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 the 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.
Oaths of Lynn officers are scattered among several records, notably:
Most oaths are undated, and I have had to estimate dates based on their context. One version of the mayor's oath is dateable because it is known to have been administered to Robert Brunham in 1415, but since this was in a time of constitutional upheaval we cannot be certain whether this was the normal oath or one redrafted for the occasion. The same applied to one version of the jurat's and town clerk's oaths, which likely date from the same time.
Burgess' oath, late 14th centuryHe swears to maintain the franchises of the town, while both inside and outside town, to conceal the counsels of the town, to be obedient to the mayor, [his sergeant interlined] and all officers of the town.
Burgess' oath, second quarter of the 15th centuryHear this, the mayor and community, that [I] shall with all my power truly maintain the franchises of Lynn, inside and outside, and be obedient to the mayor and his successors and the council of this town, [and] obey and assist the officers of the town in performance of their duties. So help me God.
Electors' oath, late 14th century[They swear] to elect a sufficient and profitable man as mayor, 4 sufficient and profitable men as chamberlains, 24 good and wise men to counsel the mayor, a clerk and sergeant, 3 keepers for the East, South and St. Anne's gates, a bedeman and wait, and the mayor's sergeant.
[Parts of this record are damaged to the point of illegibility. Waits (minstrels) were on the borough payroll in the late 1360s and early 1370s, which suggests a date for the group of ordinances in the "Custumal"; in 1456 they were assigned a borough tenement in which to live while in office, but seem not to have had a salary as such. The bedeman seems to have been a shared employee of borough and Merchant Gild and his chief responsibility was to make public announcements (notably of the deaths of townsmen). St. Anne's gate was the northern gate, at Dowshill. A holder of the office mayor's sergeant, as opposed to the common sergeant, is identified in 1414-16, but generally it is difficult to know during what period(s) there may have been two separate sergeants.]
Electors' oath, second quarter of the 15th centurySirs, you shall swear to use your discretion well and truly, without favouritism, fraud or evil intent, to choose as mayor for the coming year (from Michaelmas onward) a man able and sufficient for the profit of the community. So help you God. Furthermore you shall choose 4 sufficient burgesses to occupy the office of chamberlain in the town, a common clerk, a sergeant, 3 gatekeepers for the east gate, the south gate, Dowshill gate, and two Gannock gates, and a bellman; you shall make a good and true choice of them for the year to come. So help you God.
Mayor's oath, 1415Sir, you shall place your hand upon the book and swear that you shall govern and rule the entire community of this town well and truly, with all your ability and diligence, from this time forth to Michaelmas when the mayor is chosen. And maintain all the franchises of the town, and every parcel thereof both within and without, with all your power, so help you God.
Mayor's oath, late 14th century[This has no substantial differences from the version given above, although it is phrased in the third person, rather than the second as above.]
Mayor's oath, second quarter of the 15th centurySir, you shall place your hand upon the book and swear that you shall govern and rule the community of this town well and truly, with all your might, ability and diligence, during the year that you are mayor. And maintain all the franchises of the town, and every parcel thereof both within and without, with all power, wisdom and business [acumen], and perform all other duties that pertain to the office of mayor of this town. So help you God.
Oath of the mayor to the Bishop, given at Gaywood manor, 14th century[With his hand] in the hand of the Bishop or his deputy he takes oath that he shall faithfully and diligently perform each and every [duty] for which the mayor is responsible. And that he shall preserve all rights and liberties of the church of Norwich in their fullest entirety.
Alderman's oath, second quarter of the 15th centurySir, place your hand upon the book. Sir, you shall swear that you shall well and truly use your discretion, without favouritism, fraud or evil intent, to choose and nominate four "indifferent and not suspect" persons for the election of the mayor. So help you God.
[This oath related to the Merchant Gild alderman solely in his role in the election of a mayor, which was to choose the initial four members of an electoral committee; those four co-opted the remainder of the committee that would elect the mayor. The reference to choosing electors who were "indifferent and not suspect" means individuals not known to favour any particular political faction, and particularly not members of the jurats.]
Chamberlains' oath, late 14th centuryThey put their hands on the book and swear that they will to the best of their ability well and faithfully receive the revenues due the community, well and faithfully spend the same, and account faithfully for the same to the community, [after completing their term of office] delivering back to the mayor all things pertaining to their office.
Chamberlains' oath, second quarter of the 15th centurySir, you shall well and truly collect and receive the common goods [i.e. revenues] and make lawful and true expenditures from the same, as appropriate and when you are duly requested or ordered by the mayor. And give a good and true reckoning of the same, before the mayor and community, when you are required to or reasonably forewarned to by the mayor's officers. So help you God.
