
professedpersones, is no mariage, but altogether vnlawful, and in all ages, and al countreies of
Christendome, bothe forbidden, and alsopunyshed. . . . (1554), sigs. N3v-P3r, CC1V-CC3V, LLl r ;
Richard Smyth, Eivsdem D. Richardi Smythei confvtatio qvorundam articulorum de votis monasticis
Petri Martyris Itali, Oxoniae in Anglia theologiam profitentis, in Celeberrunu sacrae theologiae
professoris D. Richari Smythei, in achademia Oxoniensi sacras literas profitentis de coelibatu
sacerdotum liber vnus. Eiusdem de votis monasticis liber alter, nunc primum typis excusi (Louvain,
1550), hereafter cited as Smyth, Confutatio.

catch, then, for Protestants was that they had to challenge the validity of monastic
vows without calling into question the validity of other kinds of divine promises such
as oaths. The thesis of this chapter is that such an enterprise was impossible. The
debate over monastic vows provided an ideological arsenal from which later sixteenth-
century Protestants and Catholics drew in order to justify the breaking of their oaths.

The Denial that Secular Priests Took Vows

One way later English Protestants sought to defend themselves against the
accusation of vow-breaking and maintain the validity of certain kinds of divine
promises while at the same time upholding the validity of clerical marriage was simply
to assert that secular priests did not actually take vows of chastity in England. This
argument was very convenient, but it conflicted with years of tradition. According to
canon law, every member of the secular clergy of the degree of subdeacon or higher
was supposed to make a promise of chastity to his bishop upon ordination.' During
the first half of the sixteenth century, everyone assumed that the secular clergy in
England followed this precept. The medieval monk Denis the Carthusian, for
example, claimed that all men promoted to the priesthood or to an inferior order
vowed and promised both outwardly and inwardly at their consecration to live
chastely.16 In the early English debates over clerical marriage, both Protestants like
Martin Bucer, William Turner, and Peter Martyr Vermigli and conservatives like
Stephen Gardiner and Richard Smyth took for granted that secular priests in England
made a vow of chastity.17 George Joye, while also assuming that seculars took vows

"Nullum facere subdiaconum presumant epicopi, nisi qui se uicturum caste promiserit: quia nullus
debet ad ministerium altaris accedere, nisi cuius castitas ante susceptum ministerium fuerit approbata";
C/C,D.28c. 1, Friedberg, 1:100. "Quandopresbiteri etdiaconesperparrochias constituuntur, oportet
eos professionem episcopo suo facere, ut caste et pure uiuant sub timore Dei, ut dum eos talis professio
obligat, uitae sanctae disciplinam retineant"; CIC, D. 28 c. 3, Friedberg, 1:101. It seems that deacons
were originally allowed to have wives if they protested during their ordination that they could not
remain celibate (CIC, D. 28, c. 8, Friedberg, 1:102-103), but a later canon (CIC, D. 31 c. 1, Friedberg,
1:111) specified that bishops were no longer allowed to ordain deacons unless they promised chastity.
Denis the Carthusian, The lyfe ofPrestes. .. . ([1533?]), sigs. B1V-B2V.
Martin Bucer, The gratulation of the mooste famous clerke M. Martin Bucer. . . And hys answere
vnto the two rafylinge epistles ofSteuen, Bisshoppe of Winchester, concerninge the vnmaried state of
preestes and cloysterars, wherein is euidently declared, that it is against the lawes of God. . . to refrain
from holye matrimonie ([1549]), sig. E2V; William Turner, The rescuynge of the romishefox other wyse
called the examination of the hunter deuised by Steuen Gardiner. . . . (Winchester [Bonn], [1545]), sigs.

in England, noted that Peter Lombard called these vows "vota tacita / dome or not
expressed vowes."
The first person to question whether secular priests in England actually took
vows of chastity was the Erasmian theologian Dr. John Redman. On December 17,
1547 the Convocation of the Clergy voted on a decree (eventually passed) that
condemned all canons, statutes, laws, or customs wherein the contract of marriage was
disallowed because of "any vow or promise of Priesthood Chastity or
Widdowhood."19 Dr. Redman was absent from the proceedings so Convocation
solicited his opinion in writing. Redman wrote that while he believed the Word of
God exhorted chastity for priests, priests in England were bound only by the canons of
the church "and not by any precept of God's worde; as in that they should be bound by
reason of any vowe, which (in as far as my conscience is) priestes in this churche of
England do not make."20 In 1549, the Protestant John Ponet incorporated this into his
argument for clerical marriage. Ponet claimed that the ordinal used by bishops in
England to consecrate priests did not contain the phrase "Accipe iugum castitatis"
(receive the yoke of chastity) but rather "Accipe iugem domini" (receive the yoke of
the Lord). Secular priests, then, never made a vow of chastity.
In 1554, the Catholic Thomas Martin responded to Ponet's agrument. Martin
averred that even though secular priests might not verbally express a vow at their
ordination, it was nonetheless attached to the priesthood. After a handful of examples
from the early church, Martin concluded: "althoughe there be neuer a woorde spoken
of the prieste or Deacon: yet if that he taketh the holy orders at the Bishopps handes,
he hath vowed & professed chastitie by the iudgement and sentence of this most
auncient counsel."22 In 1567, Matthew Parker refuted Martin's argument of
"tatiturnitie", agreeing with Ponet that there was no promise nor profession in the

M2v-M4r; Vermigli, De votis, 380, 418; Smyth, Confutatio, sigs. D4v-D5r.

Joye, The defence of the mariage ofpreists, sig. B7r.
Christ Church, Oxford, Wake MS. 306 (Records of Convocation), 81.
Parker, A defence of priestes manages, 268-269; Wilkins, Concilia, 3:697; Burnet, History of the
Reformation, 5:231; Gerald Bray (ed.), Records of Convocation (Woodbridge, Boydell, 2006), 7:296-
John Ponet, A defence for mariage of priestes, sigs. D7r-D8r.
Martin,^ traictise, sig. 03 v .

ordination of an English secular Priest that suggested they vowed chastity. Even
Richard Smyth eventually admitted that English secular priests did not take vows.
Writing to Matthew Parker in the early years of Elizabeth's reign, Smyth expressed
regret for having written a book supporting clerical marriage: "Wold god, I had never
made it, becausse I toke theyn for my cheiff ground that priestes of Englande made a
vowe, when they were made, which I nowe perceave, is not true." So it appears that
English secular priests did not actually take an explicit vow of chastity.25 Protestants
exploited this fact to argue for clerical marriage in a way that did not advocate the

Parker, A defence ofpriestes manages, 181, 183-185.

CCCC, MS. 119, 109. This letter by Smyth must, however, be taken with a grain of salt. At this
time, Smyth was in trouble for his refusal to swear the Elizabethan oath of supremacy and was trying to
get into the good graces of Archbishop Parker. Accordingly, Smyth strove to convince Parker that he
was a good Protestant who repented of his past behavior. But this was most likely dissimulation, for at
his first opportunity, Smyth fled England and established himself as a staunch Roman Catholic
theologian in the Low Countries.
Other evidence confirms that English secular priests did not explicitly make verbal vows upon their
ordinations. No bishop's register in the sixteenth century that 1 have seen contains a reference to
secular priests vowing chastity, though the registers usually do indicate that priests took oaths of
canonical obedience and (after the Act of Supremacy) the oath of supremacy during their ordinations.
Moreover, Bishop John Fisher's register specifically noted vows of chastity in the profession of a
religious clergyman or a hermit, but again made no mention of them in the institutions of secular
priests; Centre for Kentish Studies, Maidstone, Drb/A/r/1/13, Microfilm Z3 (John Fisher's Register),
fols. 78r' 162v, 179v-180'. The official legalization of clerical marriage in 1549 did not mention vows at
all. If secular priests had made a vow of chastity, one would expect some government propaganda
addressing the issue (like what was issued after the dissolution of the monasteries) so as not give cause
to the English people to break their vows in imitation; Henry Gee and William John Hardy (ed.),
Documents Illustrative of English Church History (London: MacMillan, 1896), 367-368. The Marian
Injunction which re-established clerical celibacy mentioned vows only of the religious clergy: "Item,
that every bishop, and all persons aforesaid, do foresee that they suffer not any religious man, having
solemnly professed chastity, to continue with his woman or wife; but that all such persons, after
deprivation of their benefice or ecclesiastical promotion, be also divorced every one from his said
woman, and due punishment otherwise taken for the offence therein"; Gee and Hardy, Documents
Illustrative, 382. Secular clergy were deprived for marrying "contrary to the state of their order and the
laudable custom of the Church"; Gee and Hardy, Documents Illustrative, 38. The evidence from the
prosecutions of married priests under Mary is ambiguous. On one hand, Richard Karsen, late curate of
Bedington, confessed to Cardinal Pole that his marriage was "contrary to the estate of myne order,
decrees of the Churche and laudable Customes of the same," making no mention of any vow; Lambeth
Palace Library, Pole's Register, fols. 41v-42r. On the other hand, among Foxe's manuscripts exists
articles against William Wayne and other married priests that explicitly mention vows: "iuxtaque et
secundum sacres canones et conscituciones ac ordinaciones et laudabiles consuetudines ecclesiascicas
ab ipsa ecclia catholica et presertim ab ecclia latina et occientali relligiose pie et continue obseruatas
solemne votum castitatis et continencie fecistis et emisistis sicque fecit et emisit vestrum quilibet hoc
que fuit et est verum publicum notorium manifesteum periter et famolsum et ponimus ut supra"; BL
Harleian MS. 421, fols. 53r-54r. The evidence can be reconciled if we acknowledge that although vows
of chastity were probably not verbalized by English secular priests, it does appear that Thomas Martin
was right that most English people assumed they were nevertheless tacitly attached to the office of the

breaking of vows. But, of course, everyone acknowledged that religious clergy did
take vows of chastity, so English Protestants were not able to avoid the issue
completely. In the end, they, like their continental counterparts, had to argue that
monastic vows should be broken.

The Theological Attack on Vows and the Distinction between Oaths and Vows
The most radical Protestant attack against monastic vows condemned vows
because they were against the doctrine of justification by faith alone. To understand
this argument, one must comprehend Luther's teaching on faith and works. Luther
averred that everything not of faith is sin.26 "Faith alone is necessary" for salvation.27
Works flowed naturally from faith. Works that stemmed from counsels like chastity
were obviously not necessary for salvation, but what about works that stemmed from
precepts? "These works," Luther argued rhetorically, "are still commandments, just as
the fruits of righteousness, even though they are not necessary for the attainment of
righteousness which is of faith alone."28 Luther replied that we should still do the
works of the Ten Commandments, but freely, for no reward, only for the benefit and
advantage of our neighbor.29 We were not obliged to do these works to be justified.
Instead, resting confident that our justification came solely from the grace given
through faith in Christ's promises, we did these works out of a spirit of freedom.
Vows, however, were contrary to this freedom. Luther declared that vows are "not
faith, nor do they issue from faith, for what else is a vow but some kind of law."

The situation was slightly more complex for Reformed theologians like Peter
Martyr Vermigli and John Bale (though it is indeed a stretch to bestow on Bale the title
of theologian), for they accepted the famous third use of the law. Whereas Luther said
the law's only functions were to awaken us to the state of our sinfulness (theological

Martin Luther, The Judgment of Martin Luther on Monastic Vows (1521), trans. James Atkinson, in
The Christian in Society I, ed. James Atkinson, vol. 44 of Luther's Works (Philadelphia: Fortress Press,
1966), 273.
Luther, The Judgment of Martin Luther on Monastic Vows, 286.
Luther, The Judgment of Martin Luther on Monastic Vows, 298.
Luther, The Judgment of Martin Luther on Monastic Vows, 301.
Luther, The Judgment of Martin Luther on Monastic Vows, 309.
Luther, The Judgment of Martin Luther on Monastic Vows, 280.

use) and to restrain the wicked (civil use), theologians following in Zwingli's and
Calvin's footsteps claimed that the moral law was both a guide for the elect on how to
live and a spur to action.32 Although Vermigli and Bale held that believers fulfilled
the moral law out of the freedom and grace given through faith in Christ (not through
their own effort), the elect were still to a certain extent bound to do the deeds of the
moral law.33 Vermigli and Bale thus had to articulate how vows fit in with the moral
law. First, they maintained that the elect should not be bound or restrained to do the
acts of the moral law from vows. The elect already owed these acts to God without
vows. Indeed, Vermigli argued that since all power to fulfill the moral law came from
God in the first place, all our good works were already God's without a vow. Bale
wrote: "All the goodnesse we haue, is farre to lytle for that we already owe him for
our creacion and redempcyon. What wyll we than paye hym besydes our dewty . . . As
God is wholy ours in Christ without vowe, so are we hys wholly agayne without
vowe."35 Secondand more importantlyVermigli and Bale argued that vows were
part of the ceremonial law. Richard Smyth averred fervently that vows were binding
because they were part of the moral law.3 Conversely, Bale and Vermigli argued that

For Luther on the first use of the law, see Martin Luther, "Prefaces to the Old Testament," in Martin
Luther's Basic Theological Writings, 125-129. For Luther on the second use of the law, see Martin
Luther, On Secular Authority: how far does the Obedience owed to it extend? in Luther and Calvin on
Secular Authority, ed. Harro Hopfl (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 9-14. For Luther's
rejection of the third use of the law, see David C. Steinmetz, Reformers in the Wings: From Geiler von
Kaysersberg to Theodore Beza, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 52. For the third use
of the law among Reformed theologians, see John Calvin, Institutes, bk. II, ch. 7, para. 12-14; Francois
Wendel, Calvin: The Origins and Development of His Religious Thought, trans. Philip Mairet (New
York and Evanston: Harper and Row, 1950), 198-201; Bernard M. G. Reardon, Religious Thought in the
Reformation (London: Longman, 1981), 183.
Vermigli, De votis, 239, 274.
"Asserui equidem, nee muto, sed ratum habeo, Vota Christianos minime decere: quia quum iam certo
intelligant, & se, & sua omnia pertinere ad Deum, debent absque Voto, & libere, non modo seipsos,
uerum etiam omnia quae habent in sua potestate, in honorem & gloriam eius impendere. Vnde si quis
uouerit, actum agit, quum id offerat Deo, quod iam illi debitum est, & obligatum"; Vermigli, De votis,
Bale, Apology, sigs. U4v-U5r.
"Impudenter quoque inficians illud psalmi 75. Vouete, & reddite, ad nos Christianos quicquam
pertinere, sed ad Iudaeos tantum, & Iudaica uota: quasi uero uouere Deo quippian, caeremoniale
quiddam esset, ac Iudaeis peculiare, & non potius morale, pertinens ad Dei cultum, ac omnibus proinde
commune omnis aetatis, omnisque hominibus"; Smyth quoted in Vermigli, De votis, 302. See also: "ad
haec ergo vouenda nos inuitat, non praecipit vt voueamus, sed vt vota reddamus, vouere enim voluntati
consulitur, sed post voti promisione necessario redditio exigitur. Ideo non ait simpliciter vouete vel
nolite vouere, sed vouete & reddite, id est, si voueritis, reddite, alioque damnationem habent"; Smyth,
Confutatio, sig. H7V.

in the Old Testament, vows were part of Jewish ceremonial worship. Jews vowed to
sacrifice an animal or present some other kind of guilt offering. These sacrifices were
shadows of what was to come. When Christ offered himself as a once and final
sacrifice for our sins, vowslike all aspects of the Jewish ceremonial lawlost their
significance and relevance.37 The contention that vows were not part of the moral law
was proved to Vermigli and Bale by the fact that there were neither exhortations to,
nor examples of, vows in the New Testament.38 Since faith was founded upon the
Gospel (which was espoused primarily in the New Testament), and vows were not
found in the Gospel, vows were not from faith but from the law. And whatever was
not from faith was sin.39 Hence, because vows were part of the abrogated Jewish
ceremonial law, Vermigli and Bale maintained that they should not bind Christians.40
As such, although Lutheran and Reformed theologians disagreed about the
third use of the law, they both agreed that vows were acts of the law abrogated by the
coming of Christ that did not stem from faith. Indeed, the very nature of a vowthe
fact that it made an act obligatory or necessarywas contrary to the Evangelical
liberty of a Christian. Luther first used this line of reasoning to target vows of
chastity. For the sake of argument, Luther hypothetically granted that the Gospel
could be divided into two classes: precepts that were commanded to all and necessary
for salvation, and counsels that were exhorted to a few and not necessary for
salvation.41 Chastity, everyone agreed, was definitely a counsel. Had not the apostle
Paul specifically told the Corinthians that he had no commandment from the Lord

Vermigli, De votis, 52-53, 92, 303-305; Bale, Apology, sigs. B l ' - \ B8r, G7r-V, K6v-K7r.
This point was of course contended by Catholics. Both Smyth and Vermigli spilled considerable ink
in arguing whether vows were in the New Testament or not. See Smyth, Confutatio, sigs. F2r-F4r, H3V-
H6V; Vermigli, De votis, 10-51; Bale, Apology, C2v-C3r.
"Nam qui possunt fide impelli ad nuncupanda Vota, quum scriptura noua de huiuscemodi cultus
genere nee vllum verbum eis faciat? Et fidei ea est natura, vt absque uerbo Dei minime consistat. Vnde
confectaneum quoque est, hos homines uouendo peccare"; Vermigli, De votis, 62. See as well Bale,
Apology, sigs. M3v-M5r.
Indeed, Bale's opponent claimed that if he could show that vows were part of the moral law and not
the ceremonial law, Bale's entire argument would crumble. Bale agreed: "Take that grounde awaye (ye
saye) and than wyl al the rest fal, which is knylded therupon. And it is truth in dede I am glad we haue
broughte yow to that conclusyon"; Bale, Apology, sig. M4v.
In reality, Luther rejected this "sacrilegious and blasphemous" division of the gospel, but he was
willing temporarily to "degrade to their level;" Luther, The Judgment of Martin Luther on Monastic
Vows, 257-259. As we shall see below, Luther did not believe any commands were necessary for

concerning virgins?42 But a vow transformed the status of chastity: "What was a
matter of choice before the vow, is a matter of obligation after the vow: it is no longer
a counsel but a precept."43 This transformation, wrote Luther, was wrong: "By divine
decree these things [counsels] are optional, but by human decree you make them
obligatory."44 Moreover, monks often violated God's true preceptit is better to
marry than to burnin order to keep this counsel (celibacy) that their vows have
wrongly transformed into a precept.45 What else was this but placing human law over
divine law? Peter Martyr Vermigli concurred with Luther's judgment: "And so you do
not suffer this Christian liberty to remain intact in every kind of men: you bring forth
the reason that by a vow, which you yourselves fabricate, the thing that ought to be
free by the decree of sacred letters is made necessary."46 Virginity, wrote Vermigli,
was like circumcision. Both were indifferent, but once either was made obligatory
by a vow or some other meansthey must be opposed, just as Paul opposed the
practice of mandatory circumcision among the Galatian Church. In a vow of
chastity, the offending aspect for Vermigli was less celibacy than the vow that made it
obligatory. Luther declared:
For the two statementsthat a vow is not necessary for righteousness and
salvation, and that a vow cannot be set aside without endangering
righteousness and salvation, are clearly at odds with each other. If a vow
cannot be set aside, it is necessary; if it is not a matter of necessity, it can be set
Echoing Luther, John Bale wrote: "If we nowe do anythyng to God, it must come of a

1 Cor. 7:25.
Luther, The Judgment of Martin Luther on Monastic Vows, 280.
Luther, The Judgment of Martin Luther on Monastic Vows, 310.
Luther, The Judgment of Martin Luther on Monastic Vows, 262. Compare to Peter Martyr Vermigli's
accusation: "Vos autem facitis Deum, quae minus ad nostram perfectionem attinent, legis rigore
imperasse: ac ilia, quae nos perfectissime reddunt Euangelicos, non exegisse, sed reliquisse libera";
Vermigli, De votis, 113.
"Ideoque hanc libertatem Christianem non patimini saluam in omni hominum genere: & rationem
initis, ut per Votum, quod ipsi finxistis, necessarium efficiatur, quod sacrarum literarum decreto liberum
esse debuit"; Vermigli, De votis, 105.
Vermigli, De votis, 327.
"Docui enim licere illis qui caelibatum uouerunt, licet non recte egerint in voto nuncupando, caelibes
uiuere;" Vermigli, De votis, 327.
Vermigli, De votis, 297.

love in fredome, & not of a vowe or an othe in bondage." At the end of his Apology,
Bale concluded: "He doth no great act than, which offereth himselfe in bondage by
vowe. To a godly man are vowes nothynge necessary, for he serueth God in lyberte of
sprete."51 Peter Martyr agreed:
But they who vow things which were free now force them to be kept from the
law, and establish a precept. And therefore they do not depart from the burden
of the commandments, but rather entangle themselves more on purpose. . . .
Since they who do not want to do these kinds of good works unless they are
bound with a law declare themselves to be under the law rather than under
grace and faith.52
Hence, for Luther, Vermigli, and Bale, the fact that a vow bound or forced one to do an
action for God was what made monastic vows wrong.
Yet if Luther, Vermigli, and Bale criticized monastic vows for their binding
nature, how could they accept any kind of vows? For what else was a vow but a
binding promise made to God? At points in his treatise, Luther did indeed suggest that
all vows were wrong. For example, he wrote: "In fact, we are proving that evangelical
freedom forbids vows."53 Thomas More certainly thought that this was Luther's
conclusion. According to More, Luther taught:
theyr vowes coulde not bynde them. . . . He techeth also that no man or woman
ys bounded to kepe and obserue eny vowe that he hath made to god of
vyrgynyte / or wydowhed / or other chastyte out of maryage / but that they
maye mary at theyr lyberte theyr vowe not wythstondyng. . . . And sone after
he wrote yt no vowe could bynde eny man but that euery man may boldely
breke theym of hys owne hed.
In the end, however, Luther rejected this stance, arguing that only vows that were
totally and perpetually binding were wrong. As long as the action vowed was not
necessary and the vow could be set aside, Luther allowed it: "Indeed, you may take
and keep all the vows you like, as long as you do no violence to the freedom

Bale, Apology, sig. M8v.

Bale, Apology, sig. U5r.
"Sed qui uouent ea, quae libera erant, iam sibi obseruanda ex lege, ac praecepto constituunt: quare se
non exuunt onere mandatorum: sed potius de industria se magis impediunt. .. . Quoniam illi, qui nisi
lege astringantur, haec bonorum genera facere nolunt, se declarant sub lege potius esse, quam sub
gratia, & fide"; Vermigli, De votis, 239-240.
Luther, The Judgment of Martin Luther on Monastic Vows, 309.
More, Dialogue concerning Heresies, 165, 360, 366. Also see Idem., The Confutation ofTyndale's
Answer, 51,573,725.

commanded by God.. . . The vow to chastity and the whole monasticism, if godly,
ought necessarily to include the freedom to retract the vow."55 But was it really a vow
if the vower had the freedom to break it? Luther even admitted this: "At this point
someone will perhaps laugh, and deride a vow of this kind as ridiculous. They will
say it is some sort of a sham vow." Nevertheless, Luther considered some vows
were valuable if they were only temporarily binding. Even more ambiguous than
Luther was John Bale. Although Bale's argument clearly added up to a rejection of all
vows, Bale never expressly voiced this opinion. He never explicitly extended his
arguments outside of the context of his attack on monastic vows, despite the obvious
connotations. Vermigli was more consistent. He admitted that his arguments led to
the complete rejection of vowing even while allowing that many would not support his
conclusion: "From these things it is demonstrated, firstly that it does not belong to
Christian men to vow. Which point, although I consider it to apply in general, perhaps
not everyone will think thus, and neither will I resolve to oppose them very much."57
But if no vows should be perpetually binding since such vows offended
Evangelical liberty, were not other forms of binding promises also wrong? If one
should always be free to break a vow, should not that freedom also extend to oaths?
For example, could not marriage vows be broken, for they were also perpetually
binding promises? Luther replied, "The freedom of the gospel is valid only for
matters relating to the relationship between you and God, and not for matters between
you and your neighbors."58 Monastic vows, vows to go on pilgrimage, and similar
vows were wrong because they were binding promises made to God. They were thus
made coram deo, and they pertained to matters of salvation. Luther upheld marriage
vows and oaths, however, because they were binding,promises made to another

Luther, The Judgement of Martin Luther on Monastic Vows, 311.

Luther, The Judgement of Martin Luther on Monastic, 312
"Ex quibus demonstratum est, primum ad Christianos homines non pertinere vt voueant. Quod licet
in vniuersum ergo intellexerim, & fortasse non omnes ita existiment, neque cum illis nimium pugnare
statuerim"; Vermigli, De votis, 378.
See a similar quotation in Luther's slightly earlier Theses of Vows: "Libertas Euangelii non tollit res et
corpora et debita hominum. . .. Coniunx non est deo coniunx, sed homini, similiter et servus homini
servus est. Voventes vero non homini, sed deo sese captivant et tradunt. Quos ipse tamen in eadem
re liberat et liberos esse iubet"; Luther, lvdicivm Martini Lvtheri de Votis [Themata de Votis] in D.
Martin Luthers Werke (Weimar: Hermann Bohlau, 1889), 334.

person with God as witness. "Otherwise," Luther admitted, "it would even be
permissible to make and break all contracts agreements, and treaties at will."
Vermigli had to make a similar distinction. He rejected Richard Smyth's claim that
"first faith" in 1 Timothy 5 referred to a vow and held it instead to be a kind of exterior
pact, just as when soldiers bind themselves with a promise or oath to serve in the
military without making any vow. Like Luther, Vermigli stressed the social
importance of oaths: "Neither is it doubtful that oaths, stipulations, and promises from
which we are put under obligation to something are pleasing and useful to our
neighbors on account of civil necessities and for the sake of human life. For if these
bonds were not imposed, human society could not be preserved." Evangelical
liberty should not lead to social liberty.
Luther and Vermigli thus relied on the distinction between vows and oaths in
order to prevent their attack on monastic vows from carrying over into the realm of
oaths and other forms of social promises. They were, to an extent, justified in doing
this since vows and oaths were indeed not identical. According to most definitions, a
vow was an advisable, willing promise made to God for his honor or glory.62 A

Luther, The Judgement of Martin Luther on Monastic Vows, 314.

"Ideo non potuit hoc uoto nuncupari: at de honestate uitae, atque conuersationis externae pactione
conueniebant cum Ecclesia: ut milites cum authorantur, promissione, uel sacramento militari ad haec,
uel ilia facienda, uel cauenda sese astringunt, quoad fuerint in ea militia: cum tame Votum nullum
edant"; Vermigli, De votis, 37.
"Neque dubium est iuramenta, stipulationes, & promissa, quibus ad aliqua obligamur, & grata, &
utilia esse proximis, ob ciuiles necessitates, & humanae uitae casus. Nisi enim haec vincula
intercederent, humana societas conseruari non posset"; Vermigli, De votis, 66.
Unlike an oath, there was not one simple, universally acknowledged definition of a vow in the late
medieval and early modern era. Peter Martyr Vermigli and John Bale both recognized that a vow had
many definitions. Some writers defined it as a passionate desire, others claimed it was an ardent prayer,
others believed it was a holy promise of some offering to be made to God, still others averred that it was
something consecrated to God from the obligation of a holy promise. Vermigli, De votis, 7. John Bale
included an extensive list of different scholastic definitions of a vows in his Apology. Bale, Apology,
sigs. C6r-C7r. After listing all these different definitions of a vow, Bale later defined a vow as "an
earnest promyse to do those thynges whyche God hath ordayned and commaunded"; Bale, Apology, sig.
D6r. Although not all scholastic definitions of a vow were identical, they were of course related. A
passionate desire would naturally lead to an ardent prayer, which in turn would lead to a holy promise.
Vermigli, De votis, 8. While not everyone agreed that the vow itself was the actual act of promising
something to God, making a promise to God was almost always part of the process of vowing. For
example, Richard Smyth claimed that according the oldest writers, a vow was "testificatio quaedam
promissionis spontaneaeque deo"; Smyth, Confutatio, sig. F4r. For most sixteenth-century writers,
however, a vow was the promise itself. The Carthusian monk Richard Whitford defined a vow as "an
acte of promyse / that dothe apperteyne vnto the due honour of god. for it is a promyse made vnto god
of those thynges that done by longe vnto his honour/ wherby a persone dothe bynde hymselfe vnto that

promissory oath was an advisable, willing promise made before God to men for the
glory and honor of God and for the assurance of men. Yet the problem with this
distinction was that beneath it lay another theological assumption that most Protestants
found distasteful: the idea of works of supererogationacts over and above the basic
requirements of a Christian life that earned the vower merit. This is clear in Thomas
Aquinas's explanation of the difference between an oath and a vow:
A vow and an oath are not the same; through a vow we direct an act to God's
honour, and thus what we do under vow becomes an act of religion. An oath,
on the other hand, shows reverence for the divine name by confirming a
promise, but what is confirmed by the oath does not for that reason become an
act of religion, because moral acts get their specific nature from their
In other words, an oath glorified God only by invoking and venerating God's name.
The actual behavior promised before God in an oath was not an act of worship. By
contrast, the condition or activity promised to God in a vow was of its own accord an
act of religion or worship. A vow was inherently pleasing to God because in a vow,
the condition or act vowed was made to God and not men.
Yet since Protestants rejected the whole concept of works of supererogation as
works righteousness, they sometimes tended to conflate the distinction between oaths
and vows. Some English Protestants assumed that oaths and valid vows were made to
God. For example, in his debate with Stephen Gardiner during his Marian heresy trial,
Dr. Taylor proclaimed: "an othe is an other maner of obligation made to God, then is a
Papisticall vow made to man."64 An anonymous Elizabethan treatise recognized that
it was "commonly obiected that a vow is an act of religion owed to God in which it is
both an oath and a sacrifice," but then went on to claim that vows of obedience to

thyng that byfore that vowe was in his owne libertis/ and he nothynge bounde there vnto"; Whitford,
Thepype or tonne of the lyfe of perfection, fol. 3 lv. The Marian Catholic Thomas Martin described a
vow as "a deliberate or aduised promes made vnto God, in thynges not commaunded of God for a better
entente and purpose, for or concernyng some thing to be done, or not to be done"; Martin, A Traictise,
sig. N4r. The Reformed Protestant Peter Martyr Vermigli gave a similar definition: "Votum non
incommode definiretur, quasi si, sancta, & spontanea promissio, qua homines Deo aliquid se oblaturos
obstringunt, quod ad eius cultum, & honorem facere, certo nouerint"; Vermigli, De votis, 9-10. Most
definitions thus specified that the promise made to God must be advisable or deliberate, voluntary or
willing, and that it must serve to the honor or glory of God.
Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Il-II, q. 89, a. 5.
Foxe,^M(1583), 1522.

prelates were real vows because they were made to God while vows to saints to go on
pilgrimage and made to honor saints and thus were wrong.65 For some Protestants,
vows had a social component. Henry Bullinger stated: "To vow is to promise anything
with an oath solemnly, either for our own or for another's welfare."66 As such, the
distinction between a vow and an oath was thus not always apparent. Both vows and
oaths were sacred promises that followed the same rules. For example, Numbers 30
a passage that delineated the regulations for daughters, wives, and widows when
making sacred promisesemployed both the words vow (votum) and oath
(iuramentum). The Elizabethan Archbishop Matthew Parker wrote: "how strong so
ever the bonde of a vowe is: yet it followeth the nature of an oath, for thei both walke
after one sort, votum & iuramentum pari passu ambulant, saieth the Lawiers." As
such, the theological distinction between an oath and a vow was not emphasized in

The English Protestant Attack on Monastic Vows as Unlawful

The lack of distinction between an oath and a vow among English Protestant
writers affected their attack on monastic vows. Because Luther and Vermigli
considered vows to be made only to God and oaths to be made only to men, they could
challenge all perpetual vows on the grounds that vows made necessary an action that
should be free. Yet wherever the line between vows and oaths was blurredwherever
an vow was perceived as having a human obligation or an oath a divine obligation
then it would be dangerous to attack vows based on their obligatory nature, for such an
attack would also call into question the other form of obligatory divine promise, oaths.
This must be why in England, no other Protestant reformers outside of Vermigli and
Bale challenged vows per se because of their binding nature. Indeed, Matthew Parker,
Robert Crowley, and the author of an anonymous manuscript on vows preserved in
Parker's library all explicitly stated that they upheld the taking and fulfilling of lawful

NA SP12/240, fol. 249r (Cal SP Dom, CCXL 145).

Bullinger, Decades, PS, vol. 8, 206.
Matthew Parker, A defence ofpriestes manages, 228.

vows. Instead of attacking vows in general and then drawing a qualitative
distinction between oaths and vows, most English Protestants focused their attack on
monastic vows and then drew a qualitative distinction between monastic vows and
lawful, binding vows. For example, the English Protestant Robert Crowley wrote:
"Take me not here (good master Shaxton) as one that regardeth not an oth or vow. But
take me as one that wyll nether keepe othe nor vowe, the perfourmance wherof is
against the commaundement of God."69 English Protestants attacked monastic vows
as unlawful based on the nature of the activity or condition vowed, the way it was
vowed, or the circumstances in which it was vowed.
The basis of the English Protestant attack on monastic vows as unlawful was
the axiom that unlawful vows should not be kept. Just as with oaths, the Biblical
examples of David's vow to slay Nabal, Jephthah's vow of sacrifice, Herod's vow to
grant any request of Herodias, or the Jews' vow to kill Paul showed that unlawful
vows should be broken. Again and again, Protestants averred that an unlawful vow

should not be kept. Catholics of course also recognized this principle. In his letter
against the Six Articles, Melanchthon accurately claimed: "Vowes that be wicked,
fayned, and impossible, are not to be kept. There is no doubt, but thys is the common
perswasion of all men touching vowes."72 But while Catholics also recognized that
vows against God's law were wrong, they maintained that monastic vows were in
accordance with God's law.73 So Protestants had to demonstrate the unlawfulness of
monastic vows.

Parker, A defence ofpriestes manages, 12; Crowley, The confutation of. xiii. articles, sig. G8V;
CCCC MS. 109, 103.
Crowley, The confutation of. xiii. articles, sig. H4r.
1 Sam. 25; Judg. 11; Matt. 14; Mark 6; Acts 23:12-22. These same examples were often quoted in
justification of breaking evil oaths, thereby further blurring the lines between an oath and a vow. For
example, in his Christen exhortacion, Bale spoke of David's "oath" and Herod's "oath," but in his Yet a
course, Bale mentioned Herod's "vow" and David's "vow"; Bale, Christen exhortacion, sig. A7v; Bale,
Yet a course at the Romyshefoxe, fol. 73v.
See for example: Hooper, Early Writings, 488-489; Joye, George, The defence of the Mariage of
Preists, sig. C5r; Bullinger, Decades, PS, vol. 8, 207; CCCC MS. 109, 115; Philipp Melanchthon, A
very godly defense, full oflerning, defending the mariage ofpreistes, gathered by Philip Melancthon, &
sent vnto the kyng of Englond, Henry the aight, translated out oflatyne into englishe, by Lewes
Beuchame (Lipse [Antwerp], [1541]), sig. B8r; Bale, Apology, sigs. F7V, H3V, 03 v .
Foxe, ^ M ( 1583), 1175.
Smyth, Confutatio, sig. H2V.

The first way they did this was by focusing on the three things vowed when
making a religious profession: chastity, obedience, and poverty. English Protestants
argued that vows of chastity were unlawful because God had ordained that it was
better to marry than to burn.74 Priests and monks who took a vow of chastity (which
God had not ordained) transgressed his command when they elected to burn with lust
rather than marry. Their vow was thus against God's law since fulfilling it meant
transgressing God's ordinance. Moreover, was this idea not behind Paul's
exhortation to Timothy to forbid widows under the age of sixty from receiving church
aid?76 Protestants claimed that vows of obedience to a monastic rule and ruler were
against God's law because they caused vowers to place their obedience to a monastic
rule and ruler above their obedience to their parents, husbands, and secular lords.
They would thus disobey the superiors to whom God's Word had explicitly

commanded submission in deference to a kind of superior unmentioned in Scripture.

Vows of poverty, according to Protestants, were feigned. They were an excuse to be

1 Cor. 7:9.
Bale, Apology, sig. B3V; [Martin Luther], An exposition in to the seventh chapter of the first epistle to
the Corinthians [trans. William Roy], included in Erasmus, An exhortation to the diligent studye of
scripture. ... ([Antwerp], [1529]), sig. B3 r v ; Melancthon, A very godly defense, sig. B7r"v; Ponet, A
defence for mariage ofpriestes, sig. F3r_v; Bullinger, Decades, PS vol. 7, 252.
Widows that received church aid were expected to remain celibate. Paul claimed that the sensual
desires of younger widows would cause them to want to marry and to break their "first pledge"; 1 Tim.
5: 9-15. This was a key passage in the debate over monastic vows. Protestants interpreted this as
commanding that no one under sixty should take a vow of celibacy since they would most likely break
it. Catholics focused on Paul's statement that the widows "brought judgment upon themselves" for
breaking their first pledge, thereby claiming that the breaking of a vow of celibacy brought damnation
upon the vow breaker. In response, some Protestants argued that "first pledge" did not refer to a vow of
celibacy but rather to an initial profession of Christianity or a baptism promise. Vermigli, De votis, 33-
48; Smyth, Confutatio, sigs. H2V-H6V, 3IV; Melanchthon, A very godly defense, sig D5 r v ; Ponet, A
defence for mariage ofpriestes, sigs. El r -E2 v ; Martin, A traictise, sigs. CC2r-CC3v; CCCC MS. 109,
117-119; Joye, The defence of the mariage ofpreists, sig. B3 r v ; Helen Parish, Clerical Marriage and the
English Reformation: Precedent, Policy, and Practice (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2000), 147-148; J. Andreas
Lowe, Richard Smyth and the Language of Orthodoxy: Re-Imagining Tudor Catholic Polemicism
(Leiden: Brill, 2003), 164-168.
Bullinger, Decades, PS, vol. 10, 519; Tyndale, Works of the English Reformers, 1:39; Henricus
Bomelius, The summe of the holye scripture and ordinarye of the Christen teachyng, the true Christen
faithe, by the whiche we be all iustified. And of the verture ofbaptesme, after the teaching of the
Gospel! and of the Apostles, with an informacyon howe all estatesshulde lyve accordynge to the
Gospell, [trans. Simon Fish] ([Antwerp, [1529]), sig. J4 rv ; Vermigli, De votis, 61. Of course, English
Protestants were very careful to say that oaths of obedience to one's sovereign were perfectly legit. For
more on this issue, see chapter three.

lazy, idle, and well-fed. In these arguments, then, the key was not the vow itself but
the nature of the thing vowed.
English Protestants also specifically attacked the vow of chastity because of its
impossible nature. The basis of this claim was the oft-cited maxim "he that voweth
must be such a one as is able to pay and satisfy his vow."79 This maxim had two
ramifications. Following Numbers 30, both Catholics and Protestants affirmed that
people in positions of social dependency could vow only if their social masters
allowed the vow. The vow of an unmarried daughter, wife, or monk was valid only if
their respective father, husband, or superior supported the vow, for otherwise the vow
was not in the inferior's power to fulfill.80 As canon law stated, "An oath sworn in
prejudice of the right of a superior is not valid."81 In addition to possessing the
authority to fulfill the vow, the vower must also have the ability to fulfill his vow. If
the vow became impossible, the vower was discharged of his or her obligation, though
if the impossibility of the vow stemmed from the vower's own actions, he or she had
to do penance for the evil vow.82 Protestants applied this logic by repeatedly asserting
that chastity was a state usually not within man's power to fulfill. Basing their
argument on 1 Corinthians 7:7-9, they claimed that chastity was a special gift from
God not granted to many people.83 Robert Barnes typically claimed: "It is as much in
our power to vowe chastitie, and to keepe it, if wee haue not the gift of God, as it is to
vowe that wee wyll neyther hunger nor thyrst: for they are both inclinations of nature,

Tyndale, Works of the English Reformers, 1:43-46; Bullinger, Decades, PS, vol 10., 519; Bomelius,
The summe of the holye scripture, sig. J4r v.
Hooper, Early Writings, 488-489.
Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Il-II, q. 88, a. 8-9.
CIC, X.2.24.19, Friedberg, 2:366.
Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, II-II, q. 88, a. 3.
"This I saye of faveour / not of commaundement. For I wolde that all men were as 1 mysilfe am: but
every man hath his proper gifte off god / won after this manner / a nother after that. 1 saye vnto the
vnmaried men / and widdowes: it is good for them yf they abyde even as I do: but and yf they cannot
abstayne / let them mary For it is better to Mary then to bourne"; 1 Cor. 7:7-9, Tyndales New Testament
of 1526. The Lollard John Purvey anticipated the argument that chastity was a gift of God and therefore
could not be vowed. See [Thomas Netter of Walden?], Fasciculi zizaniorum magistri Johannis Wyclif
cum tritico, ed. Walter Waddington Shirley (London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, and Roberts,
1858), 404-405. For typical English Protestant espousals of this argument, see Tyndale, Works of the
English Reformers, 1:38, 47; Bale, Apology, sigs. E2v-E3r; Joye, The defence of the mariage ofpreists,
sigs. C5v-C6r; Parish, Clerical Marriage, 145-146. For a similar example from Luther, see Luther, The
Estate of Marriage [1522], trans. Walther I. Brandt, in The Christian in Society II, vol. 45 of Luther s
Works, ed. Walther I. Brandt (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1962), 19.

implanted of God." Religious conservatives like Richard Smyth accepted that
chastity was a gift from God, but they did not see why that should prevent one from
vowing it. Did not all Christians vow to flee sin at their baptism, another activity that
was clearly outside of human power without God's grace? Smyth agreed that vows
should be within one's power to fulfill, but he and other Catholics maintained that
chastity could be attained through prayer. God would grant this gift if the vower
prayed hard enough. Thus, the lawfulness of the vow of chastity depended on
whether the writer viewed it to be within man's power to fulfill.
In addition to exploring the nature of the thing vowed, English Protestants
contended that certain vows were unlawful because of the way in which they were
made. First, English Protestants echoed continental Protestants in their claim that all
Catholic vows, from monastic vows to vows to saints to go on pilgrimage, were
unlawful because they were made for earning merit. Since justification by faith alone
did away with the concept of works of supererogation, Protestants attacked Catholic
vows as a form of works righteousness and even idolatry.87 The Wittenberg Articles
of 1536 summarized this position well:
For we consider that those opinions are godless which hold that monastic vows
merit the remission of sins and eternal life, or that they constitute righteousness
or Christian perfection. And although proper vows should be kept,
nevertheless monastic vows are illicit if they are made under the false
conviction that those works which have been invented without God's command
are not matters of indifference, but worship of God, and that they merit
remission of sins and eternal life. Therefore they are vows (that are) not
Vows, counseled Tyndale, should be made only to tame one's members or to help to

Robert Barnes, That by Gods laws it is lawfullfor Priestes that hath not the gift ofchastiie to marry
wives, in The whole workes ofW. Tyndall, John Frith, and Doct. Barnes, three worth martyrs, and
principall teachers of this Churche ofEnglande (1573), 323.
Vermigli, De votis, 64-65, 273.
Smyth, Confutatio, sigs. C3r'v, G5V; Whitford, Thepype or tonne of the lyfe ofperfection, fol. 42r;
Martin, A traictise, sig. Z4r; Parish, Clerical Marriage, 144-145.
For English recapitulations of this argument see CCCC MS. 109, 131; Tyndale, Works of the English
Reformers, 1:39, 42-43, 415; Vermigli, De votis, 63, 107; Parish, Clerical Marriage, 143-144. For the
association of vows with idolatry, see Melanchthon, A very godly defense, sig. D6 rv ; Parish, Clerical
Marriage, 151-158.
Gerald Bray (ed.), Documents of the English Reformation (Cambridge: James Clarke, 1994), 155.

edify one's neighbor. Vows made for any other reasons were unlawful. In arguing
that monastic vows were a form of works righteousness against faith, English
Protestants were making a theological argument similar to that of Luther and Vermigli,
but English Protestants did not extend the argument as far as Luther and Vermigli did.
English Protestants simply argued that monastic vows were unlawful and against faith
because they were made for earning salvation. Luther and Vermigli certainly agreed
with that statement, but they also maintained that all perpetual vows were against faith
because the binding nature of the vow was contrary to Evangelical liberty, a point
absent from all English arguments except those of Bale. In England, the theological
emphasis was on how the vow was made, not the obligatory nature of the vow itself.
The second way in which English Protestants attacked monastic vows by
emphasizing the way in which they were made was by highlighting the conditional
nature of monastic vows. Because unlawful oaths or vows did not bind, canon law
specified that a general oath ought to be understood as having been made with the
following condition attached: so long as it is not against the law nor obliges others to
act against the law.90 Thomas Wygenhale had expanded on this idea, stating that
promises understood with a tacit condition could be justly revoked if that condition
were not met.91 English Protestants exploited this canon to argue that monastic vows
were made conditionally. William Tyndale counseled his readers to vow chastity only
with the condition that thou "wilt continue chaste so long as God giveth thee that gift,
and as long as neither thine own necessity, neither charity toward thy neighbour, nor
the authority of them under whose power those art, drive thee unto the contrary."
Indeed, Tyndale said that all vows should be interpreted with these conditions, even
"though thou madest no mention of them at the making of thy vow." Lewes
Beuchame's translation of Melanchthon contended that some priests had taken
Tyndale's advice to heart, vowing chastity with the phrase: "I promise chastite so farre

Tyndale, Works of the English Reformers, 1:43, 48-49.

"Iuramentum generale debet ita intelligi, si fieri potest, ut non obviet iuri; alias tanquam temerarium
non obligat contra iuris observantiam"; CIC, X.2.24.21, Friedberg, 2:367.
CUL MS. Ii. i. 39, fol. 29v.
Tyndale, Works of the English Reformers, 1:48.
Tyndale, Answer to Sir Thomas More, in Works of the English Reformers, 2:197.

as mans fraylte permitteth me." "These men," continued Melanchthon, "dowtlesse
promise not themselues neuer to marye: for this is but a promise vpon a condicion
which condicion not graunted/ the vowe is voyd."94 George Joye took it one step
further, claiming "There is noman" who when becoming a priest vowed "in clere
wordes simply virginal chastite . . . But vpon this condicion/ quantum permiserit
humana fragilitas/ that is to saye/1 vowe chastite as farre as mans fraylte will suffer
me/ and no farther do I vowe."95 Ponet expanded by citing James 4 (supplemented
with a few examples from Romans 15 and John 13) in support of the contention that
"If God wyll, if I lyue, if I can, be included in all vowes and othes, so that all suche as
can iustly challenge the exception, maie not be impeached as breakers of their vowe or
bargain."96 Even if the condition was not voiced, it was attached to all Christian
vows, either "expressed or included."97 Parker reiterated that even the blindest of
lawyers and schoolmen held that in every vow "this generall condition is implied and

annexed.'" Some English Protestants thus claimed that all lawful vows were made
conditionally. If God did not will it, or if the vower was not able, he was therefore
justly allowed to transgress his vow since the conditions implied in his vow were not
After exploring the nature of the thing vowed and the way the vow was made,
English Protestants attacked monastic vows as unlawful because of the circumstances
in which they were made. The most common deployment of this argument was the
claim that the vow of chastity was made in ignorance of one's gift. The basis of this
argument was the well-established principle (taken from Jeremiah 4:2) that for a
promise to be lawful and in accordance with judgment, the promisor had to have
Melanchthon, A very godly defense, sig. B6V. For a similar quotation by Luther, see Luther, The
Judgment of Martin Luther on Monastic Vows, 337.
Joye, The defence of the mariage ofpreists, sig. B7r~v. My italics.
Ponet, A defence for mariage ofpriestes, sigs. E4r-E5r, quotation from sig. E5r. James 4 read: "Go to
nowe ye that sayez to daye and to morowe let vs go into soche a citie and continue there a yeare and
beye / and sell / and wynne: and yet cannot tell what shall happen to morowe. For what thinge is youre
lyfe? Hit is even a vapoure that apereth for a lytell tyme / and then vanyssheth awaye: For that ye ought
to saye: yff the lorde will and yf we live/let vs do this or thatt"; Tyndale's New Testament of 1526. The
example from Romans 15 was Paul's promise to visit the Romans when traveling through Spain. John
13 was Peter's promise to Jesus that he would never allow Jesus to wash his feet. Ponet claimed that
both of these promises contained implicit conditions.
Ponet, A defence for mariage ofpriestes, sig. F6V.
Parker, A defence ofpriestes manages, 149. My italics.

knowledge of the matter promised. English Protestants maintained that even if a
person received the special gift of chastity from God, the recipient did not know for
certain or for how long the gift had been granted. Those who vowed chastity were
therefore ignorant of their ability to remain chaste throughout their entire lives. It
logically followed that a vow made in ignorance was against judgment and should be
That vowe therfore is made vnaduysedly (of what age so euer the persone be)
which is made without good aduyement knowledge or consyderacion of his
owne power and strengthe to performe it: and so for his owne weaknes is
compelled to breke it / of whiche kynde of vowes ar al the wyueless and
howsbondlesse vowes of al preistes and nonnes/ and of all suche as haue not
the gift to lyue sole."
And monastic vows were always made in ignorance because they lasted for the
vower's entire life and yet no one could know whether he or she would always have
the gift of chastity.100 For example, when a slave married believing himself to be free
but discovered at a later time that he was still a slave, his marriage was immediately
broken. The same logic should apply to monastic vows, claimed Vermigli. Even if the
promise appeared just at the time of the vow, once the vower found out that the vow
had been unjustly made or realized a change in circumstances has subsequently
rendered the vow unjust, it should break it.101 The claim that vows made in ignorance
were not binding was therefore key to the Protestant attack on monastic vows.
Richard Smyth responded to this argument by claiming that the Church did not allow
professing clergy to vow until after they had tested their strength, thereby also

Joye, The defence of the manage ofpreists, sig. B2r"v. See the following similar statements by other
Protestants: Luther, An exposition in to the seventh chapter of the first epistle to the Corinthians, sig.
B2r; Bale, Apology, sigs. Dl v -D2 r ; CCCC MS. 109, 113.
The anonymous Protestant writer of the manuscript treatise on vows in the Parker Library
particularly attacked monastic vows for their perpetual nature: "lam de votis, que similia monasticis
sunt, quibus se alij ad perpetuam abdicationem coniugij, alij ad alias abstinentias vel actiones
astringunt, etiam si se nulli singulari hominum imperio addicant, vt sit in monastice, idem sentimus,
Nam et his votis quoniam ad ea homines in omnem etatem obligantur, ad que non habent diuinam
vocationem"; CCCC MS. 109, 101. My italics. Also see Luther, The Judgment of Martin Luther on
Monastic Vows, 330; Vermigli, De votis, 54-55, 340.
"Et duo in hoc genere promissionum mala simul concurrunt, quas illas irritas faciunt, primum est
ignoratio, qua non animaduertimus id, quod pollicemur, aut esse tunc iniustum, aut mutatis rebus
iniustum fieri. Atque hoc genus ignorationis tanti est in matrimonio contrahendo, vt, si, qui putabatur
liber, postea deprehendatur seruus, matrimonium statim irritum fiat. Quare non mirum si accidat idem
in voto"; Vermigli, De votis, 310.

admitting that a vow made in ignorance of one's power was of dubious legality.
The claim that a vow made in ignorance was not binding naturally led to
another contention central to the Protestant attack on monastic vows: that a forced vow
was not a valid vow. Vermigli wrote:
I certainly accept. .. that when we promise or vow both knowledge of the
nature of the vow and knowledge of our strength is required. Anyone who
does not know if what he vows pertains to the honor of God and the salvation
of his soul is ignorant and thus does not vow willingly. Since to be willing . . .
we must have knowledge.103
As with a vow made in ignorance, the claim that a promise secured through force or
intimidation was invalid had precedent. Medieval canon law explained that the church
was accustomed to absolve people from oaths extorted by fear, and if someone broke
an oath obtained by force, the transgressor (even if he had not been formally absolved
from his oath) was not to be punished as a mortal sinner.104 A vow, by definition, had
to be voluntary, for a work of supererogation would not gain the doer any merit if not
done willingly. When a group of nuns at Romsey Abbey professed their vows in
1534, they specifically mentioned that they were not forced or coerced in any way.'
The 1539 Act of Parliament that allowed former monks to purchase land stated that
they could not marry unless they could prove "by witnes or other laufull meanes some
unlaufull cohercion or compulsion done to them or any of them for makinge of any
suche vowe or contrayninge them to remayne in their Religion."107
Both Protestants and Catholic thus agreed that a vow made unwillingly under

" "Nempe nee hinc permitti, ut quis uoueat, antequam dicat, se explorasse uires suas, ac profiteatur
nihil dubitare, se posses quod uouerite, Deo bona fide praestare"; Smyth quoted in Vermigli, De votis,
"Quod ego accepi, minime dubito pios lectores facile daturos: nempe quae ultro promittimus, aut
uouemus, iustam notitiam requirere, tam naturae uoti, quam nostrarum uirium. Si enim quis nesciat, an
ad honorem Dei vergat, & ad salutem suam faciat, quod pollicetur, idemque ignoret, an queat praestare
quod promittit, non promisit uolens. Quandoquidem uoluntarium, ut docui, testibus uel ipsis
philosophis, requirit notitiam"; Vermigli, De votis, 322.
CIC, X.2.24.15, Friedberg, 2:364.
Carpenter, Destructorium vicorium, sig. G4r; Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, II-II, q. 88, a. 2; Parish,
Clerical Marriage, 139-141.
"perpetuam castitatem vouentes, asserentesque quod sunt immunes ab omni contractu matrimoniali
ac insuper quod neque vi metu dolo aut fraude ad premissa faciendum sunt inducte neque blandis aut
ausperis dictis seu factis parentorum [sic] suorum aut alterius persone secularis aut regularis
cuiuscumque sunt coacte"; Registra Stephani Gardiner et Johannis Poynet, 39.
Statutes of the Realm, 31 Hen. 8, c. 6, 3:725.

compulsion was invalid. In opposition to Catholics, however, English Protestants
argued that monastic vows were forced. Robert Barnes declared that the pope
compelled his priests to vow chastity.10B William Turner deduced that since God
decreed that there must be priests and the pope (or king, in this case) decreed that
priests must take vows of chastity, these vows were not voluntary. George Joye
averred that no vow was free that was "so intricately and vngodly wrapped in another
thinge and ther to so wykedly annexed that whoso wil receyue the one/ he shalbe
stinged with the tother agenst his wyll."110 The author of an anonymous manuscript
treatise in defense of the Reformation admitted that if a vow of chastity was made
freely it was binding. The problem, the author continued, was that only each
individual's conscience could judge whether the person vowed freely or vowed
because the vow was required of all ministers. Since no outward proofs would allow
men to ascertain whether a particular priest's vow was free or compelled, priests
should be allowed to marry.''' Thus, Protestants appealed to the axiom that a forced
or unwilling vow was not binding in order to demonstrate the unlawfulness of
monastic vows.' 12
In addition to vows taken in ignorance or under compulsion, the final
circumstance that Protestants claimed would invalidate a vow was when one's vow
conflicted with an established lawful vow or promise. If one vow contradicted another
vow made earlier, one vow would have to be broken in order to keep the other. The
vow breaker could then claim he broke his vow because he needed to keep a higher,
more binding vow. The most common application of this reasoning by Protestants
was the contention that one's baptism vow took precedence over the subsequent
profession of monastic vows. Simon Fish's translation of Henricus Bomelius's The
summe of the holye scripture read: "All be it that no monke can promyse more then he
hath promysed at the baptesme. And we be moche more bounde vnto oure promyse

Barnes, That by Gods laws, 316, 322.
Turner, The rescuynge of the romishefox, sigs. M3V-N1V.
Joye, The defence of the manage ofpreists, sigs. C3v-C4r.
NA SP6/3, fols. 78v-79r(APXIV (i) 376 no. 3).
For a more detailed summary of Protestant claims that vows of chastity were forced and of the
Catholic rebuttal, see Parish, Clerical Marriage, 139-142.

made at the baptesme / then [ ] eny religious vnto his professyon. For we make no
promyse vnto man/ but vnto god."113 Even though godparents made the baptism
promise on the infant's behalf, the promise to forsake the devil, the world, and the
lusts of the flesh, to believe all the articles of the Christian faith, and to keep God's
commandments was still binding. When monks and nuns initially made their
profession, they thought that it would help them to keep their baptism promise. When
they realized their monastic vows actually impeded the keeping of their baptism
promise, it was better to reject their monastic vows in order to fulfill their higher
obligation.'15 The anonymous author of the manuscript on vows now found in
Matthew Parker's papers agreed, arguing that a baptism vow was before all other
vows.116 In 1531, the Evangelical James Bainham also cited this argument when
asked in his interrogation what he thought of vows. U1 Indeed, this claim became so
common that the Council of Trent explicitly rejected the idea that one's baptism vow
1 1&

invalidated subsequent vows. Along with ignorance and compulsion, the existence
of a prior vow of greater significance was an extenuating circumstance that, according
to Protestants, made monastic vows unlawful and invalid.
In sum, the majority of English Protestant opinion did not attack monastic
vows because, as perpetually binding promises, they violated Evangelical liberty but
because the three specific vows of chastity, obedience, and poverty were unlawful.
Protestants argued that the nature of the thing vowed, the way that it was vowed (to
earn merit or conditionally), or the circumstances in which it was vowed (in ignorance,
through force, or in derogation of a previous, higher vow) were the determining
factors in making a vow unlawful. The implication in all these arguments was that any
vow or promise that was lawful and taken properly was indeed binding. Protestant
Bomelius, The summe of the holye scripture, sig. B7r.
Bomelius, The summe of the holye scripture, sigs. B7v-B8r. For the actual content of what was
promised during a sixteenth-century baptism, see Ketley, The Two Liturgies, 112, 121.
Bomelius, The summe of holye scripture, sig. I7V.
CCCCMS. 109, 106.
Foxe,^M(1583), 1028.
"If anyone says that the remembrance of the baptism received is to be so impressed on men that they
may understand that all the vows made after baptism are void in virtue of the promise already made in
that baptism, as if by those vows they detracted from the faith which they professed and from the
baptism itself, let him be anathema"; H. J. Schroeder (ed.), Canon and Decrees of the Council of Trent
(St. Louis: B. Herder, 1941), 54.

writers hoped that this would safeguard the power of oaths, especially the oaths
imposed in the English Reformation.

