As there is so much about tax in the news of late, we thought we would add a short history of UK Tax. Taxes first came into being here during the Roman empire occupation.
At that time we were mainly Anglo Saxons. One very famous Anglo Saxon, Lady Godiva, was famed for riding through the streets of Coventry naked in the 11th century because her husband Leofric, Earl of Mercia, promised to reduce the high taxes he levied on the towns’ residents if she did.
After Rome fell, the Saxon kings took up the tax regime and imposed Danegeld, (taxes),on land and property. Kings also realised it was a good way to pay for wars and imposed further substantial customs duties.
During the 100 years War between England and France one of the key factors which made the fighting continue in 1369 was the rebellion of the nobles of Aquitaine over the The Black Prince -Edward’s oppressive tax policies.Poll tax on the Duke of Lancaster was 520 times the tax of the common peasant.
Income tax was imposed on the wealthy, office holders, and the clergy, and a ‘movable property’ tax was imposed on merchants. In those days the poor paid little or no taxes.
Charles I caused problems with Parliament due to a disagreement in 1629 about the rights of taxation afforded the King and the rights of taxation afforded the Parliament.
The King’s Writ changed things in that individuals were now to be taxed according to status and means. This is where the idea of what is now called progressive tax came into being. However, other big taxes came about in this period too including lad tax and excise taxes.
The situation got worse in 1643 as Oliver Cromwell, who needed to find money to pay an army imposed excise taxes on essential commodities (grain, meat, etc.). This change now affected everyone, including the poor and eventually led to the Smithfield riots in 1647. The new taxes reduced rural laborers ability to buy wheat to such a degree that a family of four would starve. On top of the new excise taxes, In addition to the excise taxes the common lands used for hunting by peasants were enclosed and peasant hunting was banned.
The modern day taxes we see today stemmed from 1800 because of the war with Napoleon. The tax was repealed in 1816. Opponents of the tax, who thought it should only be used to finance wars, wanted all records of the tax destroyed along with its repeal. Records were publicly burned by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, however some copies remained in the basement of the tax court.
Taxes today are still used in part to fund our troops, so with all this history of UK tax, have we really progressed that much?