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English Records - Tax's

Journal by Dave Calladine

The records of medieval and early-modern taxation are an informative sources for family historians. These records, part of the vast archive of the Exchequer, include material relating to the assessment, collection, accounting and auditing of central government taxation from the thirteenth century onwards, and contain not only details of the administration of taxation, but also a vast wealth of information about local communities and the people who actually paid these taxes. Although documents relating to taxation can be found in a number of series, by far the most informative documents are those in The National Archives (series E 179) , which contains the majority of the records relating to the assessment and collection of taxes in England and Wales from the thirteenth to the seventeenth centuries. This database can be search via the National Archives' website at www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/e179/. In particular, these include the hundreds of assessment documents giving extensive lists of the names and contributions of individual taxpayers. Of course, these records were created for a particular purpose, and according to the criteria of each particular tax grant, and so will provide neither a complete list of the population of a particular place at a given time, nor necessarily an accurate reflection of wealth or status. However, they remain a remarkable source of information on the population of medieval and early-modern England and Wales. More specific information is available in reference works such as volumes of the Victoria County History and publications of the English Place-Name Society. Some of the former volumes are online at British History Online.

Many of the original records, particularly those from the medieval period, are in Latin, but a great number of those from the early-modern period are in English. The handwriting can sometimes be difficult to understand, whether through poor handwriting or damage to the document, but many documents tend to be relatively formulaic, and illegible or missing sections can often be deduced. Roman numerals are also used. Medieval and early-modern taxation (to 1689) on individuals was technically an extraordinary event, with each tax being levied separately to provide income over and above revenue from crown lands, customs duties and other sources. These were generally granted by Parliament following a request by the monarch, and usually, at least theoretically, to 'subsidise' extraordinary expenditure, such as a military campaign (hence the term 'subsidy'). However, other taxes could be imposed directly by the monarch, such as feudal and prerogative levies, while others, such as forced loans and 'benevolences', were little more than official extortion. Each grant or levy would specify the details of the individual tax, such as the income threshold below which individuals would not have to pay the tax, any exemptions, the rates of tax payable, the number of instalments in which the tax was to be paid (known as 'collections'), and the dates on which they were to be collected.

The earliest taxes for which records survive date from the late-twelfth and early-thirteenth centuries, and in general the amount of surviving material increases steadily over time. With a few notable exceptions, surviving medieval taxation records relate entirely to England, since it was only with the Act of Union of 1536 that Wales was brought into the taxation system. Also, until the mid-seventeenth century, members of the clergy were taxed entirely separately from the rest of the population, their taxes being granted by the convocations of Canterbury and York rather than Parliament, and hence separate series of documents exist for both lay and clerical taxes. The style of documents produced differed greatly, depending on the tax grant concerned, the standards of the time, or even the whim of the officials. Only certain taxes demanded the production and submission of detailed lists of individual taxpayers, and although these undoubtedly provide the most fruitful sources of information on people in the localities, equally useful details can often be found from the more unusual sources within these records.

Levy Taxation before 1332 were mainly carucages and tallages, taxes upon land and individuals, as well as feudal levies such as aids and scutages. Many of these early taxes were discontinued, but feudal levies continued to be raised intermittently as late as 1612. The early-thirteenth century saw the introduction of fractional taxes, where the tax was assessed at a given fraction of the value of an individual's movable property, and assessed anew for each tax. In 1332, a fractional tax was levied at the rate of a fifteenth and tenth (a tenth in the cities, boroughs and royal ancient demesne lands, a fifteenth elsewhere). In 1334, another tax was levied at the same rate, and instead of making new assessments of individuals, the collectors were simply to demand from each taxation unit (village, town, etc) a sum equal to or greater than that collected in 1332. The amounts collected in 1334 became the basis of all such taxes for the next three centuries, and a system of fixed quotas on individual townships was introduced, the same amount being due every time a tax was granted. This system remained in place for all grants of fifteenths and tenths until 1624. As a result, assessments containing the names of taxpayers were no longer submitted to the Exchequer, and instead the Exchequer only drew up lists of the amounts collected from each place, simply giving the names of the townships and the sums paid.

