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Ye shall disturbe noe mans right’: oath-taking and oath-breaking in late medieval and early modern Bristol
Urban History, 34 (1). pp. 27-38
Oaths of office are generally well preserved for many English towns and cities and they can tell us a great deal about the theoretical and (perhaps to a lesser extent) practical duties of office-holders. In the light of recent scholarly interest in oaths in the context of investiture ceremonies, this article examines the rhetoric of oath texts to highlight some aspects of the political cultures of urban office-holding elites and their attempts to maintain stability.
Every year on Michaelmas day in late medieval Bristol the city’s civic officers gathered at the Guildhall to witness the incoming mayor of Bristol take his oath of office for the following year from the outgoing mayor. As part of the ceremony the outgoing mayor made a departing speech before formally introducing the new mayor. First, he offered to amend any offence he may have caused to any person during his mayoralty. Secondly, he thanked his ‘Maisters and ffrendes’; ‘for in you hath bene trewe obedience to kepe the king our alther liege lorde is lawes, and my commaundment in his name, at all tymes’. In raising these issues the mayor was reflecting on the two fundamental responsibilities of his office which had been central to the oath he had sworn the previous year; his accountability to the community and his protection of law and order in the city. Both these concerns were crucial to the maintenance of peace and stability in late medieval and early modern Bristol.