The debate over monastic vows was simultaneous to the flurry of state oaths
tendered (and eventually broken) in sixteenth-century England. Despite the efforts of
most English Protestants to disprove their reputation as vow-breakers and maintain the
binding nature of oaths, the Protestant attack on monastic vows provided an
ideological framework upon which those wanting to break their oaths could draw. The
relationship was not a direct one. The condemnation of monastic vows did not cause
Englishmen to break their oaths. But the debate on monastic vows did propagate and
popularize a discourse which could, with a little manipulation, be used to justify and
legitimize the breaking of oaths. One simply had to transfer and apply the logic
Protestants employed to attack monastic vows to the oaths of the English Reformation.
Because oaths and vows were similar forms of divine promises that followed the same
rules on the ground, this transference was not difficult. Furthermore, the arguments
employed by Protestants against monastic vows were themselves based on canon law
principles of oaths. The fact that Protestants applied these established principles in a
novel way to monastic vowsa way most canonists would have rejectedfreed these
arguments from their specific context. If Protestants could lift general principles on
oaths from canon law and apply them to monastic vows, could not others lift these
principles from the specific context of monastic vows and apply them to oaths of
obedience or allegiance? The rest of this chapter will argue that the Protestant
discourse against monastic vows could easily be, and indeed was, adapted to apply to
the oaths of the English Reformation.
The argument that vows that were not in one's power to keep should be
discarded had potential to undermine the oaths of sixteenth-century England. First,
the question of whether it was in one's authority to make a vow was relevant. If
daughters, wives, or servants could not make a binding promise without the consent of
their respective father, husband, or master, could subjects make an oath to a foreign

power without the consent of their sovereign? After all, the sovereign was the father
and master of the realm; his subjects were subordinate to him in same way as wives
and children were subordinate to the head of the family. In fact, Henry VIII's attack
on the episcopal oath on canonical obedience to the pope meant that this issue gained
prominence in the early 1530s. Second, the claim that conditions might change
which could prevent an individual from fulfilling his or her vow was of obvious
consequence to sixteenth-century England. Did, for example, the changes
accompanying the Marian counter-reformation release bishops from the obligations to
which they swore in the Henrician oath of supremacy because the oath was no longer
in their power to fulfill? What was in one's power to fulfill was a highly ambiguous
area. Finally, the claim that vows sworn in ignorance of one's power or lacking
knowledge were wrong was picked up and modified by the Puritan opponents of the
ex officio oath in the later sixteenth century. They contended that they could not
lawfully swear to answer truthfully all questions that would be offered when they were
ignorant of the content of the questions.120 Although perhaps not as overtly as other
Protestant arguments against monastic vows, the argument that vows not in one's
power must be broken also entered into the ideological discourse used to validate the
breaking of an offending oath.
A more obviously subversive argument in sixteenth-century England was the
claim that since vows of chastity were forced or not made willingly, they were not
binding. It required very little imagination to extend this argument to the oath of
supremacy. This is especially clear when we consider William Turner's articulation of
this argument. Turner surmised that just as poor peasants who must cross a bridge in
order to sell their goods at a market had no choice but to vow payment of an
unexpected toll suddenly demanded, so those whom God called to the priesthood had
no choice but to vow chastity since it was attached to the office of the priesthood. Yet
the person Turner claimed commanded the vow to be attached to the priesthood was
not the pope but the king.121 Turner provided another metaphor as well. On the brink

See chapter three of this dissertation.
See chapter ten of this dissertation.
Turner, The rescuynge of the romishe fox, sigs. M3r-M4r.

of starvation, a besieged city finally surrendered. The opposing captain gave the city
an ultimatum: either one hundred men of the city had to swear to be his bondsmen, or
his army would slaughter all the inhabitants of the city. The city chose the former
option, but was this really a choice? Was "theyr one among al thes that can chuse but
he must be a bondman? Non at all/ so can no more the prestes of Englond auoyd the
vow of chastite?"122 The similarities between the oaths of supremacy and Turner's
analogies are striking. After all, the oath of supremacy was a promise attached to all
religious and political offices commanded by the king wherein the penalty for refusal,
as the examples of John Fisher and Thomas More illustrate, was death.123 Turner of
course did not intend his argument to be applied to the oath of supremacy, but his
analogies demonstrated how simple it would be to apply the claim that a forced
promise did not bind to the oath of supremacy.,24 Indeed, as the sixteenth century
progressed, Protestants undoubtedly noticed the subversive potential of this argument.
Richard Cosin, for example, in 1593 rejected Tyndale's claim that a superior could
never compel or force an inferior to swear an oath. Cosin admitted that Tyndale's
doctrine was generally good, but maintained that "his iudgement in this matter of
oaths (though otherwise a godly martyr) is much lightened." By the start of the
seventeenth century, John Downame would claim that unless an oath was
unambiguously evil, a forced oath still bound the conscience of the swearer. This was
because the oath was never completely forced; the swearer always consented to some
degree in every oath.126 Christopher White (another seventeenth-century Protestant)

Turner, The rescuynge of the romishe fox, sig. Nl r .
Legally, the refusal of the oath was not declared treason until the 1536 Act Extinguishing the
Authority of the Bishop of Rome. Fisher and More were imprisoned for refusing the oath of succession
and officially executed not for refusing the oath of supremacy but for actively denying Henry's
supremacy. As we shall see, however, this was simply subtle legal manipulation on the part of the
crown. If Fisher or More had sworn the oath of succession or supremacy, they would not have been
imprisoned or executed.
It may also be observed that canon law defined an oath extorted through fear (which was not
binding) as one taken "unwillingly on behalf of one's life and the keeping of his things" (inviti pro vita
et rebus servandis); C1C, X.2.24.15, Friedberg, 2:364. This could easily be applied to the oath of
supremacy as well.
Richard Cosin, An apologiefor sundrieproceedings by iurisdiction ecclesiastical!, part 3, 174.
"howsoeuer wee doe not with absolute consent of will, take such an oath, yet wee cannot be said to
haue sworne vnwillingly, or against our wils; seeing we will it though not absolutely and simply, yet
accidentally, and conditionally, for the safeguard of our liues, and for the auoiding of a greater euill";
Downame, Foure treatises, 60.

agreed, arguing that oaths extorted through force still bound one's conscience, even if
they might not be binding in all courts.127 The claim that a vow extorted through fear
or force was not binding thus opened up a Pandora's Box in an era of prolific state
The argument that vows of chastity should be and were taken conditionally
also had a corollary in the practice of oath-taking, for the practice of conditional
swearing was extremely common in sixteenth-century England. When faced with an
oath or set of articles offensive to one's conscience, a frequent response was to swear
or subscribe with a vocal or written condition that nullified the objectionable parts of
the oath or articles. Thomas Cranmer, John Fisher, Stephen Gardiner, and Edmond
Bonner all employed this technique.128 As long as the person who tendered the oath
accepted the conditional response (and they usually did not), swearing conditionally
seems to have been accepted as a suitable way to salve one's conscience. The
problem, however, arose when the condition was unexpressed. Tyndale, Ponet, and
Parker argued that vows of chastity were taken conditionally even if the condition was
not voiced but only implied. This was perhaps permissible if everyone knew the
condition was implied. But once the unexpressed condition was known only to the
swearer and not to the person tendering the oath, the practice became mental
reservation, a form of swearing vehemently decried by English Protestants. Historians
traditionally have depicted mental reservation entering England with the Jesuit
missionaries of the late sixteenth century.129 Yet we shall see that Henrician religious
conservatives such as the monks of the London Charterhouse, Friar Forest, and Abbot
Hugh Cook also employed it to free their consciences from the oath of supremacy. 13
Although it is impossible to establish a direct link between mental reservation and the

White, Ofoathes, 30-34.
For Cranmer's use of conditional swearing, see chapter four of this dissertation. For Fisher, see F.
van Ortroy (ed), "Vie du bienheureux martyr Jean Fisher Cardinal, eveque de Rochester," Analecta
Bollandiana 12 (1893): 136. For Bonner and Gardiner, see T. B. Howell, A Complete Collection of
State Trials and Proceedings for High Treason and Other Crimes and Misdemeanors from the Earliest
Period to the Year 1783, With Notes and Other Illustrations (London: Londman et al, 1816), 1:615-618
(Gardiner), 631-634 (Bonner).
Johann P. Sommerville, "The 'New Art of Lying': Equivocation, Mental Reservation, and Casuistry"
in Conscience and Casuistry in Early Modern England, ed. Edmund Leites (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1988): 159-184; Zagorin, Ways of Lying, 186-220.
See chapter five of this dissertation.

argument that vows of chastity taken with an unexpressed condition could be violated,
it is not inconceivable that the latter led to the former. It is certainly true that
arguments like those of Tyndale and Parker which advocated the taking of monastic
vows with an unexpressed condition mirrored what was actually happening on the
ground with oaths and subscriptions.
Finally, the underlying reasoning used by Protestants in their arguments against
monastic vowsthat the vows of celibacy, poverty, and obedience were unlawful, and
that unlawful vows should be brokenwas potentially quite destabilizing if taken out
of the context of monastic vows. This reasoning was just a reworking of the well-
established maxim that an oath against truth or justice must be broken. The
ramifications of this logic to the oaths of the English Reformation go beyond the fact
that this logic held true for both vows and oaths. Also significant here was that the
Protestant emphasis on the nature of the thing vowed (namely chastity) shifted the
basis of the obligation in a vow away from the binding nature of the promise itself and
toward the worth of the thing vowed. Neither Protestants nor Catholics admitted
arguing this. In theory, both Protestants and Catholics agreed with Luther's statement
"You ought to obey the vow not because of what you vowed but because you made the
vow."131 Yet both sides observed that the arguments of their opponents undermined
this principle. Richard Smyth, for example, claimed that if Protestants evaluated vows
based on their binding nature rather than the worth of the thing vowed, vows of
chastity would have to be kept (even if they did not value chastity) just like all other
vows. Peter Martyr Vermigli retorted that if Catholics evaluated vows based on
their binding nature rather than the worth of the thing vowed, they would not dispense
some vows (simple) but make others (solemn) indispensable.133 Furthermore, the

Luther, The Judgment of Martin Luther against Monastic Vows, 351.

"Pro te nihil prorsus facti, quod ais tandem, non ex natura rei, aut dignitate eius pendere obligandi
vim sed ex promissione facta, ut patet de Adam & Saul, inquis, qui ob reculas minime acerbas dederunt
Deo poenas, ut prodit Scriptura. Haec inquam nihil prorsus iuuant tuam causam, sed catholicam potius
prouehunt. Nam ideo uota uirginitatis & celibatus obligare asseueramus, quod qui promiserunt Deo ea
praestare, & persoluere, obligentur ad standum promissis. Et ideo uis obligandi pendet a promissione,
nedum a promissae rei dignitate"; Smyth quoted in Vermigli, De votis, 346. Also see Smyth,
Confutatio, sig. K5r
"Alia uota relaxari non potes negare, uel, ut aiunt, permutari. Quare apud uos promissionis ius non
est inuiolabile. Ed ad rei promissae dignitatem confugere non potestis. Primum quia uirginitas non

Protestant argument that monastic vows should be discarded because they conflicted
with a Christian's baptism vow also relied on making a value judgment about the
nature of the thing vowed. Protestants argued that the vows one made in baptism were
more important than monastic vows. Catholics could just as easily turn the tables.
John Fisher, for instance, averred that Luther's vow of chastity took precedence over
Luther's marriage vow and therefore the latter was invalid.' The arguments of both
Catholics and Protestants thus placed more emphasis on the worth of the thing vowed
in evaluating whether the vow should be kept.
Of course, the worth of the thing vowed depended on the Word of God. The
author of the manuscript on vows in the Parker Library made an honest and astute
If we vow to God to do something, the necessity of doing it does not depend on
our vow, much less on the vow's manner and solemnity, but on the
commandment of God. Thus, if a vow agrees with the Word of God it must be
fulfilled . . . If it does not, it must not be fulfilled, however great the solemnity
used in the process of vowing.135
The debate over monastic vows in England moved the emphasis away from the
obligation of the vow itself and towards the lawfulness of the thing vowed according
to the Word of God. But because the proper interpretation of the Word of God was in
dispute in the sixteenth century, vows (or oaths) that concerned contentious subjects
lost their binding nature. In an era of great division and contention over the worth of

omnibus rebus praestat: deinde quia ex dignitate rei ids obligationis non pendet, si qua ibi ponenda sit:
quod idcirco dico, quia nos modo sub Euangelio in uotis nullam uim ponimus. Vos autem qui uim
tantem in uotis esse uultus, nullum debueratis uotum remittere. Verum cum uota passim & commutetis,
& relaxetis, dum postea implacabiles estis in uoto caelibatus, uestram cum hypocrisim, turn tyrannidem
retegitis"; Vermigli, De votis, 348. As this quote illustrates, Vermigli also responded to Smyth's
criticism by asserting that he held that vows were not binding under the gospel. Once again, the
significance of Vermigli's distinction between vows and oaths was important to his defense. Yet if the
line was blurred between a vow and oath, the radical nature of Vermigli's argument is clear. For other
Protestant writings attacking the Catholic distinction between simple and solemn vows, see Parker, A
defence ofpriestes manages, 230; Bucer, The gratulation, sig. F4V.
Fisher gave three reasons why Luther's vow of chastity took precedence over his marriage vow.
First, Luther's vow of chastity came before his marriage vow. Second, his vow of chastity was for the
health of his soul while his marriage vow was for carnal pleasure. Third, his vow of chastity was made
solemnly with great deliberation while his marriage vow was made rashly "in a corner"; John Fisher, "A
sermon . . . made concernynge certayne heretickes," in English Works of John Fisher, 171.
"Si quid igiter horum etiam deo facturos nos vouimus, necescitas tamen eius faciendi, non ex voto
nostro, nedum ex modo et solempnitate eius, sed ex ipso domini precepto pendet, proinde si votum cum
verbo dei congruit, servandum est, siue emissum sit simpliciter, siue cum solemnitate. Si minus, non est
servandum, quantauis adhibita sit in vouendo solemitas"; CCCC MS. 109, 127.

certain religious beliefs and practices, vows and oaths to adhere to these beliefs or
fulfill these practices could easily be disregarded once the swearer became convinced
these beliefs or practices were unworthy or from the Anti-Christ. For a vow or oath to
be binding, the promise had to be in agreement with truth and justice, but since truth
and justice were in dispute in the sixteenth century, what was binding for one religious
group was not binding for another.
Let us conclude by looking at a few examples that demonstrate that the
Protestant arguments against monastic vows were indeed adapted and applied to oaths
in sixteenth-century England. The first example comes from Bishop Stephen
Gardiner's treatise De vera obediencia, originally published in 1535 in Latin but then
reissued in English in 1553 by Protestant exiles. At the end of this treatise, Gardiner
addressed the criticism that he was a perjurer for breaking his oath of canonical
obedience to the pope and swearing the oath of supremacy. First, Gardiner claimed
that his oath of canonical obedience had been unlawful and thus should be broken
because the unlawfulness of the thing sworn took precedence over the obligation
inherent in an oath:
ffor in othes or promises/ the forme ought not so muche to be respected/ as that
mater. But let a man/ say/ sweare/ or promise as faithfully as he can/ that thing
that he ought not to doo nor performe/ that promise shal not be aboue the
nature of the mater self... for the othe ought to be a seruaunt of truth/ & can
not, nor ought to be preiudiciall vnto the truth.... he that maketh an unlawful
othe/ and goeth on styll to put it in execution/ thrusteth downe him selfe deper
and deper/ from whence he can neuer escape/ except he com out arseward. 3
In 1553, the Protestant translator of this work (perhaps John Bale ) wrote in the
margin, "Me thinketh you shoulde be ashamed to speak against priestes ma[r]iage/ if
this reason be true/ as it is in dede that ye make here." Second, Gardiner cited his
baptism vow in rationalizing his violation of the oath of obedience to the pope.

Stephen Gardiner, De vera obediencia: An oration made in Latine, by the right reuerende father in
God Stephan bishop of Winchestre, now lord chauncelour of England. With the preface of Edmunde
Boner . . . touching true obedience (Rome [Wesel?], 1553), sigs. G7r, Hl v -H2 r .
Michael Riordan and Alec Ryrie believe that John Bale prepared, edited, and published the 1553
Wesel edition of De vera obediencia; Michael Riordan and Alec Ryrie, "Stephen Gardiner and the
Making of a Protestant Villain," Sixteenth-Century Journal 34 (2003): 1056. Pierre Janelle, however,
has drawn attention to the chronological difficulties in attributing this edition to Bale; Pierre Janelle
(ed.), Obedience in Church & State, xxxiv-xxxviii.
Gardiner, De vera obediencia (1553), sig. H2r v

Gardiner told the story of a man whose wife disappeared for many years. Thinking
her deceased, he remarried. But when his previous wife suddenly reappeared, he at
first rejected her and fought for the right to stay married to his second wife. After the
church ruled against him, however, he sent away his second wife and welcomed back
his first wife. The parents of the second wife attacked the man for breaking his
covenant with his second wife, but the church maintained that the man was bound
more by his first vow than by his second. This man, Gardiner claimed, was himself:
ffor in dede II seing I beleved/ that no suche truthe of obedience/ had ben/ or if
it had ben sought for/1 wolde neuer haue founde it: I coupled myselfe in
seconde couenaunt/ & therto plighted my trouthe/ with whom I thought I
had laufully dwelt & and kept lawfull company withall: But whan the truthe
came/ which is euery mannes furst wyfe/ maried to him in baptisme/ which
will require the furst promyse/ at all mennes handes to her I applyed/ to her I
cleaved: & from my seconde knotte/ as of non affecte/ by the iudgment of my
churche/1 departed.139
And once again the Protestant translator wrote in the margin that this argument should
set priests free from their vows of chastity.M0 Brought to bear just as easily against an
oath of obedience as against a vow of chastity, the argument that an unlawful promise
could be broken was thus a double-edged sword that could be used by both Protestants
and Catholics to break an offensive vow or oath.
If the arguments that any promise that was unlawful or violated one's baptism
vow could applied just as easily to an oath of canonical obedience as to a vow of
celibacy, could not the argument also be applied to the Henrician oaths of succession
and supremacy? Edward Foxe, the Henrician bishop of Hertford, certainly thought so.
When he first read Gardiner's manuscript of De vera obediencia in 1535, he wrote to
Thomas Cromwell:
Oon thing i thinke necessarie to be observed in the booke whiche I beseche
youe to kepe to yourself or eles secretly as of yourself to advertise the kinges
highnes therof whiche is the excuse my lorde makethe for his oothe whiche if it
might be lawfull for every man to make the like and to draw the same in to
exemple youe know and considre how the malice of men might elude soche
oothes as we have now lately made. And therfore althought this excuse be

Gardiner, De vera obediencia (1553), sig. Hl r .

"& so doo maried priestes goo from their seconde knotte & folowe ye judgement of Goddes wrode
[sic]/ wherby his churche is gouerned: wc sayth To avoide fornicacion let euery man haue his owne
wife. Hearken to your owne reason my lorde"; Gardiner, De vera obediencia (1553), sigs Hl v -H2 r .

sufficient and valleable ynough against my lorde for his own deade yet
paradventure som hurte might com therof yn tyme comyng in case it shuld be
invulged or spredd abrode.Hl
The "oothes we have now lately made" were obviously the oaths of succession and
supremacy, which Henry had been tendering throughout the realm in 1534 and 1535.
Foxe thus feared that the publication of Gardiner's excuse for breaking his oath of
canonical obedience would provide Englishmen hostile to Henry's religious settlement
a ready-made justification for the breaking of their recent oaths to the king.
Gardiner's De vera obediencia and Foxe's letter to Cromwell thus demonstrate the
ease with which arguments employed to justify the breaking of one form of divine
promise could be and were transfered to justify the breaking of another form of divine
One more example of this phenomenon will suffice. In Thomas Cranmer's
heresy trial of January, 1556, Cranmer got into a debate with Dr. Thomas Martin (the
same one whose book on clerical marriage responded to the Protestant attack on vows
of celibacy) over the keeping of oaths. Both men accused the other of breaking an
oath, and both men used arguments originally voiced in the Protestant attack on
monastic vows to defend their own behavior:
MARTIN: Mayster Cranmer, yee haue tolde here a long glorious tale, pretending some
matter of conscience in apparaunce, but in veritye you haue no conscience at
all. You saye that you haue sworne once to Kynge Henrye the eyght agaynste
the popes iurisdiction, and therefore yee may neuer forsweare the same, and so
yee make a greate matter of conscience in the breache of the sayde othe. Here
will I aske you a question or two. What if ye made on oth to an hartlot to liue
with her in continuall adultery ought you to keepe it?
CRANMER: I thinke no.
MARTIN: What if you did sweare neuer to lende a poore man one penny, ought you to
keepe it?
CRANMER: I thinke not.
MARTIN: Herode did sweare what soeuer his harlot asked of him, he would geue her,
and gaue her Iohn Baptistes head: did he well in keeping his oth?
CRANMER: I thinke not.
MARTIN: Iehpthe one of the Iudges of Israeli did sweare vnto God: that if he would
geue hym victorye ouer hys enemies, hee woulde offer vnto GOD the firste
soule that came forth of hys house: it happened that hys owne daughter came
first, and he slue her to saue his othe. Did he well?
BL Cotton MS. Cleopatra E vi, fol. 201r {LP IX 403).

CRANMER: I thinke not.
MARTIN: SO sayth S. Ambrose de officijs. That is, it is a miserable necessity which is
payed with parricide. Miserabilis necessitas qua? soluitur parricidio. Then
maister Cranmer, you can no lesse confesse by the premisses but that you
oughte not to haue conscience of euery othe, but if it be iust, lawful and
aduisedly taken.
CRANMER: SO was that othe.
MARTIN: That is not so, for first it was vniuste, for it tended to the taking away of an
other mans right. It was not lawfull, for the lawes of God and the Churche were
agaynst it. Besides, it was not voluntary, for euerye man and woman were
compelled to take it.
CRANMER: It pleaseth you to say so.
MARTIN: Let all the world be iudge. But sir, you that pretend to haue suche a
conscience to breake an othe, I praye you did you neuer sweare and breake the
CRANMER: I remember not.
MARTIN: I will helpe your memory. Did you neuer sweare obedience to the sea of
CRANMER: In deede I did once sweare vnto the same.
MARTIN: Yea that ye did twise, as appeareth by recordes & writinges here ready to be
CRANMER: But I remember I saued al by protestation that I made by the counsayle of
the best learned men I coulde get at that time.
MARTIN: Harken good people what this man saythe. Hee made a protestation one day,
to keepe neuer a whitte of that whiche he woulde sweare the next day, was thys
the part of a christian man? . . . And this haue I spoken as touching your
conscience you make for breaking youre hereticall othe made to the king. But
to breake youre former othe made at two sundry times bothe to God and hys
Churche, you haue no conscience at all.I42
Both Cranmer and Martin agreed that an unlawful oath should be broken, but they
disagreed whether the oath of canonical obedience to the pope or the oath of
supremacy to king was the unlawful oath. Martin claimed that the oath of supremacy
was forced. Cranmer contended that he took his oath of canonical obedience
conditionally. Both agreed that these two oaths conflicted with each other, and one
must be discarded. All of these arguments were of a parallel structure to the ones
Protestants used to attack monastic vows.
In sixteenth-century England, then, two discourses of divine promises existed
side by side. On one hand, Protestants adopted the traditional medieval Catholic
rhetoric on oaths that depicted them as sacred promises, essential to the proper

Foxe,^M(1583), 1876.

worship of God and maintenance of society, and thus binding to the point of
inviolability. On the other hand, Protestants condemned monastic vows, claiming that
any vow that was unlawful, beyond one's power, taken in ignorance or conditionally,
or conflicted with a higher vow or oath, could and should be broken. By emphasizing
the qualitative difference between vows and oaths or between monastic vows and
other, lawful promises, English Protestants attempted to prevent the extension of their
arguments against monastic vows to the oaths of English Reformation. In the end,
however, this attempt failed. Vows were simply too similar to promissory oaths. This
is not to argue that the Protestant attack on monastic vows directly led to the breaking
of oaths. I do maintain, however, that the debate over monastic vows in Englanda
debate that engendered huge amounts of polemic in printwas a conduit through
which the subversive discourse on vows seeped into the broader thinking regarding
oaths. These two discourses could exist separately and simultaneously in a world of
consensus over the nature of truth and lawful behavior. But in the world of the
Reformation, where truth and God's decree of lawful behavior were so bitterly
contested, these two discourses were bound to overlap and clash. The prevalence of
the first discourse meant that oaths were an ideal means through which the English
crown strove to bind the consciences of its subjects and implement its religious and
political objectives. The existence and adaptability of the second discourse meant that
many of these state oaths failed to achieve the crown's objectives and bind the
consciences of dissident subjects. How this story played out is the subject of the rest
of this dissertation.

Section II: 'Kings Be Not Kings of Tongues'?: Oaths and the Henrician Religious

Oaths were the undoing of the London Charterhouse. On May 4, 1534, royal
commissioners visited this famously austere Carthusian monastery to tender them the
oath of succession. According to a recently passed act of Parliament, all English
subjects must swear fidelity to Henry, to Henry's new wife Anne Boleyn, and to their
heirs. They also had to swear to observe and maintain the whole contents of the act,
and these contents explicitly declared Henry's first marriage to Katherine of Aragon
unlawful. When the commissioners arrived, the prior of the Charterhouse, John
Houghton, attempted to turn them away. Houghton argued that it was not his business
to meddle with the affairs of kings. The king could repudiate and marry whomever he
wanted without the Charterhouse's consent. But the commissioners held firm,
We require you without disguise, evasion or sophistry to swear obedience to
the King's law and laying your hands upon Christ's Holy Gospelswe shall
stand by and administer the oathto declare without qualification that the
former marriage was unlawful and therefore rightly annulled; that the later
marriage shall be held lawful and in accord with divine law and therefore
rightly entitled to the approval of all.x
Houghton refused the commissioners' demand. He could not see how a marriage
"celebrated according to the rite of the church and observed for so long" could be
declared void.2 The commissioners then took Houghton and the procurator of the
house, Humphrey Middlemore, to the Tower. After about three weeks of captivity,
Houghton and Middlemore were persuaded that the oath of succession was not a

Maurice Chauncy, The Passion and Martyrdom of the Holy English Carthusian Fathers: The Short
Narration, ed. G.W.S. Curtis, trans. A.F. Radcliffe, intro. E. Margaret Thompson, (London: Society for
Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1935), 61. This is printed from a manuscript edition of 1570. All
English quotations from the 1570 version are the translation of A.F. Radcliffe. I will also make use of
the first printed edition of the work: Chauncy, Historia aliqvot nostri saecvli martyrum cum pia, turn
lectu iucunda, nunquam antehac typis excusa (Mainz, 1550). All English quotations cited from this
version are my translation. The Latin text will be provided in the footnotes.
"Venerabili tunc patre nostra respondente, se non posse capere, quo pacto priores nuptiae secundum
ritum Ecclesiae celebratae et tarn diu obseruatae irrirarentur"; Chauncy, Historia aliqvot (1550), sig.

matter of faith, nor worth dying for, and they agreed to submit. Yet the rest of the
Charterhouse was not convinced. At the next visit of the royal commissioners, the
monks all stoutly refused to swear. During a third visit, Houghton and half a dozen
other brothers took the oath. Finally, after a speech by Houghton and under threat of
imprisonment, the rest of the house swore the oath, "but only under the condition 'as
far as it was lawful'."3 We do not know the exact form of their oath nor how they
attached this condition. All that survive today are notarial attestations verifying that
the monks took their "oaths and fidelities."4
Swearing the oath of succession did not end the troubles of the London
Charterhouse. In the summer of 1534, the London Carthusians seem to have been
tendered an acknowledgment of royal supremacy. At that time, Henry was
administering an oath to all clerical institutions wherein each had to acknowledge that
Henry was the supreme head of the church in England and that the pope had no more
power in England than any other foreign bishop. The actual profession of the
Charterhouse does not survive, and our main source for the events at the London
Charterhouse, Maurice Chauncy (a monk of the Charterhouse in the 1530s who in the
reign of Edward VI wrote an account of the trials of the London Charterhouse), was
strangely silent on the events of the summer of 1534. However, a list of various
clerical institutions that professed the royal supremacy at that time survives. Under -
the heading of London, it reads, "nine Carthusians contumaciously refused to
undertake the oath."5 There is no record of Henry taking any punitive action against
the nine Charterhouse monks who refused the oath.
The plot thickened in November of 1534, when Parliament passed the Act of
Supremacy. Despite the fact that no oath was prescribed by the act, Houghton along
with Robert Laurence and Augustine Webster (the priors of the Charterhouses of
Beauvale and Axholme respectively) "anticipated" the coming of another royal

"Et sic demum in uerba regis iurauimus, sub conditione tamen, quatenus licitum esset"; Chauncy,
Historia aliqvot (1550), sig. M4r. Only the 1550 version of Chauncy's narrative notes that the
Charterhouse swore the oath of succession conditionally.
The original notarial attestations are NA E 25 82/3 (LP, VII 728). They are printed correctly in
Rymer, Foedera, 14:491-492. The first one is from May 29, and the second from June 6, 1534.
"Nouem Carthusiani contumacit recusarunt luramentum subire"; BL Cottom MS. E vi, fol. 209v (LP,
VII 891 (ii)). This document will be discussed in more detail below.

commission and sought an interview with Secretary Thomas Cromwell to forestall the
visit in the spring of 1535. Cromwell first declined to meet with them, but eventually
he demanded that they reject the authority of the pope and abnegate "all other external
powers, jurisdictions, obediences to whatever person or order they had owed or
promised" and affirm that Henry alone was the supreme head of the church. The
priors replied evasively that "they would do all that true Christians, dutiful and loyal
subjects, ought to do for their prince; in all things they would willingly obey the King
as far as divine law permitted."8 But Cromwell would not accept such an equivocal
answer. He allegedly retorted:
No reservation whatever shall be accepted by me. My will and command is
that without delay before this honorable assembly you shall make the simple
declaration without addition or disguise, confirming and approving all that is
submitted to you. Moreoverfor fear lest heart and voice be not in accordI
require you to testify by a solemn oath that you believe and firmly hold to be
true the very wordsmy decision is irrevocablewhich we propound to you
for an honest confession of faith.9
The priors were unwilling to make this oath. After a show trial at the end of April,
Houghton, Laurence, and Webster were executed on May 4, 1535. Six weeks later, on
June 4, Henry executed three other leaders of the London Charterhouse (Humphrey
Middlemore, William Exmew, and Sebastian Newdigate) for refusing to acknowledge
his supremacy. For the next two years, the brethren of the London Charterhouse
endured extreme pressure. Henry reduced their rations, subjected them to systematic
sermons in favor of his supremacy, and sent some of the brothers to monasteries
supportive of Henry's supremacy.10 Finally, under the threat of dissolution, twenty-
one brethren of the London Charterhouse gave in and took the oath of supremacy on

"illi anticiparent & praeoccuparent tempus expectati aduentus Consiliariorum Regis, eundo ad dictum
Dominum Thomam Crouwell"; Chauncy, Historia aliqvot (1550), sigs. N4 v -01 r .
"Vt authoritatie domini Papae abrenunciarent, ipsumque false, uiolenter ac extorte usurpasse suma
primariam potestatem faterentur, & omnes alias externas potestates, iurisditiones & obedientias
abnegarent, cuicunque etiam personae uel ordini debitae essent aut promissae : Soli regi suisque
obtemperarent, & ipsum Regem supremum caput Ecclesiae, tam in spiritualibus quam temporalibus,
acceptarent, crederent, & affirmarent"; Chauncy, Historia aliqvot (1550), sig. 0 1 r .
Chauncy, Passion and Martyrdom (1570), 79.
Chauncy, Passion and Martyrdom (1570), 79.
For a detailed account of these two years, see E. Margaret Thompson, The Carthusian Order in
England (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1930), 411-435.

May 18, 1537. Yet while they swore outwardly, according to Chauncy "in their
hearts" they prayed to the Lord:
We beseech your mercy, so that you may not regard this way which we act
externally in placing our hands on the book of the holy Gospels and kissing it,
and neither accept it as if we are confirming or consenting to the will of the
king, but rather in veneration of the sacred words described in the gospel you
may receive this our external pretense as made for the preservation of our
Their oath did not end the matter. On November 15, 1538, the London Charterhouse
was suppressed. As for the ten monks who refused to swear in May 1537, they were
imprisoned at Newgate and systematically starved to death.
The story of the Henrician regime's attempt to coerce the London
Charterhouse into accepting the Boleyn marriage and Henry's supremacy of the
church illustrates the key question of this section: how did Henry VIII and his
councilors implement the parliamentary reforms of 1534? That is, how did the regime
get its subjects to accept Henry's divorce and remarriage, the rejection of papal
authority, and the establishment of royal supremacy? Three subsidiary questions
underlie this overarching question. First, what happened on the ground in England
from 1534 to 1537? The London Charterhouse seems to have been tendered at least
four different professions: an oath of succession in the spring of 1534, an institutional
profession of Henry's supremacy in the summer of 1534, another oath of supremacy in
the spring of 1535, and yet another form of the oath of supremacy in 1537. Our
knowledge of the events surrounding the London Charterhouse is generally greater
than our knowledge of other clerical institutions, but even with the Charterhouse,
mystery surrounds the events of the summer of 1534. Moreover, the London
Charterhouse cannot be taken as representative of the rest of the realm. What kind of

' The form of this oath with the monks' original subscriptions and a notarial attestation survives. It is
NA E 25 82/2 (LP, XII (i) 1233). It is printed in Rymer, Foedera, 14:588-589.
"Cum corda omnium nostri, & quam libenter reniteremur eis, obsecramus clementiam tuam, ut
modum istum, quem exequimur forinsecus in positione manuum nostrarum supre librum sancti
Euangelij, & eum osculando, non respicias, neque accipias quasi affirmantes simus siue consentientes
regiae uoluntati, sed tamcummodo suscipias in uenerationem sacrorum uerborum in Euangelio
descriptorum, hanc externam nostram simulationem, ob praeseruationem domus, si tuae bonitati
placuerit"; Chauncy, Historia aliqvot (1550), sig. Q2V.

professions did Henry tender to his bishops, to the universities, to the secular clergy,
and to the laity? These questions form the basis of chapter three.
Having established how Henry implemented his reformation in the mid 1530s,
we can then move on to the second subsidiary of this section: why did Henry choose
to implement his reformation in the manner that he did? Why did Henry employ a
variety of different kinds of professions that varied according to who was making the
profession? Why did Henry exert more pressure on some groups of his subjects (like
the London Charterhouse) than others? These questions are addressed in chapter four.
Exploring them will take us back into the conflicts of the early 1530s between Henry
and his clergy. In turn, this chapter provides us with insight into how the regime
formulated new policy: that is when and from where tactical decisions came about.
Finally, the variety of responses of the London Charterhouse brothers to their
oathsfrom outright refusal, to swearing with a vocalized condition, to swearing with
a secret mental reservationraises the question of how Henry's subjects received the
professions of the 1530s. Did most of them take the oaths and subscriptions tendered
to them? If so, how did they take them? Did they interpret them in the same way as
the government or did they subvert them through dissimulation, equivocation, and
novel declarations? Chapter five examines the lay response to the oath of succession,
the clerical response to the oaths of supremacy, and the use (or at least the suspicion of
the use) of dissimulation by Princess Mary and Henry's conservative bishops. Chapter
six then examines the Pilgrimage of Gracea substantial popular rebellion against
Henry's recent religious policy in the north of England during the fall of 1536 and
winter of 1537as the lay response to the oath of succession. In particular, it
explores what the prolific oaths sworn in the Pilgrimage tell us about lay perception of
the oath of succession.
Investigating these three subsidiary questions as to how the Henrician
government implemented its Parliamentary revolution of 1534 will reveal in a detailed
manner the process through which the government sought to implement its
reformation. Oaths were key to this process and therefore are an ideal lens through
which to examine it. This section will thus shed light on the goals of the government

in implementing its policy, and by showing how the English people responded to the
oaths and subscriptions of the 1530s, it will explore how successful the government
was in achieving these goals.

Chapter 3: Oaths, Subscriptions, and the Implementation of the Parliamentary
Reforms of 1534
Before we explore the policy objectives of the Henrician regime in enforcing
its reformation or how effective its policy was, we must explore the policy itself. We
must examine what steps the crown took between 1533 and 1537 to propagate, coerce,
and enforce its reformation on the ground. The textbook answer that Henry tendered
two oathsan oath of succession in the spring and summer of 1534 to all males over
the age of twelve and an oath of supremacy sometime in 1534 or 1535 to all clergy
and political office holdersis clearly wrong.' Furthermore, it is often assumed that
the monasteries were tendered their oath of supremacy during one of the two royal
visitations of the monasteries in 1535.2 These claims are a vast oversimplification of
what happened. Historians such as John Guy and Geoffrey Elton presented more
nuanced accounts. Guy noted that the subscription signed by the parish clergy
differed from the oath of the diocesan clergy, while the oath sworn by ecclesiastical
and lay office holders differed from either of the purely clerical professions.3 Elton
went further, observing that the secular clergy simply subscribed to a rejection of
papal authority, that the institutional clergy and the bishops swore a comprehensive
oath concerning Henry's supremacy of the English church, that the Parliament of 1536
devised new forms of both the oath of succession and the oath of supremacy, and that
these two new forms were rarely administered. Yet even Elton's account fails to do
justice to the plethora of different professions Henry employed to gain adherence to
his divorce, new succession, and royal supremacy. Indeed, the attempt to summarize
such a complex situation in one paragraph (Guy) or in a handful of pages (Elton) leads
more to confusion than to clarity. No historian has yet mapped out the exact number
and order of the different professions Henry employed and compared the professions
to each other in a detailed manner. This chapter seeks to correct this historiographical

For an example of such a textbook account of these two oaths, see Jasper Ridley, The Tudor Age
(London: Constable, 1988), 287,
See for example David Knowles, The Tudor Age, vol. 3 of The Religious Orders in England,
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1959), 230; Thompson, Carthusian Order, 467. G. W.
Bernard operated under a similar assumption. For more on this, see page 141 of this chapter.
John Guy, Tudor England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), 136.
Elton, Policy and Police, 228-230.

oversight by reconstructing the step-by-step process whereby Henry administered to
his subjects professions in support of his reformations of 1534. This reconstruction
reveals that Henry tendered to his subjects a variety of distinct professions of different
strength depending on the exact position of each subject group.

The Relationship between Oaths and Subscriptions

Before delving into our narrative, we need to examine the relationship between
oaths and subscriptions. Since an oath was simply a declaration or promise in which
one cited God as witness to the truth of one's statement, it did not need to be
accompanied by a written subscription. Undoubtedly, most common oaths employed
in quotidian conversation did not include a written subscription. Yet the majority of
public oaths in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were indeed endorsed by some
kind of subscription. William Allen claimed that at the coronation of Philip I of
France in 1060 (which Allen saw as the basis for the English coronation tradition),
Philip's "othe was brought vnto him, wherunto he must sweare, which he tooke and
read with a loud yoyce, and signed it with his owne hand." Treaty oaths were also
confirmed by subscriptions, as evidenced by the Anglo-French treaty of 1510. If the
swearer was important or if an entire institution swore an oath, the swearers often
attached their seal below their subscriptions. When Richard Duke of York took his
oath of fealty to Henry VI in 1456, he wrote at the bottom of his oath, "In witness of
all the which thynges abovewriten, I Richard Duke of York abovewritten, subscribe
me with myne owne hande, and seall this with myne owne Seall &c."7 If the swearer
was not able to sign his or her own name, he or she could make a mark as a substitute.
This was common in oaths of abjuration since heresy sometimes infiltrated the ranks
of the illiterate. The purpose of a subscription was to serve as evidence for anyone
not actually present at the oath-taking that the person did indeed swear the oath. For
the same reason, notaries were often present to witness these oaths. When Francis

R. Doleman [William Allen, Sir Francis Englefield, and Robert Parsons?],^ conference about the next
succession to the crowne oflngland, diuided into two parts. . . .(N. [Antwerp], 1594 [1595]), 104.
Lambeth Palace Library, Warham's Register, fols. 14r-15r.
Rotuli Parliamentorum, 5:346-347.
See for example BL Harleian MS. 421, fols. 175r-176r, 181r.

Mylles took his oath of office as a clerk of the privy seal, Lord Burghley wrote under
his oath: "The foresayd Fra. Mylles hath taken the othe aboue expressed and
subscribed the same with his hand & name before mee the Lord Burghley Keeper of
the privie Seale. W. Burghley." The practice of subscribing one's name after
swearing a public oath was thus well established in the sixteenth century. Brian
Cummings' interpretation of the dual nature of the succession acknowledgmentboth
an oath and a subscriptionas an "official ambiguity" that meant that the "oath itself
was insufficient as a gaurantee" fails to recognize the general context of public oath-
taking in early modern England.10
But if public oaths were often accompanied by subscriptions, subscriptions
themselves did not necessarily signify that an oath had been sworn. Subscriptions by
the Elizabethan clergy to Archbishop Parker's Advertisements in 1566 or to
Archbishop Whitgift's Three Articles of 1584 did not include an oath. It was possible
to indicate one's assent to a doctrine or belief without actually swearing an oath by
simply signing one's name after a written profession or acknowledgment. These
oathless subscriptions, while still formal documents, lacked the spiritual muscle that
made oaths so binding. Although God of course still considered plain lying a sin, a
false subscription was not a sin that encroached upon the honor and majesty of God
himself as perjury did. It was the calling forth of God as witness to the truth of one's
statement that gave an oath its great weight. Subscribed professions, where God was
not summoned as a witness, were less solemn and less binding. Historians who
overlook the distinction between an oath and an oathless subscription risk losing sight
of a significant variable that certainly factored into the decisions of many early
modern people concerning whether to accept or resist a particular profession.'' The
essential point, then, is to determine whether a signed profession was accompanied by

BL Cotton MS. Vespasian C xiv, fol. 443r.
Brian Cummings, "Swearing in Public: More and Shakespeare," English Literary Renaissance 27
(1997), 212.
For example, in his account of Calvin's attempt to administer the citizens of Geneva a confession of
faith in 1537, Robert Kingdon started out writing about a subscription and then suddenly referred to the
same profession as an oath without delineating the exact relationship between an oath and a written
subscription in this confession of faith; Robert Kingdom, "Confessionalism in Calvin's Geneva," Archiv
fur Reformationgeschichte 96 (2005): 109-116.

an oath or not. If the content of the profession contained the words "so help me God"
or some variant, we can assume an oath was sworn, since God had been called as
witness. The issue is trickier when a list of subscriptions exists without the actual
profession accompanying the signatures. In such cases, we cannot assume an oath was
sworn unless corroborating evidence exists for an oath, such as a notarial instrument
mentioning the "oath" or "juramentum" or an explicit commission that demanded the
tendering of an oath to the people whose signatures survive.

The Use of Oaths and Subscriptions to Enforce the Succession and Supremacy
The drive to gather documented acknowledgments of the positions codified by
the acts of Parliament in 1534 had begun well before 1534. As we will see below, the
Convocations of the Clergy of Canterbury and York in 1531 had granted Henry the
title of supreme head of the church of England, albeit with a significant conditional
clause. The Submission of the Clergy of 1532 also contained the subscriptions of
some members of the upper house of the Convocation of Canterbury. In February of
1533, Ambassador Eustace Chapuys wrote to Charles V that Henry had asked the
archbishops of York and Canterbury and the bishops of London, Winchester, and
Lincoln "to subscribe a document he has drawn up to his taste, of a very strange
nature, as you will see."12 Chapuys reported that while Edward Lee (York) and
Stephen Gardiner (Winchester) had not yet agreed to do this, Cranmer (elect of
Canterbury) had gleefully subscribed. The actual document to which Cranmer
subscribed does not survive, and no other evidence exists of this strange subscription.
The document obviously was about the divorce, considering the context in which
Chapuys mentioned it, and Andrew Chibi has suggested that the document stated that
the prohibition of marriage to the widow of a deceased brother was a divine law with
which the pope could not dispense, a conclusion that Henry had wrested (not without
great effort) from the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge in 1529.13 Chibi has
also proposed that this document referred to the power of the English clergy to decide

LP, VI 180.
Andrew A. Chibi, Henry VIII's Conservative Scholar: Bishop John Stokesley and the Divorce, Royal
Supremacy and Doctrinal Reform (Bern: Peter Lang, 1997), 82-83.

the divorce themselves.14 Whatever the content of the document, it was soon made
irrelevant, for Cranmer officially granted Henry his annulment from his marriage with
Katherine of Aragon in the spring of 1533, and Anne Boelyn was crowned queen in
June 1533.
On July 5, 1533, Henry issued a royal proclamation declaring that his first
marriage had been annulled and that, as a result, Katherine no longer possessed the
title of queen. Anyone who continued to call Katherine queen instead of the new style
"princess dowager" would be guilty of praemunire and suffer the penalties of
imprisonment and loss of goods.15 This royal proclamation was met with considerable
opposition by Katherine's long-time servants. Henry sent Lord Mountjoy to inquire
about this opposition in October, 1533. On October 10, both Mountjoy and Thomas
Bedyll wrote letters to Thomas Cromwell explaining that many of Katherine's
household continued to call her queen and refused to call her princess dowager,
particularly her chaplains, serving women, and other household servants. By
December, Henry had decided to respond to this situation by making Katherine's
servants swear a "new othe." The text of this oath has not survived, but internal
evidence from the Duke of Suffolk's letters suggests that this oath was an oath of
loyalty sworn to Katherine as princess dowager that was designed to replace her
household's previous oath of loyalty to her as queen.17 Katherine's servants refused
this oath at first, though by December 27 Chapuys reported that all of them had sworn
this new oath except Katherine's Spanish entourage: her confessor, apothecary, and
physician. ' 8 These same servants continued in their obstinacy, again refusing to swear

Andrew A. Chibi, Henry VIII's Bishops: Diplomants, Administrators, Scholars and Shepherds
(Cambridge: James Clarke, 2003), 115.
Paul L. Hughes and James F. Larkin (ed.), Tudor Royal Proclamations, vol. 1, The Early Tudors
(1485-1553) (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1964), 209-210.
NA SP1/79, fol. 158 (LP, VI 1252); BL Cotton MS. Ortho C x, fols. 213r-214v (LP, VI 1253).
We will examine why Katherine's household refused to call her princess dowager below.
BL Cotton MS. Ortho C x, fols. 210r-212r (LP, VI 1541). This letter is an original but it is mutilated.
A complete copy of the letter is BL Harleian MS. 283, fol. 102'"Y, and the letter has been transcribed in
Stat Pap Pub, 1:415. See also Stat Pap Pub, 1:418 (LP, VI1542) and NA SP1/81, fol. 3 r (LP, VI
LP, IV 1571. A list of the members of Katherine's household who swore this new oath and who
refused it is NA SP1/82, fol. 127r (LP, VII 135).

the oath of succession in May, 1534.19 This episode is significant because it shows
that in the fall of 1533, Henry had already employed an oath to force obedience from a
select group of subjects who opposed the ramifications of his divorce and remarriage.
At the same time that Henry was using an oath to enforce his marriage
settlement on Katherine's household, he may have circulated among select bishops his
first device seeking an explicit rejection of papal authority in England. In a letter
dated December 9, 1533, Chapuys told Charles V that "of late the King has solicited
certain bishops to consent to the abrogation of papal authority." With the exception of
Cranmer, all of them refused to consent to it.20 No other evidence for this device
exists. Yet even if Chapuys was mistaken about what actually happened, his letter
surely indicates that at the very least, a rumor of a device requiring the abrogation of
papal authority was in the air at the end of 1533.
At the start of 1534, the crown again targeted a select group of subjects and
sought their documented adherence to the Boleyn marriage. This time, however, it
was John Stokesley, Bishop of London, and Syon Abbey who were tendered a
subscription. Syon was an influential Bridgettine abbey at Isleworth on the Thames
that was famous for its learning and austerity. On January 4, Stokesley wrote to
Thomas Bedyll, one of Cromwell's men, that he (Stokesley) had received from
Bedyll's servant letters "subscribed vpon condition with thands [the hands] of
~) 1

thabbesse and systers of Syon." Stokesley wrote that he would not subscribe to this
letter because the clergy had never expressly given any kind of judgment about
Henry's second marriage. They had only declared Henry's first marriage invalid.
Although it is not absolutely clear what was going on here, it appears that Cromwell
had sent a profession to the sisters and abbess of Syon containing a statement that the
clergy of the realm (presumably in Convocation) had declared the king's first marriage
invalid and his second legitimate. The sisters subscribed with a condition, but
Stokesley refused to subscribe because he recognized that the English clergy had not
yet made an official statement concerning Henry's marriage to Anne. Stokesley then
NA SP1/84, fols. 66r-70v (LP, VII 696); BL Cotton MS. Ortho C x, fols. 206r-208r (LP, VII 786); LP,
VII 809.
LP, VI 1510.
NA SP1/82, fol. 1 l r (LP, VII 15).

wrote that if he subscribed to the letter as it was worded now, he would seem to do so
out of affection rather than truth. Before the letter was published with subscriptions,
Stokesley observed that this oversight should be reformed. He said he would

subscribe to a clean copy of the letter once the indicated changes had been made.
A day later, Stokesley signed a new letter, most probably an altered but related
profession that had taken into account his suggested changes, and then wrote Syon to
encourage their subscription to this new letter. The sisters of Syon, however, probably
never signed this new letter because their communication with their confessors caused
them to regret their initial subscription. We can infer this from a confusing letter
written by James Mores, a servant of Bedyll, to Bedyll on January 6. Mores wrote that
he had delivered Bedyll's letter to Stokesley the preceding afternoon. Stokesley then
"subscribed the coppy that I delyuered hym in maner of a letter dyrected to my lady
Abbas" and then wrote to the confessor and brethren of Syon that they should
subscribe to "kynges new devysed letter."23 Mores had not yet disclosed this turn of
events to the abbess because in the interim the sisters of Syon had communed with
their male confessors, which "brought them in suche scrupulosite that I thyncke
assurydly they wolde neuer agre to subscribe thes new devysed letter. And if the other
letter where to subscbe itt wold be herd now to bryng them to itt." Mores then
explained that if Cromwell thought Henry would be content with the first letter, Bedyll
should have Stokesley subscribe to the copy enclosed (of the first letter) and then send
it to Mores at Syon. Mores concluded by observing that the abbess believed that
Bedyll had only the first letter and that he would do what he could to get them to
subscribe to the second.24
NA SP1/82, fols. 1 lr-12r (LP, VII 15). Bernard claimed that this letter should be placed in January
1536; G. W. Bernard, The King's Reformation: Henry VIII and the Remaking of the English Church
(New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2005), 170, 634. However, the original letter in the National
Archives clearly says "4 Jan 1533," which is of course 1534 according to the old calendar. Moreover,
by 1536, the issue at stake for Syon was not the king's new marriage but his supremacy. Andrew Chibi
(Stokesley's biographer) as well as N.D. Tait (an expert on Syon) have kept the letter in 1534; Chibi,
Henry VIII 's Conservative Scholar, 86; N.D. Tait, "The Brigittine Monastery of Syon (Middlesex) with
Special Reference to Its Monastic Usage" (D. Phil, thesis, Oxford University, 1975), 74.
NA SP1/82, fol. 37r (LP VII 22).
NA SP1/82, fol. 37r (LP VII 22). I have summarized this letter extensively because the account is
confusing and I am unhappy with synopses of it in current secondary literature. Bernard, as we have
seen, placed the whole episode in 1536. Knowles' summary was exceedingly brief; Knowles, Religious

