Thursday, June 18, 2009

Question from Janet - Women and the Oath of Succession

Hello, I am very curious, when Henry VIII enacted the 'oath of succession' where people had to swear to be loyal to Anne Boleyn and her heirs, instead of Catherine of Aragon and Princess Mary, were women required to take the oath as well? Or was it just men?

Since women weren't even allowed to vote (members into Parliament that is), were they excused from swearing?

1 comment:

PhD Historian said...

Good question, Janet.

First, members of Tudor-era Parliaments were not "elected" in the modern sense. It is true that women were not part of the political process (could not "vote"), but a majority of men also were not part of the process. Selection of local representatives to Parliament was done only by landowners, and only by those owners with land above a certain annual income value. In the cities, only those with certain legal standing (e.g., guild members) were allowed to vote. Further, the choice was often heavily influenced ... if not controlled outright ... by the wealthiest local owners or businessmen. Thomas Cromwell, in particular, was notorious for "fixing" elections throughout the country (see G.R. Elton, The Tudor Constitution). The majority of the common people, and all women, had little or no real voice in who represented them in Parliament.

The Oath of Succession of 1534 was the first such attempt by English political authorities to require all subjects to subscribe in writing to a particular governmental policy. Commissioners were sent out to obtain the signatures of "all subjects." But in actual practice, only men over the age of fourteen were required to subscribe to the oath. Ordinary (non-noble) women were not required to subscribe to the oath because every woman was under the control of a man ... at least in theory. Women did not usually raise rebellions in favor of a rival claimant to the throne; only men did so.