Oaths are useful sources for showing the expectations that the community had of the performance of its official representatives or its servants, and of the return obligation of the members of the community. At the ceremonies for swearing in officers, or for men entering thethe franchise, the text of the appropriate oath would be read out while the oath-taker had his hand on the Bible and (presumably) stated his agreement/compliance at the end of the reading of the oath. Administering sacred oaths, which relied on the strength of religious beliefs and the personal sense of honour of the oath-taker, and whose infringement could be the basis for dismissal or disfranchisement, was the chief means by which standards of conduct could be communicated and enforced.
Most oaths are known only from undated but late versions recorded in the Ipswich Domesday books, although some of the key elements are found in the account of the setting up of self-government in 1200 or implied in the custumal. A proto-version of the oath required from the new burgess is found in a court roll from 1339/40, with minor elaborations made in 1346. My aim here is to render them in modern English, rather than give an absolutely literal translation.
Burgess' oath, 1346They are sworn that they shall be at lot and scot in all aids [imposed on] the town of Ipswich whenever and to whatever extent shall be necessary and whenever they are forewarned to contribute to the same by the officers of the town. And that they shall not pretend to be their own the goods or merchandize of foreigners or outsiders. And that they shall resolutely conceal the secrets of the town. And that they shall be obedient to the bailiffs and their [i.e. the bailiffs'] officers and to the coroners of the town who are, or shall be, not causing any dissension or conspiracy to the disturbance of the town. And that each one of them shall have a residence within the town liberties within a year and a day; if not, then the liberties granted to them shall forever be considered void.
Burgess' oath, late 15th centuryHear this, you bailiffs, coroners and portmen, and all other men present, that I shall henceforth be a true burgess and keep [to myself] the counsels and private matters of the town and its Great Courts, and not discuss them. Nor shall I in any way disguise the goods of any man as my own goods, so that the town should lose any right or profit that is, custom, toll or other profit to which the town has a right. And also I shall be obedient to present or future bailiffs and portmen, and at all times obey to the best of my ability the commands of the bailiffs. And also I shall be to the best of my ability at lot and scot as a burgess to all types of charges that must be borne by the town or the franchise. And I shall support and maintain the town and franchise with my body, goods and chattels against all men, except our sovereign lord the king and his royal authority, so help me God. And also I shall have within a year and a day a freehold within the town (as a burgess should), at which I may be summoned, or else lose my burgess status forever.
[to which a slightly later hand has added]
Every man who strives to become a burgess of this town shall first be examined under oath upon a Book that he is no bondman, but free-born and of free status. For no bondman shall be admitted as a burgess, not for gold, nor silver, nor any other thing. Ordained in the 23rd year of King Henry VII [1507/08].
Bailiff's oath, early 15th century
You swear that you shall serve our lord the king well and loyally in the office of bailiff of the town of Ipswich, keep his borough safe and sound, protect it for him and his heirs, perform all duties for preserving the rights of king and crown, and not allow any concealment of the rights of franchises of the king. And if you know of any rights of the king that are contravened or concealed, do your utmost to combat it; and if you cannot, then you will inform the king or those of his council who you anticipate will advise the king. And you will treat the people of your ballivalty properly, doing right to anyone resident or stranger, rich or poor in all things that belong to you to do. And not through shame nor for riches, gift, promise or favour shall you disturb anything or take anything so that the king or his rights suffer. And that you take good care in the assizes of bread, wine, ale and all other victuals and measures in the borough, taking swift action against infringements that are found, and well and faithfully administer all constitutions and ordinances recorded in the common book called the Book of Constitutions of the Borough. And you shall well and faithfully perform all other duties pertaining to the office of bailiff, so help you God.
Chamberlain's oath, early 15th centuryYou swear that you shall collect and levy, or make to be collected and levied, to the works and profit of the town, all rents, farms, customs, tolls, amercements of court and leet, and all other dues, profits and commodities of the town that pertain to your office of chamberlain. And that you handle the revenues of the town honestly, to the best of your ability, not concealing a penny nor the value of a penny to your own use and to the loss of the town, but well and truly render account to the community of the town, or to those whom they assign, at any reasonable time when required, so help you God.
Sergeant-at-mace's oath, early 15th centuryYou swear that you shall duly and honestly execute all summonses, attachments, decrees, orders and requirements of court, bailiffs and coroners that pertain to your office of sergeant, carrying out and making return on all you are charged to do. Not concealing any complaint, nor making any summons, attachment or decree without orders from the bailiffs, [justices of the peace interlined in a later hand], coroners or court. And well and honestly performing your duties within a reasonable time, so help you God.
Portman's oath, mid-15th centuryYou shall swear to well and faithfully keep and govern the town of Ipswich and maintain, to the best of your ability, all liberties, franchises and good customs of the town. And to give your full aid and support to the indifferent rendering of judgements of the court, with equal regard to every person, both rich and poor. And do the best you can for the honour of the town, so help you God.
Councillor's oath, mid-15th centuryYou shall swear to be diligent in attending the Great Courts and assemblies of the general council of the town of Ipswich, and [in responding to] commands of the bailiffs. And not to procure, agree to, or give advice to any major decision that you consider prejudicial or to the damage or dishonour of the town. But to give your fullest support, advice and agreement to the preservation of the liberties of the town, for the profit, benefit and honour of the town and its burgesses, so help you God.
Common clerk's oath, late 15th or early 16th century[this oath was hurriedly scrawled out, with deletions and interlined additions, and parts are illegible - which I indicate by ellipses]
You shall swear to keep a true record of all pleas, executions [of judgements], [legal] processes and actions [brought] before the bailiffs and the coroners [deleted] ... and record extracts of all that ... pleas and ... as for your ... that may be profitable to the town. And behave well and honestly in all things that pertain to your office, so help you.