Thus far, every episode examined took place before the passage of the Act of
Succession in the spring of 1534. In many ways, these episodes foreshadowed the
policy that the regime would pursue after the Act of Succession. The crown was
putting out feelers, giving their policy a test run before the real campaign was
launched with the Act of Succession. The crown targeted a select yet influential
group of subjectsthe most important bishops of the realm (Canterbury, York,
London, and Winchester) and a well-esteemed abbey close to Londonand tendered
them some kind of acknowledgment of Henry's divorce and remarriage. That the
crown was tentative in this initiative is supported by the fact that it took no punitive
steps against those (everyone but Cranmer) who refused to subscribe. On the other
hand, that this was more than a simple test run is evident by the apparent plan of the
regime to publish the subscription of Stokesley and Syon, a document that the crown
probably hoped would influence others to follow in Stokesley's and Syon's lead and
accept the Boleyn marriage. The resistance the regime encountered to its initial
attempts to obtain adherence to the Boleyn marriage taught it valuable lessons. The
resistance of Katherine's household to her new title of princess dowager taught the
regime that where a simple proclamation failed, an oath could succeed, while
Stokesley's initial evasion taught the regime that it had to be very careful about the
exact wording of a profession. Of course, there is no proof of any direct connection
between the episodes discussed above and the Act of Succession, but at the very least,
they indicate that the crown had been experimenting with both oaths and subscriptions
as a means to enforce the divorce well before the passage of the Act of Succession.
The Act of Succession itself passed Parliament at the end of March 1534. It
declared that Prince Arthur had carnally known Katherine and thus that Henry's
marriage to Katherine was against God's law, a law with which no one could dispense.
It then proclaimed Henry's marriage to Anne valid and rejected the power of the pope
to interfere with the succession of any realm. The act set the succession through the
male heirs of Henry and Anne or, failing them, a subsequent wife. If Henry had no
male heirs, the throne was to pass to Elizabeth. The act also established penal

Orders, 3:216. Chibi's discussion of this incident was misleading and based on incorrect citations;
Chibi, Henry VIII's Conservative Scholar, 86-87; Chibi, Henry VIWs Bishops, 117-118.

measures against those who violated it. Anyone who wrote or published anything
against the act was guilty of treason, for which the penalty was death. Anyone who
spoke against the act was guilty of misprision of treason, for which the penalty was
imprisonment and loss of goods. "And for the more sure establishment of the
succession," the act further decreed:
that as well all the nobles of your Realme spirituall and temporall, as all other
your subjectes now lyvyng and being or that hereafter shalbe at theire full ages,
by the commaundement of your Majestie or of your heires at all tymes
hereafter frome tyme to tyme when it shall please your Highnes or your heires
to appoynt, shall make a corporall othe in the presence of your Highness or
your heires, or before suche other as your Majestie or your heires wyll depute
for the same, that they shall truly firmely and constantly without fraud or gyle
observe fulfyll maynteyne defende and kepe to theyre cunnyng wytte and
uttermoste of theire powers the hole effectes and contentes of this present
Accordingly, on March 30, Henry commissioned Archbishop Cranmer, Thomas
Audley (the lord chancellor), and the dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk to tender the oath.
A day later, at the close of the session, these four tendered the oath of succession to all
the present members of Parliament.
After Parliament, the first group of subjects to take the oath of succession was
the clergy of London. On April 13, the commissioners tendered the oath of succession
to the London clergy at Lambeth Palace.27 We do not know the actual form of the
oath of succession tendered on this day. The commission that was granted to
Cranmer, Audley, Norfolk, and Suffolk and read in the House of Lords at the end of
March authorized them to take an "oath and faithfulness" of all the king's subjects
"according to the power, form, and effect of this statute, made and put forth in the
current Parliament concerning our security, position, and succession, and according to

Statutes of the Realm, 25 Hen. 8, c. 22, 3:471-474 (quote from 474).
Journal of the House of Lords (London, 1802), 1:82; Hall's Chronicle, 814. Hall claims that
Parliament took the oath on March 30. For the text of the oath, see Appendix D, 1.
~ Strype, Cranmer, 36-37. As we will discuss in chapter five, Thomas More was also tendered the oath
on April 13. The king singled out More from the rest of the laity probably because he knew that More
opposed his divorce. The king's first strike was thus against those whom he knew disliked his divorce
and remarriage. The clergy's opposition to Henry's divorce is discussed in more detail in chapter four.

the tenor of the oath annexed to the present" documents. As such, it is likely that the
form of the oath tendered on April 13 was the same as the form sworn by Parliament
at the end of March. Moreover, the form of the oath of succession included in the
commission for its tendering in Sussex (sent on April 20) is similar to the one sworn in
Parliament, which suggests that the form of the oath sworn throughout the realm in the
spring of 1534 was analogous to the one sworn in the House of Lords.
Yet the oath of succession was not the only controversial device put forward in
March and tendered in April of 1534. On March 31, Radulphus Pexall, a royal clerk,
read in Convocation a document concerning the response of the "lower house" {domus
inferioris30) to the question "Whether the Roman high priest has any greater
jurisdiction conferred to him in Holy Scripture in this realm of England than any other
foreign bishop?"31 Thirty-two denied that the pope had greater jurisdiction than any
other foreign bishop, four affirmed that he did, and one was doubtful. No other
details from the Convocation of the spring of 1534 have survived so we know nothing
else about the origin or development of this statement in Convocation. The statement
may be related to the act of Parliament abolishing Peter's Pence, also passed in March
1534. In addition to abolishing Peter's Pence (a small annual tribute to the pope
theoretically paid by laymen) and all other papal payments, this act also explicitly
attacked the pope's jurisdictional power. Specifically, it rejected the pope's power to
dispense "with all humayne lawes, uses, and customes of all Realmes, in all causes
which be called spirituall." This "usurpacion of the seid Bishop of Rome" was a
"great derogacion of your imperiall crowne and auctorytie royall." Although this act

"assignavimus vos . . . plenam Potestatem et Auctoritatem capiend. et recipiend. Sacramentum et

Fidelitatem omnium et singulorum . . . juxta vim, formam et effectum, cujusdam Statuti, in presenti
Parliamento Nostro, Securitatem, Statum et Successionem Nostram concernentem editi et provisi, ac
juxta tenorem Sacramenti presentibus annexi"; Journal of the House of Lords, 1:82.
BL Harleian MS. 7571, fol. 25r. This document is a copy and thus must be taken with a grain of salt.
It is possible that the original commission did not contain a copy of the oath of succession and the
copyist added it from another source. See also Appendix D, II.
In this case, the "lower house" probably refers to the lower house of Convocation. The same phrase,
however, is used in the records of Convocation to refer to the House of Commons of Parliament, which
makes the reference in this case rather ambiguous.
"An Romanus pontifex habeat aliquam maiorem iurisdictionem collatam sibi adeo in Sacra Scriptura
in hoc regno Angliae quam alius quivis externus episcopus"; Bray, Records of Convocation, 7:199-200.
Bray, Records of Convocation, 7:200.
Statutes of the Realm, 25 Hen. 8, c. 21, 3:464-471; quotes from 464-465.

focused on the pope's dispensing power, it may have been interpreted more broadly as
a rejection of papal power in general. In the Journal of the House of Lords, the act
was originally referred to as the bill for "the abrogation of the payment of money
called Peter Pence and of dispensations granted by the Roman high priest."34 From
March 14, however, the bill was referred to more generally as the bill "concerning the
abrogation of the authority exercised {usurpate) by the Roman high priest." It is
therefore possible that the question about papal jurisdiction read and voted on in
Convocation at the end of March 1534 was a subscription designed to gain the
Convocation's endorsement for the act against Peter's Pence in the same way as the
oath of succession sought to gain the endorsement of the whole realm for the act of
Regardless of its origin, the question read in Convocation on March 31 became
the basis of a statement rejecting papal authority tendered in one form or another to
every member of the English clergy by the end of 1534. For example, a document
preserved in the British Library commences with the phrase "Romanus episcopus non
habet maiorem aliquam iurisdictionem collatam sibi a deo in sacra scriptura in hoc
regno Angliae quam alius quiuis externus episcopus." The original signatures of
many of the top clergy of the realm follow this statement, including signatures by both
archbishops, the bishops Carlisle, Chichester, Coventry and Litchfield, Durham, Ely,
Exeter, Lincoln, London, and Winchester, five archdeacons, the provincials of the
orders of Carmelites and Franciscans, twenty-two abbots, eleven priors, one warden
and fifty-two others. The document is undated, but it must be from between April
19 (the date of the consecration of Thomas Goodrick and Roland Lee as bishops of
Ely and of Coventry and Litchfield respectively) and May 27 (the date of the death of
Richard Sydnor), 1534.37 On May 2, the University of Cambridge issued a similar
declaration. This document, however, contained no signatures but simply the seal of

"Abrogationem Solutionis Pecuniarum vocatarum Peter Pence, et Concessionis Dispensationum per

Romanum Pontificem"; Journal of the House of Lords, 1:73.
"concernens Abrogatoinem usurpate Auctoritatis Romani Pontificis"; Journal of the House of Lords,
BL Additional MS. 38656, fols. 3r-4r.
J. P. Gilson (ed.), Catalogue ofAdditions to the Manuscripts in the British Museum in the Years
MDCCCCX1-MDCCCCXV (London: William Clowes and Sons, 1925), 186.

the university. Three days later, the Convocation of the Clergy of York arrived at
the same conclusion.39 Finally, the University of Oxford as a corporate body rejected
papal jurisdiction in England with the same statement on June 27, 1534.40 But it was
not just the Convocations, the universities, and the top prelates of the realm who
signed such documents. Two books of signatures of parish priests and other members
of the secular clergy from various dioceses in the province of Canterbury exist in the
National Archives. At the head of each page is the familiar statement that the pope
has no greater power in England than any other foreign bishop. Below each statement
are the name of a location (usually a deanery) and the subscriptions of the clergy
associated with that location. Most of the pages have no dates, but the few that do are
from July 1534.41 Some of these subscriptions may have been collected as early as
April 1534, perhaps even at the same time as the tendering of the oath of succession.
On April 28, for example, Cranmer wrote to Cromwell:
Mr. Roodd hath also been with me at Croydon and there hath subscribed the
book of the king's grace's succession, and also the conclusion 'quod Romanus
Episcopus non habet maiorem authoritatem a Deo sibi collatam in hoc regno
Anglie quam quivis alius externus Episcopus;' and hath promised me that he
will at all times hereafter so conforme himself.42
Thus, it is possible that at least some of the secular clergy simultaneously rejected both
papal authority and swore to the new succession. Even if some of the secular clergy
rejected papal authority on a different day than they swore the oath of succession, the
fact that both professions were in circulation at the same time suggests that they were
closely tied. There is one important distinction between these two professions. Unlike
the oath and subscription to the succession, there is no evidence that the secular

NA E 25/24 (LP VII 602), also printed in Concilia, 3:771-772.
The fullest certification of the Convocation of York's decision that the pope has no greater
jurisdiction in England than any other foreign bishop is BL Cotton MS. Cleopatra E vi, fol, 207r (LP,
VII 769). This document also contains many signatures, but it is a copy. An abbreviated report of
York's decision without any signatures is NA E 25, 45. Also see Rymer, Foedera, 14:492-493 and
Wilkins, Concilia, 3:782-783.
BL Cotton MS. Cleopatra E vi, fol. 209r (LP, VII 891). This, like the Convocation of York's
attestation, is a copy without any signatures. It is printed in Wilkins, Concilia, 3:775-776.
NA E 36/63, E 36/64 (LP, VII 1025).
Miscellaneous Writings and Letters of Thomas Cranmer, 287.

clergy's rejection of papal authority was ever accompanied by an oath. Secular clergy
merely signed their names after a simple profession.43
This was not the case, however, for the mendicant orders in England. They
were tendered a long, detailed, and explicit profession of royal supremacy and
acknowledgment of the succession accompanied by an oath. On April 13the same
day when the London clergy took the oath of successionHenry issued a grant to
George Browne, Provincial Prior of the Friars Hermits, and to John Hilsey, Provincial
Prior of the Friars Preachers, to visit all the houses of friars of whatever order, to make
inquiry into their morals and fealty to the king, to instruct them how to conduct
themselves with safety, and to reduce them to uniformity.44 Two undated sets of
instructions that relate to this visitation also survive: one for the friars in general and
another specifically for the Observant Franciscans. The instructions ordered the friars
to "exhibit" (exhibere) fidelity to the king, to swear an oath to discharge faith and
obedience to the king, Anne, and their children, to confess Henry's marriage to Anne
was lawful and legitimate, to confirm that Henry was the supreme head of the church
of England, and "to confess that the Roman bishop who uses the name pope in his
bulls and who claims for himself the first position of supreme high priest, has no more
dignity or authority than other bishops" in England or elsewhere.45 Thus, the
profession of the friars went further than both the oath of succession and the clerical
subscription against papal authority (though both of these were incorporated into the
friars' profession) in that it explicitly acknowledged Henry's supremacy over the
church of England. Although the only explicit oath mentioned in the body of the
instructions was the oath of fidelity to the king, queen, and their offspring, the
instructions to the friars in general ended with the command that all the priors,

Elton recognized this fact; Elton, Policy and Police, 229.
NA C 66/663, m. 6d {LP, VII 587 (18)).
The instructions also explained how the friars should refer to the king and pope in their preaching and
prayer, as well as other general business of the visitation. The document of instructions to the friars in
general is BL Cotton MS. Cleopatra E iv, fol. 11 r v (LP, VII 590). The document of instructions to the
Observants Franciscans is printed in Henry De Vocht (ed.) Acta Thomae Mori: History of the Reports
of His Trial and Death with an Unedited Contemporary Narrative (Louvain: Publications of the
Institute for Economics of the University, 1947). 208-209. I have included both of these instructions as
well as the form of profession qf the friars and of other clerical institutions in Appendix E. Appendix E
also highlights the differences in the two sets of instructions and demonstrates how they relate to the
actual profession of the friars and other clerical institutions.

convents, and their successors "bind themselves with an oath . . . to observe faithfully
all and singular of the aforesaid [articles] forever." Furthermore, we have the actual
professions of the friars, which closely parallel the instructions for visitation and
conclude with the prescribed oath to observe all the aforesaid articles.
The first of these professions was made on April 17 by the Franciscans,
Augustinians, Carmelites, and Crutched Friars of London. The Friars Preachers of
Langley Regis, the Minors of Alisbury, the Preachers of Dunstable, the Minors of
Bedford, the Carmelites of Hechynge and the Minors of Ware made an identical
profession on May 5.48 These professions were signed only by the various heads of
houses, who a few days later acknowledged their professions in the Chancery. Yet it
is likely that each friar took his oath individually, for the instructions command that
"all and singular of the brothers . . . personally present be gathered" and "examined
apart and separately."49 Moreover, their professions specifically state that "we the
priors and convents of brothers . . . with one mouth and voice and with unanimous
consent and assent of all and singular . . . do profess, witness, and faithfully
promise."50 Hence, Henry forced each of the friars to acknowledge his new marriage,
his succession, his supremacy and to confirm these professions with an oath.
Henry soon extended the friars' profession to all clerical institutions of the
realm. On May 14, 1534, the prioress and convent of the Priory of Dartford in Kent
made a profession identical to that of the friars, except that it omitted the articles on
how to interpret Scripture and how to exhort people to pray when preaching.51 The

"Vt omnia et singula cenobia ac fratres in eisdem aut poy. . . [manuscript ripped] quovis viuentes sese
et successores suos conscientia ac iurisiurandi sacramento obligent, et suo quique conuentuali sigillo in
domibus suis capitularibus date confirment, quatenus omnia et singula praedicta fideliter obseruent";
BL Cotton MS. Cleopatra E iv, fol. 1 lv.
NA C 54/402, m 33d, printed in Rymer, Foedera, 14:487 (LP VII 665(1)).
NA C 54/403, m 18d, printed in Rymer, Foedera, 14:489-490 (LP VII 665(2)).
"Primum vt omnes et singuli fratres vnius cuiusque cenobii intra regnum Angliae in domo sua
capitulari (vt vocat) personaliter praesentes vna congregentur. Deinde vt seorsum et separatim singuli
examinentur super quibus visum fuerit"; BL Cotton MS. Cleopatra E iv, fol. 1 l r .
"Noverint universi ad quos praesens scriptum pervenerit quod nos, priores & conventus fratrum,...
uno ore & voce at que unanimi omnium & singulorum consensu & assensu, . . . profitemur testamur ac
fideliter promittimus & spondemus;" NA C 54/402, m 33d, printed in Rymer, Foedera, 14:487 {LP VII
NA E 25 39/2; Rymer, Foedera, 490-491 (LP VII 921(1)). The articles on preaching were probably
omitted because nuns did not preach in public. See Appendix E for the exact content of the omitted

profession of the Priory of Dartford, however, is exceptional in its form and in its early
date. The next institutional profession dates from June 13, and the form is again
slightly altered. This new form is essentially the same as the friars' original
professioneach person promises fealty and obedience to Henry, Anne, and their
offspring, recognizes Henry as the supreme head of the Church of England, rejects
papal authority, and confirms all the articles of profession with an oathbut the new
profession omits the section about Parliament, Convocation, and Cranmer having
declared Henry's marriage to Anne as legitimate, abbreviates the clause about
renouncing the pope's laws and canons, and adds a clause about calling the pope the
bishop of Rome rather than pope or high priest.52 This form of the institutional
profession effectively remained constant for the duration of 1534 into the first months
of 1535; variations were negligible. Well over one hundred of these professions
survive from all over the realm.54 Most of them are from between June 13 and
October 22, 1534. Ten professions from Kent are from December, 1534 and January,
1535. Corpus Christi College, Cambridge made this profession on March 9, 1535, and
the last recorded profession in this form was made at Calais on March 27,1535.55
Unlike the friars' profession, no sets of instructions survive for this profession. We do
have, however, two identical letters from Henry VIII on June 25, 1534 which
authorize Dr. Peter Ligham and Dr. Gwent (Dean of the Arches) as part of Archbishop
Cranmer's metropolitan visitation to "procure the chapter seale of euery Spirituall
incorporacyon that you shall come vnto/ And the subscription of euery man of that
chapter to be putt to this writynge devysed by vs and oure consaill that conter paine
wherof subscribyd by my lord of Canterbury ye shall herewith receive."56 This letter

See Appendix E, IV for the form of this institutional profession as well as a comparison to the friars'
Again, see Appendix E.
The original professions (mixed in with the bishop's oaths of supremacy) are preserved at the
National Archives in E 25. They are printed in Rymer, Foedera, 14: 487-527 and (alphabetically) in
Deputy Keeper's Reports, vii (1846), App. 2: 279-306. The are arranged by date in LP. See for
example, LP VII 921, 1024, 1121, 1216, 1347, 1594.
BL Lansdowne MS. 989, fols. 131v-133r (LP, VIII 360); NA E 25 23/2 (LP, VIII 458).
' The letter also commissioned these men to take the subscriptions of every secular priest to the
familiar statement against papal authority, for the letter continued: "and further that you shall procure
the subscription of every prieste by you vysytede to the artycle concernynge the bisshopp of Roome his
Aucthoryte within this realme"; Bodleian Library, Ashmole MS. 1729, fol. 2r (LP, VII 876); Margaret

must refer to this institutional profession, for the signatures of the members of the
institution follow the text of each profession, and wax seals are also connected to each
document. Many of the signatures appear to be original, though some are written in
the same hand. The professions exist for a variety of "Spirituall incorporyons," both
regular and secular. Monasteries, convents, cathedral chapters, colleges, and hospitals
are all included. Although the professions of each and every monastery and institution
of the realm do not survive, enough of them do survive to suggest that the tendering of
this institutional profession was comprehensive. The absence of a profession from a
specific monastery should not be taken as evidence that this monastery did not make
its profession, but rather that its profession has been lost. Thus, in contrast to parish
priests, Henry forced every member of the clergy associated with any institution to
make a detailed profession of his succession and supremacy, and to confirm it with an
oath. The fact that Henry targeted his institutional clergy with a much stronger and
detailed profession is significant. Henry was clearly making an important distinction
between his secular clergy and his institutional clergy.
Two final forms of clerical professions survive from the spring of 1534. On
April 19, 1534, Thomas Goodrick, Roland Lee, and John Salcot (alias Capon) were
consecrated bishop of Ely, Litchfield and Coventry, and Bangor respectively. Days
before their consecration, they swore a new oath to the king that replaced the previous
oath new bishops had taken to receive their temporalities from the king. In this oath,
they promised to maintain the king's "preemynence and proragative" and jurisdiction
of his "ymperiall Croune of thesame afore and ayenst all manner of persons power and
authorites," they recognized the king "ymiediatly vnder almyghtye god to be chyef
and supreme hedd of the churche of England," they offered to maintain and defend all
statutes of the realm made against the pope, andechoing the oath of succession
they pledged to keep and defend the entire contents of the Act of Succession and all
other statutes to be made in confirmation of the same.57 In addition to these new

Bowker, "The Supremacy and the Episcopate: The Struggle for Control, 1534-1540," Historical
Journal 18 (1975): 229.
NA SP1/83, fol. 54r {LP, VII 427). Goodrick's oath is dated April 2, 1534. Burnet gives an identical
text for Roland Lee oath: Burnet, History of the Reformation, 6:290-291. Lee's oath does not contain a
date, but must be sometime between March 19 and April 19, 1534. For the model form of this oath, see

bishops, there is also suggestive evidence that some of the old bishops may have made
another new oath to the king in the spring of 1534. On April 20, John Husee wrote to
Lord Lisle, "The bishops of Durham, Winchester, and York are now sent for, to what
intent God knoweth. Some thinketh they shall to [sic] the Tower."58 In May 1534,
Bishop Roland Lee wrote to Cromwell:
Plesseyth you to take the payne to speke with thys berer whoo hathe browght
the ijn answer frome the Bishope of Chechister whereby And by the
informacion of thys berer hee presaue [perceives?] not a littill dissimulacion
wiche is not to be foegotten In Remuneracion of the same it whold right well
agre hee callyd in hys owne person hether ad praestandum Sacramentum [to
swear the oath] & is as other Bishopes be.59
Both of these letters could of course refer to the oath of succession. But they also
could refer to a mysterious profession entitled "The promise of the bishops to
renounce the pope and his bulls." Whereas the oath made by Goodrick and Lee was
an elaboration of the old oath bishops made to the king for their temporalities, updated
with clauses on the succession and supremacy, this profession was a detailed rejection
of the oath that all new bishops swore to the pope until the spring of 1534. In addition
to a detailed renunciation of their oath to the pope and all bulls they had received from
him, the profession also contained the now familiar clause that "the bishop of Rome
had and has no more authority or jurisdiction in this your kingdom of England by
divine right than any other foreign bishop."60 There is no direct evidence that anyone
ever made this profession, nor is there a date on the profession itself. It does,
however, seem to fit here, and there are some tantalizing suggestions that Henry's old
bishops may indeed have sworn this oath. In this profession, the bishop promised to

NA C 82/690, no. 2 (LP, VII 1379). For a transcription of the entire text of this oath, see Appendix B,
Muriel St. Clare Byrne (ed.), The Lisle Letters (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), 2:129-
130 (LP, VII 522).
NA SP1/84, fol. 101r (LP, VII 759). This letter is undated but it must be after Lee' s consecration.
Moreover, in the letter, Lee said he was traveling towards Syon, which allows us to establish the month
as May. LP, VII 622 shows that Lee was at Sion on May 7, 1534. Except for LP, VII, 758 (which
clearly belongs at the end of May because of the reference to the London Charterhouse), there is no
other evidence that Lee was at Syon at any other time in 1534.
"Preterea confiteor dictum Romanum episcopum non plus autoritatis, aut iurisditionis habuisse aut
habere in hoc vestro regno Anglie de iure diuino quam alius quiuis externum episcopum" NA SP6/3,
fols. 63r-64r. This profession will be discussed in greater detail below. Its complete form is transcribed
in Appendix C.

turn over all the bulls he had received from the pope to the king and to hold his
bishopric henceforth only from the king. William Rastell, in a fragment that is the
basis of much of our information on both John Fisher and Thomas More, claimed that
"The king caused al his bushopes [and?] the bishop of Rochester to surrender al theire
bulles to hym, whereby they were made bushopes, and they toke the king's lettres
Pattents to be bushopes [all] onley by hym."61 This statement immediately preceded a
sentence describing the tendering of the oath of succession to the London clergy in
1534. Furthermore, in a letter dated January 24 (with no year), Bishop Tunstall wrote
to Cromwell asking to be excused from handing over his bulls of confirmation to the
king in person.62 These sources suggest that we cannot rule out the possibility that
some of the bishops consecrated before 1534 actually made this profession. Finally,
there is evidence that at least some of Henry's bishops took the institutional profession
in the summer of 1534, for institutional professions by the bishop of St. Davids and
the bishop of Bath and Wells survive.64
During all these clerical professions, the commissioners for the oath of
succession were engaged in tendering this oath throughout the realm. On April 20, the
majority of the city of London took the oath of succession. That same day, a
commission went out to Lord Thomas West, Sir William Fitzwilliam, and others to
tender the oath in Sussex.66 The administrative effort in tendering the oath of
succession throughout the realm was Herculean, and many letters survive describing
the process. On May 5, Bishop Stephen Gardiner wrote to Cromwell explaining the
process in Winchester. Gardiner had received his commission on April 29. Five days
later, he assembled at the castle of Lord Audley the commissioners, a great number of
local gentlemen, and all the abbots, priors, wardens of friars, and curates of the shire.
After everyone present took the oath, the abbots and priors presented Gardiner with a

F. van Ortroy (ed), "Vie du bienheureux martyr Jean Fisher Cardinal, eveque de Rochester,"
Analecta Bollandiana 12 (1893): 253.
BL Cotton MS. Cleopatra E vi, fols. 245r-246r (LP, X 202). LP places this letter in 1536, but could it
not be from 1534?
If this profession does not belong in 1534, it may be from 1536.
N A E 2 5 85;NAE25 119.
Muriel St. Clare Byrne (ed.), Lisle Letters, 2: 129-130 (LP, VII 522).
BL Harleian MS. 7571, fol. 25r.

list of names of all those in their houses, while the curates provided the names of all
male parishioners over the age of fourteen in their parish. Gardiner then divided up
the county and assigned specific areas of coverage to each commissioner. Gardiner
warned Cromwell that the whole process would not be accomplished quickly:
"Wherein ye shall perceive [is] a long work and will require a long tracte of ty[me],
and it be not divided among many commissioner[s], considering specially that every
man's name mus[t] be written as our commission purporteth and certified]." 67 Lord
Thomas Audley wrote to Lord Lisle in Calais on June 9 with similar instructions.
After taking the oath himself, Lisle was to divide the commissioners into groups of
two or three, give each group a copy of the oath, three or four "of the books of the
acts", and a roll of parchment on which every person who took the oath was to
subscribe his name. Audley excused the actual town of Calais from this tedious task,
asserting that if the mayor made a "little schedule mentioning that the whole
inhabitants of the town be sworn, and the day, year, and place, and afore whom they
were sworn, and put their common seal to that schedule, this were a good sufficient
declaration for the Town without any particular name to be written."68 The
requirement that all those taking the oath subscribe their names certainly contributed
to the administrative headache. Cranmer was unsure of what to do with those who
could not sign their names. He decided provisionally to have them make their mark
and then have his secretaries subscribe the swearer's name next to the mark, but he
wondered if he should not take their seals instead of their subscriptions.69 The sheer

Gardiner also informed Cromwell that they planned to take the oaths only of males, yet he was unsure
enough to suggest that if the king desired females to swear as well, they would alter their course; BL
Cotton MS. Otho C x, fol. 171; printed in Nicolas Pocock (ed.), Records of the Reformation; the
Divorce J527-1533. . . . (Oxford: Clarendon, 1870), 2: 536-537 and in Stephen Gardiner, Letters of
Stephen Gardiner, ed. James Arthur Miiller (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1933), 57.
Byrne, Lisle Letters, 2:178-179 (LP, Add., 941).
Miscellaneous Writings and Letters of Thomas Cranmer, 291. A roll of these subscriptions to the
oath succession has survived from Lancashire. The roll is headed "These be the names and syrnames of
all the persens aswell spirituall as temperall that Mr Thomas Halsall knight and I[ ]mies Ecares[ ] of
Bicurseath esquier Commissioners and Iustices of peax in the Countie of lane have swone afore vs
according to the o[the] to vs in writing delyuered aftur the forme & effect of the statuts made by Acte of
parlyament for the Kinges Succession as souerigne lord dwellin in all these . . . [cownties?] to vs alloted
in the wapentate of derbiss/ [Derbyshire] vs and ou'felowes commissioners in the said Countie of
lancastre." After this heading, a long list of names follows, well over one thousand. The names are
organized by location, usually by parish. Each new parish commences with original signatures, usually

scope of the task of tendering the oath to every adult male in the realm also stretched
the royal bureaucracy to its limit. More than one area of the realm was overlooked
when the initial commissions went out.70 Nevertheless, the great number of surviving
letters about the tendering of the oath of succession from the spring and summer of
1534 attest to the fact that in the end, the regime managed to accomplish it.
The multiplicity of overlapping professions in the spring and summer of 1534
must have created a great deal of confusion. After all, at one and the same time, the
commissioners were tendering the oath of succession, the clerical subscription against
papal power, the friars' profession, the institutional profession, and at least one new
bishops' oath as well. Cranmer himself was puzzled at times, as he revealed in an
undated letter to an unidentified member of the central bureaucracy (probably Lord
where you have sent forth commissions to justices of the peace to take the
same oath [of succession], I pray you send me word, whether you have given
them commission to take oaths as well of priests as of other. And if so, then I
trust my labours be abbreviate, for in a short time the oaths (hereby) shall be
taken through all England; which seemeth to me very expedient so to be;
trusting this expedition shall discharge your lordship, me, and other of much
travail in this behalf; but yet I would gladly know who shall take the oaths at
the religious of Syon, which is specially to be observed, and also the charter
houses, and observants, and other religious exempt.71
And if Cranmer was confused in 1534, any historian writing in the twenty-first century
is bound to encounter enigmas when attempting to determine which letters relate to
which professions. For example, when the prior of the Charterhouse of Henton wrote
to Henry VIII on September 1 of having been "enstructyd by master Layton of your
gracis pleasure concernyng the subscrybyng and sealyng of a certeyn profession in
wrytyn," we simply do know if this profession was the oath of succession, the
subscription against papal authority, or the institutional profession.72

by gentlemen, priests, or other clergymen. Following these original signatures, the rest of the names
from that parish (by far the majority) are all written in the same hand; NA DL 41/1182.
NA SP1/84, fol. 19r (LP, VII 656); NA SP1/88, fols.l41'-143r (LP, VII App. 23 & 24); Elton, Policy
and Police, 225.
Miscellaneous Writings and Letters of Thomas Cranmer, 291-292. The "religious exempt" were
institutions that were exempt from the jurisdiction of the ordinary of their diocese and instead answered
directly to a higher power, usually either the monarch or a prelate in Rome.
NA SP1/85, fo!.136r (LP, VII 1127), printed in Thompson, Carthusian Order, 447-448.

In order to summarize the multiplicity of professions of 1534, let us examine
the story of the universities. As we have seen, both universities first signed the
declaration that the bishop of Rome has no greater authority in England than any other
foreign bishop. Cambridge did so on May 2, Oxford on June 27. On May 31, Henry
wrote to Cambridge University to reassure them that even though he commanded them
to give their oaths of succession to the mayor of the town and to the bishop of Ely, he
intended nothing against the privileges of the university. Three days later, Lord
Audley wrote to the mayor of Cambridge, commissioning him to tender the oath of
succession to the town and university separately.7 No such letters survive for Oxford,
but a similar process must have taken place there as evidenced by Dr. London's claim
that he "wasse the second person who toke a corporrall ooth in Oxford befor my lord
of Lincoln and the mayer, then commissionars, to maytayne the same [defense of this
matrimony] to the vttermost of my power."75 The colleges of Oxford and Cambridge
were clerical institutions, and five institutional professions survive for Oxford
Colleges. Oriel College made their profession on July 27, Brasenose on July 31,
Balliol on August 1, and Merton and All Souls' on September 28. 76 The only
institutional profession to survive from Cambridge is from Corpus Christi College.
This profession is exceptional not only in its isolation, but also in its extremely late
date of March 9, 1535.77 I have no explanation for either exception. But it is clear
that over the course of 1534, the universities first rejected papal authority, then swore
the oath of succession, and finally made their institutional professions, the last of
which included an acknowledgment of Henry's supremacy.
After the flurry of professions in the spring and summer, 1534 closed more
quietly. Parliament met again in November and passed the Act of Supremacy, which
confirmed that Henry was indeed "the onely supreme [heed] in erthe of the Churche of

" CCCC MS. 106, #257 (pg. 566).

CCCC MS. 106, #42 (pg. 123). The reason Henry and Audley were so careful is because oaths were
a flash-point of conflict between the university and town throughout the sixteenth century.
NA SP1/77, fol.l07r (LP, VI 739). LP mistakenly places this letter in 1533.
Oriel College: NA E 25 102/8 (LP, VII 1024(26)); Brasenose College: E 25 102/7 (LP, VII
1024(35)); Balliol College: NA E 25 102/3 (LP, VII 1121(1)); Merton College: NA E 25 102/1 (LP, VII
1216(34)); All Souls' College: NA E 25 102/4 (LP, VII 1216(32)).
BL Lansdowne MS. 989, Ms. 131v-133r (LP, VIII 360).

England callyd Anglicana Ecclesia." No profession, however, was attached to this
statute, though of course all the institutions and at least some of Henry's bishops had
already sworn oaths acknowledging Henry's headship. Parliament also passed a
second Act of Succession, retroactively setting the form of the oath of succession and
claiming that all oaths of succession taken earlier in the year should be interpreted as
this form. This form was essentially the same as the one sent to the commissioners
in Sussex on April 20. Finally, Parliament passed the Treason Act, which declared
that anyone who did "malicyously wyshe will or desyre by wordes or writinge or by
crafte ymagen invent practyse or attempte, any bodely harme to be donne or
commytted to the Kynges moste royall personee, the Quenes, or their heires apparaunt,
or to depryve theym or any of theym of the dignitie title or name of their royall
estates" was a traitor, and as such, to be punished with death.81 The refusal of the oath
of succession was not specifically mentioned as treason. In order to bring the full
force of the act against those such as Fisher and More who had refused the oath, the
regime thus had to gather evidence that Fisher and More had expressed some "words
or writings" against the king.
At the start of 1535, then, only the oath of succession was backed by an act of
Parliament. Yet this did not stop Henry from pressing even more professions on his
clergy. Once again, Henry first targeted his bishops. Starting on February 10, 1535,
Henry made all his bishops and his two archbishops make and sign a new profession.
This profession contained familiar elements. The bishops promised faith and
obedience to Henry and to his heirs as the supreme head(s) of the English church,
rejected papal authority, pledged never to call the bishop of Rome the pope, and
promised to observe all the laws in the kingdom for the extirpation of papal authority.
Yet the profession added new clauses wherein the bishops pledged never to give faith
or obedience to the pope despite any earlier profession, never to enter into a treaty
with anyone who was attempting to restore papal jurisdiction, never to appeal to the
pope, to reveal any letters they received from him to the king, never to send letters to
Statutes of the Realm, 26 Hen. 8, c. 1, 3:492.
Statutes of the Realm, 26 Hen. 8, c. 2, 3:492-493.
See Appendix D.
Statutes of the Realm, 26 Hen. 8, c. 13, 3:508.

the pope in return without the consent of the king, never to seek or consent to any
papal bulls or dispensations, never to seek or keep a dispensation or exception to this
profession, and finally to revoke all protestations previously made that were in conflict
with this current profession. Virtually all of these professions were made in
February and March of 1535.83 Unlike the friars' profession and the institutional
profession, this new profession of the bishops was not confirmed by an oath. It was
also the first profession since before the Act of Succession not to mention explicitly
Henry's marriage to Anne and his new succession.
Also in March of 1535, Cromwell wrote the following remembrance to
himself: "to delyuer the othe and profession of the Bisshoppes to the pry or of
Augustyne ffreers and the provincyall of the black ffreers to thentent they may practise
the obseruacion of the same thorough out all the orders of ffreers." No evidence
exists of the friars actually making this profession, though a modified form of this
profession was made by the universities of Oxford and Cambridge and their colleges
in the fall of 1535. During the first part of September, Richard Layton and John
Tregonwell made a visitation of the University of Oxford. On September 12,
Tregonwell wrote to Cromwell to inform him that they had completed their work. He
also informed Cromwell that they had obtained professionsone from the university
and one from each collegeand that every scholar had made these professions, as
well as taking the oath of succession again.85 The only profession to survive from this
visitation is a copy of the profession of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, made on
September 9, 1535. A similar visitation must have taken place at Cambridge at the

These professions are collected in NA E 25 and interspersed among the institutional professions of
1534. For the complete text of this profession, see Appendix F, I.
The exceptions to this statement are the Welsh professions. The bishop of St. David's profession
(NA E 25 84/1), bears the date of April 4, 1534, though it is almost certainly a scribal error and should
read 1535. The bishop of St. Alsaph's profession (NA E 25 4/2) bears the date of June 1, 1535.
NA SP1/91, fol. 58r (LP, VIII 345).
NASPl/96, fol. 1 3 8 ' ^ , IX 351). See also Stat Pap Pub, 1:425-426 (LP, VII 1148incorrectly
put in 1534 by LP) where on September 14 Oxford University informed Henry VIII: "Sed de ijs
hactenus narrabant nobis praefacti duo eximij viri [Layton and Tregonwell], mandasse Majestatem
Tuam, uti non tam Romani Ponficis autoritati, quem in hoc regno nullam habere constat, scriptis (ut
vulgari modo loquamur) renunciaremus, sigillo communi obsignatis, quam in tua ac tuorum succesorum
verba fideliter juraremus. Quae tametsi antea semel fecimus, attamen ne videremur parum mandatis
tuis obtemperantes, denuo quoque facere non sumus gravati."
BL Lansdowne MS. 989, Ms.' 134r-136v (LP, IX 306).

end of October, for the profession of the University of Cambridge survives from
October 23, as does the profession of Gonville Hall made on October 25.87 The final
profession of this sort to survive is from Cobham College, Kent, made on October

27. These professions differed from the bishops' professions made earlier in the
year in that they had a new preamble and an altered wording in clause twelve. These
new sections made the profession stronger by explicitly turning the profession into an
oath and more carefully guarding against taking the profession with equivocation or
dissimulation. In addition, these new university professions contained three
additional clauses not found in the professions of the bishops: one clause renouncing
all exemptions, grants, privileges, and gifts conferred by the pope, another professing
to be subjects of the king alone, and a third promising not to pay any money to the
pope or his representatives.90 Finally, the professions of Gonville Hall and Cambridge
University added yet another clause, pledging to observe faithfully the statute of
succession.91 Besides this added clause on the succession, all of the pledges made as
part of the visitation of the universities in the fall of 1535 were essentially the same.92
If the bishops and the universities made another profession of loyalty to Henry
VIII in 1535, did not the monasteries do so as well? After all, Henry sent out two
commissions to the monasteries in 1535. The purpose of the first, known as Valor
Ecclesiasticus, was to document church wealth, while the second's purpose was to
The university's original profession is BL Additional Charter 12827. A copy of it is BL Harleian
MS. 7041, fol. 193 (LP, IX 666). The profession of Gonville Hall was printed in Thomas Fuller, The
History of the University of Cambridge, andofWaltham Abbey with the Appeal of Injured Innocence,
ed. James Nicols (London: Thomas Tegg, 1840), 164-166.
1 have no explanation why Cobham College made this profession. It was a college of secular priests,
but to my knowledge, it was not officially part of either university.
"Noverit majestas vestra regia quod nos Magister et Socii predicti, non vi aut metu coacti, dolove aut
aliqua alia sinistra machinatione, ad haec inducti sive seducti, sed ex nostris certis scientiis, animis
deliberatis, merisque et spontaneis voluntatibus; pure sponte et absolute, in verbo sacerdotii,
profitemur, spondemus ac ad sancta Dei Evangelia, per nos corporaliter tacta, juramus vestrae
illustrissimae regiae majestati"; Fuller, History, 164. Also see Appendix F for the change in wording in
clause 12.
See Appendix F, II.
The additional clause on the succession in the profession of Cambridge University and Gonville Hall
was redundant, for both the letters from the visitation at Oxford and the instructions for the visitation at
Cambridge indicate that the oath of succession was once again tendered in addition to this profession.
See footnote 85 above as well as LP, IX 615, printed in Charles Henry Cooper, Annals of Cambridge
(Cambridge: Warwick and Co, 1842), 1:375 and LP, IX 616.
There are negligible differences among them. Consult Appendix F, II for the text of this profession
where these differences are highlighted.

examine the morals and behavior of the monks and nuns. Generally, historians of the
Tudor period have assumed that Henry indeed made the monasteries swear an oath of
supremacy in 1535. Perhaps the earliest historiographical claim of this sort was
written in the short annals of a monk of St. Augustine's in Canterbury. Concerning
the visitation of the monasteries, he wrote: "In this visitation, all men vtterly
renounced the name of the pope, hys priuilegies and exempt places & c."93 Modern
historians have echoed this assertion. David Knowles, for example, claimed:
In the spring of 1535 commissioners were appointed to require
acknowledgment of the king's headship of the Church, and this was usually
obtained by administering an oath upon the gospels in general terms of
acceptance of the king's headship. All religious houses were visited for this
purpose in due course.94
G. W. Bernard operated under a similar assumption in his recent magisterial work on
the Henrician Reformation.95 Yet this claim that the monasteries swore the oath of
supremacy in 1535, while not completely unfounded, lacks the necessary documentary
evidence to prove its occurrence.
The best evidence for the monasteries taking an oath in 1535 comes from a
draft of the commission for general visitation (not Valor Ecclesiasticus) in January of
1535. In it, the visitors are instructed "to show and demand an oath of fidelity and
obedience to us and our heirs from the same and from anyone else of the said
monasteries and from those present and serving at other places."9 Of course, an oath
of "fidelity and obedience" was a general term for any oath in which the swearer
promised to be "faithful and true" and "obedient" to a social superior. While clauses
of fidelity were included in circulating professions like the oath of succession, such a
description of the oath gives us little idea of the content of the oath, for it was possible
to swear an oath of fidelity without making any reference to the supremacy or the

" BL Harleian MS. 419, fol. H3 r .

Knowles, Religious Orders, 3:230. This is also the assumption of Thompson, Carthusian Order, 467.
"They [the Charterhouses of England] had been required to swear & series of oaths committing them
to the royal supremacy;" Bernard, King's Reformation, 166 (my italics). Also see page 168, where
Bernard reports that the king was trying to get the nuns and monks of Syon abbey to swear an oath in
the spring of 1535. For more on Syon, see below.
"Ac Juramentum fidelitatis, et obedientiae nobis et hereditorum nostris exhibende ab eisdem et
quibusuis alijs dictorum mon [abbr for monasteries?] et aliorum locorum presidentibus et ministris
exigende"; NA E 36 116, fol. 15v {LP, VIII 76).

succession. The royal injunctions that accompanied this visitation exhorted the monks
to observe, keep, and teach "all the singular contents, as well in the oath of the king's
succession, given heretofore by them, as in a certain profession lately sealed with the
common seal, and subscribed and signed with their own hands." This obviously
referred to the oath of succession and to the institutional profession made in 1534.
The injunctions did not instruct the monks to make another new profession in 1535.
They simply commanded the monks to observe all the statutes made or to be made for
the extirpation of papal authority and to preach and teach that the pope's authority was
not established by Scripture but rather that the king was supreme under God on earth.
Moreover, the eighty-six articles of inquisition relating to this visitation contain no
reference to an oath or profession of any kind. And in this regard, the injunctions for
the visitation of the monasteries contrast sharply with those for the visitation of the
universities in the fall of 1535. Although the first article for the visitation of
Cambridge is very similar to the first injunction for the visitation of the monasteries
(commanding them to observe the oath of succession and institutional profession
already sworn), Cromwell issued an additional set of injunctions to the universities,
the first of which specified "that by a writing to be sealed with the common seal of the
University, and subscribed with their hands, they should swear to the King's
succession, and to obey the statutes of the realm made or to be made, for the
extirpation of the papal usurpation, and for the assertion and confirmation of the
King's jurisdiction, prerogative, and preeminence."99 Thus, despite the fact that a
draft of the initial commission spoke of an oath of fidelity, none of the actual
instructions or injunctions for the visitation of the monasteriesin contrast to those
for the universitiesspecified the making of a new profession.
The actual general visitation of the monasteries did not commence until the
end of the summer in 1535. In the meantime, the commissioners for Valor
Ecclesiasticus did visit the monasteries. The commissioners sometimes took the

Wilkins, Concilia, 3:789; Burnet, History ofthe Reformation, 4:217.
These articles are printed in Wilkins, Concilia, 3:786-789 and Burnet, History of the Reformation,
The original articles of visitation for Cambridge are LP, VIII 616. Cromwell's injunctions are printed
in Cooper, Annals of Cambridge, 1:375.

opportunity to advocate royal supremacy, observe the monks' response, and report any
opposition, but there is no evidence that they ever tendered a specific profession. For
example, while collecting information on the worth and possessions of Beauvale
Charterhouse, "an exortacion frendly was showyd that the kynges of Englond by good
juste title ought to be supreme hede of the churche of the same." The proctor of the
house William Trafford replied, "I beleve fermely that the Pope of Rome is supreme
hede of the Church Catholyk," and the commissioners duly reported this to
Cromwell.' Another commissioner for Valor Ecclesiasticus, Thomas Magnus,
simply recounted to Cromwell that the prior and brethren of the Charterhouse at Hull
were "conformable to the king's pleasure."101 Yet if the commissioners for Valor
Ecclesiasticus did not tender any oath or profession to the monasteries in the spring
and summer of 1535, some monasteries certainly anticipated that the regime was about
to tender them a new oath of supremacy. The best evidence for this is that John
Houghton, Robert Laurence, and Augustine Webster, the priors of the Charterhouses
of London, Beauvale, and Axholme respectively, sought an interview with Cromwell
in the spring of 1535 to forestall the commission and seek exemption from swearing
"the diabolical decree."10 It was only after this interview that the government began
pushing an oath of supremacy on these priors and the members of the London
Charterhouse. Hence, the whole struggle with the London Charterhouse over the
oath of supremacy that started in 1535 was instigated by the Charterhouse itself! The
regime responded with an oath only after it discovered the obstinacy of the
Charterhouse in refusing to swear an oath not yet demanded of them.
Thus, in the spring and early summer of 1535, Henry was pushing the
supremacy on his monasteries in an unsystematic manner, generally without an oath or

LP, VIII 560; printed in Thompson, Carthusian Order, 457.

LP, VIII 968; Thompson, Carthusian Order, 462.
Chauncy, Passion and Martyrdom, 75 (Chauncy erroneously reported that an oath was attached to
the act of supremacy); Knowles, Religious Orders, 3:231.
" The priors were executed that spring, not for refusing to swear an oath of supremacy (though this
undoubtedly played a role), but officially for vocally denying royal supremacy, which was in violation
of the Treason Act as a "desyre by wordes or writinge . . . to depryve theym [the king, queen, or their
heirs] of any of theym of the dignitie, title or name of their royall estates.." For the interrogations and
trials of the priors, see LP, VIII 565, 566, 609. The quotation comes from Statutes of the Realm, 26
Hen. I, c. 2, 3:492-493.

profession. Of course, many monasteries and probably individuals had sworn to
Henry's supremacy in the institutional profession of 1534, and rumors of another
device were clearly in the air in 1535. This is best illustrated by examining in detail
the situation of the Carthusian Abbey of Mountgrace in the summer of 1535. Two
monks of Mountgrace had refused the oath of succession in 1534, and the monastery
was accordingly monitored closely by the regime. In June of 1535, Edmund Lee,
the archbishop of York, sent Dr. Langrige, the archdeacon of Cleveland, to preach the
king's new title and to deliver books on the king's supremacy around Yorkshire.
When Langrige stopped at Mountgrace, the prior John Wilson "received the booke,
but he alowed not the thinge, and saide he trusted that none of his broderne wolde
alowe anie suche things, the said Archideacon did his best to alure hym, but he coulde
not bringe it to pass." Looking back, Lee confirmed that the priors of Mountgrace
and Hull were "ready to die than to yield to your royal style."106 So Lee sent Wilson a
letter and Wilson then had interviews with both Tunstall (the bishop of Durham) and
Lee. Lee persuaded Wilson that the "kinges Majestie was supreme heed immediately
vnder Christ of this Churche of Ingland," and by July 9, Lee wrote Cromwell that
Wilson "holdethe hym selfe well content, and full wieselie considerethe that it
besemethe not hym to stonde in anie opinion againse so manie, not onlie beeing of
good lernynge, but also some of goode livenge."107 Although Wilson was convinced,
he freely admitted that he had "muche troble with certyen of his breythern whome by
cause they wold not acknolege ther dwtes vnto the kinges Majestie and vtterly expell
the bishop of Rome out of ther hartes."108 On July 13, the Earl of Northumberland
wrote Henry that Richard Marshall and Jamys Neweye, a priest and laybrother of
Mountgrace, had tried to flee to Scotland "by cause they wold not be sworne vnto

NA SP1/85, fol. 20r {LP, VII 932).
BL Cotton Cleopatra E iv, fol. 239' (LP, VIII 963), printed in Henry Ellis, Original Letters,
Illustrative of English History, Series III, (London, Harding and Lepard, 1846), 2:341-342.
LP, X 99^ printed in Ellis, Original Letters, Ser. Ill, 2:372-375.
LP, XV 125, printed in Thompson, Carthusian Order, A12-A1A; LP, V1I1 1011, printed in Ellis,
Original Letters, Ser. Ill, 2:344. Also see LP, XI 75, partially printed in Thompson, Carthusian Order,
LP, XV 125, printed in Thompson, Carthusian Order, 472-474.

suche articles as they were bounde according to youre highnes most dradde lawes."109
On July 20, Sir Francis Bigod also wrote to Cromwell, recounting, "The Prior of
Mountgrace praide me not to moave ne to vex any of his brethern for he had sente to
yower mastership his mynde concernyng boith hym self and his brethern; therfor 1
wolde ther meddle no farther, yit this I well parsaive by the prior that moste parte of
his brether be as yit traitors."'10 Finally on August 8, Archbishop Lee again wrote to
Cromwell, repeating that "the priour of Mountgrace is yelded," though some of his
"simple brodren" still held needed alluring. ] ' ] After August 8, we hear nothing more
of Mountgrace until Thomas Legh visited it in early February, 1536 as part of the
general visitation. Legh simply reported they were ready to fulfill the king's
pleasure.' l2 Mountgrace's story makes it clear that the regime was pushing them to
recognize Henry's supremacy in the summer of 1535, but it is also significant that the
language describing this submission is quite general. They simply "yielded" or
"conformed." The only time an oath was mentioned was when Marshall and Neweye
fled in order to avoid swearing to "suche articles." Yet like the London Charterhouse,
these monks probably anticipated the tendering of an oath, for surely if an oath was
tendered there it would have been noted in the other letters documenting Mountgrace's
The greatest support, however, for the argument that the monasteries were not
comprehensively tendered the oath of supremacy or some new profession in 1535 is
the fact that not one monastic profession exists to either of the two visitations of 1535.
This stands in marked contrast from the bishops' professions, all of which survive, and
the university professions, some of which survive. Moreover, when the general
visitation of the monasteries finally commenced at the end of July, 1535, it proved to
be an extensive affair that generated many documents. Copious letters and reports
remain from the four visitors: Richard Layton, Thomas Legh, John Ap Rice, and John

LP, VIII 1038, printed in Thompson, Carthusian Order, 468-470. My italics.
" LP, VIII 1069, the relevant part of this letter is printed in Thompson, Carthusian Order, 470.
LP, IX 49, printed in Thompson, Carthusian Order, 470-471.
LP, X 288.

Tregonwell.' ' 3 Yet in this myriad of letters, nary a mention is made of any profession
of royal supremacy. There are a few exceptions to this rule. First, in a letter from
Richard Layton to Cromwell on August 24, Layton wrote that Witham Charterhouse
"hath professide and done althynges accordyng as I shall declare yow at large to
morrowe erly."114 In addition, Thomas Legh wrote that Axholme Charterhouse "have
sealyd the profession concerning the kyng," while the proctor of Axholme, Thomas
Bernyngham also spoke of "a profession to be assigned wyth owr handis and sealled
with owr Covent seall and other letters."'15 Yet the context of this profession of
Axholme was the election of a new prior after the execution of Augustine Webster.
Except for the phrase "concerning the king," there is no indication that this profession
had anything to do with the supremacy or succession, though that remains a
possibility. When we compare the visitation of the monasteries to the visitation of the
universities, these two hints of a monastic profession appear even slighter. The
visitation of the universities produced vastly fewer letters, yet in the few that we have,
it is clear that the universities' profession was worthy of comment. The University of
Oxford wrote Henry VIII, relating how the visitors had required them to renounce
papal authority under their common seal and swear fealty to him. At the same time,
the visitor John Tregonwell wrote Cromwell, explaining that professions had been
taken from the university as a whole and from every college individually. Hence,
not only the lack of any surviving monastic professions, but also the comparatively
scant references to a monastic profession in the letters of the visitors suggest that the
visitors of the monasteries in 1535 did not demand from them an oath or profession of
the supremacy, at least not in any systematic manner. Perhaps because the professions
of 1534 had accomplished their purpose, Henry no longer felt that he had to issue
another profession to be made comprehensively by all the monasteries of the realm.

These letters can be followed in LP, VIII-IX. Many of them were printed in Wright (ed), Three
Chapters of Letters Relating to the Suppression of Monasteries. A table of the progress of the visitors
can be found in Knowles, Religious Orders, 3:476-477.
Wright, Three Chapters, 59 (LP, IX 168). Also see Thompson, Carthusian Order, AA1.
LP, X 50, 104, both of which are printed in Thompson, Carthusian Order, 451-452.
See footnote 85 above.

