The Sole Society, a Family History Society researching Sole, Saul, Sewell, Solley and similar names

The Oxfordshire

Protestation Returns 1641-2

By Don Steel

This article was originally published in the December 2000 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society.

In 1641 not long after the Long Parliament had been called because Charles I needed money to fight the Scots and during the passage for the attainder of the Earl of Strafford, Parliament drew up an anti-Catholic oath to be taken in the first instance by all members of the Houses of Commons and Lords and then by all Englishmen. The Long Parliament was strongly Puritan and during the 11 years personal rule of Charles I the Puritans felt that Archbishop Laud’s High Church reforms had been taking the country closer and closer towards Catholicism.

The oath read 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 makest 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 other Respect, shall relinquish this Promise, Vow and Protestation.

On 6th May a Bill was introduced in the Commons, imposing the obligation of signing the Protestation upon all true Englishmen. It provided that those who refused to sign were to be held incapable of holding office, and that Peers who refused to sign be deprived of their seats in the House of Lords. The Upper House, which was more supportive of the Laudian reforms rejected this provision on 29th July. But the following day the House of Commons passed a resolution that all who refused the Protestation were unfit to hold office in Church or State and this was ordered to be printed. The Protestation itself was not printed until the following January (1642) and sheriffs were instructed to see that it was tendered to all Englishmen.

Obviously Catholics would not sign and some High Church Anglicans, so they will be listed as refusals. Also, although many Puritans were what were later called Presbyterians, wanting not to abolish the Church of England but reform it on the Scottish model along Presbyterian lines, abolishing the bishops, the more extreme Puritans (like Cromwell) were Separatists or Independents, wanting to abolish the National church altogether and for each congregation to be entirely independent, though they might join together in such federal structures as they might seems fit – rather like a family history society, in fact. So although they were strongly Protestant, there will also be some Puritans found among the refusals.

The returns are complete only for the counties of Cornwall, Cumberland, Devon, Dorset, Durham , Huntingdonshire, Middlesex (excluding London) and Nottinghamshire. So for those counties the Protestation Returns are virtually a census of all adult males. The returns for Oxfordshire are substantial but cover only seven out of the fourteen hundereds : Langtree and Binfield in the South, Bampton, Banbury, Bloxham, Chadlington and Wootton in the north and west. Even in these hundreds some parishes are missing.. They have been indexed by the Oxfordshire Family History Society and despite the gaps give a good idea of the strength of our surnames in Oxfordshire at this time. It is interesting that only five Saul adults are recorded. There is not a single Soul, this variant, later found in Oxfordshire, apparently not having yet penetrated Oxfordshire from its home in Gloucestershire, unless there were Souls in the missing parishes. Only one Sewell is recorded - at Pembroke College in the University - so it would seem that Sewell is not a native Oxfordshire surname. Not entirely surprisingly, there are no Solleys, though Worcestershire, where there was a Solley branch, is not too far away.

The full list is:


Cropredy & Bourton








Swalcliffe, including Sibford Ferris & Sibford Gower



Pembroke College, Oxford University (No Christian name given in original. This is generally the case with the University returns.)





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