Just prior to the English Civil War, all English men over the age of 18 were asked to sign the Protestation Returns affirming their support for the Church of England. The following passage describes the Act and the reason for its promulgation in more detail:
The Protestation Returns owe their existence to the unrest which prevailed in Parliament during the passage of the bill for the Attainder of the Earl of Strafford in 1641. The House of Commons had passed the bill on the 21st of April and the House of Lords gave it a second reading on the 27th April. The Upper House were known, however to favour the continuation of the procedure by impeachment, and it was not certain whether they would finally pass the bill. Moreover the House of Commons learnt on the 28th April that a plan had been made for rescuing Strafford, and rumours were current of various plots to persuade the King to use the army to overawe Parliament and thus release Strafford. An unsuccessful attempt made by the King to occupy the Tower of London caused rioting near the Houses of Parliament and his speech in the House of Lords on the 1st of May against the execution of Strafford also produced great alarm. On the 3rd May John Pym declared in the House of Commons that it was necessary to be careful that the King "have good counsellors about him" and that the House of Commons ought "to let him understand that he is bound to maintain the laws and that we take care for the maintaining of the Word of God." After other speakers had spoken vaguely of the necessity for the organisation of some form of resistance, Henry Marten said "We are honest disjointed fellows. Let us unite ourselves for the pure worship of God, the defence of the King and his subjects in all their legal rights." George Peard reminded the House of the oath of Association taken in Queen Elizabeth's reign, and Denzil Holles said that a similar protestation would show the world that they were united. Accordingly a committee of ten members was appointed to draw up a form of Protestation and it was ordered that no members should stir out of the House without leave, nor speak to the messengers. The Protestation was agreed upon and all members were ordered to sign it. On the following day, the 4th May, the Protestation was agreed to by the House of Lords and all the Protestant Peers signed it. It ran as follows :-
I, A.B., do in the presence of Almighty God, promise, vow and protest to maintain and defend, as far as lawfully I may, with my Life, Power and Estate the true Reformed Protestant Religion, expressed in the Doctrine of the Church of England, against all Popery and Popish Innovations within this Realm, contrary to the same Doctrine, and according to the Duty of my Allegiance, His Majesty's Royal, Person, Honour and Estate, as also the Power and Privileges of Parliaments, the lawful Rights and Liberties of the Subjects, and every person that maketh this Protestation, in whatsoever he shall do in the lawful Pursuance of the same; and to my power, and as far as lawfully I may, I will oppose and by all good Ways and Means endeavour to bring to condign Punishment all such as shall, either by Force, Practice Counsels, Plots, Conspiracies, or otherwise, do any Thing to the contrary of any Thing in this present Protestation contained; and further, that I shall in all just and honourable Ways, endeavour to preserve the Union and Peace betwixt the three Kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland: and neither for Hope, Fear, nor any other Respect, shall relinquish this Promise, Vow and Protestation.
On the 6th May a bill was introduced in the House of Commons imposing the obligation of signing the Protestation on all Englishmen. It provided that those who refused to sign were held to be incapable of holding office, and that Peers who refused were to be deprived of their seats in the House of Lords. It was doubtless this latter provision which led the Upper House to reject the bill on the 29th July. But on the 30th July the House of Commons passed a resolution that all who refused the Protestation were unfit to hold office in Church or Commonwealth, and this was ordered to be printed. It was not, however, until the following January that the Protestation itself was printed. Copies were Sent down to the sheriffs without further delay and accompanying them was the following letter of instructions from the Speaker of the House of Commons:
Accordingly, the Speaker of the House of Commons desired:
The High Sheriff and the Justices of the Peace of that County to meet together in one Place, as soon as possible you may, and there to take the Protestation yourselves, and then, dispersing yourselves into your several Divisions, that you will call together the Minister, the Constables, Churchwardens and Overseers of the Poor of every Parish, and tender unto them the Protestation, to be taken in your presence, and to desire of them that they will very speedily call together the Inhabitants of their several Parishes, both Householders and others, being of Eighteen Years of age and upwards, into One or more Places, according to the largeness of their Parishes, and to tender unto them the same Protestation, to be taken in their Presence, and to take their names, both of those that do take it, and do refuse to take the same Protestation; and to return them to yourselves
Just imagine the work involved gathering all men aged 18 and over together in 1642 and the impact of the Protestation on the community when, in the last week in February or the first in March, the parish priest read the protestation in church.
All individuals bearing the various family names in the parishes concerned ‘signed’ the Protestation.
|Joh||STODDENN (or STODDERNE)||-||-|
|Ha||BONYTHON||-||March the first 1641. A Promise Vowe and Protestation taken at His Majesty's Castle of St Mawes by Hanniball Bonython commanding there under the right Honourable Thomas Erle of Arundell and Surrey Erle Marshall of England etc together by all the souldiers of the foresayd garryson whose names are herunder written|