Although it seems that Henry did not force the English monasteries to make a
new profession in 1535, he certainly continued to coerce some of them into some kind
of acceptance of royal supremacy. The pressure the crown exerted here was focused
on select monasteries with a history of opposition to Henry, and the acknowledgment
required of them was less formal than a solemn oath. The example of the Mountgrace
Charterhouse appropriately illustrates this, but Mountgrace was not the only
monastery to undergo pressure for some type of informal acceptance of royal
supremacy. In 1535, John Pysent cryptically wrote to Sir John Alyn that some of the
monks of the Shene Charterhouse "wyll gladly obbey the kyngis grace in thys poynt
for as moche as yt ys not agaynst the scrypture off God," but others would rather dye
because of "a lytyll scrypulostye off conscyence."117 Neil Beckett, a historian of
Shene Charterhouse, assumed this referred to the oath of supremacy, but nothing in
Pysent's letter explicitly supports the assumption that he was referring to an oath. " 8
Even more compelling is a simple unaddressed letter by Dan Everade Digby and Dan
Thomas Johnsen in which they claim that they:
be content to folow and acordynge vnto thesame simpliciter & plainly we [are]
content to accepte & take the kynges grace for the supreme hede of the churche
of Inglande accordynge vnto the statute & date of parliament made & passede
theropon In witnes wherof we have subscripbed our names.'19
We do not know the situation of these two monks or their monastery, but it seems they
made some form of simple profession to the royal supremacy.
The example of Syon Abbey also warrants attention. Syon, which was the first
place where a subscription to the king's marriage to Anne was tendered, again fell
under royal pressure in 1535. Henry executed Richard Reynolds, a monk of Syon who
denied royal supremacy, ' 20 on May 4, 1535 with the Carthusian priors Houghton,

NA SP1/85, fols .125r-126r {LP, VII 1091incorrectly placed in 1534 by LP), printed in full in
Thompson, Carthursian Order, 441-442.
Neil Beckett, "Sheen Charterhouse: From Its Foundation to Its Dissolution" (Ph.D. diss., Oxford
University, 1992), 173.
NA SP1/98, fol. 32r(Z,P,IX 638).
No documentation of Reynolds being tendered an oath of supremacy exists. John Leek, a clerk of
Syon, reported that Reynolds had spoken that Katherine was the true queen of England and that he
would not accept Henry as the supreme head of the church; LP VIII 565, 566. Interrogated by the lord
chancellor, Reynolds defiantly upheld his rejection of royal supremacy and for this reason was executed
under the Treason Act; LP, VIII 661.

Lawerence, and Webster. On July 25, Thomas Bedyll wrote to Cromwell that the
abbess and sisters of Syon were "as conformable in every thing as myght be
devised."121 A month later, he wrote that while a number of the brethren resisted
preaching and being preached the king's title, the confessor general John Fewterer,
some of his brethren, and all the sisters "be wel contented with the Kinges Grace said
title, and wolbe redy to declare thair consentes to the same, when so ever they shalbe
1 99

required." Yet the sisters were not immediately required to give their consent.
Instead, the regime focused its attention on the obstinate brothers, especially the
monks Copynger, Whytford, Lache, and Little. On December 17, Bedyll wrote
Cromwell that he, Bishop Stokesley, and Fewterer visited the sisters in their
chapterhouse and:
wylled al suche as consented to the kinges title to syt styll, and al suche as
wold not consent to depart out of the chapter-house, there was found none
emong thaim whiche departed. Albeit I was informed this nyght that one
Agnes Smith, a sturdy dame and a sylful, hath labored diverse of her susters to
stop that we shuld not have thair convent seal; but we trust we shal have it this
mornyng, with the subscription of thabbes for her self and al her susters,
whiche is the best fassion that we can bring it to.123
No subscription survives from the abbess, and it seems that most of the sisters of Syon
acknowledged the royal supremacy simply by sitting still. This is a far cry from a
corporal oath or solemn profession. A month later, Copynger and Lachetwo of the
more obstinate brethren of Syonwrote to the London Charterhouse explaining that
they had "resolved our concyens from the opynion that ye yete rest in, and conformed
our selfes to vnitie and vniform decree and ordre of this Realme in the cause."124 Yet
again, this letter narrating their submission mentioned no profession or oath. Knowles
was indeed correct when he observed that "there is no record as to whether all the

Wright, Three Chapters, 44 (LP, VIII 1125).441-442.
LP, VII 1090 (incorrectly placed in 1534 by LP), printed in George James Aungier, The History and
Antiquities of Syon Monastery, the Parish oflsleworth, and the Chaperly ofHounslow (London: J.B.
Nicols and Son, 1840), 436-437.
Wright, Three Chapters, 48-49 (LP, IX 986).
LP, VII 78 (incorrectly calendared under 1535 by LP), printed in full in Aungier, Syon Monastery,

nuns and brethren [of Syon] formally took an oath to maintain 'the king's new
Thus, we can tentatively conclude that although Henry continued to demand
that specific monasteries acknowledge his title of supreme head of the church in some
manner, he did not tender a uniform and methodical profession or oath of supremacy
to them in 1535 as he did to the bishops and universities. If they did take an oath or
make a profession, it was not supported by a subscription or a notarial attestation.
These instruments, as we have seen, were common accompaniments to such public
devices and to tender an oath or profession without them would have been atypical.
Neil Beckett's statement that "there is no proof that it [the oath to the act of
supremacy] was required at Sheen or at any other Charterhouse other than London"
applies equally to the monasteries in general in 1535.126
After the flurry of oaths and professions in 1534 and the continued but more
selective use of them in 1535, things began to settle down administratively in 1536.
Parliament met again in the spring of 1536 and updated its legislation on the
succession and the supremacy. It passed a new Act of Succession, which like the
previous one, required all adult English subjects to take a corporal oath for the
succession "by the commaundement of your Majestie or of your heires at all tymes
hereafter frome tyme to tyme when it shall please your Highnes or your heires to
appoynt."127 The oath attached to this act was similar to the original oath of
succession, but it diverged in three ways. First, Henry's new wife Jane Seymour was
substituted for Anne. Second, the initial clause swearing fidelity to Henry specified
that he was "supreme hede in erthe under God of the Churche of Englonde." Finally,
Knowles, Religious Orders, 221. Knowles' account of Syon's struggle over royal supremacy
remains the best. For greater details on this story, see Knowles, Religious Orders, 215-221. 1 have
dwelt on Syon at length because historians read too much into the language of its letters and assume
that the focus of the struggle of 1535 was the oath of supremacy. In particular, I am unhappy with
Bernard's account of Syon. First, he claimed that in May of 1535, Bedyll "reported that they hoped to
have king's pleasure concerning oaths obeyed." The letter Bernard cited in support of this statement
{LP, VII 622) is clearly from 1534 and refers to the oath of succession, a fact which Bernard himself
admitted when discussing the letter in a different context. The same letter cannot be from two different
years! See Bernard, King's Reformation, 168 and 634 (note 561), 157-158 and 632 (note 468). Second,
Bernard places the dispute of the subscription to the succession in 1536, whereas I maintain there is
solid evidence for keeping it in 1534. See footnote 22 of this chapter.
Beckett, "Sheen Chaterhouse," 175.
Statutes of the Realm, 28 Hen. 8, c. 7, 3:661-662.

the oath promised that in the event of a lack of heirs through Henry and Jane, the
swearer would be loyal to whatever person or persons Henry appointed to succeed to
the crown. The act then specified that any person doing knight's service to the king
should swear this oath. It ended, in contrast to the first act of succession, by
stipulating that whoever refused this oath was guilty of high treason.
Despite the fact that this new Act of Succession authorized Henry to command
all his adult subjects to take the new oath of succession, there is no substantial
evidence that anyone actually took this oath. Two references to it survive. The first,
pointed out by Elton years ago, is a few spare leaves from an ancient manuscript
gospel. These leaves contain two oaths, both of which commence by swearing loyalty
to Henry as supreme head and to his heirs from Jane according to the limitation of the
statute. But then the oaths depart from the text stipulated in the act and from each
other. The first oath continues: "And you shall do no felonye, nor treasones, nor
consent therunto; and if you here or knowe of any, you shall shewe the Kyng and his
Councell thereof So God you hellp and all Saynts Etc." The second oath instead
states: "and also shall bere faith and truth to our said Soveraign Lorde his heires and
pay all suche rent and do such servyce as is due to his grace for the Manour of Bthat
ye hold of our said Soveraign Lorde, So God help and all Saynts."129 These
differences suggest that even if Henry used this oath occasionally, he felt free to
modify and simplify its contents. The second reference to this oath comes from
Edward Lee's archiepiscopal register of York. On March 27, 1538, Thomas Legh
issued an inhibition to the clergy of the York province in lieu of a planned general
visitation of the province. In addition to other matters of visitation, all clergy,
churchwardens, and two or three people from each parish were to swear fealty and
obedience to the king, renounce the pope and his jurisdiction according to the Act of
Succession, and subscribe their names. Except for a scant reference concerning a
matrimonial dispute from May 7, 1538, no further documentation of this visitation
survives, though it evidently was complete by July 7 when the inhibition was

Statutes of the Realm, 28 Hen. 8, c. 7, 3:661-662. See also Appendix D, 111 for the text of this new
oath of succession as well as a comparison to the former oath of succession.
BL Additional MS. 4507, fols. 5r, 7-9'.

relaxed. I3 In the end, Elton was correct in his observation concerning this oath: "the
signs that anyone took notice or action are extraordinarily slight and dubious
nonexistent by comparison with the evidence for 1534."
In addition to the new Act of Succession, the Parliament of 1536 also passed
the Act for Extinguishing the Authority of the Bishop of Rome. This act declared that
all ecclesiastical persons (religious or secular), all laymen holding any office or
position of authority or holding land from Henry, all persons taking a university
degree, and whoever else it pleased Henry to specify must take a new corporal oath
against the pope upon assuming office, position, or degree. Embedded in the act was
the actual form of this new oath. Like the bishops' oath of 1535, this oath did not
mention the succession at all. It commenced with two new clauses rejecting the
authority and jurisdiction of the pope and agreeing never to consent but rather to resist
such authority and jurisdiction. The swearer then promised to repute and take the king
as the "oonly supreme hedd in erth of the Church of Englond," the familiar clause
updated with the addition of the word "only." The final three clauses were direct
(though updated and slightly modified) derivations from the first oath of succession
and the oath new bishops had been taking since the spring of 1534 upon their
consecration. In these clauses, the swearer pledged to observe and defend all statutes
made and to be made for the extirpation of papal authority and corroboration of the
king's supremacy, neither to attempt nor suffer to be attempted anything to the
damage, derogation or hindrance of these statutes, and to reject any previous oath
made to or in favor of the pope and his power. Like the new Act of Succession, this
act also specified that anyone who refused this take this oath was guilty of treason, the
penalty for which was execution.132
Unlike the new oath of succession, there is evidence for the tendering of this
oath, at least for ecclesiastical persons. To begin with, this was the form of the oath

C. J., Kitching (ed.), The Royal Visitation of 1559: Act Book for the Northern Province, vol. 187 of
the Surtees Society (Gateshead: Northumberland Press, 1975), xiv.
Elton, Policy and Police, 226.
Statutes of the Realm, 28 Hen. 8, c. 10, 3:665. For the complete form of this oath and notes
comparing it to previous oaths, see Appendix G, I.

that the London Charterhouse took when they finally capitulated on May 18, 1537.
Moreover, all new bishops consecrated after July 31, 1536 took this oath, for many of
these oaths are included in Cranmer's archiepiscopal register alongside other
documents relating to the election and confirmation of new bishops.134 It is less clear
exactly when new parish priests and other holders of lower benefices began taking this
oath. Already in July of 1535, Thomas Goodrich Bishop of Ely had written Cromwell
proposing a new form of the oath of canonical obedience for new priests entering a
benefice that included clauses renouncing the pope. Yet the lists of institutions for
new benefices contained in the episcopal registers I have examined do not include
Goodrich's suggested oath or the oath stipulated by the act of Parliament. Indeed,
there is no mention of an oath against the pope in any of these institutions until
1543.136 After that year, however, most institutions note that the person being
promoted "undertake an oath on the holy Gospels of God concerning the renouncing,
refuting, and refusing the authority and jurisdiction exercised by the Roman high
priest according to the meaning, force, and effect of the statutes of Parliament."137 It
is also likely that this oath was tendered regularly at the universities. A copy of the
exact oath stipulated by the act (with the marginal note "and Ireland" often added after
the phrase "the churche of England") follows the heading "The othe takyn byfore
admyttyng any to the college for renounsing thauthoritie of the busshop of Rome" in a
British Library manusript.138 Furthermore, when condemning Cambridge

NA E 25 82/2 (LP, XII (1) 1233), printed in Rymer, Foedera, 14:588-589.
See for example the oaths of Nicholas Heath (Rochester) or Edmund Bonner (London) in Lambeth
Palace Library, Cranmer's Register, fols. 259r, 260v. Identical oaths follow throughout Cranmer's
register. This oath replaced the one sworn by Roland Lee and Thomas Goodrick in the spring of 1534.
Stat Pap Pub, 1:436-438 (LP, IX 1131).
1 have not read every episcopal register from Henry's reign so there is a strong possibility that lists
of institutions in some registers contain a reference to the oath against the pope before 1543. Even in
the registers whose institutions do not mention the oath renouncing the pope until 1543, it is feasible
that these oaths were still sworn upon institution but not recorded in the register. Finally, although the
institutions in Bonner's register do not mention this oath until 1543, it is noted in the section on
ordinations starting in 1541; Guildhall Library MS. 9531/12 (Bonner's Register), fol. 171v.
"Necnon de renunciando refutando et recusando Romano pontifici eiusque aucte et Iurisdictione
vsurpatis iuxta vim formam et effectum statutorum parliamenti huius Rem anglie in hac parte editorum
et prouisofum ad sancta dei Evangelia luratum instituit in eadem &c"; Lambeth Palace Library,
Cranmer's Register, fol. 388r. Also see Guildhall Library MS. 9531/12 (Bonner's Register), fol. 145r;
Registers ofCuthbert Tunstall Bishop of Durham, 102.
BL Additional MS. 39235, fol. 50 v .'

University's acceptance of Mary's counter-reformation, James Pilkington proclaimed:
"As oft as they had anye liuinge in anye college of the universites, as oft as they tooke
degree in the scholes, as oft as they tooke any benefice, and when they were made
priests or byshoppes, so ofte they sweare and forsweare all that nowe they denye."139
Excluding the text of the act itself, there is not much corroborating evidence that lay
holders of political office took this oath. In a letter from February of 1537, John
Butler wrote to Cranmer from Calais:
please it your grace to be advertised that at dyuers tymes here tofor I haue
openly declared vnto my Lord deputie / the Mayor / & all other of the kynges
Counsell here the othe of renouncynge the busshopp of Romes pretensid
power: which was stablysshed in the last parlyament of the kynges maiestie
holden at Westminster But suche othe is ther noon take / used or spoken of
amonge them / for lack wherof moche papistrye dothe rayne styll / and chiefely
amonge them that be Ruelars. Wherfor your grace myght do the kyinges
maiestie high service to procure a Commyssion for to be sent vnto my Lorde
deputie / with some other to be ioyned with him in the said Commyssion that
were not of the papisticall sort (which were hard to be found amonge the
Counsell here) to se the said othe put in execution from tyme to tyme as est
[best?] as my officer shalbe admytted / accordinge to the kinges statute.140
Whether Butler's experience in Calais was common or not, we do not know. It is
possible that lay office holders made this oath without making any documentary
reference to it. Regardless, it is apparent from episcopal registers and from
Pilkington's comment that all persons promoted to an ecclesiastical benefice
eventually took this oath.
One more oath from the Henrician Reformation remains. In 1544, Parliament
passed the Act concerning the Establishment of the King's Majesty's Succession in
the Imperial Crown of the Realm. This act began by rehashing the two oaths set forth
in the Parliamentary session of 1536. Yet because "bothe the saide Othes mencioned

James Pilkington, Of the cause of burning Paul's Church, quoted in James Bass Mullinger, From the
Royal Injunctisons of 1535 to the Accession of Charles First, vol. 2 of The University of Cambridge
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1884), 121.
NA SP1/102, fol. 24r (LP, X 292). The letter contains the date February 11, but has no year. LP
places it in 1535, but Butler's words demonstrate that the letter cannot be earlier than 1537. Butler
wrote of the oath renouncing the pope "stablysshed in the last parlyament." The first oath explicitly
renouncing the pope to be backed by a parliamentary statute was the oath stipulated in the Act for
Extinguishing the Authority of the Bishop of Rome of 1536. Since the Parliamentary session of 1536
did not commence until February 14, Butler's letter from February 11 must be from 1537.

in the saide severall Actes there lacketh full and sufficent wordes, wherby some
doubtes myght arise," this act issued a new oath "in lewe and place of those two
othes."141 The text of this oath was basically a much expanded version of the oath of
supremacy mandated in the 1536 Act for Extinguishing the Authority of the Bishop of
Rome with the addition of a new preamble and a clause promising fealty and
obedience to Henry and to his heirs and successors as stipulated by the 1536 Act of
Succession. The oath also emphasized Henry's imperial status by stressing that
Henry's supreme headship applied not only to England but also to Ireland and to his
other dominions. The act of 1544 ended by declaring that the same people formerly
required to take the oath attached to the Act for Extinguishing the Authority of the
Bishop of Rome must now take this one instead. Cranmer's register shows that after
1544 some new bishops took this new oath at their consecrations. Yet his register also
contains examples after 1544 of the old oath for the extinguishing of the authority of
the bishop of Rome, which suggests that implementation of this new oath was not

What conclusions can we draw from this overview of Henry VIII 's use of
professions and oaths to secure his succession and supremacy? Throughout our
narrative, it has become apparent that three factors affected the power of a device:
what kind of device it was, the content of the device, and the extent of its
administration. As for the first factor, Henry tendered a mixture of oathless
subscriptions and formal oaths to his subjects. This may be just a negligible
coincidence, but the clear hierarchy between oaths and promises in the sixteenth
century suggest otherwise. It was not a coincidence that the parish clergy were
required to take only a simple subscription while the institutional clergy were bound
with a solemn oath. Henry knew what he was doing. He must have felt that certain of
his subjects needed to be bound more strongly than others. Furthermore, the

Statutes of the Realm, 35 Hen. 8, c. 1. 3:956.

Lambeth Palace Library, Cranmer's Register, fols. 315r-316\ 326r_v, 328r-v, 3 3 1 " , 332v, 333", 334v-

professions Henry employed after 1534 were stronger not only in being oaths, but also
in more explicitly rejecting any kind of equivocation. The question that arises, then, is
why Henry tendered different kinds of professions (of varying strength) to different
groups of his subjects.
The second factor in determining the power of a particular profession was the
content of that profession. Here there were three different themes: the recognition of
the Boleyn (and later Seymour) marriage and succession, the rejection of papal
jurisdiction, and the establishment of royal supremacy. In 1533 and the first part of
1534, Henry focused on the first two issues and separated them into distinct
professions. The subscription tendered to Syon in January of 1534 exclusively dealt
with Henry's marriages. The oath of successionon the surface at leastreferred
only to the succession. The statement to which Henry forced all his bishops and
secular clergy to subscribe concerned solely the authority of the bishop of Rome. Yet
even though Henry initially separated these issues into different professions, the fact
that he circulated professions on both of these issues at the same time (perhaps even
tendering them to some subjects simultaneously) shows that the two were interrelated.
Indeed, the professions of the friars and the institutional professions of 1534 combined
the first two issues and added the third, Henry's supremacy. By 1535, the supremacy
clearly had taken precedence since the new profession of the bishops did not even
mention the succession. Likewise in the oath from the statute of 1544, the succession
was an afterthought; the vast majority of that oathwhich Parliament claimed to be a
combination of the oaths of succession and supremacydealt with the rejection of
papal authority and establishment of royal supremacy. Was Henry's initial separation
of the Boleyn marriage and succession from the rejection of papal authority and
acceptance of his supremacy a calculated move?
Central to this question is the matter of how radical in content the oath of
succession really was. Ostensibly, this oath made no reference to papal authority or
royal supremacy. This is why Houghton and Middlemore (the prior and procurator of
the London Charterhouse) finally decided to take the oath of succession in 1534. They
recognized that it was not a matter of faith, nor worth dying for. On the other hand,

Thomas More and John Fisher did consider it a matter of faith worth dying for. After
all, the acceptance of the Boleyn marriage implied the rejection of the Aragon
marriage, and the rejection of the Aragon marriage implied the derogation of papal
authorityeither the pope's power to dispense with Katherine's first marriage to
Arthur or the pope's power to maintain a marriage he saw as lawful in defiance of the
king. The key issue, then, is how Henry's subjects interpreted the oath of succession.
Did they see it as binding them only to the Boleyn marriage and succession, or to
Henry's jurisdictional revolution as well?
The third factor contributing to the power of an oath was the scope of its
administration. In this regard, the oath of succession was by far the most radical of the
Henrician professions. Henry tendered this oath to every adult subject in his realm
regardless of social status. The administrative effort for such an undertaking in the
sixteenth century was massive and unprecedented. The quantity of letters from the
summer of 1534 that testify to the confusion the tendering of the oath of succession
engendered demonstrate that the regime was indeed in uncharted waters. Yet why all
this administrative effort for an oath that on the surface made no reference to papal
authority or royal supremacy but merely involved the king's choice of a wife and heir?
How did the regime itself interpret the content of the oath of succession?
If the oath of succession was radical in scope but ambiguous in content, what
about the oath of supremacy? Another conclusion of this chapter is that the term "oath
of supremacy" is a misnomer. There was no single oath of supremacy. Instead, there
was a plethora of professions rejecting papal authority and acknowledging Henry's
supremacy circulating after 1534, some confirmed with oaths, some without. Unlike
the oath of succession, these professions had no Parliamentary backing; the Act of
Supremacy contained no reference to an oath or profession of any kind, so Henry was
free to adapt and modify these professions as he saw fit. Furthermore, when most
historians refer to "the oath of supremacy," they usually mean the oath tendered to the
monasteries during the visitations of 1535. Yet we have seen that it is doubtful that
most of the monasteries took an oath in 1535. A few of them may have, but evidence
indicates that some kind of informal acknowledgment of Henry's supremacy was

much more common. And while any sort of rejection of papal authority and
recognition of royal supremacy was radical in content, the acknowledgments of the
supremacy were much less radical in scope than the oath of succession. Elton was
quite right in his observation that "the realm as a whole was never sworn to the
supremacy."143 It was not until the 1536 Act for Extinguishing the Authority of the
Bishop of Rome that Henry even bothered to demand that a layman acknowledge his
supremacy, with the possible exception of Thomas More. And this act required an
oath of supremacy from laymen only if they assumed some office or position of
authority. This was not particularly radical, for an oath of office was traditionally
required for everyone newly assuming a position of authority. Henry simply tacked
on clauses about his supremacy to an already established oath. The supremacy then
unlike the oath of successionwas radical in content but not in scope.
But what of those subjects from whom Henry did demand a profession of his
supremacy? It is overwhelmingly clear that Henry focused on his clergy. Yet among
his clergy, Henry targeted certain groups over others. The bishops were hit hardest in
Henry's campaign. Already in 1533, the regime solicited certain bishops to abrogate
papal authority. The bishops all swore the oath of succession in the House of Lords in
the spring of 1534. They may have also agreed to the statement that the pope had no
greater jurisdiction in England than any other foreign bishop in Convocation at the end
of March, and they certainly signed this statement one to two months later. The new
bishops Goodrick, Lee, and Capon swore an oath to the king in April 1534, an oath
that explicitly rejected papal authority and acknowledged Henry's supremacy. The
rest of the bishops may have been forced to make another profession renouncing the
pope and his bulls at this time as well. In the summer of 1534, some of Henry's
bishops took the institutional profession, while every single bishop was again hit with
a new, detailed profession of the supremacy in February and March of 1535. That
means that there were eight separate professions circulating from 1533 to 1535 that
specifically targeted or at least included Henry's bishops! Even though we cannot
prove that every bishop made each of these professions, the sheer number and variety

Elton, Policy and Police, 230.

of the professions is significant. After the bishops, the universities also received
careful royal scrutiny. They agreed to the statement against papal jurisdiction, swore
to the succession, made the institutional profession of 1534, and then were hit again in
the fall of 1535 with a new profession of the supremacy combined with another
tendering of the oath of succession. The professions made by the friars and
institutions of the clergy in 1534 were also formidable in that they included an
acknowledgment of Henry's royal supremacy and were confirmed with an oath. This
was not true of the subscriptions of the non-institutional secular clergy. All this raises
the question: why? Why did Henry concentrate his campaign exclusively on the
clergy? Why did Henry obsessively target his bishops? Why the special focus on the
universities? Why did he attach an oath to the professions of the institutions and
friaries but not to those of the secular clergy?
In the end, this conclusion has raised more questions than it has answered. The
rest of this section will seek to answer the questions raised by our examination of
Henry's use of oaths and professions to enforce his succession and supremacy.

Chapter 4: The Origin and Motivation of Henry's Use of Oaths and
Subscriptions to Enforce His Reformation
Now that we know how Henry used subscriptions and oaths to implement his
reformation in the 1530s, the next logical step is to determine why Henry acted as he
did. The goal of this chapter is to ascertain how the regime's policy on using oaths
and subscriptions came into being. We will do this by reconstructing the context of
the early 1530s in order to elucidate the rationale behind Henry's policy decisions.
Three contexts are relevant in explaining Henry's employment of the oaths, especially
the oath of supremacy. The struggle between Henry and Katherine of Aragon over
whether Katherine was a virgin when they married demonstrates that Henry was well
aware of the binding power of an oath. The conflicts between Henry and the
Convocation of the Clergy in 1531 and 1532 revealed to Henry the extent of clerical
opposition to his divorce and to the extension of royal authority over the church.
These conflicts also taught Henry that his clergy were adept at utilizing equivocation
and verbal manipulation to mitigate the full power of an acknowledgment or
submission. This context explains both why the professions Henry employed from
1534 focused predominantly on his clergy and why the majority of the professions that
he administered to them were oaths (as opposed to oathless acknowledgments) that
were progressively more rigorous in including language designed to preclude
equivocation. Finally, the conundrum of dual loyalties raised by the contradictory
oaths a bishop-elect swore to the pope and to the king and Henry's growing awareness
of the fact that the upper echelons of his clergy had sworn oaths in derogation of royal
authority explain why Henry bound certain members of his clergy (such as the bishops
and the universities) with stronger and more numerous professions. Using the insight
gained by a detailed reconstruction of these three contexts, this chapter will close with
a discussion of the principal determining factors of the crown's use of oaths and
subscriptions to enforce its reformation.

Prelude to 1534: Henry's Awareness of Oaths
Even before Henry's struggle with the papacy to secure his divorce reached its
culmination in 1534, the power of an oath was a key issue in the conflict. Yet
ironically, it was not Henry but Katherine of Aragon who first utilized oaths to
advance her cause. In the fall of 1528, after a brief had surfaced that stated that
Katherine's marriage to Arthur had been "perhaps consummated," Katherine took a
corporal oath in the presence of witnesses that she had been unaware of the brief and
that it thus did not bind her.' Multiple times in confessions to the papal legate
Cardinal Campeggio between 1528 and 1529 Katherine swore an oath that she entered
her marriage to Henry as a virgin. According to Campeggio, this oath raised "some
scruple in the King's mind."2 It is likely that in the legatine trial of 1529, Katherine
again declared her virginity under oath and challenged Henry to deny it.3 The queen
continued to stand by her oath that she had never consummated her marriage with
Arthur. In July, 1531, Ambassador Chapuys believed that Katherine's best course of
action was to swear again a solemn oath in a court of law that she had never been
known carnally by Arthur and then bring forth compurgators to prove her character.4
Henry's case rested on the claim that Katherine had consummated her marriage with
Arthur, for Henry's argument that no one (including the pope) could dispense with
God's law would have no teeth if it could be proved that Katherine and Arthur were
never married in the eyes of God.
As a result, Henry needed to confront the challenge of Katherine's oath in
some way. On July 31, 1531, Chapuys reported that Henry had not attempted to refute
the queen's arguments but rather declared her "pertinacious in her oath that she had

"nihilo minus tamen dicta serenissma Catherina Regina, tunc ibidem protestabatur et declaravit, ac
deinde non rogata, neque requisita, sed sponte, pure, simpliciter et absolute, sacrosanctis Dei Evangeliis
per earn corporaliter tactis, in testium infrascriptorum praesentia, juravit, quod ilia verba in dicto Brevi
inserta, copulam carnelem intervenisse, de facto narrantia, per impetrantes dictum Breve, absque scitu
et sciatia suis, fuerunt apposita;" Pocock, Records of the Reformation, 2:432. For background on this
document see Henry Ansgar Kelly, The Matrimonial Trials of Henry V1I1 (Stanford: Stanford
University Press, 1976), 64.
LP, IV 5681. See also LP, VI 160 and Kelly, Matrimonial Trials, 60.
Kelly, Matrimonial Trials, 86-87.
Cal SP Spain, IV (2) 765 (LP, V 340).

never been carnally known by Prince Arthur, as likewise in publicly making such an
assertion. She was very much mistaken if she trusted in such a statement, for he
would evidently prove the contrary by means of good and competent witnesses."5 The
final response to Katherine's oath came in Cranmer's book in support of the divorce, a
book of which Henry greatly approved. Article ten of this book declared: "The most
serene Katherine, with such constant and vehement presumption, cannot prove her
virginity, especially with a public oath."6 Article eleven stated that a judge could not
allow Katherine's oath to stand in court considering the circumstances. Cranmer
proved both of these articles by using canon law to establish that no oath should be
allowed to stand in court if stronger evidence clearly demonstrated the contrary.
What is significant here is that Henry felt he must confront Katherine's oath by
establishing the consummation of her marriage with Arthur with other evidence; he
was not able simply to dismiss or ignore her oath.
Yet Katherine not only buttressed her own position with an oath: she also
challenged the king to do the same for his position. In a mandate Katherine sent to the
pope in 1529, she declared her virginity upon her marriage to Henry and Henry's
knowledge of this fact, going so far as to proclaim that if Henry would swear a public
oath that Katherine did not come to him as a virgin, she would drop her case and
acquiesce to Henry's will. This challenge made a great impression on Pope Clement
VII. Jerome Ghinucci, the auditor of the papal chamber and bishop of Worcester,
reported: "the pope seems always to persevere in the opinion that the offer of an oath

that the queen has made to Your Majesty gives great justification to her cause."
Henry, significantly, never took Katherine up on her challenge. Indeed, Henry
carefully guarded himself throughout his whole campaign from making a public
statement under oath on Katherine's virginity. In the legatine trial of 1529, Henry

"Quelle estoit bien obstinee davoer iure quelle navoit este cognue du prince Arthur, et ausy de ce
quelle lalloit disant et preschant a tout le monde, et quelle estoit bien decue celle (si elle) se fondoit sure
cella, car yl feroit apparoystre evidentement par bons tegmoins tout le contraigre"; Cal SP Spain, IV (2)
775 {LP, V 361). The English translation quoted above is that of Cal SP Spain.
"Seremissima Katherina, praesumptione violenta hujusmodi constante, virginitatem suam, juramento
praesertim publico, probare nequit"; Pocock, Records of the Reformation, 1:397.
Pocock, Records of the Reformation, 1:397-399; Kelly, Matrimonial Trials, 237.
Kelly, Matrimonial Trials, 136-144 (quotation from 144).

probably had to address this issue under oath, but in the notarial record of this trial
(compiled in 1533), the clause about the consummation of Katherine's first marriage
has been suspiciously deleted. Either Henry admitted under oath that Katherine was a
virgin and felt that this declaration needed to be suppressed, or he maintained that
Katherine was not a virgin but then had his answer destroyed to cover his perjury.
Either way, this suggests that Henry valued his oath. Moreover, at the Dunstable trial
of 1533 where the issue of Katherine's virginity was again raised, Henry did not
appear himself but appointed Dr. John Bell as his proxy. According to Thomas
Bedyll, Bell did not make his replies in consultation with Henry, nor did he respond
under oath. Considering all the resources and time Henry expended trying to secure
his divorce, it is revealing that Henry never took God as witness to the truth of his
cause, which would have been a simple andif Katherine really was willing to abide
by Henry's oatheffective solution. This indicates that Henry was well aware of the
special binding nature of oaths; his conscience would not allow him to swear publicly
that Katherine was not a virgin when married him. Whether this was because Henry
feared the eternal consequences of perjury or because Henry did not want to appear
perjured in the eyes of others, Henry's behavior betrays his awareness of the special
esteem granted oaths in the sixteenth century.
If Henry was aware how strongly an oath bound one's conscience, he was also
aware that one could mitigate the effect of an odious oath on one's conscience by
adding a few well-placed saving clauses. Sometime after 1527, Henry modified his
coronation oath.10 By adding a few conditions to his oath, he deftly altered its nature.
When swearing to uphold the rights and liberties of the church, Henry added "nott
Kelly, Matrimonial Trials, 207.
Although the document which contains changes to the royal coronation oath in Henry's hand is
undated, the basic form of the oath that Henry modified suggests that Henry changed his coronation
oath after 1527'. The text of the original oath that Henry modified comes from the well established
shorter rubric of coronation, but it contains two additional clauses not found in the standard shorter
rubric. The first record of this rubric oath with the two additional clauses is in The Statutes. Prohemium
Johannis Rastell of 1527. This suggests that Henry took the base form of the coronation oath from this
work and thus did not make the alteration to the coronation oath until after 1527; Thomas F. Mayer,
"On the Road to 1534: the Occupation of Tournai and Henry VIII's Theory of Sovereignty," in Tudor
Political Culture, ed. Dale Hoak (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 29 (note 91). This
revises Glyn Redworth's supposition that Henry modified his coronation oath upon his accession in
1509; Glyn Redworth, "Whatever Happened to the English Reformation?" History Today 37 (October
1987): 30.

prejudyciall to hys Jurydyction and Dignitie royall." When swearing to uphold the
laws and customs of the realm, he added "lawfull and not preiudiciall to hys crowne or
Imperial! duty."" Of course, these retrospective changes did not modify the content
of the oath Henry had actually sworn at his coronation, but they do demonstrate that
the king was well aware of the power of saving clauses to subvert the original meaning
of an oath. Henry's clashes with his clergy in the 1530s would further reinforce this
lesson.12 All of this indicates that the myriad of mixed (some with oaths, some
without) professions of 1534 and 1535 was no coincidence. Henry knew that an oath
was more binding than a simple profession. He also knew that the wording of a
profession had to be chosen carefully, for the addition of a few saving clauses could
subvert the original meaning of an oath.

Prelude to 1534: Henry's Clash with the English Clergy in 1531 and 1532
In 1531, Henry attempted to get the Convocations of the Clergy of Canterbury
and York to recognize him as supreme head of the church. In 1532, Henry required
that his clergy submit all their constitutions to him, alter the ones prejudicial to royal
authority, and agree never to make any more laws or constitutions without the king's
consent, effectively handing over to the crown their jurisdictional power. The conflict
between Henry and his clergy engendered by these two royal demands set the template
for the course of events relating to the professions of 1534 and beyond. Not only did
these two conflicts reveal to Henry that his clergy strongly opposed any move to
increase royal authority at the expense of clerical autonomy, but these conflicts also
brought to light the variety of ways that one could ostensibly make an offending
profession while at the same time extricating one's conscience from the ramifications
of that profession. These subtle devices were to be used in response to the Henrician
professions of succession and supremacy, as well as in response to the other coercive
oaths of the sixteenth century.

" BL Cotton MS. Tiberius E viii, fol. 100rv, printed with a facsimile of the original in Ellis, Original
Letters, ser. II, 1:176-177.
See below.

The story of Henry's clash with the Convocation of Canterbury in 1531 has
been told many times. Yet historians have not yet recognized the significance of the
events of 1531 in setting the template for the tendering of and response to the
Henrician professions of the 1530s. This is partly because the historiographical debate
has centered on the issue of praemunire and Henry's motivation for threatening his
clergy.13 Also obscuring the significance of the 1531 Convocation regarding oaths is
the confusion generated by the discrepancies between the two main sources about this
Convocation. The first source is the formal records of Convocation. These records
provide an itemized, day-by-day summary of what happened in Convocation. The
description in the records, however, is often vague. For example, the records
sometimes refer to a "secret communication" or a "long disputation," leaving no clue
as to what was said in these conferences. The second source is the hagiographic "Life
and Death of that Renowned John Fisher", written sometime in the middle of Queen
Elizabeth's reign. Although G. W. Bernard called this work a "doubtful source," the
consensus among historians is that it is basically accurate.I4 Philip Hughes has shown
that the source of the information on 1531 in "The Life of Fisher" was William
Rastall, a distinguished legal thinker and contemporary eye-witness (also the nephew
of Thomas More), while Fr. Van Ortroy has painstakingly reconstructed the sources of
"The Life of Fisher" and the process through which it was made.I5 Indeed, every
scholar, from Stanford Lehmberg to Bernard himself, utilized "The Life of Fisher" in
their narratives of the events of 1531. The problem is that even though the content of
the narrative of 1531 in "The Life of Fisher" includes much more detail on what was
said and who said it, it contains no dates and probably distills the narrative down to the
J. J. Scarisbrick, "The Pardon of the Clergy" Cambridge Historical Journal 12 (1956): 22-39; John
Guy, "Henry VIII and the Praemunire Manoeuvres of 1530-1531," English Historical Review 97
(1982): 481-503; G.W. Bernard, "The Pardon of the Clergy Reconsidered," Journal of Ecclesiastical
History 37 (1986): 258-282; Guy, "The Pardon of the Clergy: a Reply," Journal of Ecclesiastical
History 37 (1986): 283-284; Bernard, "A Comment on Dr Guy's reply," Journal of Ecclesiastical
History 37 (1986): 284-287.
Bernard, "Pardon of the Clergy Reconsidered," 259.
Philip Hughes, "The Earliest Life of John Fisher," Blackfriars 16 (1935): 414-418; F. van Ortroy
(ed), "Vie du bienheureux martyr Jean Fisher Cardinal, eveque de Rochester," Analecta Bollandiana 10
(1891): 121-365; 12 (1893): 97-283. See especially Ortroy's excellent introduction; 10:121-142.
Ortroy then printed "The Life of Fisher" along with all its sources in a critical edition. All subsequent
citations of this source will come from this version and will be cited as "The Life of Fisher," with the
volume of Analecta and page numbers following this title.

core issues. It is not a comprehensive, step-by-step account of all that happened.
Thus, we are not sure when a certain speech by Henry or Fisher fits into the day-by-
day accounts of many "long disputations" that are sparingly but methodically
chronicled in the records. As a result, the previous accounts of the 1531 Convocation
have omitted some important details from "The Life of Fisher" on oaths. It is thus
appropriate to retell the story of the 1531 Convocation with a special emphasis on the
role of oaths and equivocation in the story.
The conflict between the clergy and the king commenced with Henry accusing
the clergy of exercising illegal spiritual jurisdiction. In exchange for a pardon, the
clergy of Canterbury agreed to pay Henry a subsidy of 100,000, though negotiations
broke down over the exact timetable of payment of this subsidy and the concessions
the clergy demanded in exchange for it.17 By early February, 1531, Henry demanded
that five articles be attached to the prologue of the clerical subsidy, the most explosive
of which was the concession that Henry was "the sole protector and supreme head of
the church and clergy of England."18 On Tuesday, February 7, after a secret meeting
with the king's councilors, Archbishop William Warham introduced these demands
into Convocation. During the next two days, both houses of Convocation debated
these issues, often in conversation with the king's councilors.1 According to "The
Life of Fisher," Fisher successfully led a campaign to oppose these articles and in
response, Henry called some bishops and other leaders of Convocation to Westminster
for a secret conference. There the king swore an oath never to take any more power,
jurisdiction, or authority than any of his predecessors had exercised and never to
meddle himself with spiritual jurisdiction or business. "Therefore havinge now made
you," Henry continued, "this franke promisse, I do expect that you shall deale with me
as frankely againe: wherby agreement may the better continewe betweene us."20

Readers who want a more general account of the events of 1531 may consult the many accounts
indicated in previous footnotes.
Scarisbrick, "Pardon of the Clergy," 22-33; Guy, "Praemunire Manoeuvres," 481-495; Bernard,
"The Pardon of the Clergy Reconsidered," 275-280; Lehmberg, Reformation Parliament, 110-113.
"videlicet ecclesiae et cleri Anglicani (cuius protector et supremum caput is solus est)"; Bray,
Records of Convocation, 7:133.
Bray, Records of Convocation, 7:132-133.
"The Life of Fisher," 10:359-360.

When the clergy remained obstinate, Henry called another secret meeting, "saying
further that yf any man would sticke nowe against his Maiestie in this pointe, it must
needes declare a great mistrustfullnes they had in his Highnes wordes, seeing he had
made so solemne and high an oath."21 Henry had hoped that his solemn oath would
settle the matter.
On Thursday, February 9, the plot thickened. After a morning debate over the
article on the supremacy, royal councilors entered Convocation, asked whether
Convocation had decided on the article of supremacy, and "affirmed that the lord king
did not want to admit any qualification about the same."22 "The Life of Fisher" once
again provides more detail on this cryptic statement. Evidently when the royal
councilors first entered Parliament, they urged Convocation to consent simply to "his
[the king's] demaunde, and credit him in [his] protestacion and othe."2 Fisher,
however, gave a stirring speech opposing a simple and absolute acceptance of the
supremacy. After all, what if the king changed his mind and decided to exercise
spiritual jurisdiction over the bishops and clergy of the realm? The royal councilors
responded that Henry had no such intention, "alledginge his royal protestacion and
othe [in] the worde of a Prince." Furthermore, even if though the Convocation should
grant the article of supremacy "absolutely [and] simpliciter according to the king's
demaunde, yet it shulde and muste nedes have imployed in yt this condicion and
playne meninge that he wolde have no furder [auctori]te by it then QUANTUM PER
LEGEM DEI LICET."24 Fisher then picked up on this concession and argued that if the
clergy had to accept the article of supremacy, they should make this condition explicit
and add it expressly to the prologue of the subsidy instead of passing it absolutely with
an implied condition. The royal councilors rejected adding this condition explicitly,
again clamoring "to have the graunt passe absolutely and to credit the kings honor in

"The Life of Fisher," 10:361.
"affirmantes quod dominus rex noluit admittere ullam qualificationem supre eadem"; Bray, Records
of Convocation, 7:133.
"The Life of Fisher," 12:251 (Rastall fragment).
"The Life of Fisher," 12:251. The Latin means "as far as it is allowed by the law of God."

geving them so solemne a protestacion and oath." Yet the Convocation refused to
give in, and a deadlock ensued for the next two days.26
Finally, on Saturday morning February 11, Archbishop Warham entered
Convocation late, presumably having been at court securing royal acquiescence to the
conditional clause. He then asked if the Convocation would consent to having the
following words entered into the prologue of the subsidy: "we recognize his majesty to
be the singular protector, only supreme lord, and, as far as it is allowed by the law of
Christ, the supreme head of the church and clergy of England." Despite getting its
way, the Convocation was still hesitant to consent vocally. Silence reigned throughout
the chapterhouse. So Warham posed the question again, adding "he who remains
silent seems to consent." At this point, an unidentified cleric uttered the famous words
"and thus we all remain silent."28 This form of acknowledgment was weak to say the
least; it was a far cry from a solemn oath or even an oathless subscription. So in the
afternoon, Warham asked the consent of the upper house of Convocation a third time
and, after much debate, all of the upper house "more expressly" consented and
admitted the same by subscribing.29 Later that afternoon, the lower house presented
some form of a subscription as well.
We should not underestimate the significance of the conditional clause
attached to the Convocation's 1531 acknowledgment of royal supremacy. As
Chapuys reported, Henry may have considered the condition "null and void" from the
start, but he took it seriously enough to make sure it was not part of the Act of
Supremacy of 1534.30 For the clergy, the conditional clause allowed them to interpret

"The Life of Fisher," 10:364-365, 12:251-252.
For further information on what happened during the course of this deadlock, see Bray, Records of
Convocation, 7: 133-134; Lehmberg, Reformation Parliament, 114-115.
"ecclesiae et cleri Anglicanae, cuius singulae protectorem unicum et supremem dominum et quantum
per Christi legem licet etiam supremum caput ipsius maiestatem recognoscimus"; Bray, Records of
Convocation, 7:134.
"et idem reverendissimus interrogavit supre consensu suorum fratrum, dicens qui tacet consentire
videtur. Ad quod dictum quidam respondebat, itaque tacemus omnes"; Bray, Records of Convocation,
"Qua hora, rursus interrogavit de consensu, et deinde post multa communicata, omnes superioris
domus expressius consenserunt ed admiserunt eundem, videlicet archiepiscopus Cantuariensis, episcopi
Londoniensis, Coventrensis, Roffensis, Eliensis, Exoniensis, Lincolniensis, Asaphensis, Bathonensis,
etc., idem abbates et priores qui ibi inscribuntur"; Bray, Records of Convocation, 7:134.
Cal SP Spain, IV (2) 635 {LP, V 105). Lehmberg, Reformation Parliament, 202.

the king's new title of supreme head as being purely symbolic, lacking all teeth or
power, for if the law of God did not allow the king to be the supreme head of the
church then the clergy had conceded nothing. We know this is how at least some of
the clergy interpreted this clause because two protestations from the southern
Convocation signed by seventeen members of the lower house survive.
The first opened with a preamble claiming that the clergy were first slaves to
God, the holy Roman Church, and the pope, and second to Caesar, citing Matthew
22:21 and Romans 13:1-4 in justification. It then quoted Ezechial 34:23 to
demonstrate that there was only one supreme head of the church. The preamble ended
by declaring that the signatories did not intend to depart from the unity of the church
and therefore refuted all novelty contrary to their professions as error and schism. In
the body of this protestation, written by Peter Ligham, the signatories declared that
they would not consent to any order or concessions which obviate the holy sacrosanct
Apostolic seat, and that they did not want to depart from this protestation in any way,
but to adhere to the same firmly in all things.
The second protestation was even more direct in claiming that the conditional
clause added to the clergy's acknowledgment of the article of supremacy invalidated
Henry's new title. It opened by proclaiming that when they subscribed to the
document recognizing Henry as supreme head of the church as far as the law of God
allows, they neither intended nor ever will intend anything that could detract in any
way from the primacy of the Roman pontiff or the authority of the sacred canons.
They then affirmed that they made this statement "in the presence of God and men,"
clearly indicating an oath. Finally, they declared:
But if this clause [on the king's supremacy] from a perverse interpretation of
whatever kind seems to bear in itself any understanding contrary to this our
understanding (which however the thing itself does not), with God as our
witness and in our consciences, we testify by our names here subscribed with
our own hands that we never acknowledged nor will ever acknowledge this

These protestations were first discovered by J.J. Scarisbrick in Vienna. They have been printed for
the first time in Bray's Records of Convocation, 7:134-136.
Bray, Records of Convocation, 7:134-136.
"Idem nunc variis scriptis nominibus nostris coram Deo et hominibus his scriptis testamur"; Bray,
Records of Convocation, 7:136.

understanding, which we condemn sincerely and curse as both error and
Obviously, the clergy who made this protestation considered that if the conditional
clause was understood simply and directly, it prevented Henry from using his new title
to do anything in derogation of the papacy. And just in case anyone understood it in a
different manner, they swore an oath to protest that this different understanding was
never their intention!
The Convocation of Canterbury was not the only body of clergy to resist
Henry's claim to supreme headship. Although no records survive from the
Convocation of York, we know that some of its members also made some sort of
protestation against Henry's title. In a letter to Cromwell dated May 7, 1531, Roland
Lee wrote that he had been with Cuthbert Tunstall, bishop of Durham, twice and had
tried to get him to subscribe to an instrument like the order taken in the province of
Canterbury, presumably a reference to the article on the supremacy. Tunstall,
however, refused, saying that he would not open his mind but send his opinion to the
king directly by his own servant.35 On May 14, Chapuys reported that "Four days ago
the clergy of the archbishopric of York and bishopric of Durein [Durham] addressed to
the King a protest remonstrating against the sovereignty which he claims over
them."3 A small portion of this protestation survives in Tunstall's register and the
rest of it can be surmised from the letter Henry wrote in response to it.37 Tunstallif
he indeed was the author of this protestationobjected that he could not accept the
words "sole and supreme lord" as they were written, lest they cause scandal to those
with an evil or small mind. Instead, he took Henry to be "the sole and supreme lord in
temporal things." From Henry's reply, we can gather that the protestation also

"Quod si clausula ilia contraria intelligentia qualiscunque sinistra interpretatione pro se ferre videatur
(quod tamen reipsa minime facit), illam nos intelligentiam, Deo teste et conscientiis nostris, perque
nostra hie subscripta manibus propriis nomina testamur, nunquam agnovisse, nee agnituros fore, quam
illam ex animo damnamus, et veluti errorem ac schismaticam prorsus execramus"; Bray, Records of
Convocation, 7:136.
NA SP1/76, fol. 23'{LP, VI 451).
Cal SP Spain, IV (2) 721 (LP V 251).
Both the surviving portion of this protestation and Henry's response to it are printed in Wilkins,
Concilia, 3:745, 762-765.
"Et ne verba sub ea forma, qua scribunter, non declarata prodeant, ne scandala malignis aut pusillis
sensu generare possint, expresse in hiis scriptis dissentio; et similiter declarandeum et exprimendum

directly opposed Henry's dominion over "spiritual things" and contested his claim to
be the supreme head of the "church." Finally, the protestation rejected the conditional
clause "quantum per legem Christi licit" as redundant. Claiming that Henry was
supreme head of the church as far as the law of Christ allowed was tantamount to
stating that man was immortal as far as the law of nature allowed. The implication
was that just as the law of nature clearly allowed no man to be immortal so the law of
Christ allowed no king to be the supreme head of the church.
Henry's reply to this protestation is revealing.40 First of all, he explained his
understanding of his new title. He maintained that he was the supreme lord of the
church, but admitted that the "church" in this context was not the mystical body of
Christ but rather the clergy of England.41 He admitted that he was not lord over
spiritual things, but qualified this assertion by equating spiritual with sacramental.
Conversely, if spiritual was taken to mean priests, their laws, their acts, and their order
of living, Henry did claim dominion over them, for he considered these things to be
temporal.43 This was also how Henry interpreted the conditional clause "as far as the
law of Christ allows." Far from totally denying his headship, the law of Christ merely
prevented him from exercising spiritualthat is, sacramentalauthority.4 This
illustrates that while Henry had now accepted the addition of the conditional clause to
his title, he held a vastly different interpretation of it than did his clergy.

puto verba ilia (scil. unicum et supremum dominum) in temporalibus post Christum accipi"; Wilkins,
Concilia, 3:745.
Wilkins, Concilia, 3:764.
The letter is full of sophisticated theological and linguistic arguments which suggest that Henry
probably did not compose the letter on his own. Graham David Nicholson's claim the Edward Fox,
Henry's almoner, was the primary author of this letter may be correct; Graham David Nicholson, "The
Nature and Function of Historical Argument in the Henrician Reformation," (Ph.D. diss., Cambridge
University, 1977), 130. Nevertheless, Henry was no slouch when it came to theological argument and
since the letter is written in his name, we can assume he approved its content before allowing it to be
Wilkins, Concilia, 3:763.
This was why Henry could in good conscience swear an oath to the Convocation of Canterbury that
he had no intention of exercising "spiritual jurisdiction." Henry never claimed he possessed sacradotal
power, so according his defintion of "spiritual," he kept his oath.
For a further discussion of Henry's definition of spiritual, see Walter Ullmann, "The Realm of
England is an Empire," Journal of Ecclesiastical History 30 (1979): 181-200.
Wilkins, Concilia, 3:764-765.