Poll taxes were essentially taxes levied on individuals rather than property or wealth, with everyone over a certain age, and not otherwise exempt, being liable to pay a given amount. As a result, the surviving records of such taxes generally include a rather higher proportion of the population, and surviving documents record the names of many individuals. The fourteenth-century taxes have been transcribed or calendared by Carolyn Fenwick in The Poll Taxes of 1377, 1379 and 1381 (3 vols, British Academy Records of Social and Economic History, new series, 1998-2004), and many have also been published elsewhere. Such large-scale poll taxes were then abandoned for many years, although poll taxes on foreigners were regularly employed in the mid-fifteenth century. However, later tax grants often included a poll tax element, with certain sections of the population being expected to pay a poll tax if they met certain conditions or did not meet the criteria for assessment by other methods. For example, many Tudor and Stuart subsidies included a poll tax upon foreigners or religious dissenters. Poll taxes were again granted in the seventeenth century (eg in 1667 and 1678), but were often graduated according to status, and attracted little resistance.

In Tudor and Stuart times, successive governments looked for different methods of raising additional revenue. Although some experimental subsidies on land and wealth were granted in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, it was the early Tudors who introduced the next major revolution in taxation. The Tudor subsidy was a tax levied at a given rate (specified in the statute) on the value of an individual's movable goods or their income from land (whichever was the greater). Although begun under Henry VII, it was under Henry VIII that these taxes became the general form of taxation, and from 1523, local commissioners were again required to submit to the Exchequer assessments listing the names and contributions of individual taxpayers. Early subsidies were granted at different rates, and often with different thresholds (the income at which a person became liable to taxation), and hence the yield of these taxes, and the records they created, varied greatly. The subsidies granted in 1523 and 1543 had the lowest taxation thresholds, and hence led to the production of particularly detailed and full lists of taxpayers.

The Act of 1585 27 Eliz., c xxix - The Lay Subsidy was a grant to the Crown (in 1585 it was Elizabeth I), authorised by an Act of Parliament of a tax to support the expenditure of the Crown. This included the payment of the Armed Forces and the building of naval ships. The clergy and peers were subject to separate arrangements. The form of tax was a fifteenth and tenth, which was based on a valuation of a persons moveable goods. This included crops, these were levied at a fifteenth in rural areas and a tenth in the cities and boroughs.

A Hundred is a district in a shire, whose assembly of notables and the village representatives usually met once a month. The County texts were usually written on parchment (or paper) then made into files and sewn together at the head, foot. or side or the sheet. The responsibility for collecting the Subsidy was with a group of Commissioners for the Lord Chancellor. They were to be men of local prominence and respectability, each shared a divisional jurisdiction. They appointed two or more assessors in each tithing. For each division there was a petty collector who was nominated, he was probably a tradesman or perhaps a local farmer. He handed the money to the high collector for the division. The high collector was directly answerable to the Commissioners . The Commissioners then sent the money collected to the Exchequer in London
Subsidies continued to be granted until 1663. However, the thresholds of assessment became fixed at a relatively high figure from 1563, and hence only wealthier individuals were liable to contribute.

Although subsidies continued to be granted in the Stuart period, the poor relationship between Charles I and Parliament, coupled with the large amounts of money demanded by the King, led Charles to search for other sources of income. The forced loan levied in 1626 was nothing new, but the imposition of the ship money from 1635 was greatly resented, and became one of the elements in the outbreak of the Civil War. During the Civil War and Commonwealth periods, another change in taxation methods occurred, the usual form of taxation being the monthly or weekly assessment, whereby a sum agreed in advance was divided among the different counties. Assessments created under this system generally comprise lists of communities, showing the amount payable by each out of the lump sum allocated to the county in question.