Jurats' oath, ca. 1415Sir, you shall place your hand upon the book and swear that you shall be obedient to the mayor and be ready to [attend on] him at all times when he sends for you on matters concerning the community. And well and truly advise the mayor and support his decisions, so help you God.
Jurat's oath, late 14th century[This is essentially the same as the first sentence of the above version.]
Oath of the 24 [deleted] venerable jurats, second quarter of the 15th centurySir, you shall be obedient to and ready to [attend on] the mayor when you are given reasonable and true notice thereof by the common sergeant or are summoned by the mayor for the business of the town. And well and truly advise and assist him. So help you God.
Oath of the 24 jurors for the view of land within Lynn, late 14th centurySir, you shall swear that you shall make a true investigation concerning freeholds within this borough, and make a true judgement between the king and the party, and between party and party, when you are lawfully required to or duly warned by the common sergeant, and act honestly with your colleagues in dealing with [the legal claims], making judgement and submitting a verdict. So help you God. [And keep to yourself the deliberations of you and your colleagues, so help you God added later, probably in the same hand as that of the Recorder's oath].
Oath of the common councillors, October 1418Sir, you shall swear that you shall come to the gildhall for the common council when you are warned by the common sergeant, and give good and true counsels for this town and the business concerning the town that is to say, in all [matters concerning] taxes, tallages, fifteenths, [and] loans; repairs to houses, bridges, fleets, [and] ditches; expenditures and giving of accounts, and making of valid allowances. Unless you have a good excuse [for not being able to come], you shall let nothing prevent you from doing this, so help you God.
[It was probably soon after the institution of the common council that this oath was formulated and recorded in the earliest Hall Book. "Loans" refers to loans sought occasionally by the king, which were a matter of some debate since they were often difficult to recover. "Allowances" refers to monies the chamberlains were released from having to account for, such as anticipated revenues that proved uncollectable, or additional expenses authorized during the accounting session (often fees of officers).]
Oath of the 27 persons of the common council, second quarter of the 15th centurySir, you shall come to the gildhall for the common council [meetings] when you are duly warned by the common sergeant, and give true counsel for this town and the business concerning the town that is to say, in all [matters concerning] taxes, tallages, fifteenths, [and] loans; repairs to houses, walls, bridges, fleets, [and] ditches; expenditures and giving of accounts, and making of valid allowances, and other charges and discharges that may need to be made, as need arises. So help you God.
Charge to the electors of the common council, second quarter of the 15th centuryLet it be remembered that folk resident in the constabularies do not take an oath, but must be charged in this manner: Sirs, you shall put your heads together and choose from the most sufficient, reasonable and discreet burgesses of this constabulary, possessing a suitable residence in town, three to be [present for added later] matters and business concerning the town, that is, all taxes [etc. as in the common councillor's oath]. [And if you fail (to find) any of your three, you shall choose from the next constabulary added later].
[See the article dealing with the election of the common council in the ordinances of 1420.]
Common clerk's oath, 1416You shall swear to be faithful to the mayor, jurats and rest of the burgesses of Lynn at all times and in all duties associated with the office of common clerk, [performing them] without favouritism or hatred and without [outside] influence. You will not spread among mayor, jurats and comburgesses any inaccurate, distorted or false report on any matter with which you have official dealings, but without any fraud will communicate information accurately (to the best of your knowledge) between the degrees of the town. In all matters you will behave disinterestedly towards mayor, jurats, burgesses of every degree, and the community, whether in writing, examining, reporting or any other action required by your official duties. You will reveal to no-one the deliberations of the same, to the damage or discredit of the town. If you know or learn of anything which you believe may bring harm or disgrace to the town, you will warn the mayor or one of the jurats who you consider will be willing and able to help you remedy the situation as you think best. You shall not stir up discord or dissension between the mayor, jurats, degrees of the borough, and community, or between any of their members, either openly or secretly; if you become aware of any such discords or dissensions you shall do your best to quell them, and may for the purpose of such suppression reveal your knowledge of them to others who may be able to assist in the suppression. So help you God and the holy evangelists.
[An oath with the degree of emphasis seen here might be considered paranoid, were it not to be understood within the context of the particularly divisive political conflict of that period between the classes ("degrees") within urban society. In essence the clerk is being required to stay neutral in any political conflict within the community, except that his principal loyalty is to the town government. I cannot think that the terminology of this oath had any particular individual in mind; the town clerk throughout the period of political troubles, William Ashebourne, seems to have behaved professionally enough, although his sympathies were with the potentiores party.]
Common clerk's oath, second quarter of the 15th centurySir, I shall be faithful and obedient to the mayor of Lynn, and write true records, and give honest counsel when I am asked or ordered to. And [I shall] perform all other duties that are associated with the office of common clerk of Lynn. So help me God. [And keep to yourself the deliberations of the town added later].