In addition to giving his interpretation of his new title, Henry also revealed
what he thought about the use of equivocation (exploiting the ambiguity in language)
by his clergy. Scarisbrick called this section of Henry's letter "a largely irrelevant
display of semantics," but for our purposes it is full of significance. Henry boldly
proclaimed: "The truth cannot be changed by words."4 Words signified things, and
no matter how sinister the interpretation of the words, the truth could not be altered by
them. Language, however, was inherently ambiguous. There were many idiomatic
expressions where the literal "speech may be a lie," but we "take it in that wherein it
signifieth truth," such as when we "call a man dead, of whom the soul, which is the
chief and best part, yet liveth."47 Words should be understood to signify the truth.
Yet no matter how carefully the speaker chooses his words, "nothing can be so cleerly
and plainly written, spoken, and ordered, but that subtile wit hath been able to subvert
the same."48 Heretics' use of Scripture was a prime example. So "in using words, we
ought onely to regard and consider the expression of the truth in convenient speech
and sentences, without overmuch scruple of superperverse interpretations."49 Since "it
is not supposed men would abuse words," the qualification that Henry was the head of
the church "in temporal things" was unnecessary. The pope has been called '"Caput
ecclesiae,' and who hath put addition to it?"50 Henry concluded by restating, "we be,
as God's law suffereth us to be, whereunto we do and must conform our selves."5'
Henry's conflict with his clergy over their recognition of him as supreme head
of the church was thus important for setting the stage for the events of 1534. Henry
had tried to settle the whole matter by making a solemn oath. He expected that this
"frank promise" would satisfy his clergy. But far from being satisfied, the clergy
brushed it aside and insisted on adding the conditional clause "as far as the law of
Christ allows" to their acknowledgment of Henry's supremacy. When Henry
conceded this clause two days later, they still did not at first actively recognize the

J.J. Scarisbrick, Henry VIII (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1968), 278.
Wilkins, Concilia, 3:765.
Wilkins, Concilia, 3:762-763.
Wilkins, Concilia, 3:762.
Wilkins, Concilia, 3:762.
Wilkins, Concilia, 3:765.
Wilkins, Concilia, 3:765.

king's headship, but instead passively consented to it by remaining silent. Only after
the third demand by Warham did they sign a document acknowledging the king's new
title with the conditional clause. To add insult to injury, the clergy made three
protestations declaring that they interpreted the conditional clause as essentially
nullifying Henry's headship. Some even confirmed this with an oath! Henry was
severely displeased with these machinations. He expressly condemned the "abuse of
words" to support "superperverse interpretations." Henry had hoped his oath would
allow the acceptance of his new title "simply and absolutely." Instead, he encountered
a clergy who used equivocation to free their consciences from a principle they
ostensibly admitted.
In 1532, the clergy used many of the same techniques to resist Henry's new
demands. This time, however, Henry was less willing to tolerate their use of
conditional clauses. The Parliament of 1532 was filled with anticlerical sentiment,
and tensions had increased between Henry and Archbishop Warham. On February 24,
Warham had added his name to the list of clergy issuing a formal protestation. In a
document subscribed by him in the presence of a notary, Warham publicly declared
that he disassociated himself from all acts made or to be made in Parliament since its
opening in 1529 which were prejudicial to papal authority or in derogation of the
rights, customs, and privileges of the metropolitan church of Canterbury.52 On March
15, Warham and Henry openly exchanged hot words in the House of Lords.53 It was
in this environment that the famous Supplication of the Commons was made to the
king, though Warham did not present the Supplication to Convocation until April
12. The Supplication in its final form included a preamble and nine articles

Warham's protestation is printed in Wilkins, Concilia, 3:746. In Concilia, Wilkins claimed that the
protestation is from Warham's register, but this is not true. Wilkins might have taken the document
from Gilbert Burnet's History of the Reformation, or he may have seen the original manuscript which is
now lost. I have found a sixteenth-century copy of Warham's protestation among the papers of Robert
Beale: BL Additional MS. 48022, fols. 142v-143v.
For more details on the mounting tensions between Henry and Warham in 1532, see Michael Kelly,
"The Submission of the Clergy," Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5ih ser., 15 (1965): 102-
103; Lehmberg, Reformation Parliament, 144.
This origin of the Supplication of the Commons has been an issue of debate. See Geoffrey Elton,
"The Commons' Supplication of 1532: Parliamentary Manoeuvres in the Reign of Henry VIII," English
Historical Review 66 (1951): 507-534; J. P. Cooper, "The Supplication against the Ordinaries
Reconsidered," English Historical Review 72 (1957): 616-641.

attacking the clergy, the first of which challenged the clergy's right to make
ecclesiastical laws and ordinances without the consent of the king or the laity. This
was the article that most offended the clergy, and on April 15 Bishop Stephen
Gardiner presented before the upper house of Convocation an uncompromising
defense of the clergy's authority to make ecclesiastical laws. This power, Gardiner
claimed, was "grounded upon the Scripture of God," and the clergy could not in good
conscience submit the execution of their charges and duties to the king's assent.5
Both of the houses of Convocation soon approved Gardiner's defense, and on April 27
Henry received from his clergy a response to the entire Supplication voiced in more
conciliatory language yet just as obdurate in its assertion that the clergy's authority to
make ecclesiastical statutes rested upon holy Scripture and in its refusal to submit their
canons to the judgment of the king.57 This stringent response could hardly have
pleased Henry and sometime between April 29 and May 10, Convocation prepared a
second answer. This answer again defended the clergy's right to make ecclesiastical
laws without consent of the prince, but it conceded that in the future the clergy would
submit all new ecclesiastical laws and ordinance to their king for his approval before
publishing them:
except they be such as shall concern the maintenance of the faith and good
manners in Christ's church, and such as shall be for the reformation and
correction of sin, after the commandments of Almighty God, according unto
such laws of the church and laudable customs as hath been heretofore made
and hitherto received and used within your realm.
As for laws previously made contrary to Henry's royal prerogative, the clergy would
gladly declare them void as long as they did "not concern the faith nor reformation of
sin."59 So once again, the clergy adopted a strategy of ostensibly giving into the
king's demands, but doing so with a conditional clause that could be interpreted as

The Supplication is printed in Gee and Hardy, Documents Illustrative, 145-153. It is well
summarized in Lehmberg, Reformation Parliament, 139-140.
Gardiner's response is printed in Wilkins, Concilia, 3:750-752, quotation from 751.
Bray, Records of Convocation, 7:181-183; Lehmberg, Reformation Parliament, 145-147; Kelly,
"Submission of the Clergy," 109-111. The full text of the clergy's response to the Supplication is
printed in Gee and Hardy, Documents Illustrative, 154-176, see especially 156-160.
Bray, Records of Convocation, 7:187. Bray incorrectly placed this document under May 15 as part of
the final submission of the clergy to the king.
Bray, Records of Convocation, 7:187.

invalidating the heart of the actual concession. All the clergy had to do was affirm
that a particular ecclesiastical law pertained to the maintenance of faith and correction
of sina quite broad and vague categoryand then that law would be exempt from
royal oversight.
This time around, however, Henry was not so easily duped. On May 10,
Henry countered by demanding that the clergy of Convocation sign a document
containing three articles. In this document, the clergy renounced their right to make
canons and laws without royal approval, agreed to submit all their laws and ordinances
to the judgment of a panel of thirty-two (sixteen clergymen and sixteen laymen from
Parliament), to abandon all laws the panel found offensive, and to recognize that the
canons accepted were retained only by the king's consent.60 Convocation refused to
subscribe to this document. Instead, on May 13, they drafted yet another submission
to the king couched in equivocal language. This time, the clergy agreed not to make
any new laws or ordinances without the king's consent "during your highness' natural
life." Concerning laws and ordinances already made, the clergy consented to commit
them to the judgment of the king alone (not a committee of thirty-two) and to reject
any such law the king felt was contrary to his royal prerogative, "saving to us always
all such immunities and liberties of this Church of England, as hath been granted unto
the same by the goodness and benignity of your highness, and of others your most
noble progenitors." This was yet another conditional submission.
At this point, Henry got fed up with his clergy. On May 15, he presented the
Convocation with another submission. This final form contained no conditional
clauses. It once again stated that the clergy could not make any new laws or
ordinances without royal approval, and that all existing ecclesiastical laws and
ordinances must be submitted to the judgment of a committee of thirty-two. Finally,

Bray, Records of Convocation, 184-185; Lehmberg, Reformation Parliament, 149-150; Kelly,
"Submission of the Clergy," 113. The document of three articles is printed in Wilkins, Concilia, 3:749.
Three drafts of this submission survive, all of which are printed in Francis Atterbury, The rights,
powers, and priviledges, of an English convocation, stated and vindicated in answer to a late book ofD.
Wake's, entituled, The authority of Christian princes over their ecclesiastical synods asserted, &c. and
to several other pieces (London, 1700), 464-471. The final of these three drafts is printed in Wilkins,
Concilia, 3:752-753 and Bray, Records of Convocation, 7:182-183. 1 have quoted from the version in
Records of Convocation. It should be noted that Bray, the editor of Records of Convocation, incorrectly
placed this submission under the date of April 19, 1532.

this last submission declared that Convocation could not meet without the command
of the king. Henry backed up this demand with a show of force, sending the leading
temporal lords of the realm into Convocation to make sure that the clergy cooperated
and signed this submission. After dinner on May 15, the Convocation of the Clergy
gave in and subscribed. Yet even this submission was not complete nor unequivocal.
The primary historian of this Convocation, Michael Kelly, estimated that "at least one-
third and probably as much as a majority of the clergy then present refused to ratify

the Submission." Only seven bishops remained in Convocation at the time. Of

these seven, John Clerk, the bishop of Bath and Wells, refused to consent. The
bishops of St. Asaph, Lincoln, and London (Standish, Longland, and Stokesley)
subscribed only with reservations. Standish subscribed "provided that our most
excellent king permit the provincial constitutions not contrary to divine law and to the
law of the realm to remain in execution as before." Longland added the condition
"that the king permit these other constitutions made by the ordinaries [to remain in
force] until the said business be examined." Stokesley consented as long as the "said
document is neither against divine law nor contrary to general councils." Only three
bishopsWarham, West and Veyseysubscribed unequivocally. Moreover, the
wording of this submission deliberately excluded the lower house of Convocation.
Presumably opposition to the submission was so great there to preclude even the
attempt to gather the lower house's consent. Kelly famously concluded that this
"epochal decision in the history of the English Church was enacted by a rump

This final form of submission is printed in Gee and Hardy, Documents Illustrative, 176-178.
Kelly, "Submission of the Clergy," 116.
"In domo superiori tres episcopi conditionaliter assentiebantur; unus plane dissentiit: episcopus
Assavensis articulis regiis et submissioni cleri assensum praebuit, 'dummodo excellentissimus rex
noster permittat illas constitutiones provinciales, quae non sunt contrariae juri divino, nee juri regni,
poni in executione, sicut prius.' Episcopus Lincoln, hanc adjecit conditionem, 'sic quod rex permittat
illas constitutiones alias factas exequi per ordinarios, quousque dictum negotium sit examinatum.'
Episcopus London, 'sic quod dicta schedula non sit contra jus divinium, nee contraria conciliis
generalibus.' Episcopus Bath, et Wellen. plane dissentiit articulis."; Wilkins, Concilia, 3:749.
Kelly, "Submission of the Clergy," 117. The final submission was officially subscribed a day later by
a select group of representatives. Warham, Standish, Longland, and Clerk signed for the bishops,
which is strange since on the day before, Clerk had dissented and Longland and Standish had assented
conditionally; Lehmberg, Reformation Parliament, 152.

In 1532, then, Henry again experienced considerable resistance to his program
from the English clergy. As in 1531, the primary means of resistance employed by the
clergy was the use of conditional clauses and ambiguous language. Unlike 1532,
Henry refused to allow the clergy to indulge in such machinations. He demanded that
the clergy subscribe to the exact submission of his wording, a submission that was
plain and to the point, without equivocal language. Henry had learned his lesson. Yet
even then, some of his clergy managed to save their consciences and subvert his intent
by not showing up at the time of the final submission or by subscribing conditionally.
If the communal subscription to a set document had not worked, what could be done
in the future? The next logical step of escalation for Henry would have been to make
his clergy individually swear a solemn oath in confirmation of a set text, for if the
clergy used equivocation with this, then they would face the wrath of God.

Prelude to 1534: the Election of a New Bishop and a Conflict of Oaths

Henry's clashes with his clergy in 1531 and 1532 and his conflict with
Katherine over oaths go a long way toward explaining the events of 1534. Henry
targeted his clergy in 1534 because they had a recent history of resisting royal will.
Oaths were a logical method of securing their loyalty. First, the use of equivocation
by his clergy in 1531 and 1532 meant that Henry needed a device stronger than a mere
profession or subscription, both of which the clergy had subverted through the use of
conditional phrases. Second, Henry was well aware of the power of an oath thanks to
Katherine. But neither of these episodes explain why Henry used oaths to secure
adherence to his supremacy from some members of his clergy but let his secular parish
priests get away with a mere subscription. Furthermore, why did Henry obsessively
tender multiple professions to his bishops and, to a lesser extent, the universities?
A clue to thes questions lies in the 1532 clash between Henry and his clergy.
On May 11, 1532, right amidst Henry's struggle to secure the submission of his clergy
and their repeated resistance through conditional submissions, Henry called into his
presence the Speaker of the House of Commons Thomas Audley and twelve

representatives from that house. Edward Hall probably numbered among the twelve.
According to Hall, Henry then delivered this speech:
welbeloued subiectes, we thought that the clergie of our realme, had been our
subiectes wholy, but now wee haue well perceived, that they bee but halfe our
subiectes, yea, and scarce our subiectes: for all the Prelates at their
consecracion, make an othe to the Pope, clene contrary to the othe that they
make to vs, so that they seme to be his subiectes, and not ours, the copie of
bothe the othes I deliuer here to you, requiryng you to inuent some ordre, that
we bee not thus deluded, of our Spirituall subiectes.66
Audley and the representatives then returned to the House of Commons, where Audley
read to the House the two oaths a new bishop made: one to the pope, and one to the
Although this story is familiar to historians, its full significance has never been
realized. Previous historians have glossed over this story as another attempt by Henry
to intimidate his clergy into submission, which it certainly was. These historians
have also observed that the most likely response to Henry's speech was a proposed
statute of Parliament that never was passed, two drafts of which survive.69 Yet while
this proposed statute clearly belongs in 1532, since it declared that no ecclesiastical
law or ordinance in derogation of royal authority could be valid unless ratified by
Parliament, there was nothing in these drafts about oaths. Henry had required his
Parliament "to invent some ordre" between the two oaths, and this statute did not do
that. So what was the real response to Henry's speech? Also of significance is the
fact that both Hall and John Foxe placed much more weight on this story than modern
historians, who simply mention it in passing while focusing on the submission of the
clergy. Hall believed: "The openyng of these othes, was one of the occasions, why the
Pope within two yeres folowyng, lost all his iurisdiccion in Englande, as you shall

here afterward." Foxe, who erroneously placed the narrative in 1530 and gave credit
to Cromwell, made an even stronger statement, claiming that the opening of these

Hall's Chronicle, 788.
Hall printed the form of both oaths. They are included in here in Appendix A, IV and B, IV.
Kelly, "Submission of the Clergy," 113; Lehmberg, Reformation Parliament, 150-151; Scarisbrick,
Henry VIII, 299.
NA SP2/P, Ms. 17-19 (LP 7.57(2)) and NA SP2/L, fols. 78-80 (LP 5.721(1)).
Hall's Chronicle, 789.

oaths to the people was "the occasion that the Pope lost al his interest and jurisdiction
heere in Englande."71 Although Foxe's statement is undoubtedly an exaggeration, he
and Hall were right to emphasize this episode. The oaths of 1534 and 1535 were, to a
great extent, a response to previous oaths sworn by the clergy. Henry used oaths in
1534 and 1535 because fire had to be fought with fire. As we shall see, the two
contradictory oaths sworn by a new bishop in the process of his institution and
consecration brought this issue to the forefront of Henry's campaign against the pope.
A. The evolution of the episcopal oaths to the pope and to the king
Before we explore why Henry brought up the issue of contradictory oaths in
the Parliament of 1532, we need to determine what oaths new bishops actually swore
to the pope and to the king. According to Robert Barnes (a leading English
Evangelical in the 1530s who, as we shall see, greatly emphasized the contradictory
nature of the oaths sworn by new bishops) and Thomas Earl (a minister of S.
Mildred's, Bread Street whose commonplace books contains various notes on issues
of the sixteenth century), new bishops first swore an oath in 759 under Pope Gregory
III. This was a simple, five-clause oath wherein the bishop-elect swore to the pope to
keep the faith of Catholic church, to abide in the unity of that faith and not consent to
the contrary, to seek the profits and honor of the church of Rome, to have no
conversation with any bishops who lived against the statutes of the holy fathers, and to
oppose these bishops and report them to the pope. This oath (which we will
designate oath A I) was innocuous enough; there was not even a clause pledging
loyalty to the pope. Yet I am unsure whether this oath in its above form was actually
sworn. Our sources for this oath are Barnes and Earl, two sixteenth-century English
Protestants, who were certainly biased.
If bishops-elect did take the oath prescribed by Gregory III in the early middle
ages, this oath was eventually discarded in favor of a stronger, more detailed oath.
This stronger oath (oath A II), codified in canon law, had seven clauses. The bishop-
elect first swore fidelity to St. Peter, to the holy church of Rome, and to the pope and

Foxe,^M(1583), 1054. My italics.
Robert Barnes, A supplication vnto the most gracyousprynce H. the v/'y (1534), fol. Dl v ; CUL MS.
' Mm. i. 29, fol. 29r. See Appendix A, I.

his lawful successors. He then promised never to consent to the pope losing life or
limb or being taken in any trap. He pledged to keep the pope's counsel secret and to
defend and maintain the papacy and the rules of the holy fathers. In the final clauses,
the bishop-elect agreed to attend a council when summoned, to treat the pope's legate
honorably, and to visit the see of Rome, either personally or by a representative, on a
regular basis.73 The emphasis in this new oath (oath A II) was clearly loyalty to the
papacy. According to Barnes, this form of oath A II came out of the conflict between
the holy roman emperor and the pope. Oath A I was discarded "bicause that by it, the
bysshoppes were not bounde to betraye them prynces / nore to reuelate theyr
councelles to the Pope."74
I have found no evidence that the exact form of oath A II was ever tendered in
England, though I have not made a comprehensive search of all medieval source
materials. Instead, an expanded version of oath A II (which we shall call oath A III)
was tendered to English bishops and archbishops in the fourteenth century.
Archbishop-elect William Courtenay took oath A III in 1382 upon receiving the
pallium, Thomas Arundel took the oath in 1396 when he ascended to the see of
Canterbury, and the bishop-elect of St. Asaph took this oath in the time of Arundel.
Oath A III included all the same clauses as oath A II, but some of these clauses were
greatly expanded. Furthermore, oath A III contained four new clauses not in oath A
II. In these clauses, the bishop-elect swore to avoid plotting against the pope in word
or deed, to reveal to the pope anyone he knew to be involved in such a plot, and never
to sell, alienate, or give away any of the possessions belonging to the bishopric. The
final new clause concerned the papal schism. The bishop-elect swore never to support
but rather to persecute the antipope Clement VII and all of his followers.7 Hence,

C1C, X.2.24.4, Friedberg, 2:360. This is the same oath recorded in the Collectanea satis copiosa
under the heading "The prelates olde othe made to the pope"; BL Cotton MS. Cleopatra E iv, fol. 53r.
Barnes believed (incorrectly) that this oath was the form used by bishops-elect in England in the 1530s.
He thus included an English translation of this oath in his Supplication of 1534, fol. Dl v . For the exact
form of this oath, see Appendix A, II.
Barnes, A supplication (1534), fol. Dl v .
Wilkins, Concilia, 3:154-155; Lambeth Palace Library, ArundelPs Register, fols. 3', 12v
The full text of this oath can be found in Appendix A, III.

oath A III continued the trend of oath A II and placed even more emphasis on loyalty
to the papacy.
The evolution of episcopal oaths to the pope had one more step before arriving
at the stage at which it remained until the Henrician Reformation. During the fifteenth
century and down to 1534, English bishops and archbishops swore an oath of
canonical obedience to the pope at their consecration.77 This new oath (which we
shall call oath A IV) was once again different from previous episcopal oaths to the
pope. Oath AIV contained all the same clauses as oath A III (excluding the final
clause against the antipope Clement VII), but many of these clauses were simplified as
in oath A II. More important, however, was the addition of three new clauses. In the
first of these new clauses, the bishop-elect swore to promote, increase, and defend the
rights, honors, privileges and authority of the Church of Rome and the pope. In the
second, the bishop-elect swore to observe and cause all men to observe the rules of the
holy fathers and the apostolic decrees, ordinances, sentences, dispensations and
commands. Finally, the bishop-elect swore to persecute all heretics, schismatics, and
rebels. In addition to this oath of canonical obedience to the pope, English bishops-
elect also swore a simple, two-part oath of canonical obedience to their archbishop at

their consecrations. Like their bishops, English archbishops-elect swore oath A IV

to the pope at their consecration, but they also swore another oath to the pope upon the
reception of their pallium.80 This oath (which we shall call oath A V) omitted all the
new clauses of oath A IV and most of the new clauses of oath A III. In content, it was
See footnote 4 of the Appendix.
The full text of oath IV, along with notes comparing it to the other episcopal oaths to the pope, can be
found in Appendix A, IV.
In this oath, the bishop-elect promised canonical obedience, reverence, and subjection to this
archbishop. He also swore to defend the rights of the church of Canterbury or York, depending on the
province. Examples of this oath are A. C. Wood (ed.), Registrant Simonis de Langham cantuariensis
archiepiscopi, Canterbury and York Society, vol. 53 ([Oxford]: Oxford University Press, 1956), 264-
265; E. F. Jacob (ed.), The Register of Henry Chichele Archbishop of Canterbury 1414-1443, (Oxford:
Clarendon, 1943), 1:14-15 (John Catterick); Christopher Harper-Bill (ed.), The Register of John Morton
Archbishop of Canterbury 1486-1500, Canterbury and York Society, vol. 75 (Leeds: Duffield Printers,
1987), 14 (Richard of Exeter); Lambeth Palace Library, Warham's Register, fol. 3V; Lambeth Palace
Library, CM 51, #22 (Tunstall).
For specific references to the pallium oath among English archiepiscopal registers, see footnote 11 of
the Appendix. Exceptionally, Stephen Patryngton bishop-elect of St David's under Archbishop
Chichele also took this oath at his consecration instead of oath IV; Jacob, Register of Henry Chichele,

basically oath A 11 with the addition of the clause from oath A 111 on not alienating
archiepiscopal possessions.81 While oath A V was thus a regression from oaths A III
and A IV, it must be stressed that archbishops-elect swore oath A V in addition to oath
A IV. Thus, the general trend in the evolution of episcopal oaths to the pope was to
strengthen the obedience bishops owed to pope by increasing the quantity and quality
of clauses outlining that obedience as time passed.
It is more difficult to reconstruct the evolution of the oaths bishops-elect made
the king for the restitution of their temporalities. These oaths were not written down
in the episcopal registers. Yet a few of them survive in undated manuscripts in the
British Library. It is likely that these illustrate the basic form of the oath in the
fifteenth century (which we shall call oath B I). This oath was divided into two parts.
The first "oath of renunciation of a bishop" was not an oath at all but rather a
proclamation in which the bishop-elect renounced all words in his papal bull of
consecration contrary and prejudicial to the king and then asked the king for the
restitution of his temporalities. In the second part, the "oath of fidelity," the bishop-
elect swore fealty to the king, promised to be attendant to the king's business and to
keep his counsel secret (an echo of the bishop-elect's oath to the pope), acknowledged
that he held the temporalities of his bishopric from the king, and promised to be
obedient to the king's commands that pertained to these temporalities.82 The primary
purpose of this oath, then, was to insure that the bishop-elect acknowledged that all the
temporalities (land, income, etc.) of his bishopric were granted by the king and not the
pope. The king, not the pope, was thus his overlord. It was similar to the oath a
vassal to whom the king had granted land would swear upon receiving that land. This
oath did not mention the "spiritualities" of the bishopric. These were bestowed by
God through the power of the Church and granted more specifically by the bishop-

The order of the clauses in oath V also differed from oath II. Consult Appendix A, V for the exact
form and order of this oath.
BL Harleian MS. 433, fol. 304v; BL Cotton MS. Vespasian C xiv, fols. 436r-437r. For the full text of
this oath, see Appendix B, I.
The exact clause is "I shall knowlage and do ye seruices due of ye temporalities of my Bisshoprice of
C. the whiche I clayme to hold of my said soueragyn lord the king/ and the whiche he yeveth and
yeldeth me." The clause is thus ambiguous. Is the bishop-elect claiming to hold the temporalities of
the bishopric or the bishopric itself from the king?

elect's papal bulls of consecration. Of course, Henry VIII's redefinition of "spiritual"
as "sacramental" meant that the temporalities the bishop held from the king
encompassed much more than just land and income and included the bishop's
jurisdictional power as well. Hence, the oath of a bishop-elect to the pope bound him
as the vassal of the pope, while at the same time the oath of a bishop-elect to the king
bound him as a vassal to the king. Which lord was superior?
The oath that a bishop-elect swore to the king was also malleable. It could be
changed depending on the situation. The oath of fidelity Cardinal Adrian made to
Henry VII for the bishopric of Bath and Wells demonstrates this principle. This oath
(oath B II) had oath B I as its base, but the clauses from oath B I were greatly
expanded in B II. These expansions emphasized that Henry VII was Adrian's
"supreme lord." Oath B II also contained four new clauses not found in B I. In two of
these new clauses, Adrian declared that he would not attempt nor consent to be
attempted anything harmful or prejudicial to the king, his heirs, and the privileges,
rights, prerogatives, and customs of the realm. If he became aware of any such action,
he would let the king know immediately. Significantly, a bishop-elect swore the same
two clauses to the pope in his oath of canonical obedience. Perhaps this part of
Adrian's oath to the king was a response to his oath to the pope. In the other two new
clauses, Adrian swore to attend faithfully and diligently to the business committed to
him by the king, and to seek papal bulls and apostolic letters pertaining to royal
business and send them to the king when received. The changes in Adrian's oath thus
reflected his special status as a cardinal in Rome. Perhaps Henry VII felt that as a
foreigner who resided at the papal curia, Adrian's loyalty might be unbalanced in
favor of the pope. Thus, Henry made Adrian call him his "supreme lord" and bound
him to protect the prerogatives and rights of Henry and England.84
Adrian's expanded oath to the king was exceptional. The form of the oath for
restitution of temporalities that Henry VIII tendered to Stephen Gardiner (bishop-elect
of Winchester) and Edward Lee (archbishop-elect of York) in 1531 was much
simplified. Indeed, this oath (oath B III) was even simpler than oath B I, omitting the

Burnet has preserved for us Adrian's oath to the Henry VII; Burnet, History of the Reformation, 4:3-
7. I have included the full text of this oath in Appendix B, II.

clauses from B I on being attendant to the king's business and keeping his counsel
secret. Oath B III was, however, stronger in that it eliminated the ambiguity as to
whether the bishop-elect held merely the temporalities of his bishopric or the bishopric
itself from the king. Oath B III explicitly proclaimed the bishop-elect held "the said
busshoprick immediately and only of your Hignes."85 Yet another form of the oath of
a bishop-elect to the king survives from the early 1530s. This oath (oath B IV) is
included in the collection of documents known as the Collectanea satis copiosa that
was put together for Henry VIII by Edward Fox and Thomas Cranmer, and a similar
form is copied down in Hall's Chronicle. Oath B IV brought back the clauses from
oath B I not in oath B III. Oath B IV, however, divided clause one into two parts and
then rearranged the order of the clauses. In content, the only novel part of oath B IV
was that the bishop-elect swore fidelity to the king "above all creatures"probably
another attempt to prioritize loyalty to the king over loyalty to the pope. Although
there is no evidence that this exact form of the oath was ever taken, it is significant (as
we shall see) because it is the form of the oath that Henry believed his bishops swore
to him.
B. Henry's awareness of the oaths of a bishop-elect and the evolution of these oaths
Both of the oaths taken by a bishop-elect had thus evolved by the early 1530s
to intensify the bonds of loyalty the bishop owed to his overload, the pope or king
depending on the oath. This dual intensification served to highlight the contradictory
nature of these oaths. Yet more important for our purposes than the actual evolution
of these oaths is Henry VIII's knowledge of the evolution of these oaths. How much
did Henry know? From where did he get the information that led to his speech on
May 12, 1532? According to John Foxe, the king's informant was Thomas Cromwell.
Foxe wrote that sometime in 1530, before Cromwell was a servant of the king,
Cromwell had secured an interview with Henry and presented him with a copy of the

For Gardiner's oath, see BL Additional MS. 34319, fol. 2\\ printed in Mttller, The Letters of Stephen
Gardiner, 479-480. For Lee's oath, see Rymer, Foedera, 14:428-429. I have included the full text of
this oath in Appendix B, III.
BL Cotton MS. Cleopatra E vi, fols. 53v-54v; Hall's Chronicle, 789. Foxe replicated the oath printed
inHall's Chronicle in his retelling of the episode of May 12; Foxe, AM (1583), 1053. I have included
the text of this oath in Appendix B, IV.

two contradictory oaths. These oaths greatly impressed Henry, who then took
Cromwell into his service and sent him to Convocation to expose to the bishops their
treachery in swearing contradictory oaths. After displaying these oaths in
Convocation, Cromwell charged the clergy with praemunire, and this led to the

struggle of 1531. According to this story, then, Henry was ignorant of these oaths
until 1530. Once enlightened by Cromwell, he knew the two oaths only in their
contemporary form. Yet Foxe's story has too many holes in it for us to accept it at
face value. If Cromwell did enlighten the king in 1530, why did Henry wait to raise
the issue until 1532? Why is there no note in the records of Convocation of Cromwell,
then a little known upstart, charging into Convocation, presenting the clergy with the
two contradictory oaths and then accusing the bishops of praemunire! Surely that
would have created a stir! Furthermore, in a different section of Acts and Monuments,
Foxe lifted his account of the events of May 12, 1532 directly from Hall's Chronicle,

without making any reference to the episode with Cromwell in 1530. I suggest,
therefore, that Foxe was incorrect in his claim that Cromwell brought the two
contradictory oaths of a bishop-elect to the attention of the king in 1530.
Instead, I propose that Henry learned about these oaths by reading the
Collectanea satis copiosa. The Collectanea was a collection of writings from
Scripture and ancient authors that dealt with royal and ecclesiastical power. It was
compiled as part of Henry's effort in 1530 to establish his claim that the realm of
England was an empire and thus immune from papal jurisdiction because of the
ancient privileges of the realm. (This, of course, was part of Henry's larger campaign
to secure a divorce from Katherine.) As John Guy noted, the compilers of the
Collectanea "were seeking to establish three basic principles of English regal power:
secular imperium, spiritual supremacy and the right of the English Church to
provincial self-determination, i.e. national independence from Rome and the

Foxe, AM( 1583), 1179.

Foxe, AM{ 1583), 1053.
The Collectanea satis copiosa is BL Cotton MS. Cleopatra E vi, fols. 16-135.

papacy." It is clear that Henry read the Collectanea, for marginal notes in his hand
are scattered in forty-six places throughout the manuscript. Indeed, Graham
Nicholson, the historian who first alerted the historical community to the importance
of the Collectanea, has convincingly argued that the Collectanea was the basis of the
famous preamble of the Act of Appeals of 1533.9I Yet neither Nicholson nor any
other historian has observed that a small section on the oaths of a bishop-elect to the
pope and to the king is nestled in the middle of the Collectanea. This section
contains the text of the old oath of a bishop-elect to the pope as prescribed by canon
law (oath AII), the standard oath of canonical obedience to the pope of a bishop-elect
in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries (oath A IV) with a slight but significant
variation, a version of the oath to the king by a bishop-elect (oath B IV), and a short
commentary on how to interpret the contradictions between these oaths.93
My argument that it was the Collectanea that influenced Henry to give his
speech to Audley on May 12, 1532 is further substantiated by a comparison of the
form of the oaths in the Collectanea with the forms of the oaths Henry presented to
Audley as recorded by Hall. The second oath recorded in the Collectanea was the
standard oath of canonical obedience to the pope prevalent in the early sixteenth
century but with three differences. First, whereas in all the other oaths of canonical
obedience I have seen, the bishop-elect swore to defend the Roman papacy and either
"the regalia of holy Peter" or "the rules of the holy fathers," the oath in the
Collectanea exceptionally included both clauses. The form of the oath to the pope that
Henry presented to Audley (as preserved by Hall) also had both clauses. Second, the
oath in the Collectanea differed from the standard oath of canonical obedience in
John Guy, "Thomas Cromwell and the Intellectual Origins of the Henrician Revolution," in
Reassessing the Henrician Age: Humanism, Politics and Reform 1500-1550, ed. Alistair Fox and John
Guy (New York: Blackwell, 1986), 159.
Graham Nicholson, "The Act of Appeals and the English Reformation," in Law and Government
under the Tudors, ed. Claire Cross, David Loades and J.J. Scarisbrick (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1988), 19-30. For a general analysis of the Collectanea, see Nicholson, "Nature and
Function of Historical Argument," 81-92. Nicholson also convincingly argued that Edward Fox, the
king's almoner, was the primary compiler of the Collectanea; Nicholson, "Nature and Function of
Historical Argument," 114-119.
In his dissertation, Nicholson did not mention the section of the Collectanea on the oaths of a bishop-
elect. He simply glossed over this section with the assertion that these folios were the "less important
parts of the compilation"; Nicholson, "Nature and Function of Historical Argument," 292.
BL Cotton MS. Cleopatra E vi, fols. 53r-54v.

episcopal registers in that the oath in the Collectanea substituted the word "scitatem"
for "noticiam". Again, the form of the oath in Hall's Chronicle used the word
"knowledge," which is a literal translation of "scitatem," not "noticiam" (fame,
acqaintance). Finally, the last two clauses of the episcopal oath to the king were
omitted from the form copied in the Collectanea, which simply contained the
abbreviation "Etc". While these two clauses were in the form of the oath in Hall's
Chronicle, they differed from the form of the oath in episcopal registers in that Hall's
clauses were much simpler and abbreviated. All of this strongly suggests that Henry
took the oath (which Hall then copied down) from the Collectanea.,94
Likewise, the oath to the king in the Collectanea is extraordinary in three
ways. It divided the first clause into two sections and then moved the second section
to a later part of the oath, it altered the general order of all the clauses, and it included
the new words "above all creatures." Once again, all these peculiarities were also
present in the oath to the king that Henry presented to Audley.95 The fact that the
same textual oddities which distinguishing the oaths in the Collectanea from the
standard oaths circulating at the time were replicated in the oaths Henry presented to
Audley suggests that the oaths Henry presented to Audley on May 12, 1532 were
copies of the oaths from the Collectanea. The Collectanea was Henry's source.
Yet the Collectanea contained more than the two oaths Henry presented to
Audley. The section started with "The prelates olde othe made to the pope."96 This
was the original oath as prescribed by canon law (oath A II), a shorter and less detailed
oath of canonical obedience. Immediately following this "olde othe" was "new othe
of the prelates made to the pope" (oath A IV), a more detailed oath that included three
additional clauses. Henry noticed these changes. In the Collectanea, someone
presumably Henry since the marginal notes throughout the manuscript are in his

BL Cotton MS. Cleopatra E iv, fol. 53r"v; Hall's Chronicle, 788-789. See Appendix A, IV of this
dissertation for a detailed mapping of the differences between the form of this oath in episcopal
registers and the forms contained in the Collectanea and Hall's Chronicle.
BL Cotton MS. Cleopatra E vi, fols. 53v-54v; Hall's Chronicle, 789. The exact wording of the oath in
Hall's Chronicle varies at points from that in the Collectanea. See Appendix B, IV for more
information on these variations.
BL Cotton MS. Cleopatra E vi, fol. 53r.

handunderlined four clauses of the "new othe." Two of these clauses were the
additional ones not in oath A II. These were the clauses in which the bishop-elect
swore to defend the rights, honors, privileges, and authorities of the pope and Roman
church, and to observe and cause to be observed by all men the rules of the holy
fathers and the ordinances, sentences, provisions, and commands of Rome. These
clauses help explain why Henry brought the contradictory oaths to the attention of
Parliament in the spring of 1532 and not earlier. At just the same time as the clergy
obstinately refused to submit their ecclesiastical ordinances and laws to royal
judgment, Henry produced evidence that the clergy had actually sworn to defend and
observe these same ecclesiastical rights, honors, sentences, and ordinances! The fact
that these clauses were not in the old oath probably heightened Henry's indignation,
for it suggested that these clauses had been deviously added at some point in English
history. Here was evidence of the Roman church having unjustly increased its own
power over Henry's clerical subjects! The other two clauses Henry underlined, while
not new, were even more significant. In these clauses, the bishop-elect swore never to
do in counsel or deed anything contrary or prejudicial to the pope, and to report
anyone who contemplated or did such an action to the pope. At a time when Henry
was certainly contemplating acting against the pope to secure his divorce, these
clauses must have struck him as treasonous. If Henry did indeed gain his knowledge
of the oaths of a bishop-elect from the Collectanea, he was also well aware that the
oath of canonical obedience had evolved to intensify the loyalty owed to the pope, an
evolution of which he did not approve.
The section of the Collectanea on oaths concluded with a short explanation of
how to interpret the contradictions between the oath to the pope and the oath to the
king. It cited two canons, each of which suggested a different interpretation of the
contradictions. The first canon was "One cannot swear an oath in prejudice to the
rights a superior."98 If this canon guided the interpretation of the oaths, Henry had
nothing to worry about. This canon suggested that all oathstheoretically including

BL Cotton MS. Cleopatra E vi, fol. 53v.
"Non valet iuramentum praestitum in praeiudicium iuris superioris," CIC, X.2.24.19, Friedberg,

the oath of a bishop-elect to the popewere taken with the tacit condition "if it is not
prejudicial to the rights of a superior." Henry underlined this condition. The other
canon, however, suggested a more troubling interpretation. This canon was "Whoever
swears not to act against someone is able to act against him in his own causes and
causes of the church." The basis for this canon was a letter from Pope Honorius III.
One Prince Antiochenus had evidently caused some of his prelates to swear an oath
never to act against him. The prelates wrote a letter to Honorius asking what they
should do if Antiochenus made any move against them or their churches. Honorius
replied that the prelates "were not held to this oath but were able to stand freely for the
rights and honors of this church and also able to defend their particulars against this
prince."100 If this canon were applied to the two oaths of a bishop-elect, then that
Henry's bishops could indeed violate their oath to the king and act against Henry if
their actions were in defense of the church. This section of the Collectanea concluded
by asserting that the proper interpretation of the two oaths should be that a clerical
subject without violation of any oath sworn beforehand (to the pope) ought to adhere
to his prince in the prince's just causes. Although this interpretation was certainly
favorable to the king, it probably did little to set Henry's mind at ease, for Henry was
now aware not only of the contradictions between the two oaths of a bishop-elect but
also that canon law allowed two opposing interpretations of these oaths. This was
why Henry ordered Parliament "to inuent some ordre" between the two oaths.

"Qui iurat non esse contra aliquem, potest in causis propriis et ecclesiae suae contra eum"; CIC,
X.2.24.31,Friedberg, 2:372
"Interpretatione congrua declaramus, vos iuramento huiusmodi non teneri, quin pro iurisbus et
honoribus ipsius ecclesiae, ac etiam specialibus vestris legitime defendendis contra ipsum principem
stare libere valeatis"; CIC, X.2.24.31, Friedberg, 2:372. The letter supporting this canon (and thus this
particular quote) was not included in the Collectanea. See the following footnote.
The section of the Collectanea on the interpretation of the two oaths is written in convoluted and
abbreviated Latin. Although I believe my summary above is correct, I will include the original Latin so
that readers may come to their own conclusions. It is as follows: "Iuramentum, si quod prestitum fuerit,
prout in schedula presentibus annexa continetur, non obligat subditum iurantem, vt aliquid faciat contra
ius et preeminentiam regie maiestatis Nam in huiusmodi iuramento inest ex iuris interpretatione tacita
conditio, vidlt [videlicet] si non sit in priudicium iuris superiores vt expresse habetur in textu, et
prescribentes in ca. venientes, de iureiurando pro quo etiam facti ca. petitio in eodem titulo ubi habetur
que clericus iuras [iuramentas?] cont[ra] aliquem non esse: Nihilomin[u]s cont[ra] eundem agere pot
[potuit?] tam pro iure et honore sue ealie que 'in casa propria. Quin igitur canones tam fauorabilem
iuramenti interpretacionem admittunt in casis predictis multo fortius conadere [contradere?] videntur vt
sine aliqua iuramenti violatione antea prestiti pot [potuit?] debet clericus subditus principi ei in causis

C. The polemical context for Henry's attack on the oath of a bishop-elect to the pope
The direct source of Henry's information on the contradictory oaths of a
bishop-elect and the resulting threat of his bishops placing their loyalty to the pope
above their loyalty to him was the Collectanea. Yet the information compiled in the
Collectanea had not been gathered in a vacuum. Attacks on episcopal oaths of
canonical obedience were not new in 1532. Neither did the development of the
Reformation stifle these attacks. Indeed, the episcopal oath of canonical obedience
suffered criticism throughout the sixteenth century by reformers from various
countries. Although these polemics cannot be shown to have influenced Henry
directly, they are still important because they demonstrate the wider significance of
this issue. By establishing a deeper ideological context from which Henry moved to
attack the episcopal oath to the pope, we are able to understand better the logic behind
Henry's actions.
Perhaps the earliest attack on the episcopal oath of canonical obedience came
from a Wycliffite writer at the end of the fourteenth century. This anonymous writer
commenced his manuscript treatise by transcribing (and translating into Middle
English) the episcopal oath to the pope common in the later middle ages, oath A III.
The oath is to Urban VI, a detail which along with the reference to the papal schism,
date the manuscript from 1378 to 1389. Although the author opened the treatise by
citing Chrysostom's interpretation of Matthew to suggest that all swearing was evil, he
spent the body of the treatise arguing why each clause of the bishop's oath to the pope
was wrong. Two greater arguments emerged from his clause-by-clause attack. The
first was that the oath to the pope put the pope above God. Swearing to the pope as
lord placed the pope above Christ. Swearing to give the pope worship was idolatry.
By swearing to go to Rome regularly, the bishop put his body under the control of the
pope rather than God.103 The second argument, more important for our purposes, was
that the oath to the pope made the pope a greater earthly lord than the king. The
king's lordship was an ordinance of God but the pope's lordship was not. Inasmuch as

suis iustis et pro regni vtilitate adherere pro quorum descusione aram etiam sumere dicti canones
clericus permittunt"; BL Cotton MS. Cleopatra E vi, fol. 54 rv .
BL Additional MS. 24202, fol. T v .
BL Additional MS. 24202, fols. 2\ 6\ 1 lv.

the pope had any power, it was a ghostly or spiritual power that God alone could
defend. The mere act of swearing an oath to the pope gave him earthly power, and
God had ordained that all earthly power belonged to kings.I04 Thus, by swearing an
oath to the pope, bishops committed treason against all kings, against God's
ordinances, and against God himself.105 Already at the end of the fourteenth century,
then, the episcopal oath of canonical obedience was being depicted as in derogation of
royal authority.
In 1534, that wonder year of Henrician professions, the English Evangelical
Robert Barnes published an updated version of his Supplicatyon . . . to the most
excellent and redoubted prince kinge henrye the eyght. Unlike his Supplicatyon of
1531, which had only a small section attacking the pope's power to dispense oaths, the
Supplicatyon of 1534 contained a large diatribe against the episcopal oath of canonical
obedience. Like the Wycliffite writer, Barnes first transcribed the text of the episcopal
oaths to the pope (oaths A I and A II in this case) and then proceeded to attack each
clause of the oath. Barnes' conclusions were also similar to the tract from the
fourteenth century. The oath did not agree with God's word. From where did the
pope get the dignity of a lord? Speaking to the bishops directly, Barnes proclaimed
that the "cause of your othe" was "to betraye your prynces."106 The oath was an
excuse for treason, "for nowe yf he be a traytour, he is to be execused. Why? For he
is sworne to it."107 Barnes went beyond the Wycliffite writer, however, by comparing
the oath to the pope to the episcopal oath to the king. Barnes reminded the bishops of
For the very truthe is, that the kynges grace, and his counsell, consyderyng
your othe made to the pope to be preiudiciall to his regall power, causeth you,
in your othe afterwarde made vnto hym, to reuoke those thynges, that you had
afore sworne to the pope, and to declare that his grace and his counsell, dyd
recken your othe made to the pope, to be agaynste hym, therfore he maketh
you to revoke it by name, namynge the same othe, & also the same pope.I08

BL Additional MS. 24202, fols. T\ 4 \ 5r, 1', 9r, 12r.

BL Additional MS. 24202, fol. 5r.
Barnes, A supplicacion (1534), fol. D3r.
Barnes, A supplicacion (1534), fol. D2V.
Barnes, A supplicacion (1534), fol. D4r.

No one could swear allegiance to two people. The bishops were in a predicament in
which no matter what they did, they were perjured. But which of the two oaths would
the bishops chose to break? Why, their oaths to their prince of course! The pope
could always absolve the bishops from their oaths to their prince, "but of your othe
made vnto the Pope, there is no absoluton, neither in heuen, nor erthe."'09 Thus, in the
same year when Henry began circulating professions renouncing the pope and
acknowledging the king's supremacy, Barnes published a treatise that not only
reminded Henry of the dangers of the episcopal oath to the pope but also warned
Henry that the bishops could subvert their oath to the king by breaking it and seeking
papal absolution after the fact.
Barnes was not the only one to worry about the pope's dispensing power in
regard to oaths. James Bass Mullinger, the nineteenth-century historian of the
University of Cambridge, noted that among the statutes for the founding of Christ's
College in 1506 was the following clause: "1 will at no time seek for a dispensation
with respect to any one of the statutes of our foundation, or this my oath, neither will 1
take any steps for the obtaining of such dispensation or in any way accept it if
obtained by others."" 0 The statutes also required the master of Christ's College to be
placed under a bond of 200 not to seek any papal dispensation from his oath, nor
allow anyone under his charge to do so.'" More relevant to our topic, however, was a
manuscript drawn up by Cranmer referred to as "The collection of tenets extracted
from the canon law, shewing the extravagant pretentions of the church of Rome."112
According to some interpretations of canon law, the clergy did not have to give an
oath to their temporal rulers unless the clergy held temporalities from them.' l3 The
pope claimed the power "to judge which oaths ought to be kept, and which not."" 4
As a result, the pope "may absolve subjects from their oath of fidelity, and absolve

Barnes, A supplication (1534), fol. El v .

Mullinger, From the Earliest Times to the Royal Injunctions of 1535, vol. 1 of The University of
Cambridge (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1884), 456.
Mullinger, From the Earliest Times, 458.
Strype dated this manuscript from 1533. Burnet dated it from 1544. See Miscellaneous Writings
and Letters of Thomas Cranmer, 68 (note 1).
Miscellaneous Writings and Letters of Thomas Cranmer, 73.
Miscellaneous Writings and Letters of Thomas Cranmer, 70.

from other oaths that ought to be kept."115 Finally, and perhaps most frighteningly to
Henry, the pope claimed the right to "excommunicate emperors and princes, despose
them from their states, and assoil their subjects from their oath of obedience to them,
and so constrain them to rebellion." ' If the pope did indeed have these powers, then
the episcopal oath of loyalty to the king was worthless; the pope could easily subvert it
by absolving the bishops of their oath to the king.
The polemical attack on the episcopal oath to the pope was not limited to
England. In his famous Address to the German Nobility in 1520, Luther proclaimed:
"The harsh and terrible oaths which the bishops are wrongfully compelled to swear to
1 17

the pope should be abolished." Bullinger in his Decades called the episcopal oath
of canonical obedience to the pope a "wicked oath" whereupon a bishop did "renounce
and forsake the friendship of Christ, and humble himself to become the bond-slave
and footstool of the pope of Rome." Conversely, the Council of Trent extended the
oath of canonical obedience beyond prelates, decreeing that every person entering into
a new benefice must within two months "promise solemnly and swear that they will
preserve in their obedience to the Roman Church."119 Clearly, the episcopal oath of
canonical obedience to the pope was an issue of some importance. In this context,
Henry's presentation of the two contrary episcopal oaths to Audley and his claim that
the oath of canonical obedience "deluded" him of his "spirituall subiectes" was not
without justification.
D. Rising tension: oaths of a bishop-elect from 1532 to March, 1534
After Henry's speech to Audley on May 12, 1532, Parliament did not
immediately "inuent some ordre" between the oaths of a bishop-elect as Henry had
charged. Nevertheless, while the issue was put on the back burner for the rest of 1532,
it was not completely forgotten. The first draft of the Act of Appeals, mostly likely
written sometime at the end of 1532 or the beginning of 1533, proclaimed that the
pope desired "a corporall othe of obedience and subieccion to the see Appostolik

Miscellaneous Writings and Letters of Thomas Cranmer, 70.
Miscellaneous Writings and Letters of Thomas Cranmer, 69.
Martin Luther, To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation (1520), in Luther's Works, 44:164.
Bullinger, Decades, PS, vol. 10, 141-143.
Schroeder, Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, 201.

contrary to their natural dutie of obedience and alegiance that they shold and own to
he to the kinges of this ralme having the imperiall crowne of the same." Perhaps
more important was Henry's response to Archbishop Warham's protestation of
February 24, 1532, and his open clash with the king on March 15. Henry charged
Warham with praemunire and based his charge on the claim that Warham had
consecrated Henry Standish as bishop of St. Asaph before Standish had done homage
to Henry, taken his oath of fidelity to the king, and sued for the restitution of his
temporalities.121 Was it a coincidence that the material for Henry's accusation
centered on the oaths of a bishop-elect? In the speech Warham prepared for his
defense (which he must have prepared sometime before his death on August 23,
1532), Warham prioritized the episcopal oath to the pope over the episcopal oath to
the king: "it wer according that a spiritual man shuld first give his othe of obedience to
the spiritual hed which is the Pope . . . and not to preferr the temporal Prince to the
Pope in a spiritual matter."12 Moreover, Warham asserted that his own oath to the
pope, especially the clause where he swore to observe the apostolic commandments,
bound him to consecrate Standish immediately upon receiving the papal bulls.
Otherwise, he would have been guilty of perjury. If Warham had to choose between
incurring the guilt of perjury for breaking his oath to the pope or incurring the penalty
of praemunire for acting without Henry's approval, Warham declared he would accept
the later without hesitation.123 We do not know whether Henry ever knew of
Warham's prepared defense. If so, it would have infuriated him, for Warham not only
placed the episcopal oath to the pope above the episcopal oath to the king but also
justified his actions by citing his own oath to the pope.
Ironically, the same event that prevented Warham from publicly articulating
his defense, namely his death, led to the most dramatic display of the contradictions
between the oaths of a bishop-elect in the sixteenth century. With Warham gone,

NA SP2 N, fol. 74r; Geoffrey Elton, "The Evolution of a Reformation Statute," English Historical
Review 64 (1949): 179-180.
Kelly, "Submission of the Clergy," 103.
The draft of Warham's defense is printed in J. Moyes, "Warham: An English Prelate on the Eve of
the Reformation," Dublin Review 114 (1894): 401-414 {LP, V 1247). The page numbers for this
particular quote are 405-406.
Moyes, "Warham: An English Prelate," 406.

Henry needed a new archbishop of Canterbury. Henry's primary concern was to
select one who would grant him his divorce, but the person Henry selected, Thomas
Cranmer, had concerns about the episcopal oath of canonical obedience to the pope.
According to John Foxe (who based his account on Cranmer's answer to Bishop
Brakes during Cranmer's treason trial under Mary), Cranmer initially refused Henry's
summons to return to England from Germany in order to accept the archbishopric
because Cranmer considered that "the means he must have it," notably the oath of
canonical obedience to the pope, "was clean against his conscience."124 When Henry
persisted in his desire to make Cranmer archbishop, Cranmer explained to the king
that his conscience forbade him to take the archbishopric at the pope's hand, for Henry
was the supreme governor of the church in England. After a few more conversations
with Henry, "the king himself," according to Cranmer, "called doctor Oliver and other
civil lawyers, and devised with them how he might bestow it upon me, enforcing me
to do nothing against my conscience." Henry then informed Cranmer that he could
receive the archbishopric "by the way of protestation, and so one to be sent to Rome,
who might take the oath, and do every thing in my name."126
The appointment of a proctor to go to Rome to take the oath of canonical
obedience before the pope was neither novel nor radical. Proctors often took oaths on
behalf of someone else. Because of the distance between Rome and England, English
bishops-elect rarely if ever journeyed to Rome themselves to make the oath in the
pope's presence. The making of a protestation before an oath, however, was quite
controversial. How did Dr. Oliver and the other civil lawyers arrive at such a
strategy? It is possible that the protestation of Francis I, king of France, was the
template for their advice. On August 22, 1525, after months of captivity under
Charles V, Francis secretly but solemnly before witnesses protested that if he ceded
the lands of the duchy of Burgundy to Charles V in exchange for his liberty, this
cessation would have no effect since Francis would have made it under force and
duress. Again on the morning of January 13, 1526, the same day that Francis signed

Miscellaneous Writings and Letters of Thomas Cranmer, 223.

Miscellaneous Writings and Letters of Thomas Cranmer, 224.
Miscellaneous Writings and Letters of Thomas Cranmer, 224.

and swore to the Treaty of Madrid, Francis made a formal protestation before God and
other witnesses that the Treaty of Madrid would in no way bind him. These secret
protestations were soon highly publicized, as Francis and Charles engaged in an
international polemical debate over the validity of Francis's action. The episode
was certainly known in England since Hall made a reference to it in his Chronicle, and
it is conceivable that it formed the precedent for the civil lawyers' recommendation to
Yet no matter what the source of the recommendation of the civil lawyers,
Cranmer decided that what they recommended was a valid course of action, stipulating
only that Henry "should do it super animam suam."130 Accordingly, on March 30,
1533, in the chapterhouse of the College of St. Stephens at Westminster, in the
presence of the notary John Clerk and witnesses Thomas Bedyll, Richard Gwent, and
John Cocks, Cranmer made the following protestation:
In the name of God Amen. In the presence of you witnesses here present of
authentic character and worthy of faith, I Thomas, bishop-elect of the
archbishopric of Canterbury, allege, say and protest, openly, publicly, and
expressly with these writings, that since an oath or oaths are accustomed to be
sworn by the archbishop-elect of Canterbury to the highest pontiff... it is not
nor will it be my will or intention by such oath or oaths, no matter how the
words placed in these oaths seem to sound, to bind myself on account of the
same to say, do or attempt anything afterwards which will be or seems to be
contrary to the law of God or against our most illustrious king of England, the
commonwealth of his kingdom of England, or the laws and prerogatives of the
same. And that I do not intend by such an oath or oaths to bind myself in any
way that prevents me from freely speaking, counseling and consenting to all
and singular things concerning the reformation of the Christian religion, the
government of the church of England, the prerogative of the same crown, and
that prevents me from carrying out and reforming these things in the Church of

For the text of these two protestations, see M. Aime Champollion-Figeac (ed.), Collection de
documents inedits sur I'histoire de France publies par ordre du roi etpar les soins du ministre de
I'instructionpublique (Paris: Imprimerie Royal, 1847), 300-304, 466-478.
Francis's apology for his actions as well as Charles's reponse are printed in Pro divo Carolo
Romanorum Imperatore Invictissimo, pio, felice, semper Augusto, Patrepatriae, in satisfactionem
quidem sine talione eorum quae in ilium scripta, ac pleraque etiam in uulgum aediat fuere, Apologetici
libri duo nuper ex Hispaniis allati cum alijs nonnullis, quorum catalogos ante cuiusque exordium
reperies (Anvers, 1527), 113-122, 125-182. For background on this episode, see Henri Hauser, "Le
traite de Madrid et la cession de la Bourgogne a Charles-Quint: etude sur le sentiment national
Bourguignon en 1525-1526," Revue Bourguignonne 22 (1912): 1-180.
Hall's Chronicle, 712.
Miscellaneous Writings and Letters of Thomas Cranmer, 224.

