We have a number of transcriptions of protestation returns from the 17th century, for the the Devon parishes of Abbots Bickington, Alwington, Buckland Brewer, Bulkworthy, Bradworthy, Bridgerule, Clovelly, Hartland, Milton Damerel, Newton St Petrock, Pyworthy, Sutcombe, Thornbury, Welcombe, West Putford and Woolfardisworthy (near Bideford) and the Cornwall parishes of Pancrasweek, Poundstock, Stratton and Whitstone. Please use the Contact Us page to send a message if you have an interest in Yeo entries in these returns.
Protestation returns – in which the inhabitants of a parish affirmed their Protestant faith and thereby their loyalty to the monarch – were described as follows by Reg Walter, who had transcribed them from original documents held in the library of the House of Lords. He cites returns for the Cornish parishes of Stratton and Poundstock as examples:
The parish inhabitants ‘signed the Protestation to defend the Reformed Protestant religion against all Popery and Popish innovation, His Majesty’s Royal Person, Honour and Estate, the Powers and Privileges of Parliaments, and the lawful Rights and liberties of the subjects’.
A typical preamble states: ‘The protestation hereunto annexed was made and taken the 25th day of ffebruary 1641[/2] by the Ministers Constables Churchwardens and Overseers of the poore within the several parishes of the Hundred of Stratton within the county aforesaid whose names are hereunto written, According to the direction of letters lately written from the Speaker of the Canons house of Parliament by direction of the said house unto the High Sheriffe and Justices of prishes within the said County’.
In Poundstock, the following passage occurs following the bulk of the signatures but above those of the vicar and parish officers: ‘We humbly certifie that we neither know nor can suspect any man in ye parish to be either popishly or disloyally affected, or any way contemptuous of authority, but all willing to protest as it was proposed and commended to us the third of March and the sixeth of March [1641/2]’.
For the genealogist a parochial return constitutes a remarkable census of all males of age eighteen and over. Not all persons signed; a few such as fishermen might be away at sea, an occasional man is listed ‘but is not of sound memory’, and the aged ‘very old and keepe their beds beeing impotent’. There were also recusants, usually Roman Catholics, who were absent from the signing. Others, it seems, conveniently left the parish for a few days. One can also postulate the case of a widow with several minor sons who of course would not sign thereby suggesting that there was no family of their name then resident in the parish. In one Essex parish some women’s signatures appear but this must have been rare.
Where two or more of the same surname occur together it is assumed that this is a family unit, usually a man and his sons though a bachelor brother might conceivably be included. The same surname occurring by itself in another column does not necessarily preclude relationship.
The illiterate signed with an X or other mark, a few with one or more initials; it was only the gentry, the parson, the parish officers and a few larger merchants who signed their own names and there were exceptions there.