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History of Tax - The British Monarchy and its Affect on Tax

Fed up of paying too much tax? It's hardly surprising, people around the world have been disillusioned with tax for millennia. The guide takes a look at Tax through history and provides example tax types and tax rates seen throughout the ages.

In the UK, the taxation system has developed and matured in line with the monarchy. In present day UK, tax types and tax rates are set by the government, historically the tax types and rates were set and controlled by the monarchy.

The diversity of the UK monarchy over the centuries (German, Welsh, French, Nordic with a touch of Anglo...) has resulted in a number of tax laws and tax systems that were tried and tested further afield, William the conquerors' Danegeld (Land Tax) being a good example. Land Tax has been a favourite taxation system through the years, in earlier days it was easier administratively to impose a tax on land than is was any other medium. Quantifying land ownership was relatively simple, calculating earnings was difficult and the infrastructure required to support an income tax system simply didn't exist. Land taxes remain to date but most countries now utilise earnings based taxation in favour of asset based taxation. Earnings based and transactional taxes are very easy to monitor now due to technology, software and taxation systems.

In the modern world, there are a number of initiatives to make tax less taxing as simple easy to understand tax laws and simplified tax calculations and online tax calculators make businesses more effective and efficient in the way they handle and process tax payments. This is in direct contrast to the tax collectors of history where transparency of tax law and tax collection was not a shared goal, in fact tax was seen as Daylight Robbery.

The term daylight robbery is believed to have originated from the window tax as it was described as a tax on light.

Tax and Taxes under the Kings And Queens of England
WhoWhenRoyal FamilyComments
Æthelberht of Kent 560 - 616 The first Tax? Certainly not the first tax to test our shores but the first unequivocal mention of taxation in Anglo-Saxon England comes from the Law of Æthelberht (Textus Roffensis), the law code of King Æthelberht of Kent, which outlines a complex set of fines, specifying that fines from judicial cases were to be paid to the king.
King William I, the Conqueror 1066 - 1087 Norman Danegeld, Land Tax - William the Conqueror divided England into shires (counties). Each shire was further divided into either hundreds or wapentakes. The land tax was an annual tax based on the value of landholdings which could be collected at differing rates. Most years saw the rate of 2 shillings per hide (£11.12 as of 2013) , but in crises, land tax was increased to as much as 6 shillings per hide (£33.36 as of 2013) .
Tax Ledger and Asset Register - William the Conqueror famously instructed the Completion of the Domesday Book which effectively provided a Tax Ledger for weighting individual wealth in terms of land holdings - The Domesday Book listings describe the holding, who owned the land before the 1066 conquest, its value, what the tax assessment was including number of peasants, ploughs, and any other resources the holding had.  In today's tax terms we would consider this an asset register.  Companies are still required to maintain an asset register and include details of this in their annual tax return.
King Henry I 1100 - 1135 Norman
King Stephen 1135 - 1154 Norman
Empress Matilda 1141 Norman 50% Reduction in Taxes!!! Maybe not... - Matilda reignited the civil war on 24 June 1141 after she u-turned, refusing the citizens' request to halve their taxes. In 2013, u-turning on tax law and government tax decisions is common place and no longer frowned upon, in fact tax u-turns are expected by the modern taxpayer!!!
King Henry II 1154 - 1189 Angevin (Plantagenet) Centralised Tax Collection -  Laid the foundation of the English Jury System and revitalised the Exchequer to enforce accurate record keeping, tax collection and centralised control of taxation by implementation of common law and removal of local tax sheriffs.
King Richard I the Lionheart 1189 - 1199 Angevin (Plantagenet) Crusade Tax Okay.. there wasn't a crusade tax but the reality is that Richard the Lionheart had a huge bill to pay. Crusades don't come cheap, Richard the Lionheart had to sell lands, offices and positions. He raised taxes several times and levied fines for those who did not meet the tax payments in a timely manner (a tradition still adhered to today). The high tax rates and myriad of tax initiatives gave birth to the tails of Robin Hood and his merry tax avoiders.
King John 1 1199 - 1216 Angevin (Plantagenet) King Hohn repeatedly increased taxes to pay for his solders over fears of instability and famously Knocked out the teeth (one a day for eight days) of a Jew who refused to pay a special tax.
King Henry III 1216 - 1272 Plantagenet King Henry levied extortionate taxes to pay for the debts he ran up through the war with Wales, failed campaigns in France and an extensive program of ecclesiastical building.
King Edward I 1272 - 1307 Plantagenet Tax on the Jewish - In 1275 Edward issued the Statute of Jewry a policy which persecuted the Jewish population of England and imposed severe taxation on them. The tax policy was both lucrative and popular, Edward extended this policy further applying taxes that effectively strangled the Jewish community in England. In 1290 the Jews were finally expelled from England (minus their money and property). The money raised from this evil taxation was used to fund Edwards' ambition to be overlord of the Scotland and Wales. in latter years, Edward's heavy-handed treatment of the Scots (demanding extortionate taxes and soldiers to help fight his wars) led to the first inklings of rebellion.  His similar approach to taxation and financial strangling of the Welsh provided the foundation for William Wallace and co.
Wool Tax - 1275, Kind Edward I introduces the wool tax, a tax imposed on the export of wool
King Edward II 1307 - 1327 Plantagenet
King Edward III 1327 - 1377 Plantagenet