England which seem to me to need reformation. And I protest and profess that
I will swear the said oaths according to this interpretation and this
understanding and not otherwise nor in another way. And furthermore I
protest that whatever oath my proctor swore formerly to the highest pontiff in
my name, that it was not my intention or will to give him any power by virtue
of which he could have sworn any oath in my name contrary or repugnant to
the oath sworn by me or to be sworn by me henceforward to the most
illustrious king of England. And in case he [my proctor] swore any such
contrary and repugnant oath, I protest that he swore it without my knowledge
or authority and I want it to be null and invalid. I want these protestations to
be repeated and reiterated in all clauses and sentences of the said oaths, and
from these [protestations] I do not intend to withdraw nor will I withdraw in
any way by anything done or said by me, but I want these to always remain in
effect for me.131
Immediately after taking this protestation, Cranmer left the chapterhouse and
proceeded to the high altar of the same college to receive his consecration at the hands
of the bishops of Lincoln, Exeter, and St Asaph. After John Longland, Bishop of
Lincoln, read Cranmer his consecration oath (oath A IV), Cranmer declared he would
take the oath only according to the protestation he had just made. He then swore the
oath. Again, before taking his oath upon reception of the pallium (oath A V), Cranmer

"In Dei Nomine Amen, Coram vobis autentica persona et testibus fide dignis hie presentibus ego
Thomas in Cant' archiepiscopum elctus dico, allego et in hiis scriptis palam, publice et exprese
protestor quod cum iuramentum sive iuramenta ab electis in Cant' archipiecopus summo pontific
prestari solita, me ante meam consecratione aut tempore eisdem pro forma potius quam pro esse aut re
obligatoria ad illam obtinenda oporteat. Non est nee erit mea voluntatis aut intentionis per huiusmodi
iuramentum vel iuramenta, qualitercunque verba in ipsis posita sonare videbunter, me obligare ad
aliquod ratione eorundem posthac dicendum, faciendum aut attemptandum quod erit aut esse videbitur
contra legem Dei vel contra illustrissimum Regem nostrum Anglie aut rempublicam huius sui regni
Anglie legesve aut prerogativas eiusdem; et quod non intendo per huiusmodi iuramentum aut iuramenta
quovismodo me obligare quominus libere loqui, consulere et consentire valeam in omnibus et singulis
reformationem religionis cristiane, guvernationem ecclesie anglicane aut prerogatviam concernentibus
et ea ubique exequei et reformare que mihi in ecclesia anglicana reformanda videbuntur; et secundum
hance interpretationem et intellectum hunce et non aliter neque alio modo dicta iuramenta me
prestiturm protestor et profiteor. Protestorque insuper, quodcumque iuramentum sit quod meus
procurator summo pontifici meo nomine antehac prestitit, quod non erat intentionis aut voluntatis mee
sibi aliquam dare potestatem cuius vigore aliquod iuramentum meo nomine prestare potuerit contrarium
aut repugnans iuramento per me prestito aut imposterum prestando prefato illustrissimo Anglie Regi; et
casu quo aliquod tale contrarium aut repugnans iuramentum meo nomine prestit, protestor quod illud
me incio et absque mea auctoritate prestitum pro nullo et invalido esse volo. Quas protestatioens in
omnibus clausulis et sentenciis dictorum iuramentorum repetitas et reiteratas volo; a quibus per aliquod
meum factum vel dictum quovismodo recedere non intendo nee receam, se eas mihi semper salvas esse
volo"; Lambeth Palace Library, Cranmer's Register, fol. 5r. Strype printed the Latin of this profession
in his Cranmer, 2:683-684. It is also included with a few errors of transcription in the "Process contra
Thomam Cranmer," Miscellaneous Writings and Letters of Thomas Cranmer, 560. I have quoted this
protestation at length because of its great importance and because no previous historian has bothered to
translate the protestation into English.

reiterated that he swore this oath under the protestations made in the chapterhouse.
Finally, a third time, he required those present to bear witness that he took these oaths
according to his protestation.
Although Cranmer's use of a protestation allowed him to take his oaths to the
pope in a manner that did not offend his conscience or clash with his oath to the king,
this method of swearing was dubious to say the least. Within six weeks, Ambassador
Chapuys labeled Cranmer "as a violater of his recent oath of obedience to the Pope"
for his pronunciation of Henry's divorce.13 It was perhaps acceptable to make a pre-
oath protestation declaring how one interpreted the oath, but when one's interpretation
directly negated the oath, was that not perjury? Reginald Pole certainly thought so.
He accused Cranmer of having sworne "but for a countenance, nothing meaning to
observe that you promised by the oath; that is a door that every thief may enter by."
Cranmer entered into his archbishopric "by a feigned oath, by fraud, and
dissimulation." What else did Cranmer's protestation serve "but to testify a double
perjury, which is to be forsworn afore you did swear? Other perjurers be wont to
break their oath after they have sworn, you break it afore." In Cranmer's treason
trial under Mary, Roger Martin boldly announced: "Hee [Cranmer] made a
protestation one day, to keepe neuer a whitte of that whiche he woulde sweare the next
day, was thys the part of a christian man?"136 At the same time, the bishop of
Gloucester derisively compared Cranmer to a man who killed another but thought
himself safe because he had protested before the deed that it was not his will to kill.137
How openly one made a protestation before an oath also affected its legitimacy. A
completely secret, internal protestation was of course mental reservation, but even a
protestation made before witnessesif this protestation was not completely public

The source for this episode is a copy of the notarial instrument of the proceedings in Cranmer's
Register; Lambeth Palace Library, Cranmer's Register, fols. 4r-5v.
LP, VI 465.
Miscellaneous Writings and Letters of Thomas Cranmer, 534.
Miscellaneous Writings and Letters of Thomas Cranmer, 538.
Foxe,^M(1583), 1876.
"Cranmerum porro qui Papae nihil deberi arbitraretur, propterea quod ante praedixisset ex animo se
minime juraturum, perinde facere ac si quis quando se hominem occidere concedi sibi (veniam)
contenderet oportere, quoniam praefatus esset, sua voluntate nequaquam id fieri"; [Nicolas
Harpsfield?], Bishop Cranmer's Recantacyons, ed. Lord Houghton, intro. J. Gairdner (Philobiblon
Society Miscellanies 15, 1877-84), 33-34.

was questionable. For example, Charles V attacked Francis Fs protestation because it
had been made unbeknownst to Charles.' Cranmer of course publicly declared three
times at his consecration that he took his oaths to the pope according to his
protestation, but the notarial instrument documenting the episode does not state that
Cranmer read the actual contents of his protestation (made earlier in the chapterhouse)
at his consecration. Pole again lambasted Cranmer for this practice, accusing Cranmer
of having brought forth "a privy protestation, made with privy witnesses."139 Finally,
Francis 1 could at least excuse himself with the contention that his oath to the Treaty
of Madrid was taken in fear under constraint and force. Cranmer, however, could not
claim even this "delusion," for as Pole observed in his letter to Cranmer: "Whereunto
you were not driven, neither vi, nor metu, as you were not in this your case."140
Cranmer's protestation was thus not without controversy.
Yet the controversy surrounding Cranmer's protestation probably served to
emphasize to Henry the conundrum of the episcopal oath to the pope. In order to
receive consecration through the instrument of a papal bull, all new bishops had to
swear an oath to the pope. But from 1532 on, Henry was aware that this oath
conflicted with the episcopal oath to the king and provided a convenient excuse for
episcopal resistance to the crown. Hence, after 1532 Henry did not allow any of his
bishops to take an unqualified oath of canonical obedience to the pope. Cranmer's
case famously illustrated this, but Cranmer was not the only one to make such a
protestation during this time. On January 17, 1534 at Cranmer's manor at Lambeth in
the presence of the witnesses Thomas Argall, Richard Gwent, Roger Taunestud,
William Potkin [Hotkin? Sotkin?] and John Hering, Christopher Bord, Abbot of the
Monastery of Newsey, made the exact same protestation before his consecration as

"Nusquam tamen constare poterit, quod coram Caesare facta fuerit protestatio, quae ex aduerso
narratur: quae si in ipsius Caesaris notitiam deuenisset, melius forsan, ac securius rebus suis consultum
fuisset, quamuis etiam aliunde talis protestatio roburnon obtineret ad inualidandum actum
indesequutum, quinimmo per ipsum actum contrarium ex longo interuallo tolleretur talis protestationis
effectus, prout iura disponunt"; Apologiae Madritiae conventionis dissuasoriae pro Francisco
Francorum Regie emissae refutatio, in Pro divo Carolo Romanorum Imperatore Invictissimo, 154.
Miscellaneous Writings and Letters of Thomas Cranmer, 538.
Miscellaneous Writings and Letters of Thomas Cranmer, 539. For similar claims by Pole that
Cranmer's protestation was not made in fear under constraint and force, see [Harpsfield?], Bishop
Cranmer's Recantacyons, 46.

suffragan bishop of Sidon that Cranmer had made before his consecration as
archbishop.141 Whether this was at the instigation of Cranmer or Henry, we do not
know. Either way, Bord's protestation highlights the fact that the problem of the
episcopal oath to the pope was not going away. Unless Henry wanted his bishops-
elect to continue making controversial protestations nullifying their oath of canonical
obedience to the pope, he needed to establish a more lasting precedent. He did this
with the Act Restraining the Payment of Annates, which Parliament passed in mid
March 1534. In addition to forbidding the payment of annates absolutely (a
conditional restraint had been in effect for a year), the act outlined a new procedure for
the election and consecration of English bishops. No one was to procure any papal
bulls for his consecration, the chapter and dean or prior and convent had to elect a
bishop of the king's choosing, and the bishop-elect was to make "a corporall othe to
the Kynges Hyghnes and to none other.'"142 No longer did English bishops have to
swear before almighty God oaths of loyalty to two different powers, powers that had
the potential to conflict. They no longer had to choose which oath to break. Henry
had solved the problem that had worried him since he had read the Collectanea. Or
had he? The Act Restraining the Payment of Annates concerned only future bishops.
What about all Henry's current bishops who were sworn to the pope? How was he to
guarantee their loyalty? And what about the rest of his clergy? Were any of them
bound by a corporal oath to some power or authority prejudicial to royal will? We
shall see that the professions of 1534 and 1535 were designed to address these
questions. Henry forced specific groups of the English clergy to swear loyalty to him
because these same groups had taken an oath that bound them to act in a way
potentially prejudicial to Henry's authority.

A copy of the notarial instrument of this protestation is preserved in the papers of Robert Beale, an
Elizabethan lawyer and civil servant. Until now, historians have not noticed this protestation. See BL
Additional MS. 48022, fols. 165v-166r. Sidon was an area of Phoenicia. After 1291, the bishopric, also
known as the suffragen of Tyre, was titular. Bord obviously had no power in Sidon. For another
independent source verifying that Bord was indeed consecrated as bishop of Sidon during this time, see
Konrad Eubel et al. (ed.), Hierarchia catholica medii aevi. . ., (Monasterii, 1898- ), 299. I am unsure
of the spellings of the names of all the witnesses.
Statutes of the Realm, 25 Hen. 8, c. 20, 3:463-464 (quote from 464). My italics.

1534-35: A Response to Influence, Prior Intransigence, and Previous Oaths
We are now in a position to explain why Henry tendered different professions
of varying degrees of strength to different groups of his subjects. In 1534, Henry
needed to cancel out previous bonds of loyalty to a foreign authority, rebind the
consciences of his subjects to him and his policies, and determine which of his
subjects would oppose his reformation. Henry thus formulated his policy of oaths and
subscriptions as a response to three factors: the degree of his subjects' influence and
power, the extent of their recent history of resistance to his designs, and the possibility
of their consciences having been bound by a prior oath contrary to royal authority.
The more these three factors applied to a particular group of subjectsthat is, the
greater their influence, the more extensive their history of resistance, and the degree to
which their consciences had already been bound by oaths in opposition to Henry's
authoritythe greater the number and strength of professions that Henry administered
to them. Henry administered strong and repeated professions to the groups of his
subjects who had a history of, reason for, and/or potential to offer resistance. The
groups that Henry targeted and the nature of the professions he tendered to them
confirms this hypothesis.
Let us start with the bishops. First, bishops were the leaders of the English
church. They had wealth and power. Every priest swore an oath of canonical
obedience to his diocesan bishop. As such, bishops were, at least theoretically, in
control of their diocesan clergy. They had influence. If they choose to resist the royal
will, they could create problems for Henry. Second, they had demonstrated in the
early 1530s that they were not afraid to use their influence to resist royal will. Fisher,
Tunstall, and Leeall bishopswere ^Catherine's chief counselors and advocates.
The bishops had led the opposition to Henry in the Convocations of 1531 and 1532.
Then, they had showed themselves to be adroit at using equivocation and saving
clauses to appear to submit to Henry while really conceding nothing of importance.
How was Henry to know whether they were truly loyal to him? As we shall see,
Henry continued to suspect his bishops of dissimulation throughout 1534 and 1535
and this partly explains why he tendered them repeated professions. Finally, and most

importantly, Henry targeted his bishops because they were bound by a solemn oath to
be obedient to the pope, an oath which contradicted their oath to the king and provided
a potential springboard for resistance to Henry's schism. The professions tendered the
bishops were thus designed primarily to negate their episcopal oath of obedience to the
An examination of the content of the bishops' professions of 1534 to 1535 also
demonstrates that these professions were chiefly intended to nullify the bishops' oath
of canonical obedience to the pope. To begin with, this was true of the new oath to the
king that a bishop-elect took after 1534 (oath B V), though of course these new
bishops never took an oath to the pope during their consecration in the first place.
This new oath to the king was almost twice the size of the old episcopal oaths to the
king. In this new oath, the bishop-elect claimed to take both his temporal and spiritual
profits of his bishopric "all onlye of your maiestie and of your heyres kynges of this
Realme and of none other." The bishop-elect acknowledged Henry "ymiediatly vnder
almyghtye god to be chyef and supreme hedd of the churche of England," and swore
to sustain his preeminence, prerogatives, and imperial jurisdiction "afore and ayenst
all manner of persons powers and authorities whatsoeuer they be." Most revealingly,
the bishop-elect promised never to "accepte any othe or make any promyse pacte or
covenante secreatlye or apertly by any manner of [means] or by any color of pretence
to the contrarye of this myne othe or any parte therof." Finally, the bishop-elect
promised to observe and defend the statutes of the realm made against the pope and
made for the surety of Henry's succession. The goal of oath B V was thus to articulate
that the bishop-elect owed loyalty solely to the king and not to the pope. To make this
loyalty more secure, it expressly forbade any future oath that contradicted this present
The "profession of the bishops to renounce the pope and his bulls" (oath C)
was even more directly devised in opposition to the episcopal oath of canonical
obedience to the pope. This was Henry's solution to the fact that all his bishops
consecrated before 1533 had sworn loyalty to the pope. In this profession, the bishop

NA SP1/83, fol. 54r (LP, VII 427). My italics. For the full text of his oath, see Appendix B, V.

confessed that "against God and his order which wants all men to be subject to their
princes," he had wronged his king by taking an oath to the pope and swearing "to be
faithful" to him, "to defend the papacy against all men, your majesty not excepted,"
and "to observe his commands, ordinances, decrees, and provisions." The bishop then
admitted that this oath was "unlawful" and "unjust." He declared that this oath was
"broken," "void," and "not to be observed," and humbly sought pardon from the king
for the offense of swearing to the pope. After reiterating that the pope had no power
or jurisdiction in England, the bishop renounced his papal bulls and promised to hand
over to the king all papal bulls in his possession. More than any other profession of
1534 or 1535, this profession reveals the level of the king's concern over the episcopal
oath of canonical obedience to the pope.144
Although Henry's bishops may or may not have taken the "promise of the
bishops to renounce the pope and his bulls,"145 all of Henry's bishops did
unquestionably make a profession to his supremacy in February and March of 1535.
This profession (see Appendix F, I) also contained clauses formulated in response to
the oath of canonical obedience to the pope. In the second clause of this profession,
the bishop pledged never to promise or give any fidelity or obedience, "simply or
under oath," to any external power, including the pope. The profession then lifted a
few clauses from the episcopal oath of canonical obedience to the pope and either
caused the bishop to promise the opposite or applied the clauses to the king. For
example, the bishop promised "to defend against all men" the king and his successors.
Likewise, the bishop pledged to reveal to the king all papal counsel delivered to him
by papal nuncios or letters. These clauses were direct negations of clauses from the
episcopal oath to the pope. After some standard clauses renouncing papal authority
and acknowledging Henry's supremacy, the bishop closed his profession by promising
never to seek "a dispensation, exception, or remedy of law or deed against this my
foresaid profession and promise." Finally, he declared that "if I made any protestation
in prejudice to this my profession and promise, I revoke it now and for all times to

NA SP 6/3, fols. 63r-64r. The profession is in Latin so the quoted text above is my translation. For
the text of this profession in its entirety, see Appendix C.
For a discussion of evidence for its tendering, see chapter three, pages 133-134.

come." "Protestation" (protestatio) here could mean either "declaration" or
"protestation." It was a general term that covered not only the episcopal oath of
canonical obedience to the pope but also the protestations made by the Convocations
of 1531 when they acknowledged Henry's supremacy. In sum, the episcopal
profession of supremacy of 1535 negated specific clauses from the oath to the pope,
rejected previous declarations in support of the pope, and promised neither to make an
oath of loyalty to the pope in the future nor seek any papal dispensation from this
current profession.
The influence, recent demonstrations of opposition, and previous professions
of the institutional clergy also help to explain why Henry bound them with a stronger
form of profession than he did his secular, parish clergy. As the primary preachers to
the people, the friars possessed power.146 It was no coincidence that instructions
accompanying the visitation of the friaries required the friars to preach in favor of the
king's succession and supremacy and against the authority of the pope. The
professions of the friars and other institutional clergy had clauses in which one swore
not to twist Scripture when preaching, not to call the bishop of Rome the pope when
preaching, and to name the king as supreme head of the church and Anne as his queen
when preaching or praying. Some of the monasteries, while not places of preaching,
also had influence. The houses to which Henry took the most care in tendering
professionsSyon Abbey, the London and Sheen Charterhouses, the London and
Richmond houses of Observant Franciscanswere the wealthiest, most austere, most
learned, and thus most influential houses of the realm. The power of the friars and
monastic institutions, however, went beyond their role as preachers and their wealth
and reputation. The structure of these orders provided them with a potential network
for the organization of resistance. Unlike the secular clergy, who were isolated in
their parishes, the institutional clergy were part of an extensive order that transcended
their specific location. The friars had the additional advantage of being mobile. This

See Knowles, Religious Orders, 3:177.

organizational network meant that their influence was greater in that it extended
beyond the constraints of location.
Second, the friaries and key monasteries which Henry targeted were ones that
had opposed him in the early 1530s. Two leaders of the Franciscans Observants,
William Peto and Henry Elston, were vocal supporters of Katherine, going so far as to
publish books in her defense. The Observant Franciscan Friars Hugh Rich and
Richard Risby as well as Syon Abbey and the Sheen Charterhouse were implicated in
supporting Elizabeth Barton, the prophetic Nun of Ken who decried Henry's divorce
and prophesied against him.149 The London Charterhouse was the first monastery to
resist the oath of succession, an action that doubtless singled them out as an institution
that was exceedingly unlikely to cooperate with Henry's more radical moves: the
abrogation of papal jurisdiction and the establishment of royal supremacy.
Finally, friars and monks had professed allegiance to a foreign authority.
Abbots and priors, like bishops, often took an oath of canonical obedience to the pope
directly. The Act for the Exoneration from Exactions Paid to the See of Rome
accordingly forbade abbots and priors from making an oath to the pope.150 The
regular friars and monks did not make a specific oath to the pope, and this probably
explains why there is nothing in the text of the professions of the institutions and the
friars explicitly in response to an oath to the pope. Regular friars and monks did,
however, vow obedience to their prior or abbot and to their monastic rule. This vow
also could conflict with obedience to king. Recall that Cromwell demanded that
Houghton, Laurence, and Webster reject "obediences to whatever person or order they
had owed or promised." Moreover, some monks used their vow of obedience to
justify resistance. This may have been the profession referred to by those who made
one of the protestations of the lower house of Convocation against Henry's new title in
1531 when they refuted "all novelty contrary to their profession."151 The convent of

I am grateful to Professor David Como who brought this point to my attention.

Bernard, King's Reformation, 152-156.
Bernard, King's Reformation, 155, 167; Beckett, "Sheen Charthouse," 166-168.
Statutes of the Realm, 25 Hen. 8, c. 21, 3:470.
"ac propterea omnem novitatem huic nostrae professioni contrariam tanquam errorem et
schismaticam reputamus"; Bray, Records of Convocation, 7:135.

Observant Friars at Greenwich refused to take their oath because they believed the
clause about the bishop of Rome having no greater authority in England than any other
foreign bishop "was clerely agaynst their professyon and the rules of sayncte
Frauncis."152 The Cordelier Franciscans of Guernsey used a similar excuse, "saying
howe that they had heretofore made an Othe, whiche othe they wold not change, but
rather forsake the Convent and Countrey than to make any outher." Henry and
Cromwell were certainly aware of the potential node of resistance in monastic vows of
obedience. One of Cromwell's injunctions for the visitation of the monasteries in
1535 read:
Also, that the abbot, prior, or president, and brethren may be declared by the
king's supreme power and authority ecclesiastical to be absolved and loosed
from all manner of obedience, oath, and profession by them heretofore
(perchance) promised or made to the said bishop of Rome, or to any other in
his stead, or occupying his authority, or to any other foreign prince, or person;
and nevertheless let it be enjoyned to them, that they shall not promise or give
such oath or profession to any such foreign potentate hereafter; and if the
statute of the said order religious, or place, seem to bind them to obedience or
subjection, or any other foreign power potentate, person, or place, by any
ways, such statutes by the king's grace's visitors be utterly annihilate, broken,
and declared void and of none effect, and that they be in no case bounden or
obligate to the same; and such statutes to be forthwith utterly put forth and
abolished out of the books or muniments of that religion, order, or place by the
president and his brethren.IM
In Henry's proclamation of June 9, 1535 enforcing the statutes for abolishing papal
authority, he claimed that "both the bishops and clergy of this our realm" had
renounced papal authority, "utterly renouncing all other oaths and obedience to any
foreign potentate." Thus, bishops were not the only ones who had made a
profession that conflicted with loyalty to Henry. A combination of these factorsthe
influence of the friars and monks, their recent history of opposition to Henry, and their

The article from the rule of St Francis the Greenwich Franciscans cited was as follows: "Ad hec per
obedientiam injungo ministris ut petant a domino papa unum de sancte Romane ecclesie cardinalibus,
qui sit gubernator, protector, et corrector istius fraternitatis, ut semper subditi et subjecti pedibus sancte
ecclesie ejusdem stabiles in fide catholica paupertatem et humilitatem, et secundum Evangelium
Domini nostri Jesu Christi, quod firmiter promisimus observemus"; Wright, Three Chapters, 41-42 {LP,
VII 841).
Ellis, Original Letters, Ser. II, 2:92.
Wilkins, Concilia, 3:790; Burnet, History of the Reformation, 4:217-218.
Hughes and Larkin, Tudor Royal Proclamations, 1:230.

vows of obedience to a foreign superior or ruleled Henry to tender his religious
clergy a more detailed profession confirmed with an oath.
The institutions that Henry targeted most were the Universities of Oxford and
Cambridge. Again, these three factors help us understand why. As the primary place
where new clergymen received their instruction, the universities possessed power over
the next generation of the church. They also held a considerable amount of cultural
authority. After all, one of Henry's primary strategies in pursuing his divorce had
been to solicit the universities of Europe to give him a favorable judgment. Henry's
own universities had proved embarrassingly obstinate. In 1529, Henry asked them to
give a judgment on whether divine and natural law allowed one to marry the widow of
a deceased husband. The junior members of the universities (the lower house of the
Convocation of the universities) stood their ground, claiming that such a marriage was
licit by divine and natural law. This was not the response Henry wanted. After the
exertion of royal pressure, Cambridge delegated the decision to a group of sixty, who
gave Henry the opinion for which he was looking. The juniors of Oxford, however,
refused to do this and remained intransigent in the face of numerous delegations from
the king. At last, the chancellor of Oxford decreed that the juniors of the university
were unworthy to make this decision. The chancellor then appointed a select group,
which deferred to the king.I5 Henry thus had reason to suspect the universities in
1534. Finally, the universities were places where oaths had been sworn. The
inhabitants of most colleges had to take an oath to follow the statutes of their
college.157 These statutes undoubtedly made references to obedience to the Roman
church and the pope. In 1531, after the trial of Nicolas Shaxton, the vice-chancellor of
Cambridge of the University imposed an oath to renounce a long list of heretical
"errors" on all those taking degrees in divinity from the university. The fact that the
oath was abolished within a year indicates its controversial nature. Other oaths were
occasionally tendered there as well. Writing from exile, Richard Marshall excused his

Anthony a Wood, The History and Antiquities of the University of Oxford, in Two Books, ed. John
Gutch (Oxford, 1792), 41-44.
Mullinger, University of Cambridge, 1:455.
H. C. Porter, Reformation and Reaction in Tudor Cambridge, (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1958), 61.

refusal to preach Henry's supremacy on grounds that it was against scripture and the
doctrine of the church as revealed in the Decretals, "which I was sworn openly in the
University of Oxford to declare and stick unto."159 As influential and obstinate
institutions where many potentially subversive oaths had been sworn, the universities
were places that merited special attention.
The issue of whether one swore an oath that could conflict with royal authority
also explains why Henry made some of his secular clergy take the institutional
profession while others, his parish priests, only had to sign an oathless statement
against the power of the pope. The sole members of the secular clergy who possessed
any substantial power were deans of cathedrals. All members of a cathedral, as well
as members of other secular institutions like college or hospitals, usually made an oath
to follow the customs and statutes of their institution.160 Again, the customs and
statutes to which these secular priests were sworn may have contained material
offensive to Henry. Henry's struggle in 1532 to force the clergy to submit these
statutes to him illustrates his concern over these statutes. If these institutional secular
priests were sworn to observe a statute prejudicial to royal authority, Henry needed
another oath to ensure that they remained loyal to him. By contrast, secular parish
priests typically took no oaths to observe a set of statutes. The only oath they swore
upon their institution was an oath of canonical obedience to their bishop. So once
Henry gained the obedience of his bishops, the secular parish clergy also owed their
allegiance to him through their oath to the bishops. No oath nullifying a previous
promise was needed. On the other hand, all the orders of friars and some of the
monastic orders were outside of episcopal jurisdiction; their superiors resided in
Rome. They were exempt from episcopal oversight, which also explains Henry's
heightened concern over them.' '

^LP,X 594.
Any cursory glance at the list of institutions preserved in late medieval and early modern episcopal
registers will demonstrate the prevalence of this oath among priests serving at a secular institution. For
examples of the forms of these oaths, see Bodleian Library, Rawlinson MS. B 167, fols. 110r-l 13r.
' Knowles, Religious Orders, 3:177. Cranmer was concerned about the jurisdictional independence of
certain houses and orders: "yet 1 would gladly known who shall take the oaths at the religious of Syon,
which is specially to be observed, and also the charter houses, and observants, and other religious
exempt"; Miscellaneous Writings and Letters of Thomas Cranmer, 292. My italics.

The only profession of 1534 and 1535 that the three characteristics of
influence, a recent history of conflict with Henry VIII, and past oaths prejudicial to
royal authority do not elucidate is the oath of succession. The oath of succession was
tendered to all adult males, regardless of their influence or track record of opposition
to royal policies. But the oath was still designed in part to nullify previous oaths
conflicting with royal authority. Henry's struggle with Katherine's household over
her title had raised this issue. As we saw in chapter one, in October of 1533
Katherine's chaplains and servants refused to comply with the royal order to call
Katherine princess dowager because "they coulde not see, howe the Kynges Grace
coulde discharge their conscyences to calle her Pryncesse, they beyng sworne to her as
Quene." When Henry decided to fight fire with fire, that is, to invalidate this oath
by making Katherine's servants swear another oath to her as princess dowager,
Katherine's servants argued that "they myght not be sworen . . . consydering there first
othe made to her as Queane, they myght not take the seconde othe without
perjurye."163 Eventually, all of Katherine's servants, other than those from Spain,
took this new oath, but Henry had learned his lesson. Just in case any other person
tried to cite a previous oath as grounds for resisting the Boleyn marriage and
succession, the oath of succession explicitly stated that each person give obedience or
faith "not to any other within this Realm [such as Queen Katherine?], nor foreign
Authority, Prince or Potentate; and in case any Oath be made, or hath been made, by
you, to any other Person or Persons, that then you to repute the same as vain and
annihilate." These clauses were significant enough to be replicated without change
in all subsequent Henrician oaths of succession, excluding the oath preserved on the
leaves of a manuscript gospel.165 Even though the majority of Henry's subjects had
not sworn an oath to a foreign authority, he wanted to make sure that if they had, their
oath would be invalidated by the oath of succession.

NA SP1/79, fol.l58r (LP, VI1252) Stat Pap Pub, 1:408. Also see BL Cotton MS. Otho C x, fol. 213
(LP, VI 1253).
Stat Pap Pub, 1:416 (LP, VI 1541).
Journal of the House of Lords, 1:82.
See Appendix D.

Yet if the oath of succession did not arise out of the previous conflicts between
Henry and his clergy as the various oaths of supremacy did, what was its origin and
the motivation for its use? The main purpose of the oath of succession was, as the text
of the oath indicates, to swear allegiance to Henry and his offspring through Anne. It
was essentially an enhanced oath of fidelity, and there actually was precedent for the
tendering of an oath of fidelity to every adult male in England. The most recent
precedent was the oath of allegiance Henry VIII forced all inhabitants of Touraai to
swear when he conquered the region in 1513.166 Yet another oath was even more
widespread in late medieval England. According to an Elizabethan manuscript on the
court leet, in medieval England "it was ordeyned that every person of the age of xii
yeres and haue beene resident in a place a yeare & a day shalbe sworne to be true and
faythfull to the prince and also that the people might be kept in obedience."167 This
was part of the normal business of the courts leet and tourn. Writing in the early
seventeenth century, Sir Edward Coke agreed, adding that these courts continued to
tender this oath in his time. Coke then provided the text of the oath, which he claimed
to take from the works of Bracton and Britton:
You shall swear, that from this day forward, you shall be true and faithfull to
our Soveregn Lord , and his heires, and truth and faith shall bear of
life and member, and terrene honour, and you shall neither know nor hear of
any ill or damage intended unto him, that you shall not defend. So help you
Almighty God.169
Clauses one, two, and seven of the oath of succession seem to be expanded versions of
this oath. Of course, the tendering of this oath in the courts leet and tourn was a
regular affair whereupon each resident of an area was probably called upon to swear
this oath only once in his life, either when he turned twelve or moved into a new area.
Thus, the procedure was different from the large-scale administrative effort of the oath
of succession to mobilize the entire realm to swear at the same time. Yet the fact that

Mayer, "On the road to 1534," 14-15; C. G. Cruickshank, The English Occupation ofTournai 1513-
1519 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1971), 40. For a draft of this oath, see NA SP 1/230, Ms. 60r-62r (LP, I
CULMS. Gg. vi. l,fol. 150r.
David Martin Jones, Conscience and Allegiance in Seventeenth Century England: The Political
Significance of Oaths and Engagements (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 1999), 17.
Sir Edward Coke, The reports of Sir Edward Coke (London, 1659), 589; printed in Jones,
Conscience and Allegiance, 269.

the entire adult male populace of England had in theory already sworn fealty to Henry
and his heirs remains significant. In this light, the oath of succession
was simply an effort to update the traditional oath of fidelity by specifying to which
heirs Henry's subjects owed loyalty.
The chief problem with interpreting the oath of succession primarily as an
updated oath of fealty (with a few clauses thrown in nullifying any previous oaths to a
foreign authority) is that this interpretation tends to separate the oath of succession
from the clerical professions of 1534 and 1535, whose purpose was to reject papal
authority, confirm royal supremacy, and bind the consciences of particular groups of
clergy who had influence, a history of opposition, and a record of having taken oaths
conflicting with royal authority. Although the conservative text of the oath of
succession seems to warrant such a separation, the events of the 1530s warn us against
making so simple a dichotomy. Henry's divorce and remarriage to Anne was
intricately connected to his rejection of papal authority. The clerical professions with
clauses on both the succession and the supremacy illustrate this connection.
Moreover, the oath of succession was being tendered throughout the realm at the same
time as the professions against papal jurisdiction and the acknowledgments of royal
supremacy. As a consequence of this, Geoffrey Elton wrote that the purpose of the
oath of succession was to gain the country's adherence "not so much of the legitimacy
of the issue to be expected from the Boleyn marriage, but rather of the major policy
which that marriage symbolizedthe political revolution and religious schism."170
Bernard agreed, arguing that the oath of succession was made "in effect, in support of
the break with Rome." If this is true, why did the text of the oath of succession not
include explicit references to papal jurisdiction or royal supremacy? It may be that the
regime designed the conservative text of the oath of succession to serve as a

Elton, Policy and Police, 227.
G. W. Bernard, "The Tyranny of Henry VIII," in Authority and Consent in Tudor England: Essays
Presented to C. S. L. Davies, eds. G. W. Bernard and S. J. Gunn (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002), 119. My
italics. Even stronger is C. S. L. Davies' assertion that the oath of succession "committed the individual
not merely to observe the law to positive approval of the entire legislation of the Reformation
Parliament"; C. S. L. Davies, "The Cromwellian Decade: Authority and Consent," Transaction of the
Royal Historical Society, 6th ser., 7 (1997): 185. Davies' comment is too extreme, for, as we shall see,
many people did not believe the oath of succession bound them to approve the entire legislation of the
Reformation Parliament.

sweetener, a sugar coating that masked the bitterness of schism concealed at the core
of the oath and made it easier to swallow. Or alternatively, perhaps the regime did not
feel it necessary to mention papal jurisdiction or royal supremacy since the majority of
the people to whom the oath of succession was tendered lacked influence and a history
of opposition. All it needed was to remind them of the loyalty they owed to the
sovereign, a loyalty to which they were bound no matter what policies the sovereign
pursued. Either way, the fact that Henry tendered the oath of succession at the same
time as other professions rejecting papal authority and acknowledging royal
supremacy does suggest that the Henrician regime's true aim with the outwardly mild
oath of succession was to secure acquiescence to its reformation.
But the government's intentions in the oath of succession are less important
than the English people's perceptions of the oath. If the pill looked like sugar and
tasted like sugar, people may have deduced that it was sugar. If the text of the oath of
succession seemed like an innocuous adaptation of the traditional oath of fealty,
people may have sworn it believing in their consciences that they did nothing in
derogation of papal authority. If this was the case, the oath was ineffective, for the
oath could not coerce people's conscience if they did not believe in their consciences
that the oath applied to the issues of controversy. A concealed stick is useless to an
aggressor if the victim is unaware of its existence. Hence, now that we have explained
why the Henrician regime tendered the many professions of 1534 and 1535, the next
logical question is how people responded to these professions. Their responses will
provide insight into their perception of the professions, and that, in turn, will give us a
clue as to whether the oaths and professions were effective: that is, whether they
achieved the goals for which the regime designed and implemented them.

Chapter 5: Responses to the Professions of Succession and Supremacy
We have now made significant progress in determining how the Henrician
Regime implemented its reformation through the use of oaths and subscriptions. We
have determined what the regime's policy was and why it was pursued. Yet to
complete our study on the implementation of royal policy, we must also look at the
reception of this policy. Accordingly, this chapter asks three questions. First, who
took the Henrician oaths of succession and supremacy, and who refused to take them?
Second, for those who refused to take them, why did they refuse? Third, for those
who took them, how did they take them? More than any other chapter of this
dissertation, here we are confronted with a paucity of evidence. The surviving sources
are simply insufficient to provide us with a definitive answer to these questions.
Nevertheless, both the general silence of our sources and the scant information they do
impart are significant. The fact that there is very little documentation on people
refusing the oaths of succession and supremacy, for example, suggests either that most
people cooperated with the regime and took these oaths or that the government did not
take action against them if they refused. The few glimpses we do get of why some
people refused the oath of succession provides us with clues on how they perceived
the oath of succession. Finally, although we will never know the quantity of the
English populace who took their oaths with dissimulation, both the quality of this
dissimulation and the government's knowledge of this dissimulation serve to
illuminate the regime's strategy for implementing its reformation and the success of
this strategy. As such, we do not ask these questions in vain.

Who Swore and Why Those Who Refused Did So

The overwhelming majority of Englishmen took the oath of succession. Only
a handful refused to swear. This is the most striking feature of the response to the oath
of succession. Of more importance than the decision to take or refuse the oath of
succession is the question of why people decided to accept or decline the oath. The
justification behind their action elucidates how they perceived the oath, more
particularly whether or not they considered the oath of succession to bind their

consciences to the controversial rejection of papal jurisdiction and the establishment of
royal supremacy. Unfortunately, except for a few hints that came out during the
Pilgrimage of Grace (discussed in chapter six), the surviving sources give us no
insight into the rationale behind the decision of the majority of the English populace to
take the oath of succession. The more extensive documents concerning those few who
refused the oath are also often silent on the motivation behind the refusal. For
example, we do not know why Dr. Nicholas Wilson (Henry's one time confessor),
James Holywell (a scrivener), or Thomas Leighton and Jeffray Hodeshon (two monks
of the Mountgrace Charterhouse) initially refused to swear to the succession.
Yet we are fortunate in that the reasons for refusing the oath can be
reconstructed for a few high profile nonjurors. It is apparent that some of the people
who declined to swear the oath of succession did so because they believed that
Henry's marriage to Katherine of Aragon was valid. Katherine and Mary obviously
refused the oath for this reason. Katherine had no desire to declare her marriage to
Henry illegitimate. Mary did not want to declare herself a bastard. We can safely
deduce that those associated with these two women, such as Kathrine's Spanish
servants, Richard Barker (a priest in Lincoln who was a protege of Katherine), Mary's
maid Anne Husee, and Mary's longtime schoolmaster Richard Featherstone, refused
the oath in defense of Katherine and Mary. The king's rejection of his marriage to
Katherine was also the sticking point in the London Charterhouse's initial refusal of
the oath of succession. Prior John Houghton told the commissioners that he did not
know how Henry's long-standing marriage to Katherine, which was approved by
canon law, could be declared invalid. Eventually, royal agents convinced Houghton

For information on the refusal of the oath of succession by Wilson, see Hall's Chronicle, 815; Statutes
of the Realm, 26 Hen. 8, c. 22, 3:527. For Holywell, see NA SP1/92, fol. 172r (LP, VIII 763). For
Leighton and Hodeshon, see NA SP1/85, fol. 20r (LP, VII 932).
For information on the refusal of the oath of succession by Katherine's Spanish servants, see LP, VII
690, 696, 726, 786, 809. For Richard Barker, see Margaret Bowker, The Henrician Reformation: The
Diocese of Lincoln under John Longland, 1521-1547 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981),
138. For Husee, see LP, VII 530, 662, 1036, 1497. For Featherstone, see Statutes of the Realm, 26
Hen. 8, c. 22, 3:537; Bernard, King's Reformation, 574-575.

and his house "that no matter of faith was involved" in the oath of succession. One
Gervase Shelby cited a similar excuse in his refusal to swear the oath:
That his Conscience grevid hym sore/ to take the othe . . . Sainge/ that his
grace hath broken the Sacrament of matrimonie/ also sainge When his grace/
went ouer the Sees/ that he went to Rome vnto the pope/ to haue his fauoure/ to
marie with oure Soueraigne ladie quen Anne/ & the pope wolde gyue hym no
licence/ nere his councell/ Wherfor me thynkith it apittiefull case to be sworne
Thus, although we cannot be sure of all the reasons why those who refused the oath of
succession made their stand, Henry's renunciation of his marriage to Katherine comes
forth as one motive.
Disapproval of Henry's divorce was also one of the reasons why Henry's two
greatest opponents, Bishop John Fisher and Sir Thomas More, refused to take the oath
of succession, though the cases of Fisher and More are complicated by many other
possible explanations. What is clear is that the altered succession alone did not offend
the consciences of Fisher and More. In a letter to Cromwell recounting his refusal of
the oath, Fisher averred that any prince could with the consent of his commons appoint
any succession he wanted. Accordingly, Fisher recounted: "I was content to be sworn
unto that part of the othe ass concernyng the succession. This is a veray trowth, ass
God help my sowl att my most neede. All be itt I refused to swear to sum other
parcels, bycause that my conscience wold not serve me so to doo."5 The author of
"The Life of Fisher" confirmed that Fisher was prepared to swear "some part therof'
but not the oath of succession in its entirety unless he could "frame yt with other
condicions and in other sort then it now standeth."6 In a letter to his daughter
Margaret Roper on April 17, 1534, Thomas More expressed a similar sentiment:
But as for myself in good faith my conscience so moved me in the matter, that
though I would not deny to swear to the succession, yet unto the oath that there

Chauncy, Passion and Martyrdom (1570), 63. Thompson andKnowles' supposition that the London
Charterhouse did not see the preamble to the act of succession is pure speculation; Thompson,
Carthusian Order, 382; Knowles, Religious Orders, 3:229.
NA SP1/76, fol. 200r (LP, VI 634incorrectly placed in 1533 by LP). Also see Elton, Policy and
Police, 279-280.
BL Cotton MS. Cleopatra E vi, fol. 172 (LP, VII 1563). This letter is printed in Strype, Cranmer, 692
and in John Bruce, "Observations on the Circumstances which Occasioned the Death of Fisher, Bishop
of Rochester, "A rchaeologia 25 (1834): 93.
The Life of Fisher, 12:136.

was offered me I could not swear without the jeoparding of my soul to
perpetual damnation. . . . Surely as to swear to the succession 1 see no peril, but
I thought and think it reason, that to mine own oath I look well myself, and be
of counsel also in the fashion, and never intended to swear for a piece [part],
and set my hand to the whole oath.
Clearly, there was something else in the oath of succession besides the succession
itself that offended More and Fisher.
But what was it in the oath that so upset More and Fisher's consciences?
William Rastall, a nephew of Thomas More who was also a lawyer, reported that
More and Fisher were wrongfully imprisoned "bycause the othe contaigned more
thinges then were warranted by the acte of succession."8 According to William
Roper, More's son-in-law, More himself wrote that he was committed to the Tower
"for refusing of this oath not agreeable to the statute."9 Of course, our main problem
here is that the first Act of Succession did not stipulate the exact form of the oath.
Since we do not know what form of the oath of succession More and Fisher were
tendered, we are unable to make a definitive judgment on what part of the oath went
beyond the act and offended More and Fisher. It is possible and even likely that More
and Fisher were tendered the same form of the oath as taken in the House of Lords on
March 31 or the form of the oath attached to the Commissioners in Sussex dated on
April 20.10 The section of these two oaths that most clearly departs from the Act of
Succession is the now familiar rejection of any previous oath to the pope or to any
other foreign body. Fisher certainly might have had qualms about this section of the
oath of succession considering his episcopal oath of canonical obedience to the pope,
but why would More, a layman, have troubled his conscience over an oath to the pope
that he had almost certainly never sworn?
In answer to this question, Stanford Lehmberg has proposed that in the oath of
succession, the person swore not only to repudiate previous oaths sworn to the pope or
any other foreign authority but also to "renounce the power of any 'foreign authority

Thomas More, The Last Letters of Thomas More, ed. Alvaro de Silva (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans,
2000), 58, 61.
The Life of Fisher, 12:253.
William Roper, A Man of Singular Virtue: Being a Life of Sir Thomas More by His Son-In-Law
William Roper and a Selection of More's Letters, ed. A.L. Rowse (London: Folio Society, 1980), 81.
Both of these oaths are in Appendix D.

or potentate.'"" The equivocal wording of the oath of succession makes Lehmberg's
claim hard to substantiate. The oath reads:
Ye shall swear to bear your Faith, Truth, and Obedience, alonely to the King's
Majesty And to the Heirs of his Body, according to the Limitation and
Rehearsal within this Statute of Succession above specified, and not to any
other within this Realm, nor foreign Authority, Prince or Potentate; And in
case any Oath be made, or hath been made, by you, to any other Person or
Persons, that then you to repute the same as vain and annihilate;
The syntax of the oath makes it ambiguous whether one is to swear "not to any other .
. ." or whether one is to swear to bear obedience "not to any other . . ." If the clause
starting with "not to any other" is modifying the verb "to swear", then the person
taking the oath is renouncing only a previous oath to the pope. If this clause is
modifying the verb "to bear", then the person taking the oath is renouncing all
obedience to the pope. The rest of the oath of succession seems to suggest (in
opposition to Lehmberg) that the former interpretation is correct. The clause
preceding "not to any other . . ." ("according to the Limitation and Rehearsal within
this Statute of Succession above specified") is clearly modifying the verb "to swear",
and the clause following "not to any other . . ." also refers to the swearing of an oath to
the pope. In the end, however, it is impossible to make a definitive judgment on this.
The language of the oath of succession (perhaps by design) is simply too opaque.
Geoffrey Elton observed that another section of the form of the oath of
succession administered in the House of Lords that may have offended More and
Fisher was the promise to observe "all other Acts and Statutes made since the
Beginning of this present Parliament, in Confirmation or for due Execution of the
same [act of succession]."13 If More and Fisher interpreted this clause as binding their
consciences to all Parliamentary statutes passed since 1529, there was much at which
to take offense. For example, the act forbidding papal dispensations and the payment
of Peter's Pence of March, 1534 referred to Henry as the "supreme hede of the Church
Englonde," recognizing "noo superior under God but only your Grace," and it attacked
the pope for his "usurpacion" and his "abusyng," "begylyng," "pretendyng and

Lehmberg, Reformation Parliament, 203.

Journal of the House of Lords, 1:82.
Elton, Policy and Police, 224.

perswadyng" the English people "that he hath full power to dispence with all humayne
lawes uses and customes of all Realmes."14 Yet Elton's point is mitigated by the fact
that the text of the oath from the House of Lords did not simply bind the swearer to
"all other Acts and Statutes made since the Beginning of this present Parliament," but
rather to "all other Acts and Statutes made since the Beginning of this present
Parliament, in Confirmation or for due Execution of the sameT This qualifying phrase
made the oath less inclusive, for was the act against Peter's Pence really "made in
confirmation" of the Act of Succession? Hence, this qualifying phrase makes it less
likely that More, a brilliant lawyer well aware of the power of qualifying phrase, was
offended by this section of the oath.15
Cranmer provides us with another possible reason why More and Fisher
rejected the oath of succession. Cranmer reminded Cromwell "that my lord Rochester
and master More were contented to be sworn to the Act of the king's succession, but
not the preamble of the same."1 Cranmer then asked Cromwell if Henry would be
satisfied to swear them simply to the act and not to the preamble. Elton dismissed this
observation, arguing that since More claimed "the oath went beyond the demands of
the act" and "the act plainly states that an oath to 'its whole effects and contents'

(which includes the preamble) was required," Cranmer had misunderstood More.
Yet Cranmer's letter contained another supposition. While Cranmer admitted he was
ignorant of "the cause of their refusal," he deduced "it must needs be either the
diminution of the authority of the bishop of Rome, or else the reprobation of the king's
first pretensed matrimony."18 Again, Elton pointed out that the preamble to the oath
of succession "has nothing very anti-papal to say."19 This is certainly true, but we

Statutes of the Realm, 25 Hen. 8, c. 21, 3:464-465.
Elton's claim that in the oath of succession legislated by the November, 1534 session of Parliament
"the dubious clause about the other acts is missing: takers of the oath are to swear only to the Act of
Succession and other acts 'made in confirmation or for the execution of the same'" is thus misleading;
Elton, Policy and Police, 224. Both the oath taken in the House of Lords in March and the oath
legislated in November contained the phrase "made in confirmation or for the execution of the same."
Miscellaneous Writings and Letters of Thomas Cranmer, 285-286.
Elton, Policy and Police, 223.
Miscellaneous Writings and Letters of Thomas Cranmer, 286.
Elton, Policy and Police, 223.

cannot so easily dismiss Cranmer's observation, especially since Cromwell wrote back
to Cranmer that the king thought:
that if their othe should be so taken [without the preamble] it were an occasion
to all men to refuse the hole or at the lest the lyke ffor in case they be sworn to
the succession and not to the preamble it is to be thought that it might be taken
not onlie as a confirmacion of the Bishop of Rome his auctoryte and but also as
a reprobacion of the fringes second mariage.
Why could swearing to the succession without the preamble be taken as a
confirmation of the pope's authority if the preamble was not anti-papal?
One possible answer to this question is that More and Fisher may have been
shown a version of the "preamble" that contained text not in the "preamble" of the
actual statute. It is even possible that the "preamble" shown More and Fisher
contained references to Henry's supremacy or the famous clause "the bishop of Rome
had no greater authority in England than any other foreign bishop." This clause was
first raised at the end of March in Convocation. Henry asked his leading prelates to
subscribe to it sometime in April or May, and he tendered it to all his secular clergy
throughout the summer of 1534. Moreover, on April 28, Cranmer wrote that Mr.
Roodd "hath subscribed the book of the king's grace's succession, and also the
conclusion ' quod Romanus Episcopus non habet majorem auctoritatem a Deo sibi
collatam in hoc regno Angliae quam quivis alius externus episcopus.'" Therefore,
since the clergy of the realm were being tendered this clause simultaneously as the
oath of the succession, it is certainly in the realm of possibility that Fisher, a leading
prelate, had this clause attached to his oath of succession. But More was a layman.
Would this clause also have been added to his oath of succession? It is perhaps
significant that the clergy of London were tendered the oath of succession on April 13,
a week before the rest of the city. The only layman tendered the oath on April 13 was
none other than Thomas More, a point which Nicholas Harpsfield astutely emphasized

NA SP1/83, fol. 88r (LP, VII 500).

Miscellaneous Writings and Letters of Thomas Cranmer, 287.

in his Life and Death ofSr Thomas Moore. Harpsfield also contended:
And albeit in the beginning they were resolued that with an othe, not to be
acknowen whether he had to the Supremacie beene sworne, or what he thought
thereof, he should be discharged, yet did Queene Anne by her importunate
clamaur so sore exasperate the king against him that, contrary to his former
resolution, he caused the saide othe of the Supremacie to be ministred vnto
him; who albeit he made a discrete qualified answere, neuertheless was
forthwith committed to the towre.23
Harpsfield also referred to the Act of Succession as the "Statute for the othe of the
Supremacie and matrimonie," which suggests he cannot be trusted completely.
Nevertheless, it remains within the realm of possibility that Fisher and More refused to
take the oath of succession because their version of the oath or preamble of the act
contained references either to Henry's supremacy or to the abrogation of papal
Cranmer's other guess, that it was "the reprobation of the king's first pretensed
matrimony" that offended Fisher and More, has even more evidence in its support.
Although the oath of succession tendered in the House of Lords made no mention of
Katherine or Anne, the preamble of the Act of Succession did "diffyntyvly clerely and
absolutely" declare and adjudge the king's first marriage to Katherine to be "agaynst
the lawes of Almyghty God" and "of noo value ne effecte, but utterlie voyde and
adnychyled." Moreover, the oath of succession attached to the commission to
Sussex, in contrast to the one taken in the House of Lords, did mention Henry's "most
dere & intyerly belouyd lawfull wyff quen anne."2 We know that both Fisher and
More had problems reconciling their conscience to the argument that Henry's first
marriage was against God's law. Roland Lee reported to Cromwell that Fisher was
"ready to make hys othe for the Succession" and to swear never to meddle more in the
validity of the king's first marriage, "but as for the case of the prohibition Leviticall,

Nicholas Harpsfield, The Life and Death ofSr Thomas Moore, Knight, Someymes Lord high
Chancellor of England, Written in the Tyme of Queene Marie . . ., ed. Elsie Vaughan Hitchcock, EETS,
o.s., 186 (London:Oxford University Press, 1932), 166. Harpsfield composed this work during the
reign of Mary. For independent verification of More being tendered the oath before the rest of the
laymen of London, see Chapuys' letter of April 16: LP, VII490.
Harpsfield, Life and Death ofSr Thomas Moore, 169.
Harpsfield, Life and Death ofSr Thomas Moore, 166.
Statutes of the Realm, 25 Hen. 8, c. 22, 3:472.
See Appendix D, II.

hys conscience is soe kyntt, that he cannot put it off frome him, whatsoeever betyde
hym." Moreover, in both of their trials, Fisher and More were asked whether they
consent, approve, and affirme [the Kinges] Highnes mariage with the moste
noble Quene Anne, [that now] is, to be good and laufull; and affirme, saye, and
pr[onounce] thother pretended mariage betwene the Kinges said High[nes and]
Lady Catherine, Princesse Dowager, was and is [unlawful], nought, and of
no[none effect] or no?28
Fisher responded that he would obey all the parts of the act of succession "saving
allweys his conscience" and swear to them, "Albe it to answer absolutely to this
interrogatorie, ye or naie, he desireth to be pardoned." More simply avoided the
question, replying "that he did never speke nor medle ayenst the same, nor therunto
make no aunswere." The fact that Fisher and More could not reconcile their
consciences with admitting Henry's marriage to Katherine was "unlawful" does not
necessarily mean that this was what offended them in the oath or preamble to the Act
of Succession, for again we do not know the exact form of the oath or preamble
tendered to Fisher and More. Nevertheless, it is the most likely option since the
Boleyn succession was connected to the invalidity of Henry's first marriage even more
intricately than it was connected to the abrogation of papal authority or rejection of
oaths to the pope.
Thus, Houghton, Shelby, Fisher, and More all rejected the oath of succession
to some extent because of its implicit or explicit (depending on the form of the oath
and one's knowledge of the preamble of the act) condemnation of Henry's marriage to
Katherine. By accepting Cranmer's verdict on the divorce and rejecting the power of
the pope to dispense with Katherine's marriage to Arthur, the oath of succession can
be seen as denying "papal authority in England" and supporting the "wholesale
renunciation in practice of papal authority." Shelby appears to have almost made
this connection, since he cited the fact that the pope had refused to give Henry a

BL Cotton MS. Cleopatra E vi, fol. 165 (LP, VII 498), printed in Strype, Cranmer, 692-693. This
letter is placed in April, 1534 by LP.
Stat Pap Pub, 1:432 (LP, VIII 867).
Stat Pap Pub, 1:432.
Stat Pap Pub, 1:436 (LP, VIII 867 (iii)).
' Lehmberg, Reformation Parliament, 197; Knowles, Religious Orders, 3:177.

license for his divorce to Katherine. Yet modern historians can make this judgment of
the oath of succession because they know what happened after the spring of 1534.
Hindsight highlights the connections between the rejection of Henry's marriage to
Katherine and Henry's religious schism. This would not have been clear to the
average English laymen in 1534. The various clerical professions that combined the
oath of succession with the clauses on papal jurisdiction and royal supremacy would
of course make this connection apparent to the clergy, but unless they were involved
in tendering these professions to the clergy, the laity would have not had knowledge of
this overlap. With the possible exception of Shelby, there is no hard evidence (simply
suggestions with Fisher and More) that anyone tendered the oath of succession took it
or refused it with the understanding that they were making a value judgment on papal
authority and royal supremacy. Indeed, we shall see in chapter six that the oaths of the
Pilgrimage of Grace were to some extent the laity's declaration that they did not
interpret the oath of succession as binding them to Henry's reformation. Knowles was
right in his observation: "Ostensibly, however, and even plausibly to contemporaries,
it [the oath of succession] was concerned solely with domestic issues, in particular the
(to the lay mind) inextricably tangled question of the divorce, and the purely practical
matter of the succession."32
If very few members of the English populace refused the oath of succession,
what was the response of the English clergy to their professions of 1534? After all,
these professions explicitly rejected papal authority and acknowledged Henry's
supremacy. Here, even more than with the oath of succession, we are faced with a
paucity of evidence. To start, it is often impossible to tell what oath is being referred
to in an offhand reference to an oath from the summer of 1534. For example, when
Edward Lord Stourton wrote to Cromwell that in the Charterhouse near Bonham seven
monks refused to take "the oath" until their prior returned from pilgrimage, we do not
know whether the oath in question was the oath of succession or the institutional
profession, much less why these monks desired to wait for the return of their prior

Knowles, Religious Orders, 3:177.

before swearing/ Our knowledge of Dr. Richard Boorde is exceptional in that we
can infer why he refused the oath, and from this can infer that he was probably
referring to the institutional profession of 1534. Boorde declared, "he would rather be
toren with woeld horsses then to assent or consent to the dyminisshinge of any one
iote of the bisshopp of Rome his aucthorite of old tyme. . . . Moreouer sayenge that if
any Iurament & othe shuld be reqired of hym to the contrarie then to flee hys cowntre,
and so hathe he don."34 There are, however, very few references to the responses of
the clergy to their professions of 1534. Particularly strange is the lack of information
on places where we would expect the institutional profession of 1534 to have
engendered vocal opposition. For instance, there is no information extant from Syon
Abbey from May, 1534 to April, 1535.35 Likewise, Chauncy's detailed narration of
the London Charterhouse skips right from the tendering of the oath of succession in
May, 1534 to the spring of 1535. Although well over one hundred institutional
professions survive from the summer and fall of 1534, we do not have a profession
from Syon, the London Charterhouse or the Mountgrace Charterhouse. One
possibility is that the king simply decided not to tender the institutional profession to
the houses where he knew he would encounter resistance. This possibility is unlikely,
for there is external evidence not in Chauncy that the London Charterhouse was
tendered the institutional profession. An incomplete table in the British Library
contains a list of various clerical institutions with a number following each institution.
By comparing the numbers listed after the institution in this document with the
surviving profession of that institution, it is clear that the list refers to the number of
clergymen who signed the institutional profession at their respective college, hospital
or monastery. (The numbers match up.) In this document, under the heading "London
dioc." the table reads "Nine Carthusians contumaciously refused to take the oath."36

NA SP1/84, fol. 172r (LP, VII 834).
NA SP1/99, fol. 198r (LP, IX 1066).
Knowles, Religious Orders, 3:216.
"Nouem Carthusiani contumacit recusarunt Iuramentum subire"; BL Cottom MS. E vi, fol. 209v (LP,
VII 891 (ii)). See also an undated letter from Peter Wattes to Cromwell in which Watts claimed that the
monks of the London Charterhouse "iuged it extreme heresie to swere vnto the maynteynyng of the
kynges gracious & helthsome actes in preiudice of the popes poere"; NA SP1/83, fol. 172' (LP, VII
577). LP placed this letter at the end of April, 1534, implying that Watts was referring to the oath of

As such, it seems that the London Charterhouse was tendered the institutional
profession of 1534, but we do not know how they responded besides other than nine of
them declined to take it.
Although this paucity of evidence prevents us from drawing any conclusions
about the response to the clerical professions of 1534, this same lack of evidence
implies that the Henrician regime was not particularly harsh in punishing those who
refused the clerical professions of 1534. With the exception of Fisher and the houses
of Franciscan Observants, the Henrician regime did not come down hard on clerical
opposition in the summer and fall of 1534. Indeed, it was not until 1535when there
is no hard evidence that any clerical institution besides the universities and the London
Charterhouse were tendered an oaththat Henry began to enforce his supremacy on
the monasteries and crack down on opposition. No statute of Parliament supported the
clerical professions of 1534, and it appears that the regime was hesitant to punish
those who refused these professions at this time. Either that or the clergy simply
cooperated docilely, an unlikely option considering their history of dissent and the
clearly radical language in their professions of 1534. The most likely explanation is
that the regime was using the clerical professions of 1534 to feel out resistance and
that it used the knowledge gained from the clerical responses to the professions of
1534 (that is, who resisted them) to select which institutions and clergymen to take
further action against in the later 1530s.

