The Surprising Reason Why We Raise Our Right Hand When Taking An Oath

When we swear in court, we all know that we need to raise our right hand. But even though this is a requirement in all modern courtrooms, only a few actually know the true origin of this indeed, weird tradition. Well, here at I’m A Useless Info Junkie, being devoted to our goal of turning you into the most interesting person you know, we decided to search for the answer and we have it.

Here’s how it goes.

It all started at 17th-century London’s central criminal court, the Old Bailey. You see, back in the day, when members of the Church appeared in the court for trial, they could ask for the Benefit of Clergy. This Benefit of Clergy was basically the right of all the Church’s members to be punished by the Church and not from the court, which usually resulted in lighter sentences. This however, was allowed only once. To keep criminal records and to avoid offering the Benefit of the Clergy more than once, criminals were punished with branding. And it worked quite simply actually: (the article continues after the ad)


Whoever was convicted with, let’s say, theft, was branded on the thumb with a “T” by using a hot iron. If for example, someone was convicted of murder, he or she would have been branded with an “M”, “F” for felon and so on. Since this branding was permanent, if an ex-convict appeared in court again, it was a requirement to raise his right hand so the judge could see if he/she already benefited with the Benefit of Clergy so they could claim the benefit more than once.

Even though this policy was abandoned for years, the tradition of raising our right hand when taking an oath is still a requirement in courtrooms throughout the world and a tradition that will most likely stay with us forever.

If you like what you read, then you will definitely love this one: Why Do We Shake Hands, How It Started And What Did It Use To Mean? 

Photo: US Department of Defence
Photoshop: I’m A Useless Info Junkie
Sources: Why Do We Raise Our Right Hands When Testifying Before the Court?Punishments at the Old Bailey

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