To finance warfare on Edward III's scale, the king had to resort to taxation of his subjects. Taxation took two primary forms: levy and customs.

  1. Tax Levy The levy was a grant of a proportion of all moveable property, normally a tenth for towns and a fifteenth for farmland.
  2. Customs Tax The customs tax was a predominantly applied against the export of goods, most notable where Edwards attempts to hike up the tax on wool.
Richard II 1377 - 1399 Plantagenet Pay your Poll Tax! At the age of 14, King Richard II was forced to retreat to the safety of the Tower of London after failed attempts to collect unpaid poll taxes in the town of Brentwood ended in a violent confrontation which spread across the south eat of England. The rebels sought a reduction in taxation which had resulted from economic and political tensions generated by the Black Death in the 1340s' and high taxes resulting from the conflict with France during the Hundred Years War.
Henry IV The House of Lancaster Stay a Head with your taxes! - After the desecrated his grave in 1793, King Henry IV's head was lost to history until 2010 when French journalist Stephane Gabet tracked down the head to the attic of a retired tax collector, Jacques Bellanger who had purchased the head at a Paris auction in the early 1900s
Henry V 1413 - 1422 The House of Lancaster
Henry VI 1422 - 1461, 1470 - 1471 The House of Lancaster
King Edward IV 1461 -1470, 1471 - 1483 The House of York
King Edward V 1483 - 1483 The House of York
King Richard III 1483 - 1485 The House of York Tax avoidance cover up?  We can hardly blame Richard for this but the unearthing of his body below a council car park but conspiracy theorists suggest this event was rigged to detract heat away from the Tax avoidance scandal that plagued the UK in the summer of 2012.  Numerous companies, Politian's, comedians, the loved and famous were exposed as avoiding tax through the use of offshore banks and morally corrupt (but legal) tax avoidance schemes.
King Henry VII 1485 - 1509 Tudor
King Henry VIII 1509 - 1547 Tudor
King Edward VI 1547 - 1553 Tudor
Jane Grey 1554 Tudor
Queen Mary I (Bloody Mary) 1553 - 1558 Tudor
Queen Elizabeth I 1558 - 1603 Tudor
James I 1603 - 1625 Stuart
Charles I 1625 - 1649 Stuart
Charles II 1660 - 1685 Stuart Hearth tax - One shilling (£5.56 as of 2013) was liable to be paid for every fire, hearth or stove, in all dwellings, houses, edifices or lodgings.
James II 1685 - 1688 Stuart
William III 1688 - 1702 Stuart

Window Tax - The window tax was a property tax based on the number of windows in a house. The window tax was a 2 tier tax:

  1. A flat-rate house tax of 2 shillings per house (£11.12 as of 2013)
  2. A variable tax for the number of windows above ten windows in the house. 10 - 20 Windows attracted a tax of four shillings (£22.25 as of 2013) and those above twenty windows paid eight shillings(£44.5 as of 2013).

Brick tax - The brick tax was a property tax introduced to help pay for the wars in the American Colonies. Bricks were initially taxed at four shillings (£22.25 as of 2013) per thousand, the tax was abolished in 1850 as it was considered to be a detriment to industrial development.

Queen Anne 1702 - 1714 Stuart Wallpaper tax - Patterned, printed, or painted wallpaper was initially taxed at 1d per square yard, rising to One shilling (£5.56 as of 2013)
King George I 1714 - 1727 The House of Hanoverian
King George II 1727 - 1760 The House of Hanoverian
King George III 1760 - 1820 The House of Hanoverian
King George IV 1820 - 1830 The House of Hanoverian
King William IV 1830 - 1837 The House of Hanoverian
Queen Victoria 1837 - 1901 The House of Hanoverian
King Edward VII 1901 - 1910 The House of Saxe - Coburg Gotha
King George V 1910 - 1936 The House of Windsor
King Edward VIII June 1936 The House of Windsor
King George VI 1936 - 1952 The House of Windsor
Queen Elizabeth II 1952 - Present day The House of Windsor

History of Tax continues

Do you have an interesting fact on the history of tax? Some information about how a certain King or Queen use tax for good or, most likely, no good? Contact us and share your tax history

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