How People Took the Oaths of the Henrician Reformation

Our examination of the response to the oaths and professions of 1534 needs to
go beyond who took the oaths, who refused, and why they refused. Equally important
is how people took the oaths. According to the reports of the commissioners for the
oath of succession, most people took the oath of succession with alacrity and devotion.
John Johnson (alias Antony) reported that "moest part or all Kent have taken ther oth a

succession. Thompson, however, might also be correct in her assumption that the letter belongs in the
fall of 1534; Thompson, Carthusian Order, 385. If the letter was from the fall of 1534, Wattes was
most likely referring to the institutional profession.

cordyng to the kynges commyssyon," saving two Observant friars/ Reynold
Lytylprow glowingly described the reception of the oath in the city of Norwich: "1
thynke they wer never sen pepyll off swyche [such] wyll & delygens." Lytylprow was
particularly impressed with those under the age of sixteen: "1 thynke neber [never]
man ded se ffor they wold be swornne off ffre ffors [free force]," one to two hundred
of them even kissing the book "ffor the safyty [safety] [of] ther lobyng [loving]
myndys."38 The commissioners gave similar news from the North of England, a place
soon to be infamous for its opposition to the Henrician Reformation in the Pilgrimage
of Grace. Sir George Lawson, Treasurer of Berwick, claimed that the inhabitants of
his county "be most willyng diligent & redye to appere & to make ther othes acording
to the act of parliament & the kinges commissions." Sir William Gascoygne,
writing from Yorkshire, boasted: "the people in ther mooste humbly maner haith
resceved & taken ther othes even according to ther dewties lyke trew subgettes."40
Likewise, William Maunsell, Under Sheriff of Yorkshire, wrote to the Cromwell that
the king's subject in Yorkshire had taken their oaths "with as humble obedience &
ffeithfull myn[d]es as eue[er] did any subiectes holy."41
The commissioners for the oath of succession, however, were probably biased.
It was in their best interests to show how loyal their county was rather than to disclose
foot dragging and risk a reprimand for poor government. Ambassador Chapuys
painted a very different picture of how the English people swore the oath of
succession. Chapuys wrote that the oath Henry forced upon his subjects to observe the
laws against Katherine in favor of Anne "only irritates them the more."42 He claimed
that "the whole people had given [their oaths of succession] with great ill will."43 Of
course, Chapuys was even more biased than the commissioners but in the opposite
direction. (One of Chapuys' main goals was to persuade Charles V to invade England.
It made sense for Chapuys to depict the English people as detesting Henry's

NA SP1/88, fol. 146' (LP, VII App. 27).
NA SP1/88, fol. 148r (LP, VII App. 29).
NA SP1/88, fol. 141r (LP, VII App. 23).
NA SP1/88, fol. 145r (LP, VII App. 26).
NA SP1/88, fol. 143r (LP, VII App. 24).
LP, VII 530.
LP, VII 690.

innovations, for then Chapuys could more easily persuade Charles that the English
people would flock to his banner once Charles landed.) The truth probably lies
somewhere between the reports of the commissioners and Chapuys. Most people
probably took the oath of succession simply and sincerely since it was ostensibly
rather innocuous, but a small number of them undoubtedly did take it "with great ill
will." Friar John Hylsey, Henry's commissioner to tender the friars their profession,
recognized this when he wrote: "1 haue not founde anny rellygyas persons in my
vysytacon that hathe utterly denyede and refusyde the othe to be obedyente trew/ and
agreable un to the kyngs hyghe pleasure and wyll/ yett I haue fownde some that hathe
sworne wythe an evyll wyll and slenderly hathe takyn an othe to be obedyent."
What did it mean to take an oath "wythe an evyll wyll and slenderly"? Hylsey
was probably referring to swearing the oath with some kind of machination that
allowed the swearer to save his conscience from the full force of the oath. We have
seen that the use of conditional clauses and protestations nullifying the content of a
oath or profession were well established in the early 1530s. It is likely that some tried
to use the same machinations when taking the oaths and professions of 1534. For
example, Balliol College, Oxford attached the following protestation to their
institutional profession: "With the said contents having been made (praehabita) with
the protestation that we intend to do nothing against the divine law nor against the
norm of orthodox faith nor against the doctrine of our sacrosanct mother the catholic
church."45 Similarly, when Edward Field, the Master of Whittington College,
subscribed to the statement rejecting papal authority, he wrote: "I Edward Feld,
Professor of Sacred Theology, remit myself to the opinion and judgment of the
archbishop of Canterbury my ordinary" thereby placing the responsibility for his
action on Cranmer and mitigating the burden on his own conscience.46 According to

NA SP1/84, fol. 198r (LP, VII 869).
"lsta Protestatione praehabita quod nos nihil agere intendimus contra legem divinam nee contra
orthodoxae fidei normam nee contra sacrosanctae matris ecclesiae catholicae doctrinam"; NA E 25
102/3, printed in Foedera, 14:498.
"Ego, Edwardus Feld, Sanctae Tehologiae Professor, remitto me sententiae et judicio Cantuariae
Archipraesulis ordinarii mei"; NA E 36/63, pg. 102 (LP, VII 1025(H))). Brigden's claim that Feld
subscribed "with the proviso that he blamed Cranmer for this treachery" strikes me as an exaggeration;
Brigden, London and the Reformation, 226.

one version of Chauncy's narrative, the London Charterhouse took the oath of
succession with the condition "as far as was lawful."47 Equivocation, that is, the
exploitation of the ambiguity of language, may also have been attempted. According
the exiled Carthusian John Suertis, when the sacrist of the Beauvale Charterhouse
Nicolas Dugmer was offered an acknowledgment of the royal supremacy and asked
how he took the king, Dugmer replied, "I take him as God and the Holy Church take
him: and I am sure he taketh himself none otherwise."48 Yet this kind of open use of
protestations, conditional clauses, and equivocation is exceedingly rare in the
documentation of the oaths and professions of 1534. The form of the oaths and
professions of 1534 was set in advance and it is unlikely that many commissioners
would have accepted additions to the set text if these additions openly mitigated the
force of the professions.
It would have been much easier to get away with secret dissimulation since the
commissioners could not know the opinions of the swearers' hearts. The simplest
form of dissimulation was premeditated perjury, the swearing of an oath that one had
no intention of keeping. Bishop Stephen Gardiner defended himself against such an
accusation when he wrote to Cromwell: "I shuld otherwise taken thenne I am, that is
to saye, openly to swere oon thinge and pryvely to worke, saye, or doo otherwise,
wherof I was never gylty." But not everyone's conscience was as clear as
Gardiner's. Fisher's servant counseled him to take the oath of supremacy, adding "me
thinketh that is not great matter, for you lordshipp may still thinke as you list."5 Hall
reported that Nicholas Wilson, Henry's onetime confessor who was put in the Tower
at the same time as More and Fisher for refusing the oath of succession, eventually
"dissembled with the matter and so escaped."51 One John Yong highlighted the

Chauncy, Historia aliqvot (1550), sig. M4r.

Knowles, Religious Orders, 3:292. Although he did not cite his exact source, it appears Knowles
gathered this information from Leon Le Vasseur, Ephemerides ordinis Cartusiensis (Monstrolii, 1890),
265. The original Latin reads as follows: "Et cum accersitum ad se Comissarii regii examinarent, quid
sentiret de Rege supremam in causis ecclesiasticis protestatem sibis vendicante, respondit: 'Sentio de
eo, quod Deus cum sua Sancta Ecclesia sentit, et mihi persuadeo ipsusm non melius sentire de se.'
Commissarii hac responsione contenti, Patrem libertum dimiserunt."
Letters of Stephen Gardiner, 66.
The Life of Fisher, 12:159.
Hall's Chronicle, 815.

difference between the Carthusians who refused the oath and died for their constancy
and the dissimulation of the curate of Rye, Sir William Inold. Yong testified "that as
good men as true men & better then the same Inold ys weer hanged within this moneth
forasmoch as they wuld not be sworne but the kynges highnes & that the same Inold
was sworne & hath done to the Contrary."52 The subprior of the monastery of
Woburn admitted that the rejection of papal authority "causede repugnance in my
herte." He initially wanted to refuse the oath (presumably the institutional profession
of 1534), but a combination of counsel and threats by his abbot convinced him "to be
contente to swere." In spite of his oath, the subprior remained in a "blynde
scrupulositie of conscience" which led him to cite writings of the doctors in defense of
the pope and, as he confessed, "causede me many tymes to modifye my declaracions
of your [Henry's] iustlye recognishede Suppremitie and also of the Bishopp of rome
uniust therin vsurpacion thynkynge so to haue excusede my conscience before godde."
The subprior eventually became convinced that through his actions against his oath, he
"endangerde bothe body and sowle and brought my self in ieopardye."53 Indeed, the
kind of dissimulated swearing practiced by Wilson, Inold, and the subprior of Woburn
was almost universally decried by Catholics and Protestants alike. Committing
perjury by swearing to something against one's conscience was certainly believed "to
endanger both body and soul."
So if some Englishmen practiced dissimulation in swearing the oaths of 1530s,
how did they justify it in their consciences? Thomas More provides us with a clue in
one of his letters to his daughter Margaret Roper on his refusal to swear the oath of
And some might hap to frame himself a conscience and think that while he did
it for fear God would forgive it. And some may peradventure think that they
will repent, and be shriven thereof, and that so God shall remit it them. And
some may be peradventure of that mind, that if they say one thing and think the
while the contrary, God more regardeth their heart than their tongue, and that
therefore their oath goeth upon that they think, and not upon that they say, as a
women reasoned once, I trow, Daughter, you were by.54

NA SP1/92, fol. 183r (LP, VIII 776).
NA SP1/104, fol. 227r-228r (LP, X 1239).
Last Letters of Thomas More, 79.

In other words, some people believed that God judged them by what they thought, no
matter how contrary the words they actually swore were to their hearts. This opinion
was clearly divergent from the standard Augustinian belief that "He lies, moreover,
who holds one opinion in his mind and who gives expression to another through words
or any other outward manifestation."55 This use of dissimulation was first defended
by the Spanish theologian Sylvester in his Summa summarum of 1515, but the kind of
swearing to which More referred was not vocally espoused in England until the use of
mental reservation by the English Jesuits after 1580.5
Nevertheless, if no one in England in the 1530s openly condoned the practice
of swearing one thing with one's words and another with one's mind, some certainly
practiced it at this time. When the remaining monks of the London Charterhouse
finally gave in and swore the oath of supremacy in May, 1537, they first prayed to
Nor is it hidden from thee, O God, Thou searcher of hearts, how contrary to the
law of our mind is the consent which we are constrained to give. . . . We
beseech thee therefore of thy inexhaustible goodness mercifully to pardon thy
servants for the sin which, though heart and conscience resist, we are about to
commit with our lips.57
When John Stanton confessed to the priest Sir George Roland that "we be sworn vnto
the kynges grace & hath all Redy abiured the pope," Roland replied, "an othe Losly
made may losly be brokyn." Roland gave the analogy of when a friend makes him
share a drink of reconciliation with his enemy. Although he may drink with his
enemy, he does not actually forgive his enemy in his heart. Roland concluded: "And
so in lyke wyse vppon this othe concerning the abiuracyon of the pope I wyll not
abiure hym in my harte."58 Likewise, the Observant Franciscan Friar Forest
infamously confessed that "he had denyed the busshop of Rome by an othe, geven by

Augustine, Lying (De mendacio), trans. Sarah Muldowney, in St Augustine: Treatises on Various
Subjects, 55.
Sommerville, "New Art of Lying," 172.
Chauncy, Passion and Martyrdom (1570), 121.
NA SP1/102, fol. 67v (LP, X 346).

his outwarde man but not in thinwarde man." An anonymous writer from the time
of Henry VIII accused Hugh Cook, Abbot of Reading, of using a similar shift.
Allegedly, when "the Spiritualitie were swore to take the kynges grace for the supreme
hed immedately next vnder god of this church of yngland," Cook took the oath but
added "pretyly in his owne conscience these words following of the Temporall church
. . . but not of the spirituall church."10 Dan Laurance Bloneham used another kind of
dissimulation. When his fellows monks of Woburn reported to the Henrician regime
that Bloneham claimed that he "was never sworne to forsake the pope to owr hed and
never wilbe," Bloneham confessed: "At the first tyme that I whas sworne I dyd not ley
my hande apon the booke & kyse yt but whas ouer passyde by resone of mouche
company. & afterward sayd onwhysely I whas not sworne."61 We do not know if the
machinations used by the London Carthusians, Roland, Forest, Cook, and Bloneham
were exceptional or merely the tip of a submerged iceberg. Dissimulation is by
definition secret. Nevertheless, these examples do demonstrate that not everyone took
the professions of 1534 in a straightforward, honest manner.
Obscure monks and parish priests were not the only ones to use dissimulation
when making their professions. There are indications that none other than Mary
Tudor, the future monarch of England, utilized such shifts. Although Mary's story is
so convoluted that we cannot be certain what actually happened, the letters relating to
her submission illustrate the variety of ways one could submit while still saving one's
conscience. Her story is thus worth a detailed examination.
After Henry received his divorce in 1533, he quickly began trying to get Mary
to renounce her title of princess. Mary staunchly resisted. The passage of the Act of
Succession upped the ante, for now Henry had statutory authorization to tender Mary
an official oath and to charge her with misprision of treason if she refused. Sometime
in April, Cromwell wrote a remembrance to himself "to send the copy of the act of the

NA SP1/132, fol. 124' (LP, XIII 1043). For an excellent contextualization of this episode, see Peter
Marshall, "Papist as Heretic: The Burning of John Forest, 1538," Historical Journal 41 (1998): 351-
NA SP1/155, fol. 61 r (LP, XIV (ii) 613).
NA SP1/132, fols. 11', 78v-79r, \ 56'(LP, XIII 981, 1086).
See for example LP, VI 1249, 1296, 1594; LP, VII 296, 393.

King's succession to the princess and the lady Mary, with special commandment that
it may be read in their presence and their answer taken."63 Also in April, pressure was
brought to bear on Mary by restricting her to her chamber and imprisoning her maid in
the Tower until her maid, under duress, took the oath of succession.64 Although
Chapuys wrote on May 19 that if Mary continued to resist, Henry would bring the
penalties of the statute of succession against her, she was evidently not officially
tendered the oath at this time.65 On January 1, 1535, Chapuys recounted:
The Princess has been informed that, by virtue of the statute lately passed,
which has been made more severe against those who refuse to swear and
acknowledge the second marriage, after these holydays she must renounce her
title and take the oath, and that on pain of her life she must not call herself
Princess or her mother Queen, but that if ever she does she will be sent to the
Tower. She will never change her purpose, not the Queen either.66
Chapuys was probably referring to the Treason Act, which did not actually prescribe a
specific penalty for refusing the oath of succession. Nevertheless, sometime at the end
of January or the beginning of February, Mary wrote to Chapuys that she "was
informed on good authority that the King was determined again to attempt to make the
Princess swear to the statutes passed against her mother and herself, and, on her
refusal, would immediately put her to death, or at least to prison for life." Again, the
king was apparently bluffing. As in 1534, Mary was not administered an oath in 1535
and stood firm in her resistance without any sign of dissimulation.
Matters began to heat up again at the end of 1535 and beginning of 1536. This
time, Mary began to contemplate dissimulation. At the end of December, Emperor
Charles V wrote Chapuys a letter detailing the reasons why Mary and Katherine
should continue to avoid swearing to Henry's statutes. Charles also counseled,
however, that they should take their oaths rather than lose their lives, while protesting
that they did so out of fear. Charles claimed that such a form of protestational
swearing would not prejudice their rights, and he promised to see to it that a

LP, V I I 420.
LP, VII 530, 662.
LP, VII 690; David Loades, Mary Tudor: A Life (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989), 89-90.
LP, V I I I 1.
LP, VIII 189.

protestation to this effect would be made for them in Rome.' By January of 1536,
Mary again informed Chapuys that Henry was about to summon her before royal
councilors to give her oath and begged Chapuys' advice. At this time, Chapuys told
her to declare "that she was a poor and simple orphan" without understanding of laws
and canons and to beg them to "have pity on her weakness and ignorance." She could
also argue that it was not customary to swear fealty to queens. Soon, however,
Chapuys passed on Charles' advice and counseled Mary:
to save her life, on which depended the peace of the realm and the redress of
the great disorders which prevail her, she must do everything and dissemble for
some time, especially as the protestations made and the cruel violence shown
her preserved her rights inviolate and likewise her conscience, seeing that
nothing was required expressly against God or the articles of Faith, and God
regarded more the intention than the act.70
Yet Mary was saved from having to choose between swearing with dissimulation or
forfeiting her life. Henry again backed down. On February 10, Chapuys reported that
the king had dropped the issue of the oath and began to treat Mary more favorably.
By the spring of 1536, Mary felt confident seeking the favor of Cromwell and
the king. Katherine had passed away in January, and on May 18, Henry executed
Anne Boleyn. One of the main points of conflict between Mary and Henry was now
moot. On June 1, Mary wrote to Henry, beseeching his forgiveness for general
offenses and confessing that "next unto God, I do and will submit me in all things to
your goodness and pleasure to do with me whatsoever shall please your Grace."72
Mary had chosen her words carefully. She framed them in a way that avoided giving
judgment on Henry's first marriage or the king's supremacy. The condition "next to
God" was also significant. On June 10, she again wrote the king begging his
forgiveness and submitting to him "next to Almighty God."73 She also wrote to

LP, v m 1035.
LP,X 141.
LP, XI 7.
Loades, Mary Tudor: A Life, 93 {LP, X 282).
BL Cotton MS Ortho C x, fol. 278 {LP, X 1022). The correspondence between Mary, Henry, and
Cromwell of 1536 are collected in this manuscript. Most of them are printed in Thomas Hearne (ed.),
Sylloge epistolarum a variis Angliae principibus scriptarum, in Titi Livii Foro-Juliensis vita Henrici
Quinti, regis Angliae (Oxford, 1716). This particular letter is on pages 147-148 of Hearne.
Hearne, Sylloge, 124-125 {LP, X 1109).

Cromwell that she would do her duty to the king "God and my conscience not
offended." She claimed:
I have done the uttermost, that my conscience will suffer me; and I do neither
desire nor intend to do less than 1 have done. But if I be put to any more, (I am
plain with you as with my great friend) my said conscience will in no wayes
suffer me to consent thereunto. And this point except, you nor any other shall
be so much desirous to have me obey the King in all things, as I shall be ready
to fullfill the same.74
Cromwell evidently believed that Mary had deliberately inserted these conditional
clauses so as to maintain her obstinate opinions on Henry's first marriage and his
supremacy while ostensibly submitting to the king. Mary retorted:
And whereas I do perceive by your letters, that you do mislike mine exception
in my letter to the King's Grace, I assure you, I did not mean as you do take it.
For I do not mistrust, that the King's goodness will move me to any thing,
which should offend God and my Conscience. But that which I did write was
only by the reason of continual custome. For I have allwayes used both in
writing and speaking to except God in all things.75
It seems clear that Mary was trying to mitigate her submission through the use of
conditional clauses and equivocation.
Henry, by now well versed in the use of conditional clauses and equivocation,
would have none of it. He responded by drawing up a set of "greate and weightye"
questions and articles and demanding that Mary respond to them in writing. In these
articles, Mary was to recognize Henry as the sovereign emperor of the realm as well as
all his laws and statutes. She was to acknowledge him as "supreme hedde in erthe
vnder chr[ist of the] churche of England" and to renounce the usurped jurisdiction of
the Bishop of Rome as well as all his laws and decrees. Finally, she was to admit that
Henry's marriage to Katherine had been incestuous and unlawful.7 There was no
room for vague, equivocal submissions with conditional clauses in this document.

Hearne, Sylloge, 125 (LP, X 1108).
Hearne, Sylloge, 126-127 (LP, X 1129).
1 believe that BL Cotton MS. Ortho C x, fols. 257Ar-257Bv (263r -264v pencil) is a copy of these
articles. Loades, as far as I can tell, agrees: Loades, The Reign of Mary Tudor: Politics, Government,
and Religion in England, 1553-1558 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1979), 19.

When the royal commissioners (the Duke of Norfolk, the Earl of Sussex, and the

bishop of Chichester) disclosed this document to Mary, she angrily refused to sign it.
When Cromwell got word of Mary's refusal, he was exasperated and
composed a scathing rebuke, emphasizing Mary's equivocation. Cromwell disclosed
that he had often assured the king that Mary would submit "in all things, without
exception and qualification, to obey to his [Henry's] pleasure and laws." Cromwell
was now ashamed of what he had told Henry about Mary. In frustration, he vented:
"Wherefore, Madam, to be plain with you, as God is my witnes, like as I think you the
most obstinate woman, all things considered, that ever was." He would give her one
last chance. Enclosed with his letter, Cromwell set Mary a sent of articles to which he
desired her subscription, adding "so as you will in semblable manner conceive it in
your heart without dissimulation." Moreover, he required her to write a letter
"declaring, that you think in heart, that you have subscribed with hand."78 Cromwell
wanted an unambiguous submission with no hint of dissimulation.
Finally, on June 22, Mary submitted. She subscribed to a set of articles that
explicitly recognized Henry as the supreme head of the church, rejected papal
authority and jurisdiction, and declared Henry's first marriage incestuous and
unlawful. Furthermore, complying with Cromwell's instructions, she wrote an
accompanying letter to Henry. This letter was extremely obsequious and servile. In it,
Mary confessed that she wrote "of the bottom my heart and stomack." She
acknowledged that she had offended Henry for not submitting to his just and virtuous
laws, and she put herself entirely at Henry's mercy. Concerning the articles to which
she had subscribed, she wrote: "I shall never beseech your Grace to have pity and
compassion of me, if ever you shall perceive, that I shall prevyly or apertly vary or
alter from one piece of that I have written and subscribed, or refuse to comfirm, ratifie,
or declare the same, where your Majestie shall appoint me." Finally, she professed to

Loades, Mary Tudor: A Life, 101; The chronology here is somewhat confused. See Loades, Reign of
Mary Tudor, 19-20.
Hearne, Sylloge, 137-138 (LP, X 1110). Loades suggests that this letter may never have been sent;
Loades, Mary Tudor: A Life, 102.
A copy of Mary's submission is BL Harleian MS. 283, fols. 11 l v -l 12r. It is printed in Hearne,
Sylloge, 142-143 (LP, X 1137).

"put my soul into your direction, and by the same hath and will in all things from
henceforth direct my conscience." On June 26, Mary sent another letter to Henry in
which she declared that her heart would "never altar, vary, or change from that
confession and submission, which 1 have made unto your Highness in the presence of
Q 1

your council and other attending upon the same." For the rest of 1536, Mary
continued to submit humbly to Henry and repeatedly profess her devotion. For
example, on July 21, she wrote that Henry would always find her "true, faithfull, and
obedient to you and yours, as your Majestie and your lawes have and shall limit unto
me without alteration, till the hour of my death."82
Mary's final submission and her subsequent letters of 1536 suggest that Mary
had utterly capitulated to Henry. She had abandoned all forms of equivocation or
dissimulation and had submitted herself simply and wholly. But was Mary's
capitulation genuine? Her behavior for the rest of Henry's reign suggested that it was.
Mary's household was restored, she found favor at court, and she became friends with
Henry's later wives, Jane Seymour and Catherine Parr. If Mary's submission was
made with a feigned heart, she threw herself into her role of the penitent daughter with
a convincing zeal that appears to have satisfied those around her.
Ambassador Chapuys, however, had a different opinion of Mary's submission.
Chapuys reported that Mary signed her submission without reading it. Moreover,
Chapuys narrated:
For her better excuse I had previously sent her the form of the protestation she
must make apart. I had also warned her that she must in the first place
endeavor to secure the King's pardon (grace), and, if possible, not give her
approval to the said statutes except so far as she could do so agreeably to God
and her conscience, or that she should promise only not to infringe the said
statutes without expressing approval. 3
Mary had apparently put these strategies into practice with her first submissions. We
know, however, that neither the king nor Cromwell would tolerate them. The articles

Hearne, Sylloge, 140-142 (LP, X 1136).

Hearne, Sylloge, 128-129 (LP, X 1203).
Hearne, Sylloge, 131 (LP, XI 132).
LP, XI 7.

Mary signed were unequivocal. Chapuys continued:
After the Princess had signed the document she was much dejected, but I
immediately relieved her of every doubt, even of conscience, assuring her that
the Pope would not only not impute to her any blame, but would hold it rightly
done. . . . She has also desired me to write to your Majesty's ambassador at
Rome to procure a secret absolution from the Pope, otherwise her conscience
could not be at perfect ease.84
Then on October 7 and 8, Chapuys wrote that Henry, concerned about imperial or
papal support of the new rebellion in Lincolnshire, was now forcing Mary to write
letters to Charles, Mary of Hungary, and the pope that "she had of her own free will,
without compulsion or fear of any sort, suggestion, impression, respect, or regard for
any person whomsoever" submitted sincerely to Henry.85 Chapuys assured Charles V
and Cifuentes (Charles' ambassador in Rome) that Mary herself had told him she
wrote these letters for fear of her life and that there was "no truth whatsoever in them."
Mary had again safeguarded her conscience:
If your Lordship [Cifuentes] does not know of it already, I can tell you that for
a long time back Her Highness has, by my advice, applied such a remedy and
drawn such protests for the safeguarding of her right that I do not think any
more are required. To the protest formerly made the Princess herself has since
added, after consulting over the matter with me, certain clauses and words
which render all other precautions perfectly useless.
It is clear that both Chapuys and Charles believed that Mary's submission was
Finally, it is worth pointing out that Mary's submission of 1536 contained no
oath. She never swore the oath of succession nor any oath of supremacy. Whenever
Mary believed Henry was going to tender her an oath, she had stood firm, resisting
absolutely. It was only when the matter of oaths was dropped that she began to use
equivocation and conditional clauses. Her final submission, while unequivocal, was
not made before God. If Mary's final submission was made with a feigned heart,
perhaps this contributed to Mary's willingness to dissimulate and subscribe to the

LP, XI 7. Mary did not receive her secret papal absolution. The Imperial ambassador in Rome
(Cifuentes) reported to Chapuys that he would not approach the pope for it, since if the pope knew that
Mary desired absolution, the French would soon know as well. The French, in turn, would inform
Henry, and then Mary's life would be in danger; Cal SP Spain, V (II), 106.
Cal. SP Spain, V (II), 104, 105.
Ca/. SP Spain, V(U), 105.

articles. Even if Mary did submit genuinely with a true heart, her story illustrates that
dissimulation was certainly an option when faced with the oaths and professions of the
1530s. It was counseled by no less than the most powerful monarch in the Christian
world, and Henry and Cromwell's response to Mary's initial, vague, and conditional
submissions indicates that they were well aware of its practice.
Mary was not the only person of rank to be suspected of dissimulation.
Rumors were rampant concerning Henry's bishops. Roland Lee Bishop of Coventry
and Litchfield reported that Robert Sherborne Bishop of Chichester used "not a littill
dissimulacion" and recommended that Sherborne be summoned to court to swear the
oath in person.87 Chapuys reported that Cuthbert Tunstall Bishop of Durham "has
been forced to swear like the others, although he spoke with certain restrictions and
reservations." The king was certainly suspicious of Tunstall. Once the Act of
Succession passed, Tunstall was ordered to come to court to swear the oath of
succession in person. At the same time, royal agents ransacked his residence in search
of incriminating letters. After Tunstall had sworn, the king wrote to him a letter
accusing him of looking "for a newe world or mutation," that is, a time when the
Henry would be laid low and papal authority reestablished in England.90 The same
writer who attacked Friar Forest and Abbot Cook for their use of mental reservation
accused Bishop Stokesley of London of the same practice:
I cannot think the contrary but the old bishop of londen whan he was a ly ve,
used the pretty medicine that his fellow fryer forest was wont to use and to
work with an inward man and an outward man that is to say to speake one
thing with theyr mowth and th[en] another thing with theyr hart.
Henry also suspected the influential humanists Thomas Starkey and Reginald Pole
(eventually Henry's arch-nemesis) of using dissimulation, though of course Pole never
swore any oath to Henry. Starkey wrote to Cromwell: "loth I wold be that any other

NA SP1/84, fol. 101r (LP, VII 759). See above, page 133 of chapter three for more exposition on this
"II a este contrainct de jurer comme les autres, bien que Ion dit que avec certainnes restrictions et
reservations"; Cal SP Spain, V (1) 58 (LP, VII 690).
Chibi, Henry VIII's Bishops, 169.
Henry's letter does not survive, but Tunstall's letter in his defense leaves us no doubt of the content
of the king's letter. For Tunstall's letter, see BL Cotton MS. Cleopatra E vi, fols. 247r-248r.
NA SP1/155, fol. 6 0 " (LP, XIV (2) 613).

man schold hire or perceyue that the kyng schold have me in suspycyon of any
dyssymilutyor wyth hym, the wych thyng I perceyvyd." Starkey pledged to
Cromwell: "to you I am open & playn I promyse you, that you schal neuer fynd me
faynyd man and of thys one thyng I schal assur you."92 Starkey also assured Henry
and Cromwell that no matter what Henry had heard, Pole would disclose his mind to
Henry on the royal supremacy without dissimulation: "I boldly haue asfyrmyd, both to
the kyngys hyghnes so also to Maistur secretory, that hyt [Pole's answer] schalbe
vnfaynyd & pure, wythout cloke of dyssymulatyon, of the wych syncere lugement in
you the kyng ys desyouse, by cause per auentur in some other hys grace hath byn
therin deceyuyd."93 Although there is no supporting evidence that any of these
bishops or humanists actually used dissimulation, the fact that peopleeven Henry
himselfsuspected them of it is nonetheless significant.
Indeed, by the summer of 1535, it seems that Henry and his leading advisers
were keenly aware of the practice of dissimulation. This probably helps to explain
why he tendered all his bishops another profession in February and March of 1535. In
his proclamation enforcing the statutes abolishing papal authority of June, 1535,
Henry ordered all his sheriffs to watch their bishops closely to make sure they
preached Henry's supremacy "truly, sincerely, and without all manner cloak, color, or
dissimulation." If any bishop or ecclesiastical person did "omit and leave undone any
part or parcel of the premises, or else in the execution and setting forth of the same do
coldly and unfeignedly use any manner sinister addition, wrong interpretation, or
painted colors," the sheriffs were to inform the crown immediately. When Henry
tendered the universities their new profession in the fall of 1535, he added the clause
to the oath whereupon the person made his oath "persuaded and seduced to this, not
coerced by force or fear, nor with any trick or other sinister machination, but from our
certain knowledge, with resolved minds and just and voluntary wills, purely, willingly,

NA'SPl/92, fols. 45r-46' (LP, VIII 575).

BL Cotton MS. Cleopatra E vi, fol. 358r (LP, VIII 801). My italics.
Hughes and Larkin, Tudor Royal Proclamations, 1:231-232.

and absolutely." This clause was clearly designed to prevent taking the oath with
dissimulation. Henry was suspicious. Chapuys was right in his observation at the end
of 1534 that "the king does not trust greatly the oath that he has forced people to make
about the validity of his last marriage and the succession."

We are now better able to answer the question of how people responded to the
oaths and professions of 1534. The overwhelming majority of the English people took
the oath of succession, probably because there was nothing explicit in the text of the
oath on the rejection of papal authority or the establishment of royal supremacy. What
little information we have on those who did refuse the oath suggests that they refused
it because they were not willing to bind their consciences to the statement that Henry's
first marriage to Katherine was unlawful. Although the clerical professions of 1534
unambiguously renounced the papacy and acknowledged Henry's supremacy, there
are likewise very few signs of resistance to these professions. This indicates either
that the clergy were willing to reject the papacy in favor of Henry's supremacy or that
the Henrician regime was unwilling to crack down on those who balked at these
professions in 1534. It was probably a combination of both these reasons.
Furthermore, whereas the English people and clergy generally took the oaths and
professions of 1534, the manner in which some of them took these professions
allowed them to comply ostensibly while dissenting in their consciences. Some
people made their professions with conditional clauses or equivocal additions. Others
dissimulated their true opinions through a variety of devious machinations. We do not
know how prevalent these practices were, but the anxiety of the Henrician regime over
their use signifies that they were important enough to warrant royal concern.
This chapter has raised questions about the efficacy of the professions of the
Henrician Reformation. On one hand, the vast majority of English subjects took them.
On the other hand, it appears that some of them practiced dissimulation when they
"non vi aut metu coacti, dolove aut aliqua alia sinistra machinatione, ad haec inducti sive seducti, sed
ex nostris certis scientiis, animis deliberatis, merisque et spontaneis voluntatibus; pure sponte et
absolute, in verbo sacerdotii, profitemur"; See Appendix E, IV and V.
LP, Vll 1554.

took them. So how effective were the professions in accomplishing the regime's
goals? Before answering that question, we will look at one more response to the oath
of succession, the Pilgrimage of Grace. Both the actions of and the oaths sworn by the
rebels in the Pilgrimage declared their interpretation of the oath of succession. This
provides us further insight into whether the laity interpreted the oath in the same way
as the regime, which in turn allows us to evaluate better the effectiveness of the
crown's use of oaths and subscriptions to implement its reformation.

Chapter 6: Oaths and the Pilgrimage of Grace
On Monday, October 2, 1536, the clamor of the church bells in the town of
Louth, Lincolnshire shattered the morning peace. A day earlier, the townsmen of
Louth had seized the keys of the church treasure house in response to a rumor that the
impending royal visitation would lead to the confiscation of their church jewels. Now
the appearance of John Henneage, an official of the bishop of Lincoln, had spurred the
town into action. When William Moreland, late monk of the dissolved monastery of
Louth Park, arrived on the scene, he found that "a great nombre of the comyners" had
seized Henneage and were leading him to the parish church. Moreland and other
"honeste men" thrust themselves into the crowd and "with force strengthe and also
with fayre woordes" managed to rescue Henneage, get him inside the church, and lock
the choir door between Henneage and the mob. The crowd, however, refused to
disperse and shouted "that they wold haue hym [Henneage] sworne vnto theim and so
at lengthe he was sworne, and after him all other persones whiche had contraried
theym the night before were in like maner sworne," including Moreland himself. A
short time later, the town bells again rang out when John Frankishe, the bishop of
Lincoln's registrar, arrived. The crowd seized Frankishe and forced him and
Moreland to burn Frankishe's papers. Much of the rest of the day was occupied with
the swearing of oaths. The commons compelled the sixty priests who had gathered at
Louth for the royal visitation to swear "to be true to god, to the king, and to the
Commons" and also to ring the common bells in their parishes. The commons
likewise summoned the heads of the town to appear at the town hall to swear a similar
oath.3 According to Nicolas Melton (alias Captain Cobbler), "many othe moo honest
men of the paryshe" soon came forth, "whom they [the commons] sware likewise."4
The gentlemen of the region were the final prey. On Monday, the commons brought
Sir William Skipwith of Ornsby to Louth "very rigorously" and compelled him to take
their oath. The next day, the commons forced Sir William Askew, Sir Edward

NA E36/119, fol. 48v {LP, XII (i) 380).
NA SP1/110, fol. 143r {LP, XI 970). Also see LP, XII (i) 70 (1).
LP, X I 854.
NA SP1/110, fol. 134r {LP, XI 967).
LP, XI 854; NA SP1/110, fol. 143r {LP, XI 970).

Madeson, his brother John Madeson, Sir Robert Tyrwhit, Thomas Portington, and
John Booth to swear "to be true to god and the king and to doo as they did."6 The
rebellion in the North had begun.
Oaths were central to the beginning of the revolt in Lincolnshire. As the
rebellion spread into the counties north of Lincolnshire and adopted the name
"Pilgrimage of Grace", it grew in numbers and strength, and became the largest
religious and social uprising in England between the Peasants' Rebellion of 1381 and
the English Civil War of the 1640s. At one point, anywhere from thirty thousand to
fifty thousand men were in the field for the rebels.8 The revolt was essentially
religious and popular, though social and political grievances also played a role in
motivating the rebels, and many gentlemen and nobles went along with the commons.9
To a large extent, the Pilgrimage was a popular response to the Henrician Reformation
of the 1530s. And just as oaths were essential in the implementation of the Henrician
Reformation, they were also central to the popular response to the Henrician
Reformation: the Pilgrimage of Grace.
Historians have long recognized the importance of oaths in the Pilgrimage of
Grace. In general, oaths factor into their analyses of the Pilgrimage in three ways.
First, historians have stressed that oaths were the primary means the rebels used to
mobilize, disseminate, and solidify support for their movement.10 Second, historians
have explained the singular and extraordinary role of oaths in the Pilgrimage as an

NA SP1/106, fol. 295r (LP, XI 568); NA E36/118, fol. 54r(LP, XI 853); NA E36/119, fol. 54r (LP, XII
(i) 380).
Shagan, Popular Politics, 89.
Bernard estimates the rebel force at thirty thousand; Bernard, King's Reformation, 293. Shagan claims
it was up to fifty thousand; Shagan, Popular Politics, 89.
The above statement seems to be the current historiographical consensus. However much modern
historians bicker over the specific motivations of the rebels, the success or failure of the Pilgrimage, and
the king's strategy in dealing with the rebels, they now agree that the revolt was predominantly popular
and religious. See Michael Bush, The Pilgrimage of Grace: A Study of the Rebel Armies of October
1536 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1996), 407-417; R. W. Hoyle, The Pilgrimage of
Grace and the Politics of the 1530s (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 17 and passim; Shagan,
Popular Politics, 89-128; Bernard, King's Reformation, 293-404.
Bush, Pilgrimage of Grace, 12, 29, 83, 114, 145, 224, 227-228, 252, 298, 329, 345; Madeleine Hope
Dodds and Ruth Dodds, The Pilgrimage of Grace 1536-1537 and The Exeter Conspiracy 1538
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1915) 1:94, 145, 181-182, 184, 199, 217, 221, 227; Hoyle,
Pilgrimage of Grace, 439-441.

imitation of the Henrician regime's administration of the oath of succession."
Finally, historians have analyzed the language of the various rebel oaths in order to
determine the predominant goals and grievances of the rebellion. They use the
pilgrims' oaths to argue that the rebellion was primarily about securing social or
constitutional reforms or alternatively (and more persuasively) that it was about
resisting the Henrician Reformation.12 Yet in all the current accounts of the
Pilgrimage of Grace the relationship between these three strands has not been made
clear. If the purpose of the pilgrims' oath was to mobilized and solidify their
rebellion, how were their actions an imitation of the oath of succession? If the
language of the oaths of the Pilgrimage demonstrates the opposition of the pilgrims to
the Henrician Reformation, how did this language relate to the oath of succession, one
of the main devices Henry used to implement his Reformation? How did the pilgrims'
oaths both imitate and oppose the Henrician Reformation?
This chapter seeks to answer these questions and integrate the three separate
strands of analysis of the role of oaths in the Pilgrimage of Grace into one cohesive
whole. It begins by establishing that the pilgrims did indeed use oaths as a means of
association, organization, and coercion. Yet by comparing the Pilgrimage of Grace to
the English Peasants' Revolt of 1381 and the German Peasants' War of 1525, it shows
that this usage of oaths by the pilgrims was not simply an imitation of the oath of
succession, though the experience of the oath of succession probably was a factor.
The pilgrims swore oaths not because they were imitating the administrative
revolution of the crown but because they were responding to the oath of succession
and the religious policy for which the oath of succession stood. In particular, the
pilgrims' oath declared their interpretation of the oath of succession and bound their
consciences to it, an interpretation consonant with the wording of the oath of
succession but dissonant with the crown's religious policy. The relationship between
the oath of succession and the pilgrims' oath, or more precisely the loyalty sworn to

Anthony Fletcher and Diarmaid MacCulloch, Tudor Rebellions, 5th ed. (Harlow, England: Pearson,
2004), 39; Bush, Pilgrimage of Grace, 12.
Bush, Pilgrimage of Grace, 92, 196-197; Dodds, Pilgrimage of Grace, 1:182; Hoyle, Pilgrimage of
Grace, 205-207, 209; Bernard, King's Reformation, 306-307, 329-330

the king in both oaths, became a recurrent theme of the rebellion. The Pilgrimage of
Grace was a battle of oaths.

Oaths as a Means of Association, Organization, and Coercion

Oaths were absolutely central to the mobilization and consolidation of the rebel
armies. The pattern first established at Louththe mass swearing of the commons,
who then forced the oath on individual clergymen and gentlemenwas replicated
throughout the entirety of northern England in October, 1536. The revolt quickly
spread from Louth to other areas of Lincolnshire. On Tuesday, October 3, William
Leache, who had been in Louth a day earlier when the uprising commenced, brought
word of the rebellion to the town of Horncastle. Immediately, Leache gathered a force
of 100 men, and they compelled the sheriff and other gentlemen of Horncastle to
swear "for saue garde of ther lyffes that they schuld be true to [god] the kyng and the
commons and the ffayth of the church."13 On Wednesday, Richard Dylcoke of
Humberston arrived in Louth. The rebels at Louth forced Dylcoke to swear their oath
and then sent him back to Humberston to raise and summon the people there to do
likewise.14 That same week, the rebels of Lincolnshire stopped the Yorkshire lawyer
Robert Aske at Ferriby and required him to swear an oath to be "trew to God and the
king and the comyn welth."15 Aske swore, and by October 6 he was back in the East
Riding spreading news of the revolt. The first town to rise north of Lincolnshire was
Beverley. A letter had arrived supposedly from Robert Aske instructing the town to
swear the commons' oath. Accordingly, on Sunday, October 8 one Richard Newdyke
"made proclamation for euerye man to come in and take his oathe to the comons apon
payn of deathe and one Richard Wilson, with the othe in thone hand and a book in the
other, swering them."16 On Monday, the rest of the town assembled on the green to
swear the oath, eventually intimidating the local gentry familythe Stapletonsto

NA SP1/110, fol. 124v (LP, XI 967).
NA SP1/110, fol. 173r (LP, XI 974).
Aske's narrative is printed in Mary Bateson (ed.), "The Pilgrimage of Grace," English Historical
Review 5 (1890): 332.
J. Charles Cox (ed.), "William Stapleton and the Pilgrimage of Grace," Transactions of the East
Riding Antiquarian Society 10 (1903), 84 (LPXU (i) 392).

swear as well and become their captains.17 That same day, Aske issued a
proclamation ordering men to assemble at Skypwithe Morre to appoint captains and
take an oath to be true "to the king's issue and the noble blood," "to preserve the
church of God from spoiling" and to safeguard "the commons and their wealths."1
As the revolt spread west and north, oaths remained a prominent feature. On
Sunday, October 15, "diuers men" led by Thomas Dockwary and Brian Jobson
assembled the whole town of Kendal at Tarney Bankes "and sware thaym in a crofte
by to be trewe to god & the king & their auncyent laudable customes." The gentlemen
of Kendal, especially Sir James Leyborne, resisted the oath at first but were eventually
coerced into taking it with the help of a force from the neighboring town of Dent.' A
similar process took place in Westmoreland and Cumberland.20 On October 18, the
earls of Shrewsbury, Rutland, and Huntingdon reported to the Duke of Suffolk that the
rebels had reached Doncaster and "there ronge the common bell and swere the mayre
and comons of the same, who right gladly received their othe."21 In Northumberland,
it was not the commons but Sir Ingram Percy himself who led the drive to swear the
gentlemen of the region.22 As the major urban centers of the North fell to the rebels,
more and more gentlemen took the pilgrims' oath. When Aske's host took the city of
York, Aske devised a new oath, the so-called "oath of honorable men." This oath was
sent throughout the country while the gentlemen of York departed into the countryside
to tender the oath to their friends. A proclamation accompanied the oath declaring that
any who refused the oath had a twenty-four hour grace period before their goods
would be seized. The greatest nobles of the regionincluding Lord Darcy and the
Archbishop of York Edward Leetook Aske's oath on October 21 when Pontefract
castle surrendered to the rebels. Aske reported: "the said castel was yelded, and the

Cox, "William Stapleton and the Pilgrimage of Grace," 85-86 {LP XII (i) 392).
Bush, Pilgrimage of Grace, 83 {LP, XI 622).
NA E36/119, fols. 114v-l 15v {LP, XII (i) 914).
NA SP1/117, fols. 43'-44v, 50v-52v {LP, XII (i) 687). See also Dodds, Pilgrimage of Grace, 1:220-
NA SP1/108, fol. 169r {LP, XI 774).
Dodds, Pilgrimage of Grace, 1:199-200.
LP, XII (i) 901 (28);Bateson, "Aske's Examination," English Historical Review 5 (1890) 560;
Dodds, Pilgrimage of Grace, 1:181-182; Bush, Pilgrimage ofGrace, 114-115.

lordes spirituall and temporall and knightes and escueres ther being swhorn." Even
after the December pardon of the rebels and the subsequent truce, oaths continued to
be a key method of mobilizing support for the uprising. When John Hallom and Sir
Francis Bigod decided to raise the commons again in January, 1537, one of the first
moves Hallom made was to swear Hugh Langdale "leaste he shulde bewaraye theym
or saide any worde from them to the prior of Watton his master being than at
london."25 Bigod then devised a new form of the commons' oath which he sent
throughout the countryside. When George Lumley took the town of Scarborough on
January 17, 1537, he spoke "with the baylyfs & other officers of the towne and sware
theym according to Sir Fraunces Bygods letter."27 Thus, the spread of the revolt
throughout England was accompanied by the spread of rebel oath-taking. Indeed,
with the exception of Hull and some of the residents of Carlisle, every town or region
that joined the rebel army in 1536 swore some sort of oath of loyalty to the cause.
In general, it appears that every male in the region took an oath, regardless of
their social status. Writing on October 17 before he capitulated to the rebels, Lord
Darcy reported to the king that the commons "swere everie man preeste and ooder."
William Breyar confessed that in Beverley a proclamation was made "that euery man
shulde be there sworn . . . & so accordynaly he & euery man there beyng toke the
same othe." Likewise, the Preston husbandman William Nycholson testified that
"there every man toke his othe." This phenomenon of mass oath-taking
demonstrates that one of the functions of the rebel oath was to promote association
and organization. The act of swearing joined the commons together. It united them to
each other and to their common (as opposed to individual) grievances. This is why the
oaths explicitly bound the swearer either to the commons (each other) or the

Bateson, "Pilgrimage of Grace," 336; Bush, Pilgrimage of Grace, 94.

NA E36/119, fol 28r (LP, XII (i) 201).
NA SP1/114, fols. 181r, 183r (LP, XII (i) 147); LP, XII (i) 148.
Edith Milner and Edith Benham (ed.), Records of the Lumleys of Lumley Castle (London: George
Bell and Sons, 1904), 40 (LP, XII (i) 369).
For more details on the exact timing of the various hosts' oath-taking, see Bush, Pilgrimage of Grace,
29, 114-115, 145, 196-197, 224, 227-228, 252-253, 298, 323-324, 345.
NA SP1/108, fol. 144v (LP, XI 760).
NA SP1/109, fol. 39v (LP, XI 841).
NA E36/119, fol. 34v (LP, XII (i) 201 (v)).

commonwealth (the governing of the realm in the way which would benefit everyone).
Furthermore, the practice of swearing en masse contributed to the organization and
dissemination of the rebellion. Gathering a large group together to take an oath
provided an ideal opportunity to spread the message of revolt and to take stock of the
available fighting force of a region. Oaths were thus significant to the rebels as a
means of association and mobilization.
While every male thus took the oath in some form, special emphasis was
placed on swearing priests and gentlemen individually.32 Thomas Kendall, the vicar
of Louth, noted especially that all the parsons, vicars, and other priests, both of the
town and country, were sworn.33 Aske admitted that he put his oath of honorable men
into writing "to swere the gentlemen by the same."34 Priests and gentlemen received
special attention because they occupied positions of power and influence. They thus
had the potential to sabotage the uprising, and the commons needed their support. It
was essential that they be bound with the commons in association. This was why one
of the most widespread forms of the oath tendered by the commons of Lincolnshire
was "do as they did," or "to take suche perte as they toke."35
In fact, it was so important to gain the support of the gentlemen for the
rebellion that the commons often resorted to coercion in order to obtain the oaths of
the gentlemen. For example, when Sir William Fairfax declined to take the oath in the
town of Wakefield on October 22 and took off on horseback, the entire town with a
host of six hundred men pursued him all the way to Millthrop Hall. There, the host
pulled him out of his bed, intimidated him "to the great fear and danger of his life,"
and compelled him to take their oath instantly.36 The commons often employed death
threats to get gentlemen to swear. Darcy reported to Henry VIII that the commons
"threten to put them to deathe" who will not swear and thus "no resistence hath been
made or can be made against them."37 Henry Sais, a servant of Christopher Askew,

Bush, Pilgrimage of Grace, 114-115.
NA SP1/110, fol. 143r (LP, XI 970).
Mary Bateson (ed), "Aske's Examination," 572 (LP, XII (i) 945).
NA SP1/106, fol. 295r {LP, XI 568); NA SP1/110, fol. 124r 295r (LP, XI 967); NA SP1/110, fol. 173r
295r (LP, XI 974).
Dodds, Pilgrimage of Grace, 1:237.
NA SP1/108, fol. 144v (LP, XI 760).

claimed that one of the rebels said to him: "if ye do not swere thus / to be trewe to god
& to the king & to the comens, then shalt lose thy hedde."38 Robert Sotheby testified
that William Leache declared to the sheriff and gentlemen of Horncastle: "be sworne
to do as we doo or ells it schall cost you your lyffe and as man[y as?] wyll not
swere."39 The proclamation of the commons of the barony of Kendal ordered that
"any lord that denyeth the lawfull oath, se you that he suffer death at that present
time." Families of those refusing to swear were also subject to intimidation. When
Nicholas Tempest fled into hiding to avoid the rebel host, a group of the commons
seized his child John and threatened to strike off the boy's head if Nicolas did not
return and take his oath.41 Likewise, a new form of the rebel oath circulating in
Richmondshire in January, 1537 explicitly proclaimed: "If eney lorde or gentyllman
do deny to take thys hothe then to put thaym to dethe & put the next of hys blode in
hys place & if he do denny put hym to dethe in lyke case so on after anoder to on of
the blode wyll take the hothe." The commons were clearly serious about enforcing
Although the commons sometimes used death threats to get gentlemen to
swear, a more usual method of coercion was the menace of property confiscation. An
anonymous gentleman of Holland in Lincolnshire wrote to Lord Audley that he and
other gentlemen were "constrained" to swear by a band of commons because the
sheriff had ordered that the goods of all those who refused to swear be seized for the
maintenance of the rebel army.43 This became the official policy of the rebel army
under the control of Aske, though Aske ordered "that no man should spoil no man"
unless two members of the rebel council consented and the nonjuror was given
twenty-four hours to conform.44 Numerous examples of the threat of spoilage survive.
Lord Monteagle informed Henry VIII that several of his servants and tenants "be

NA SP1/109, fol. 200v (LP, XI 879).
NA SP1/110, fol. 124v (LP, XI 967 (i)).
R. W. Hoyle and A. J. L. Winchester, "A Lost Source for the Rising of 1536 in North-West England,"
English Historical Review, 118(2003): 129.
Dodds, Pilgrimage of Grace, 1:210 (LP, XII (i) 1014).
NA SP1/114, fol. 201 r (LP, XII (i) 163).
NA E36/121, fol. 72r (LP, XI 585).
Bateson, "Pilgrimage of Grace," 335; Bush, Pilgrimage of Grace, 114, 118.

sworn to the said rebellyons" because "in case they had not byn sworn they wold haue
spoyled all theyre howses and goodes." 5 The commons approached Sir Marmaduke
Constable at his house and declared, "how they wold eyther haue him swhorn or els
spool him." John Dakyn, vicar-general of the diocese of York, originally fled the
rebels of Richmondshire, but returned to his house and swore his oath when he heard
the commons were going to destroy his goods.47 Although not as drastic as the wish
to avoid death, the desire to protect their property was enough to convince most
gentlemen to take the rebel oath.
Even though the commons sometimes resorted to threats and displays of force
to get the gentlemen of their region to swear, once the gentlemen had taken their oaths,
the commons were placated. For example, William Moreland of Louth reported:
"And after the swering of thes gentilmen there was great ioye and moche gladnes
made amongis the commons of and vpon the same." This shows that to the rebels,
the oaths themselves were a means of coercion. The commons needed to use force
and intimidation against the gentlemen only until they had sworn. Afterwards, the
gentlemen's oaths would bind their consciences and compel them to remain loyal to
the commons. Oaths took the place of threats of death and property confiscation as a
means of compulsion. For example, when Captain Poverty sought to gain the support
of the town of Kendal for the new uprising at Carlisle in February, 1537, he cited
Kendal's oath: "Wherfor we desyre you for ayde and helpe accordyng to your othes
and as ye wyll have helpe of us if your cause requyre, as god forbede."4 Yet did this
same exercise of force against those who were reluctant to swear not adulterate the
oaths of the gentlemen? After all, we have seen that oaths taken under duress were of
dubious legality. Parties as diverse as Gratian, Protestants attacking monastic vows,
Francis I, and Ambassador Chapuys all claimed that a forced oath was not necessarily
binding on one's conscience. The behavior of the pilgrims, however, demonstrates
that they (like Henry VIII) believed that a forced oath still had the power to bind one's

NA SP1/112, fol. 94r (LP, XI 1232).
Bateson, "Pilgrimage of Grace," 338.
Dodds, Pilgrimage ofGrace, 1:201-202.
NA E36/119, fol. 54r (LP, XII (i) 380).
Dodds, Pilgrimage of Grace, 2:113 (LP, XII (i) 411).

conscience. Oaths were powerful, whether taken freely or under threat. William
Stapleton's opinion "that the oathe did no good for it wolde make a man neither better
nor wourse" was clearly not shared by the majority of the rebels.
Oaths, then, were used by the rebels to bind themselves together, to mobilize
their forces, and to vitiate and overcome opposition. Yet, could it not be argued that
oaths served different functions depending on the social standing of the swearer?
Could one argue that the function of swearing the commons was to promote
association and mobilization but the function of the swearing the gentlemen was
simply to coerce them to join (or at least not oppose) the rebellion? In this
interpretation, the gentlemen of the revolt did not place much weight on oaths but
rather took them only to escape spoilage and death. This is a plausible hypothesis that
probably holds true for some of the gentlemen of the revolt, yet it should not be
extended too far.
First, not all depositions from the Pilgrimage depict gentry opposition to the
rebels' oath. Many witnesses claimed the gentlemen took their oaths freely and
willingly. Philip Trotter deposed that when William Leache and his band of
Lincolnshire commons approached Sheriff Edward Dymmoke, Sir William Sandon,
and other gentlemen of Lincolnshire and demanded that they take the rebels' oath, the
gentlemen responded "ffurthwithe withoute any Resistens or denyall with a good will
and so they were sworne accordingly."51 A witness to the oath-taking ceremony at
Doncaster exclaimed that the inhabitants there swore so "gladly" and "that never
shepe ranne fastir a mornyng oute of their folde; then they did to receive the said
othe."JZ There was no way that Sir Ingram Percy could claim that he took the oath
under duress since when a single messenger presented him with the commons' oath,
the nearest host was over fifty miles away and Percy himself immediately began
coercing other gentlemen in the region to swear. After his capture, Robert Aske
confessed that "he sware none but gentlemen and they toke their othe vp willingly, as
semed to hym, after that they were ones taken & brought in, and saith he offred them
Cox, "William Stapleton and the Pilgrimage of Grace," 97 (LP, XII (i) 392).
NA E36/119, fol. 13r (LP, XII (i) 70).
NA SP1/108, fol. 169r (LP, XI 774).
Dodds, The Pilgrimage of Grace, 1:200.

that othe voluntary." Some gentlemen must have taken the rebel oath
Second, there were also some gentlemen loyal to the king who placed enough
significance on their oaths to refuse to swear even when put under duress. Lord
Scrope decided to abandon his house and wife rather than swear to the commons.55
Likewise, an unidentified man of Dent fled to Sir Marmaduke Tunstall to avoid
swearing. When Thomas Maunsell, the vicar of Brayton, heard that his brother was
in great danger for refusing to swear Aske's oath, Thomas received permission from
Aske to tender the oath to his brother in person. When his brother saw Thomas,
however, he "did smyte at hym [Thomas] and with greate violence did dryve hym out
of his house being vnsworne."57 Both Sir Ralph Ellerker the younger and the elder

refused to swear the commons' oath despite pressure from the Stapleton host. The
town of Hull agreed to surrender to the Stapleton host only under the condition that
they would not have to take the pilgrims' oath. Stapleton agreed.59 Thus, not all
gentlemen of the north gave in and swore the rebels' oath when pressured by the
commons. This indicates that it was possible to resist the rebels' oath, and thus some
degree of consent was involved in the choice of a gentleman to swear.
Finally, it was in the gentlemen's best interest to claim that they had taken their
oaths involuntarily. Many of the details of the Pilgrimage emerged after it was over,
when Henry sought information on whom to punish for the rebellion. Many of the
participants in the revolt thus attempted to portray their oath-taking as reluctant in
order to escape royal wrath. We do not know how many of these reports were colored
in such a manner, but the existence of a few contradictory reports demonstrates that
not all the stories of unwilling but coerced swearers can be trusted. For example, the
Earl of Shrewsbury wrote to Lord Darcy that he had heard that Darcy's servant

Bateson, "Aske's Examination," 572. Aske also claimed "that no man was nother hurt nor wounded
to his knowlege, for refusing the othe, nor no other violence offred theym, but that they shulde lose their
goodes if they cam not in within xxiiii houres after they were warned"; Bateson, "Aske's Examination,"
LP, XI 667.
NA SP1/109, fol. 37v (LP, XI 841).
NA SP1/113, fol. 55r (LP, XI 1402).
Cox, "William Stapleton and the Pilgrimage of Grace," 85, 89, 97 (LP, XII (i) 392).
Dodds, Pilgrimage of Grace, 1:164, 166.