Such assessments continued after the restoration of Charles II in 1660, in parallel with various other different taxes. However, another innovative tax, a levy on hearths, was introduced in 1662 as a permanent source of revenue for the Restoration government. Hearth Tax - With the restoration of the Monarchy in 1660 Parliament had set the figure of 1,200,000 for the king to live on. It was decided that in order to reach this figure an extra form of taxation was needed.

The idea of taxing Hearths or fireplaces had already been done on the continent, in 1662 the new tax was introduced, and like so many new things it did have its problems. There would be an annual levy of two shillings (ten pence), payable for every fire hearth or stove within dwellings, houses, edifices or lodgings. This was to be paid half yearly at Michaelmas 29 September and Lady day 25 March.

Problems arose as to whether who would be responsible for payment, the owner or occupier and no one was exempt. It was later decided that the occupier would pay the levy and anyone who did not pay poor or church rates and those occupying a house worth less than 20 shillings (1) would be exempt. Private ovens, furnaces, kilns, and blowing houses also hearths within hospitals or alms houses were exempt as long as their revenue did not exceed 100 a year. The act was amended in 1633. Everyone who had two hearths was made liable and if he divided his house into separate dwellings. The tax-collectors had to collect an exemption certificate from those who were not eligible to pay. The certificate had to be signed by the incumbent, churchwardens and overseers of the poor, and counter-signed by two Justices of the Peace.


It was not until William and Mary came on to the throne that one of the first acts they passed was the abolition of the hearth tax in 1689 . The tax was imposed between 1662 and 1688. Only tax returns for 1662-1666 and 1669-1674 were sent in to the Exchequer. Outside these dates, the tax was farmed out to private collectors who paid a fixed sum to the government in return for the right to collect the tax. These collectors did not have to send returns to the Exchequer. The most complete return for the country which survives is that of 1664. The occupier of every house in the parish had to submit a written statement of the number of hearths in his house to the parish constable. The constable made out a parish assessment and collected in the tax half-yearly. He then drew up a return of the money collected, or made notes on the assessment that the money had been paid. These parish returns were submitted to the Clerk of the Peace who made a county roll which was sent to the Exchequer. The original copies made by the constables are likely to be the most accurate because the constable was familiar with the names of local people. The Hearth Tax records have provided a wealth of information for historians and genealogists, and given that many records also include lists of those exempt, they tend to include a relatively high proportion of the population.

"The Hearth Tax, other later Stuart Tax Lists, and the Association Oath Rolls", Jeremy Gibson, Federation of Family History Societies

Window Tax - 1696-1851m - In 1696 in the reign of William III another form of taxation came into force this was known as the Window Tax and would last until 1851. It arose because in 1696 there was a financial crisis created by a growing inflation - caused by the many conflicts both in Ireland and on the continent. One of the forms of taxation created to help pay the debt was known as the Window Tax. By 1700 reforms had taken place by slashing taxes, auditing the accounts showing irregularities, and finally the nine-year war had come to an end in 1697, but the Window Tax would stay for another fifty one years.

The tax would be paid on a house of more than six windows. Unfortunately none of these records appeared to have survived, one way for a person to by pass the tax was to brick up one or two windows over the stated six, even today on some of the older houses the bricked up windows are still there. In 1792 houses with 7-9 windows had to pay a tax of 2 shillings, and those people with property containing 10-19 windows would pay a tax of 4 shillings. In 1825 the number of widows taxable went from six to eight windows. The Window Tax would be replaced in 1851 with a tax called House Duty.

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by Dave Calladine Profile | Research | Contact | Subscribe | Block this user
on 2006-02-03 08:16:51

Dave Calladine , from Yeovil, Somerset, UK, has been a Family Tree Circles member since Jan 2006. is researching the following names: CALLADINE, LAUNCHBURY, FULLER and 22 other(s).

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