Recorder's oath, second quarter of the 15th centurySir, you shall give true counsel, based on your knowledge and discretion, when you are required to do so. And perform all other duties associated with the [office of] Recorder of this town, and keep to yourself the counsels of the town. So help you God.
[This oath was added to the rest in a later, possibly post-medieval, hand. The Recorder's office replaced that of the common clerk in 1456 (a change whose significance I hope to address in detail at some time in the future).]
Sergeant at mace's oath, second quarter of the 15th centurySir, you shall swear to be ready [to serve] and obedient to the mayor at all times; and to warn the 24 and 27 to come to the gildhall when the mayor so orders it, and [to warn] all others [to come] when the mayor orders you, and make honest answer [for having performed the duty?]. And all defaults [in appearance] of those who have been warned accurately record in the gildhall. And enforce the king's peace to the best of your ability within this franchise. And carry out arrests when you are ordered to by the mayor, and bring the parties before the mayor. And honestly perform all duties that are associated with the office of common sergeant within the franchise of this town. So help you God. [And keep to yourself the deliberations of the town added later].
Constable's oath, early 15th centurySir, you shall well and truly, to the best of your ability, keep and sustain the peace; [you shall] make rightful arrests and attachments of trespassers, evil-doers, troublemakers, and disturbers of the peace, and bring them before the mayor or to the gaol of Lynn. And well and honestly undertake and direct the [night]watches when your turn comes, according to the Statute of Winchester. And, when you are asked or required, present to the mayor the names of all who default or resist, concerning [participation in] the watch. And honestly perform all duties associated with the office of constable to the best of your ability, so help you God.
Constable's oath, second quarter of the 15th centurySir, you shall truly, to the best of your ability, maintain and sustain the king's peace within this franchise. And rightful arrests of trespassers, evil-doers, troublemakers, disturbers and upsetters of the king's peace, and bring them before the mayor or to the gaol of Lynn. And undertake the watches in the time of year [to which your watch is assigned] and direct them as their turn comes in the franchise, according to the statute of Winchester. And once a year present or deliver up to mayor and community in the gildhall the names of any who are rebellious or default concerning the watch. And perform all duties associated with the office of constable within the franchise of Lynn. So help you God.
Oath of the keepers of the east and Gannock gates, second quarter of the 15th centurySir, you shall well and truly keep the east gate and the Gannock gate, and let people in and out within the lawful hours. And give honest warning to the [night]watch [of those abroad after curfew?] according to the Statute of Winchester, and report any defaulters, and be obedient to the constables of the town when they perform their duties during the watch. And perform all duties that are associated with the office of porter. So help you God.
Tax assessors' oath, late 14th centuryIt is agreed, with the assent of the community, that those who shall assess the tax shall swear to assess it well and faithfully, sparing no man through love or friendship, nor taxing any man excessively through hate or malice, but assessing each man's tax through consideration of his goods and chattels, his estate, and goods that he uses in mercantile activities.
Oath of 12 tax assessors, second quarter of the 15th centurySir, you shall swear that you shall well and truly levy the king's fifteenth and [the special tax to cover] the expenses for the parliamentary burgesses of this town, and spare no man through fear, friendship or relationship, nor burden any man through hate or malice, but treat every man fairly according to his situation. So help you God. [And keep to yourself the deliberations behind the assessment added later].
Capital pledges' oath, second quarter of the 15th centurySirs, you shall truly and duly make inquiry concerning [offences against] all articles belonging to the leet, and not spare [any offender] for love nor [falsely accuse for?] hate, but present [the offences] truthfully after you have made honest inquiry. So help you God.
Leet affeerors' oath, second quarter of the 15th centurySirs, you shall duly levy [amercements on offences of] this leet that the headboroughs have presented and, using your discretion, truly assess [the appropriate fine] according to the presentment, sparing none for love or for hate. So help you God.
[Four men were "elected" in fact, nominated by the mayor in open guildhall for community consent to assess the fines on offenders. In this period they were often pre-assigned a set amount which they had to raise through the assessment of fines, indicating the leet was treated by borough government more as a licensing than a punitive mechanism.]
Leather inspectors' oath, second quarter of the 15th centuryBy right of his office, the mayor may elect each year two inspectors of leather from bulls, cows ,and other animals and beasts found within the liberty of Lynn, who shall take oath to supervise that [the leathers] shall be well worked without the use of salt water and that they not be badly made or burnt, so that [a buyer] not be deceived by false claims made of them (under [penalty for which deceit of] the pillory).
[Trade in leather hides was restricted to a house on the Common Staith, and sales were prohibited except in the presence of the inspectors (an office also found in Maldon). Little is heard of these inspectors; they appear not to have been salaried officers, but received a fee of 2d. from (the sellers of) each measure of hides sold.]