Thomas Grice had compelled Brian Bradford (a servant to Shrewsbury's cousin Henry
Savell) and "put in feare divers oders to be sworne contrary to their myndes and
wylles by reason wherof they dare not abyde at home in there owne houses" but had
fled to Sheffield, Rotherham, and other places.60 Grice, however, replied that
Bradford "was sworne with his gud wyll openly before suffiaent witnesses] and
Recorde for I did reherce vnto hym that ther shuld no man [be] Compellyd to swer
contraie to thar fre myndes and willes nor ne[ver?] was." ' Even more compelling is
the story of a late night oath-tendering in Lancashire. After a few pints at the local
alehouse, John Piper, John Yate, and Hugh Parker (only sixteen years old) decided to
have a little fun by blackening their faces, dressing in harness, and testing the resolve
of a few neighbors who had boasted "that they wold not be sworn to the common to
dye for it." According to Robert Banks, who was the group's first victim, John Yate
rushed into Banks' house "and said he must swere to be true to the commons and sayd
if he wold not swere he shuld dye." "For fear of his liff and of his children," Banks
delivered him his harness. By contrast, Yate's deposition mentioned no threats but
rather claimed Banks "was content to be sworn."64 The next victim of the group,
William Charnocke, stated that Parker, Yate, and Piper "with force brake his dore/ and
manasced [menaced] hym to kyll hym" unless he was sworn.65 Conversely, Hugh
Parker and John Yate contended Charnocke opened the door for themthey did not
break it downand makes no mention of threats.66 Likewise, Percival Saunders (the
third victim of the group) claimed that Parker, Yate, and Piper broke down his door
"clapped a boke to his mouth," and demanded he be sworn. When Saunders refused,
"one of theym tok hym on the backe with a malle and stroke hym down And said if he
wold not be sworn he shuld see his own blud befor his own eyes / And so the said
percyvall for feare of his liff was sworn vnto theym."67 John Yate, on the other hand,

NASPl/lll,fol. 172r(ZJ>,XI1112).
NA SP1/111 fol. \ll\LP, XI 1113).
NA SP1/112, fol. 89v (LP, XI 1230).
NA SP1/112, fol. 90r (LP, XI 1230).
NA SP1/112, fol. 90r (LP, XI 1230).
NA SP1/112, fol. 89r (LP, XI 1230).
NA SP1/112, fols. 89v-90r (LP, XI 1230).
NA SP1/112, fol. 89r. (LP, XI 1230).

testified that he swore Saunders, Charaocke, and other "without compulcon /of any of

theym." Parker argued that he took part in the whole escapade "thynking no hurt nor
intending noo yll bot thought they had gon to make pastym."69 Clearly, both those
who tendered the oath and those who took it were trying to present themselves in as
favorable a light as possible. What is significant for our purpose is that the dispute
centered over whether the oaths that Parker, Yate, and Piper took were coerced or not.
The conflicting depositions illustrate that not all those who averred they had taken the
rebels' oath unwillingly were necessarily telling the truth.
Oaths, then, were a means of association and organization for both the
commons and for some of the gentlemen. Oaths were also means of coercion against
those who resisted the movement, but we cannot neatly divide theses two functions of
the rebel oaths along social lines. Many of the gentlemen who swore undoubtedly did
so out of fear for their lives or property, but the depositions of these gentlemen were
biased, and it is evident that some gentlemen took the oath quite willingly. Some of
the gentlemen shared in the grievances of the Commons and thus were keen to bind
themselves to the rebel program, while others cooperated only after their consciences
were compelled with an oath.70 The two functions of the rebels' oath raised here
that of association/organization and of coercionare not necessarily dependent on the
specific circumstances of England in the 1530s. It seems plausible that any medieval
or early modern popular uprising might employ oaths for similar ends. How was the
Pilgrimage of Grace unique? How was the pilgrims' use of oaths related to the
Henrician Reformation and the oath of succession? To answer these questions, we
need to place the Pilgrimage of Grace in the context of other medieval and early
modern popular uprisings. Only after such a contextualization can we determine

NA SP1/112, fol. 90'. (LP, XI 1230).
NA SP1/112, fol. 89v. (LP, XI 1230).
My interpretation of how the gentlemen took the rebels' oath dovetails nicely with Bush and
Bernard's general argument on the role of the gentry and the nobility in the rebellion. Bush and
Bernard argued that while the commons were the instigators and driving force behind the uprising, the
gentlemen and nobility were sympathetic to the commons' grievances and thus went along with the
rebellion with little resistance; Bush, Pilgrimage of Grace, 409-410; Bernard, King's Reformation, 321-

which aspects of the pilgrims' use of oaths were truly a response to the Henrician

The Use of Oaths in Other Medieval and Early Modern Popular Uprisings
Among English historians of the Pilgrimage of Grace, it is assumed that the
pilgrims' employment of oaths was unique in comparison to other popular uprisings.
For example, in their quite successful volume on Tudor rebellions, Anthony Fletcher
and Diarmaid MacCulloch mention oaths only in their chapter on the Pilgrimage of
Grace. Even more direct is Michael Bush's assertation that "Both the Lincolnshire
uprising and the pilgrimage of grace were distinguished from the other risings of the
commons in the emphasis each placed on taking oaths of allegiance to the rebellion."71
And because the pilgrims' use of oaths is seen as anomalous, explanation for the
phenomenon is sought in the unique events in England leading up to the rebellion,
notably Henry's imposition of the oath of succession. Fletcher and MacCulloch note
that "the example had been set by the national campaign of oath-swearing to the new
royal succession in 1534."72 Bush went further, claiming that "the business of taking
oaths, however, was simply in imitation of the Succession Act of 1534." Bush
observed that the government had sworn every male subject to accept the Boleyn
marriage and succession and that it backed up the drive with ample compulsion
against those who resisted. The action of the commons was thus one of "creating and
applying the commons' oath in the manner of the king's oath." In other words, Bush
believed that the pilgrims' use of the oath as a means of both association and coercion
was a direct result of the administration of the oath of succession.73 If no other
popular rebellion used oaths a means of association and coercion, Bush's theory would
be valid.
At first, it appears that Bush is correct. Neither the rebels of the religiously
conservative 1549 Prayer Book Rebellion in the west nor the more evangelical
"commonwealth" rebels of the north and east swore oaths as part of their uprisings.

Bush, Pilgrimage ofGrace, 12.
Fletcher and MacCulloch, Tudor Rebellions, 39.
Bush, Pilgrimage of Grace, 12. My italics.

Oaths played no significant role in the Cornish rising of 1497, the movement against
the Amicable Grant in 1525, the revolt of Sir Thomas Wyatt under Mary Tudor, or the
Rebellion of the Northern Earls of 1569. Although there is a hint that the Kentish
insurgents of Cade's Revolt of 1450 may have sworn some sort of oath of association
to each other, the total lack of references to it among contemporary accounts of Cade's
Revolt suggest that even if some sort of oath of association was sworn by the rebels,
this was of very minor significance.74 It was certainly possible to raise and sustain a
rebellion without the use of oaths. Cade, for example, raised his army by exploiting
the system of the county militia and the constables of the hundred already in place to
protect England against a foreign invasion. The 1569 rebellion was aristocratic in
nature and made use of the Percy and Neville affinities to raise support. More
research needs to be done on how the various Tudor rebellions mobilized and
solidified their forces, but what is clear is that in the immediate context of fifteenth-
and sixteenth-century England, the Pilgrimage of Grace stands alone as the only
instance of mass oath-taking as part of a popular rebellion.
Yet when we widen our net chronologically and geographically, we do find
examples analogous to the Pilgrimage of Grace. The first is the English Peasants'
Revolt of 1381. This rebellion commenced in almost the same way as the
Lincolnshire rising of 1536. In 1381, when Sir Robert Belknape (Chief Justice of
Common Pleas) arrived in Brentwood, Essex to investigate and punish the refusal of
the locals to pay the poll tax, the commons of the town seized him "and made him
swear on the Bible that never again would he hold such a session, nor act as a justice
in such inquests."76 As the revolt gained momentum, the rebels swore oaths of
association that bound them to each other and to common grievances. For example,

The only reference to an oath in Cade's Revolt is the mention of "sworn brothers" in NA E403/785
m. 2; Ralph A. Griffiths, The Reign of King Henry VI: The Exercise of Royal Authority, 1422-1461
(Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1981), 623, 656 (nt. 97). The foremost
historian of the Cade's Revolt writes, "it is possible that the rebels of May 1450 may have sworn oaths
of allegiance binding themselves to one another in their shared cause"; I. M. W. Harvey, Jack Cade's
Rebellion of 1450 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), 75. I have gone through all the major chronicle
accounts of Cade's Revolt and found no reference to this oath.
Montgomery Bohna, "Armed Force and Civic Legitimacy in Jack Cade's Revolt, 1450," English
Historical Review 118 (2003): 563-583.
The Anonimal Chronicle of St. Mary's, York, printed in R. B. Dobson (ed.), The Peasants 'Revolt of
1381 (London: Macmillan, 1970), 125.

the peasants of Scarborough "gathered together at least five hundred men, allied with
one another by means of an oath and the livery of many hoods."77 Likewise, they
"unanimously swore to maintain each of their individual complaints in common."7
Oaths were also key to the dissemination of the revolt throughout England. The rebels
of Kent blocked all the pilgrimage routes into Canterbury, stopped all pilgrims, and
forced them to swear that they would be faithful to King Richard and to the commons,
that they would never consent to any taxation outside of the fifteenths, "that they
would come and join the rebels whenever they were sent for, and that they would
induce their fellow citizens or villagers to join them."79 Finally, the peasants of 1381
employed oaths as a way to coerce their social superiors. With threats of death to all
who refused, the peasants compelled groups of knights they encountered to take their
oath. They did the same for the major, bailiffs, and residents of the major towns
they captured.81 In short, like the pilgrims of 1536, the peasants of 1381 used oaths as
a means of association, mobilization, and compulsion.
Closer to the Pilgrimage of Grace chronologically and contextually was the
German Peasants' War of 1525. The German peasants formed leagues by swearing
oaths of brotherhood and allegiance to each other, oaths that also bound them to
pursue their common grievances. The peasants then used oaths to compel the towns
and nobles of their region to be loyal to the peasants and to their program. For
example, the oath that the peasants of Franconia forced on the lords and towns of their
region bound the swearers to observe and implement the Twelve Articles (the famous
document that summarized peasant grievances and how they were to be addressed), to
give military assistance to the peasants if so ordered, to warn their band of possible
threats, to supply the peasants with provisions whenever demanded, and to release

Accounts of the riots of Scarborough from a Coram Rege roll, printed in Dobson, Peasants ' Revolt of
1381, 290.
Dobson, Peasants' Revolt of 1381, 291.
Walsingham's Chronicle, printed in Dobson, Peasants' Revolt of 1381, 133.
Dobson, Peasants' Revolt of 1381, 190, 258.
Dobson, Peasants'Revolt of 1381, 127 (Canterbury), 285-286 (York). The account of Canterbury
comes from the Anominal Chronicle, while that of York is from a Parliamentary petition.
Tom Scott and Bob Scribner (ed.), The German Peasants' War: A History in Documents, (New
Jersey: Humanities Press, 1991), 16. For examples of these oaths, see 126-127, 132-133.

those imprisoned or placed under bail. The Gentian peasants' use of oaths, however,
differed in two ways from the English Peasants' Revolt of 1581. First, there was a
religious element to the German peasants' oaths. The spread of the Protestant
Reformation had influenced the peasants and they demanded that their lords
implement religious reform and rule according to the tenets of Gospel. For example,
the town of Hersfeld swore to "support and hold to the Word of God" while the "oath
of the Christian union" declared a desire for "men of skill and understanding in holy
Scripture to preach and teach us the holy Gospel and Word of God, purely and clearly,
with all its fruits and without the addition of human teaching."84
Second, a common theme of the German Peasants' War was the relationship of
the peasants' oaths to previous oaths of allegiance and loyalty swore to overlords.
Some peasants saw their oaths as abnegating and superseding previous oaths of
allegiance. For example, when the peasants captured the town of Erfurt, they released
the council and guardians of the town of the oath they had made to their lord and
caused the town swear a new oath without any reference to their lord.85 Other
peasants attempted to portray their oaths as being reconcilable with previous oaths of
allegiance. When the peasants arrived at the town of Altdorf, the town initially
resisted swearing the peasants' oath "to help uphold the holy Gospel and the Word of
God and the godly Christian law," citing their oath of allegiance to Archduke
Ferdinand as their excuse. The peasants, however, refused to back down, claiming
their oath would not prejudice the town's oath of allegiance. Finally, the town swore
the peasants' oath, but not without making a formal, notarized protestation that they

Scott and Scribner, German Peasants' War, 200. For examples of the peasants compelling other
towns and nobles to take similar oaths, see 138-139, 183, 189, 193.
Scott and Scribner, German Peasants' War, 132, 183.
Scott and Scribner, German Peasants' War, 186. Another example is that of Hans Fischer, a preacher
at Vipiteno [Sterzing]. He was charged with preaching that the peasants' "oath and whatever they had
sworn to their territorial prince was not valid before God, and that they should not be at all concerned at
not keeping it"; Scott and Scribner, German Peasants' War, 107. Luther, conversely, declared that the
first sin of the peasants was the breaking of their oath fidelity: "they have sworn to be true and faithful,
submissive and obedient, to their rulers, as Christ commands . . . because they are breaking this
obedience, and setting themselves against the higher powers . . .[they are] faithless, perjured, lying,
disobedient knaves and scoundrels"; Martin Luther, "Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes of
Peasants," in Culture and Belief in Europe, 1450-1600: An Anthology of Sources, ed. David Englander
et al., (Oxford: Basil Blackweli, 1990), 191.

had done all they could to avoid a conflict of oaths. ' The lords of Germany certainly
considered the peasants' oaths to be in derogation of their oaths of allegiance. A key
step in the repression of the revolt was the imposition of new oaths of homage and
loyalty throughout Germany, oaths that abnegated the oaths that the peasants had
sworn during the rebellion.87 Oaths therefore played a major role in the German
Peasants' War of 1525.
The English Peasants' Revolt of 1381 and the German Peasants' War of 1525
demonstrated that the peasants' use of oaths as a means of association, mobilization,
and coercion was not necessarily and totally a result of the Henrician regime's use of
the oath of succession. The rebels of 1536 might have employed oaths for these
purposes even without the tendering of the oath of succession two years earlier. The
immediate example of the oath of succession probably did function as a reminder of
the potential power of an oath to create bonds of loyally, but the pattern of using oaths
as a means to bind the aggravated commons together and to ensure the loyalty of those
who might oppose the commons' goals had been established before 1534. This does
not mean, however, that the oath of succession is not essential in the explanation of the
pilgrims' employment of oaths. The Pilgrimage of Grace was certainly a reaction to
the oath of succession, but this reaction was less an imitation of the administration of
the oath of succession and more a response to the content of the oath of succession.
Just as the peasants of Germany used oaths as a reaction to religious reforms and to
previous oaths of allegiance, so did the pilgrims of England employ oaths to declare
their opinion both of the Henrician Reformation and of the oath Henry had tendered
them in support of it. Association, mobilization, and compulsion were not the only
functions of the pilgrims'oaths.

The Pilgrims' Oath as a Response to and Interpretation of the Oath of Succession

The commons' use of oaths in 1536 was intricately connected to the fact that
they had all sworn the oath of succession two years earlier. In addition to being a
standard means of association and compulsion, the pilgrims' oath was a response to

Scott and Scribner, German Peasants' War, 138-139,
Scott and Scribner, German Peasants' War, 17, 293-294, 297, 302, 303-305.

the oath a succession, a response that recognized the binding power of the oath of
succession but opposed Henry's religious policy. Indeed, the pilgrims' decision to
employ oaths as opposed to some other form of mobilization and compulsion was
probably necessitated by Henry's administration of oaths. Because Henry had bound
his subjects to be loyal to him with an oaththe strongest bond of consciencethe
commons had to use an equally strong bond to secure the gentry's loyalty to their
cause, lest the gentry turn against the commons and cite their oath to the king as
stronger than their bond to the commons. Just as Henry had to employ oaths to cancel
out previous oaths of loyalty that his subjects had taken to the pope, the pilgrims
needed to use an oath to emphasize that they were as serious about their pilgrimage as
Henry had been about establishing his heirs through Anne Boleyn. The oath of
succession had upped the ante. Nevertheless, unlike the Henrician oaths of 1534 and
1535, which were designed to contradict and directly invalidate oaths to the pope or
other foreign powers or bodies, the rebels' oath was designed simply to force a certain
interpretation on the oath of succession, not to invalidate or contradict it. The genius
of the pilgrims' oath was that it exploited the ambiguities in the oath of succession so
as to allow the pilgrims to maintain that their oathindeed, their uprising in general
was perfectly in line with the fidelity they had sworn to Henry in the oath of
succession. Of course, not everyone accepted the commons' interpretation of the oath
of succession, and one of the reoccurring themes of the rebellion was the relationship
of the pilgrims' oath to the oath of succession, a theme that indicates the close
connections between the two.
As we saw in the last chapter, the oath of succession wasin form if not in
intentessentially an oath of fidelity. This meant that the commons of England had
bound themselves to be loyal to Henry. The oath of succession had not, however,
explicitly bound the swearer to support the break with Rome or the establishment of
royal supremacy of the church, a supremacy that Henry had exercised at the start of
1536 with the dissolution of the smaller monasteries. The pilgrims of 1536 were
aware of these circumstances when they formulated their oaths. This is clear when
we look at the forms of the oaths sworn by the rebels. The Lincolnshire rebels who

started the uprising swore to be true to God, the king, and the commons (or the
commonwealth).88 In this oath, the swearers declared that they were loyal to the king,
not rebels at all. Yet the fact that the pilgrims also swore to be true to God and the
commons placed limits on their loyalty to the king. It is significant that the pilgrims
swore to God before they swore to the king. Moreover, by swearing obedience to
three bodies, the pilgrims declared that God's policy should coincide with the king's
policy, which in turn must coincide with the commons' policy, for the only way to be
loyal to all three of these bodies simultaneously was for the three bodies to be in
agreement. The pilgrims thus declared their loyalty to the king while at the same time
binding their consciences to a particular kind of princely rule, a rule in line with the
will of God and the commons. After summarizing the rebels' oath, Lord Darcy
remarked: "For they be sure as they say that such acts against God the king and his
common's wealth is not his grace's pleasure."89
As the revolt spread, the pilgrims further qualified the oath by swearing loyalty
to "the church" in addition to God, the king, and the commons.9 The band of
commons led by William Leache swore a group of gentleman to "be true to [god] the
kyng and the commons and theffayth of the church.'"91 The town of Beverley was
sworn "to maynteyn holi church," while the Richmondshire oath of January, 1537,
proclaimed that all gentlemen must swear "to manten the profet of Hoyle churche
wyche wase the howpholldyng [upholding?] of the crysten faythe."92 Some of the
oaths from Yorkshire also specified which aspects of God's church the commons were
rising to support. In his letter to his son before his capitulation to the rebels, Lord
Darcy claimed that the men of Dent, Sedbergh, and Wenslaydale swore that "they will
suffer no spoils nor suppression of abbeys, parish churches nor of. . . jewels and
ornaments. Nor also more money they will not pay for commissioners nor others."

NA E36/121, fol. 72r {LP, XI 585); NA SP1/109, fol. 2V {LP, XI 828); NA SP1/110, fol. 124v {LP, XI
967); NA SP1/110, fol. 134r {LP, XI 968); NA SP1/110, fol. 143r {LP, XI 970); Bateson, "Pilgrimage of
Grace," 332; Bush, Pilgrimage of Grace, 12.
NA SP1/196, fol. 286r {LP, XI 563 (2)), quoted in Bernard, King's Reformation, 320.
NA SP1/117, fol. 43r {LP, XII (i) 687).
NA SP1/110, fol. 124v {LP, XI967). My italics.
NA SP1/109, fol. 39v {LP, XI 841); NA SP1/114, fol. 201' {LP, XII (i) 163).
NA SP1/196, fol. 286r {LP, XI 563 (2)), quoted in Bernard, King's Reformation, 320.

Some versions of the rebel oath bound the pilgrims "to resist al them" who did not
"maynteyn holi church" but rather "willeth the contrary."94 The Richmondshire oath
explicitly singled out Thomas Cromwell, binding the gentlemen to swear "to put
downe the lorde crownwell that heretyke & hall hys sekthewyche [sect the which]
mayde the kyng put downe prayng & fastyng."95 The town of Beverley swore to
oppose the "concellores inventars & procurars" who were attempting "vtterlye to
vndoo boithe the Churche & the commynalte of the reamlme."96 This oath also
highlights that the maintenance of the church was connected to the maintenance of the
commonwealth. Accordingly, some forms of the rebel oath delineated specific
economic grievances as well. The Richmondshire oath proclaimed that "no lorde nor
gentyllman shall take nothyng of thare tennandes but gonle [only] their Rentes."
Likewise the commons of Kendal forced their gentlemen to swear an oath to be "trewe
to god & the king & their auncyent laudable customesT The Richmondshire and
Kendal oaths referred to the exacting and raising of gressums: that is, "payments that
fell due upon change of either tenant or lord." These exact grievances, however,
were particular to Richmondshire and Kendal, and even these grievances were
connected to the church in that the rebels there made their lords swear never to impose
them as an "unlawfull act that is against the faith of Christ, the church profitt and
commonwealth."100 In general, when the Yorkshire pilgrims expanded on the
Lincolnshire oath, they added clauses relating to the church. Thus, when the
Yorkshire rebels swore their oath, they pledged loyalty to a king who would maintain
the church, uphold the faith, restore the monasteries and eject heretics like Thomas
Cromwell from his council. At the same time as the rebels were declaring their
continual fidelity to Henrya fidelity solidified in the oath of successionthey were
rejecting the recent religious policy of the crown.

NA SP1/109, fol. 39v (LP, XI 841).
NA SP1/114, fol. 201r (LP, XII (i) 163).
NA SP1/107, fol. 136r (LP, XI 645).
NA SP1/114, fol. 201r (LP, XII (i) 163).
NA E36/119, fol. 1\4\LP, XII (i) 914). My italics.
For more on gressums in the Pilgrimage of Grace, see Bush, Pilgrimage of Grace, 196-197, 255-258.
(Quote from 256.)
Hoyle Winchester, "A Lost Source for the Rising of 1536 in North-West England," 128-129.

The three fullest forms of the pilgrims' oath support the argument that one of
the primary purposes of the oath was to proclaim the commons' belief that the oath of
succession had not bound them to support the religious changes of the 1530s. The
oath from Beverley read:
we shall be trewe to god & owr prince & his lawfull actes & demandes & that
we shall be trew & faithfulle to yowe & other, the comyns of the reallme &
yowe & them to aide & mantein to the vttermeste of owr power boithe with
bodye & goodes ayenste all them that [are?] his concellores inventars &
procurars vtterlye to vndoo boithe the Churche & the commynalte of the
reamlme so helpe vs gode.101
The oath Aske composed for Sawley Abbey began:
Ye shall swere to bere trew faith & fauor unto god his faith & church
matenaunyce and the kynges grace to subdue & expulse all villayn blod from
the sayd kynges grace & his privey councell/ and to suppress all herisei and
1 09
ther openions to the best of your power for the comon welth.
Finally, Aske's famous oath of honorable men read:
Ye shall not entre to this our pilgramaige of grace for the common wealth but
oonly for the love ye bere to goddes faithe and churche myltant and the
maynetenance therof The preseruacyon of the kinges persone his Issue and the
purifieng of the nobilitie and to expulse all vilaynes bloode and evill
councesailours against the comen welth of the same / And that ye shall not
entre into our said pylgremaige for no peculiar profuyte to our selves ne to do
no displeasure to no private persoune but by counsaile of the commene wealthe
nor sle nor murder for no envye but in your hertes to put awaye all feare for the
commune welthe And to take before you the crosse of cryste and your hertes
faithe to the restitucyon of his churche and to the suppressyon of hertykes
opynyons by the holy contentes of thys boke.I03

NA SPl/107, fol. 136r (LP, XI 645). My italics.
NA SP1/109, fol. 110v (LP, XI 872).
NA SP1/108, fol. 48r (LP, XI 705). This version is printed in Bernard, King's Reformation, 330.
For another version of this oath with very slight differences see T. Northcote Toller (ed.),
Correspondence of Edward, Third Earl of Derby, During the Years 24 to 31 Henry VIII, Chetham
Society, n.s., vol. 19 (Manchester, 1890), 50-51; Hoyle, Pilgrimage of Grace, 457-458. For a more
altered version of this oath that adds clauses about the pilgrims being unable to depart the host without
license from their captains and about keeping their communication secret, see NA SP1/109, fol. 248r
(LP, XI 902), printed in Hoyle, Pilgrimage of Grace, 458-459. A miniature historiographical debate
exists on whether Aske's oath of honorable men was a departure from the rebels' grievances of
Lincolnshire. Hoyle, following Madeleine and Ruth Dodds, suggested that Aske's oath should be read
as follows: You shall not enter to this our Pilgrimage of grace for the commonwealth but only for the
love you bear to God's faith and Church militant, etc. Aske's goal, then, was to point out that the
rebellion was not about tax grievances or the commonwealth but about the church; Hoyle, Pilgrimage
ofGrace, 206-207. See also Dodds, Pilgrimage of Grace, 1:139. Bernard disagreed. Bernard argued
that Aske's oath should be read as follows: You shall not enter to this our-Pilgrimage-of-Grace-for-the-

Two features stand out in these oaths. The first is how similar the first two oaths are
to a standard oath of fidelity. The juxtaposition of "faith" with "truth" and the
emphasis on serving to the "best" or "uttermost" of one's power were standard clauses
in an oath of fidelity, clauses that could have been lifted directly from the oath of
succession.104 The second is that these oaths qualified the pilgrims' fidelity to the
king by swearing to maintain and restore the church, and to suppress heretics and
expel villain blood. The Beverley oath even added the modifier "lawful," suggesting
the rebels were not bound to be true to the king's unlawful acts and demands. Yet
while the rebels' oath restricted their loyalty to Henry, nothing in the rebels' oath
contradicted the oath of succession. There was nothing in the rebels' oath against the
Boleyn marriage or succession. Indeed, Aske's oath of honorable men expressly
bound the swearer to maintain the king's issue. Neither was there anything in the
rebels' oath on the pope or previous oaths of loyalty to foreign powers. The rebels'
oath certainly challenged the thrust of the king's religious policy, but the actual text of
the oath of succession had not bound Henry's subjects to the specific features of this
policy. By swearing an oath that combined fidelity to the king with defense of the
church and repression of heresy, the rebels were declaring their interpretation of the
fidelity they had sworn to Henry in the oath of succession and binding their
conscience to this interpretation. And because the actual text of the oath of succession
was conservative, this interpretation was technically valid.

commonwealth for any reason (especially not for any particular profit to yourselves) but only for the
love your bear to God's faith and Church militant, etc. Bernard claimed, "What the religious
concerns'but only for the maintenance of God's faith and Church militant'are being contrasted
with is not the commonwealth but rather the later instruction (which Hoyle fails to quote) 'not to enter
into our pilgrimage for private profit or displeasure to an private person, but by counsel of the
commonwealth.'" The commonwealth thus remained an integral part of the Yorkshire uprising;
Bernard, King's Reformation, 229-330. In general, I agree with Bernard's reading of the oath. Both the
later section of Aske's oath of honorable men and the other versions of the rebel oath circulating in
Yorkshire at this time continue to make references to the commonwealth. Aske was not seeking to cut
the commonwealth out of the pilgrims' program. Hoyle was correct, however, in emphasizing that
Aske's concern was not tax grievances but the maintenance of the Church. These two opinions can be
reconciled if we recognize that the term 'commonwealth' did not refer simply to tax grievances but the
general health of the realm in which the maintenance of the Church played a major role. For the rebels,
to have a strong commonwealth was to maintain the Church.
See Appendix D for the oath of succession.

The rebels' oath was thus a response to the oath of succession, a response in
which the pilgrims reaffirmed their loyalty to the king while at the same time binding
themselves to a religious policy that opposed the recent religious innovations of the
Henrician regime. Numerous contemporaries connected the oaths of the rebels to the
oath of succession, though not everyone concluded the pilgrims' oath was a valid
interpretation of the oath of succession. As we have argued, the commons and their
leaders believed that the two oaths were conciliatory. When Robert Aske was first
stopped by the Lincolnshire rebels and commanded to swear, Aske replied "that he
was ons sworn to the Kinges hignes and issue, and that he wold not be sworn agayn to
any other intent." Upon learning the content of the rebels' oath, however, he
responded, "in this oth is ther no treson, but standing with his first oth."105 When John
Hallom tendered the rebels' oath to Hugh Langdale, Hallom asked Langdale, "whether
there was any thing therin that a man might not lawfully swere." Langdale replied,
"that he thought not."106 Those who were lukewarm in their support of the rebells
used the overlap between the oath of succession and the pilgrim's oath as a way of
avoiding the latter oath. They argued that since they had already sworn fidelity to the
king in the oath of succession, there was no need for them to swear it again in the
rebels' oath. When the commons instructed Bernard Towneley, Chancellor of the
diocese of Carlisle, and his group to swear their oath to "be true to almyghty god his
chyrche the kynges maieste & the comon welthe," Towneley answered that they "were
bounde to allrede." Likewise, when William Leache demanded that the sheriff of
Lincolnshire Edward Dymmoke take the rebels' oath, Dymmoke responded,
"wherefore should I swear? I am sworn to the king already."108 Those who directly
opposed the rebels saw the pilgrims' oath as against their previous oath of fidelity to
the king. When the Stapleton host instructed Sir Ralph Ellerker the younger to take
the rebels' oath, Ellerker refused, claiming "he was sworne to the Kinges personne,

Aske confessed when interrogated by the crown after his capture. His confession is printed in
Bateson, "Pilgrimage of Grace," 332.
NA E36/119, fol. 22v (LP, XII (i) 201 (ii)).
NA SP1/117, fol. 43r (LP, XII (i) 687).
NA SP1/110, fol. 124v (LP, XI 967), quoted in Hoyle, Pilgrimage of Grace, 440.

and other oathe he woulde take none without the Kinges pleasure."109 Similarly, when
the commons commanded Harry Sais, servant of Christopher Askew, to swear to be
"trewe to god & to the king," he was content to swear. But when one of the commons
added "and not to vs?" Sais replied, "anon yf ye be trewe to the king or els I wolde be
lothe to swere."'10 Sais recognized that an oath of loyalty to the commons would be
lawful only if it did not conflict with the loyalty he owed (and had sworn to) the king.
These examples highlight, first, that the players involved in the Pilgrimage of Grace
considered the rebels' oath in light of their previous oath to the king (the oath of
succession) and second, the ambiguity of the rebels' oath. It could be interpreted as
reconcilable to the oath of succession or contradictory to it depending on one's view
of the rebellion in general.
Perhaps the strongest indication that the pilgrims formulated their oath in light
of the oath of succession and that the relationship between these two oaths was a
matter of debate during the rebellion comes from an untitled, unsigned, and much-
mutilated list of propositions. These propositions contained material on Henry's
supreme headship, heretical bishops, parliamentary procedure, and English customs.
The list of propositions was most likely drawn up as a guide to what was to be
discussed at the conference of leading northern divines at Pontefract castle since most
of the propositions on the list were indeed discussed at the rebel-controlled Pontefract
council at the end of 1536.''' Among the propositions we find the following:
Item, if one othe be .. . the same may be adnulled or noo. Item, if one othe be
made, [an]d after one oder othe to the contrary, and by the latter othe the partie
is sw[orn to] repute and take the first othe voyde, wheder it may be soo by . . .
lawe or noo. Item, if a kyng by his law w[ill] wyll hys realme after hys deith
& in especially furth of the righte lyne of in heritaunce yeroff / whedder the
subiectes of the same realme be bounde by godes lawes to obey & performe
the same wyll or noo.' n

Cox, "William Stapleton and the Pilgrimage of Grace," 85 (LP, XII (i) 392).
NA SP1/109, fol. 200v (LP, XI 879).
Dodds, Pilgrimage of Grace, 1:342. We know that Aske sent Archbishop Lee a list of propositions
to be discussed at Pontefract: LP, Xll (i) 1022, 698 (3), 901 (107). It is possible that the list discussed
in this paragraph was the one Aske sent to Lee.
NA SP1/112, fol. 24v (LP, XI 1182 (2)).

These particular articles were never discussed at the Pontefract conference. Madeleine
and Ruth Dodds suggested that the northern clergy chose to ignore these points
because they were well aware that their oaths of supremacy had contradicted their
oaths of canonical obedience to the pope, and they were uncomfortable addressing that
1 1 "^

contradiction. This may be true. Nevertheless, the fact that the propositions on
oaths are immediately followed by a proposition on whether subjects are bound to the
will of a king who altered the line of his inheritance implies, in my opinion, that the
rebels were primarily referring to the relationship of the pilgrims' oath to the oath of
succession. The writer of this manuscript probably hoped that the northern divines
would clarify the exact relationship between these oaths. Alternatively, the writer
might be referring to the relationship of their pilgrims' oath to a new oath Henry VIII
was demanding that all the rebels swear, an oath that explicitly repudiated the rebels'
oath. (Although this oath was not yet being tendered among the Yorkshire rebels at
the time of the Pontefract conference, the rebels would probably have known of its
existence since, the Duke of Suffolk had tendered a version of it to the rebels of
Lincolnshire in October after the uprising there had collapsed.'l4) Regardless of
whether these articles concerned the relationship of the pilgrims' oath to the oath of
succession or to the oath newly devised by the crown, the articles demonstrate that the
relationship of the pilgrims' oath to an oath of fidelity to the king was a key issue, an
issue made more important by the rebels contentious claim that their oath did not
conflict with their loyalty to the king.
The genius of the pilgrims' oaththat it responded to the Henrician
Reformation by combining the fidelity sworn in the oath of succession with a rejection
of the recent religious policywas also its greatest weakness. Once it became
apparent that the king did not support the commons or the commons' rejection of the
reformation of the 1530s, it became much harder to maintain that the loyalty the
pilgrims swore to the commons or commonwealth was reconcilable with the loyalty
sworn to the king. This came out in January and February of 1537 when Hallom,
Bigod, and others re-ignited local rebellions in repudiation of the king's December
Dodds, Pilgrimage of Grace, 1:342-343.
' 14 For more on this, see below.

pardon. Bigod made such an observation in a speech he gave on a hillock at
Setterington to rouse support for his new uprising: "And yet the same is no pardon.
Also here ye are called Rebells, by the which ye shall knowledge yourself to have
doon ageinst the king which is contrarie to yourothe." Bigod's response was to
devise and tender a new oath, "theffect wherof was in all things like the former othe
with this addicion. that no man shulde geve counsaill to any man to sitt still untill
suche tyme as they had obteyned their former articles."1' In essence, Bigod was
asserting that only by refusing the December pardon and staying in the field could the
pilgrims remain unperjured and keep their oath to be true to the God, the king, and the
commonwealth. Other pilgrims, however, construed Bigod's rebellion as being
contrary to that same oath. Even though George Lumley was a participant
(unwillingly?) in Bigod's rebellion, when the commons of the same rebellion
pressured him to occupy Scarborough castle, Lumley replied, "he would not be of
their counsel to enter into the castle, for it was the King's house, and there had they
nor he nothing to do. And their oath was to do no thing against the King."117
Similarly, when a messenger arrived in the town of Durham bearing a copy of Bigod's
new oath and a letter exhorting them to rise, the officers of the town responded that
they had sworn an oath to rise and take up arms only if commanded by the Earl of
Westmoreland or by the king, so they would abide by the king's pardon. Indeed,
the majority of the gentlemen of the north who had joined the Pilgrimage in October
and December of 1536 rejected Bigod's logic and stayed loyal to the king in January
and February of 1537. The split among the pilgrims engendered by Bigod's revolt

LP, VII (i) 369, printed in full in Milner and Benham, Records of the Lumleys, quotation from 38.
Milner and Benham, Records of the Lumleys, 40. The text of Bigod's new oath was as follows: "Ye
shall swere to kepe trewlie all these articles contened in the othe lately gevenn yow by the Commons at
ther last assemblyng as well towchyng crist churche & faithe ther of as the kynges grace & all the
faithfull commons of this realme / morouer ye shall not counsell or perswade by noo meanes any
persone to take order in this matter or stay but ernestlie & in the name of John to [pre]pare your selfe to
batell agaynst all thoyse which are the vndoers of Christ Churche & of the Commons welth & not
retorne bake from or good Jornay whils all or petioones be graunted soo helpe yow god your
holidomme & by this boke. God save the kyng & all the trew commons"; NA SP1/114, fol. 181r {LP,
XII (i) 147). For slightly different version of this oath, see NA SP1/114, fol. 183r.
Dodds, Pilgrimage of Grace, 2:70.
Dodds, Pilgrimage of Grace, 2:78; Michael Bush and David Bownes, The Defeat of the Pilgrimage
of Grace: A Study of the Postpardon Revolts of December 1536 to March 1537 and Their Effect (Hull:
University of Hull Press, 1999), 223.

therefore illustrates the conundrum inherent in the rebels' oath: how the commons
who had sworn to be loyal to the king could maintain their integrity once it became
apparent that the king opposed them.
The king himself clearly connected the pilgrims' oath to the oath of succession,
and he left no doubt that he considered the former to be in direct derogation of the
latter. When Henry heard that his commissioners for the subsidy had not resisted the
commons of Lincolnshire, he marveled that they, "being our sworne seruauntes . . .
wold be so fonde to put your self in to their handes and not acording to your
dewties."119 In a letter to Ellerker and Bowes chastising them and others for
becoming party to the commons, Henry claimed that the Pilgrimage was against God's
command and the allegiance his subjects had sworn to him: "ffor god commaundeth
them to obeye their prince what soeuer he be yee though he shuld not directe them
lustly and their othe of Alleageance which passeth all othes and is the foundacion
without the keping of whiche al other othes be but nought and vayne."' 20 To Henry,
the pilgrims' oath was "nought and vayne" because it contradicted the oath of
Henry thus saw the pilgrims' oath as compromising his subjects' loyalty to
him. By swearing oaths to be loyal to each other and to a platform that opposed the
king's religious policy, the pilgrims vitiated the allegiance they had sworn to him in
the oath of succession. By responding to the oath of succession with their own oath,
the bonds of the first oath had been weakened. As such, Henry did not allow the
rebels' oath to stand unchallenged. In the aftermath of the revolt, Henry had his
commissionersthe Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk and the Earl of Shrewsbury
tender a new oath to all those involved in the rebellion, an oath that expressly nullified
the rebels' oath. This oath was not originally Henry's idea. When the revolt in
Lincolnshire collapsed in mid-October, Henry sent Suffolk and Shrewsbury to
Lincolnshire to cause the gentlemen to make a submission and make the commons

NA SP1/106, fol. 301r (LP, XI 569).
NA E 36/121, fol. 25r (LP, XI, 1175).


perform a set of articles. Suffolk, however, turned these articles into an oath on his
own and tendered it to the Lincolnshire rebels, as evidenced by Henry's letter to
Suffolk on October 22:
And wheras you doo signifie vnto vs in your said Lres that you haue sworn
certan gentlimen and others according to the tenor of [the] commission Ye
shall vnderstand we remember not that we haue sent vnto you for that purpose
any other commission thenne certain Articles signed with the our hande / and
therfor require you to signifie vnto vs whither you haue ministered that othe
according to the said Articles or otherwise.1
That same day, Suffolk wrote to Henry VIII that the rebels of Lincolnshire had "taken
their oaths according to instructions."123
Although Henry was not the originator of the idea of making the rebels swear a
new oath, he quickly approved of it. When he sent the Duke of Norfolk and Lord
Admiral William Fitzwilliam up to Doncaster at the end of November to deliver the
king's response to the rebel grievances, to issue the king's pardon, and to demand their
submission, Henry added: "And the said Duke of Norfolk, and Lord Admyrall, in cace
this men growe to a submission, not onely cause them, that shalbe presente, to receyve
suche othe, as the Licolnshir men have sworn and receyved." Indeed, the original
proclamation for pardon for Yorkshire on December 2 seems to have been an exact
and thus outdated replication of the proclamation for Lincolnshire, for it declared that
all rebels should come to the city of Lincoln and in the presence of Suffolk (lord
lieutenant of Lincolnshire) "submitte them selfes to his highnes Renoncyng their late
rebellious othe and taking shuch a newe Othe as his grace hath prescribed for the same
their genrall and free pardon."125 Unlike Suffolk, however, Norfolk and Fitzwilliam
were not in a position of strength compared to the rebel host. In the end, after Henry
grudgingly consented, they ended up proclaiming the king's free pardon without
tendering the rebels an oath.I26

The articles Henry sent to Suffolk and Shrewsbury do not survive, though they are clearly mentioned
as being included in the letters Henry sent to Suffolk and Shrewsbury; LP, XI 715, 717.
NA SP1/109, fol. 22v (LP, XI 833).
LP, XI 838.
Stat Pap Pub, 1:504 (LP, XI 1064).
NAE36/119, fol. 84r.
Dodds, Pilgrimage of Grace, 2:1-23.

But Henry had not abandoned the idea. After the rebels had for the most part
dispersed, Henry sent Norfolk and the Earl of Sussex back to the north in February,
1537, instructing them to visit all the major areas of the uprising and tender the rebels
the king's new oath. Henry instructed them to assemble all the gentlemen and
notables of the area, and after they had sworn them, to proceed to administer the oath
to the commons. Furthermore, after the gentlemen had sworn to the king, the
gentlemen were to return to the countryside and tender the new oath to the rest of the
commons. Anyone who refused the oath was to be exempted from the king's pardon
and, if Norfolk or Sussex were in a position of strength, those who refused the oath
were to be apprehended and sentenced to execution.127 As we shall see, this time
Norfolk and Sussex carried out Henry's instructions, and the whole of the North again
swore another oath to the king.
This new oath that Henry had his commissioners tender to all rebels was
formulated to contradict directly the pilgrims' oath. Unfortunately, we do not know
the exact contents of the oath that Suffolk tendered to the Lincolnshire rebels in
October or that Norfolk and Sussex tendered to the rest of rebels in February. Three
versions of a draft of an oath to be tendered to the rebels survive, along with two
almost identical sets of specific instructions on how to tender this oath that parallel the
actual oath in many clauses. Some versions of this oath are stronger than others, but
none of them are dated. Bush and Bownes have assigned each oath to a different time
during the uprisings, but in the end, their assignments lack supportive evidence and
their claims remain pure supposition.I28 Yet no matter what form of the oath was

NASPl/114,fols. 108 v -109 r (IP,XII(i)98(l));NASPl/115,fols. 145", 147r-148r(LP,XII (i)
302); NA SP1/115, fol. 206" (LP, XII (i) 362).
Bush and Bownes claimed that the set of specific instructions on tendering the oath (NA E36/118,
fols. 61r"v, LP, XII (i) 98 (3)) form the content of the oath Suffolk first devised for the Lincolnshire
rebels in October. Their only evidence for this claim, however, is that this "oath" is written in the third
person. Of course, if this "oath" is not an oath at all but a set of instructions on how to tender the oath
that summarizes the oath's content (my position), we can account for the use of the third person without
making any unsupported claims about it being the oath devised by Suffolk from the king's articles.
Second, Bush and Bownes argued that the strongest and harshest oaths (NA SP1/113, fols. 117r-120v,
LP, XII (i) 98 (4-6)) were the ones the king initially ordered Norfolk to tender to the rebels at the
beginning of December in Doncaster in connection with the king's pardon. These oaths were the ones
the rebels never swore because Norfolk was forced to grant to the rebels the king's pardon without a
submission. Finally, Bush and Bownes asserted that the weakest oath (NA SP1/113, fol. 122r, LP, XII
(i) 98 (7)) was the one Norfolk and Sussex actually tendered the rebels in February and March of 1537.

actually tendered, it is clear that the oath was designed as a response to the rebels'
oath. The instructions for the tendering of the oath read:
wher as they haue heretofore within the tyme of this Rebellyon conspired
together and haue made certain othes and promyses contrary to their dueties of
alleagance and to the grete offence of god and their owne contience they shall
nowe by their othes taken before our lieutenante and counsaill swere and make
sure faithe and promise vtterly to refuse and renounce all their said former
The strongest oath opened with the clause:
ffirst ye shall swere that ye be hertely sorye that ye haue offended the kings
hieghness in this Rebellion and that ye shall repute and take all othes
heretofore made to any personne or personnes for or towching the saide
Rebellion to be vayne vnlawfull and of none effect and also that ye haue
offended god and his hieghnes in taking of suche othe as youe haue Receyved
for that purpose.130
Another version of the oath repeated this information but added that the rebels' oath

had been "taken against your dieuties of Alleagiance." Even the weakest form of
the oath, while omitting material on the rebels' oath being unlawful and offensive to
God and the rebels' own consciences, still declared: "And you shall vtterly renounce
all such othes as you haue made during the time of this commotion, and repute the
same to be voyde and of non effect."132 Moreover, all the forms of the oath also
included some variation on the standard phrase of fidelity where the swearer pledged

The government toned down this oath in comparison to the previous oaths, supposed Bush and Bownes,
out of fear of inciting the rebels into further rebellion if the rebels found the oath too offensive. See
Bush and Bownes, Defeat of the Pilgrimage, 369-370. Although Bush and Bownes' argument does
make logical sense, there is no historical evidence to support it. Nothing in the surviving
correspondences from the period suggests that the oath Henry sent up with Norfolk at the end of 1536
was any different from the oath tendered to the Lincolnshire rebels. Nor is there any direct evidence
that the government caused Norfolk and Sussex to tender a weaker oath because they feared further
rebellion, though I will argue below from indirect evidence that Bush and Bownes are right in this
claim. Bernard has thus recognized that in the end, it is impossible to know what forms of the oath
were tendered when, or indeed what forms of the oath were tendered at all; Bernard, King's
Reformation, 389-390.
NA E36/118, fol. 61 r (LP, XII (i) 98 (3)). See also an almost identical clause is the other set of
instructions: NA SP1/114, fol. 123r (LP, XII (i) 98 (8)).
N A SP1/114, fol. 117r (LP, XII (i) 98 (4)).
NA SP1/114, fol. 120r (LP, XII (i) 98 (6)).
NA SP1/114, fol. 122r (LP, XII (i) 98 (7)).

to be a "true and ffaythful subgyet vnto the king."133 Henry thus considered the
rebels' oath to be contrary to the loyalty they owed him as faithful subjects. Just as in
his response to the bishops' oath of canonical obedience to the pope, Henry reacted by
tendering the rebels another oath, an oath that explicitly nullified the oath the rebels'
swore in the Pilgrimage and re-established their loyalty to Henry.
The differences between the various forms of the king's new oath do become
significant, however, when we consider whether Henry bound the rebels to be loyal
simply to him (as in the oath of succession) or whether he bound them to be loyal to
him and his specific religious policy (as in the various oaths of supremacy). Some of
the forms of the oath have the rebels swear to be faithful and true to Henry "in Erthe
Supreme hed of the churche of Englande," while the instructions for the oath and the
weakest form of the oath make no mention of Henry's supremacy.,34 Again, the
strongest form of the oath binds the swearer to assist, to the best of his power, all the
commissioners appointed for the suppression of the monasteries.135 Other forms of
the oath omit any reference to the monasteries. Indeed, the weakest form of the oath
does not contain any express allusion to Henry's religious changes. It simply binds
the swearer to be faithful to the king, to reject all oaths made in the insurrection, to do
no treason or felony, not to rise up in commotion again, and to be obedient to the king,
his lieutenant, and his laws.I36 These differences are important because the
suppression of the monasteries was a major grievance of the rebels. The rebel oath
summarized by Lord Darcy even included a clause in which the rebels bound
themselves to suffer no spoiling or suppression of the monasteries.I37 The royal
supremacy was also a hot issue, though the rebels never swore an oath about it and

NA SP1/114, fols. 117\ 118r, 120r, 123r {LP, XII (i) 98 (4-6, 8)). The weakest form of the oath
changed the wording but the sense was the same. It read, "you shall swere to be true liegeman to the
king our souereign lorde henry the eight"; NA SP1/114, fol. 122r {LP, XII (i) 98 (7)).
For oaths mentioning Henry's supremacy, see NA SP1/114, fols. 117', 118r, 120r {LP, XII (i) 98 (4-
6)). For the oath and instructions that do not mention Henry's supremacy, see NA SP1/114, fols. 122r,
123r {LP, XII (i) 98 (7-8)).
For the oath (in two almost identical versions) that mentions the monasteries, see NA SP1/114, fols.
117r, 118rv {LP, XII (i) 98 (4-5)).
NA SP1/114, fol. 122r {LP, XII (i) 98 (7)).
NA SP1/196, fol. 286r {LP, XI 563 (2)).

were not in complete agreement over it. ' Some of these forms of the king's new
oath thus would have been more offensive to the rebels' consciences than others.
Which form of the oath, then, did the kings' commissioners administer to the
pilgrims? Madeleine and Ruth Dodds guessed that they tendered the weakest form of
the oath since that was the simplest.139 Bush and Bownes agreed, claiming that the
regime feared that the stronger oaths "might incite further revolt."1 Bernard,
conversely, has proposed that the stronger oath was more likely tendered since it was
more in agreement with the tone of the instructions sent to Suffolk and Norfolk, and
with Henry's insistence on the suppression of