History of Taxes - Customs Subsidies post Hundred Years War

History of Accounting > Tax History > CUSTOMS SUBSIDIES

Increased yield of the customs in the reign of Edward III. The taxation of wool. Revival of the Maletoute. Negotiations with the merchants. Contest for the prerogative of taxing wool with the consent of the merchants ends in a parliamentary grant of the subsidy. Similar contest regarding tunnage and poundage. Practical settlement of the customs revenue. Chaucer controller of the customs in London. The officers of the customs. The corket. Life grants to Richard II. in 1397, and to Henry V. in 1415. Yield of the revenue in 1421. Grants to Henry VI. Yield of the revenue, 1431-3. Frauds in the customs. Life grant to Henry VI. in 1453.
In the fiscal records of subsequent times reference is frequently made to the reign of Edward III. as the golden age of the customs, the time when they produced ‘ great and notable sums of money.’ According to popular belief at the time, the wealth of Edward was derived from six millions of gold, manufactured for him in the Tower of London by the famous Eaymond Lulli, the alchemist, from which were coined the nobles of Eaymond. But these nobles indicate the true source of the wealth of the king in the stamp which they bear, on the reverse, of a ship to signify ‘the power of the sea.’ Having the dominion of the sea, Edward was able to keep clear the passage for our sacks of wool to Flanders, our principal customer; and from this wool we derived our new wealth, as our enemies clearly saw, who would bid us alter the stamp on the noble, and ‘ for the shippe sette a shepe.’1 Wool and leather, the principal products of England, which continued to be a land of flocks and herds, were what she had to give in exchange in the new commerce that sprung up after the crusades. For new ideas of distance and the facilities of communication had been diffused by the crusaders who returned from the east. New requirements had arisen, and many luxuries had slipped into the list of necessaries among the rich; sugar, for instance, first tasted by the crusaders on the plains of Tripoli, now began to displace honey as a sweetener for food in rich households; and cinnamon and the other spices that proved so useful for flavouring the ale of the period, which was drunk new, and for consumption with the salted meat of the winter store. While the precious stones and pearls of the east, richly chased armour, silks, and the fine fabrics of the east were all in great demand in that age of magnificence in dress. The revenue of Edward from taxes, as opposed to demesne and the incidents of the feudal tenures, was mainly derived from wool; the receipts from other exports and imports, if we except wine, were comparatively small. When, therefore, we speak of a large revenue from customs in this reign, it should always be borne in mind that the revenue from wool, the chief contributory, though termed a customs revenue as collected from an exported article, was, in
‘The Libel of English Policy, Political Poems and Songs, ii. 159.
effect, a revenue from a tax on the owners of sheepwalks and sheep-farms.
Five years after the commencement of the reign, in 1232, Edward placed his hand upon the sack of wool, when by the advice of the magnates he issued an ordinance for the collection of a subsidy from the wool of denizens. This was recalled in the following year, but the merchants appear to have granted a subsidy on wool, skins and leather, which was subsequently superseded by royal ordinance.
In 1336, when preparations for war with France commenced, the export of wool was prohibited by royal letters, in August, and a subsidy was granted, of 21. the sack from denizens, and 3/. the sack from aliens.. In the next year the export of wool was prohibited by statute until the king and council should determine, what should be done with it. The king and council authorised an impost; but this subsequently formed the subject of complaint as a maletoute, and eventually, in 1340, was abolished by the king, on the grant by parliament of a subsidy of 21. on every sack of wool, 300 woolfells, and last of leather.
The subsidy was only for a year and a half; but after the expiration of the grant, was continued by the king, by agreement with the merchants. And this, as a maletoute, formed the subject of complaint by the commons in 1343.l It was answered for the king that the additional toll did not affect the producer, because the price of wool was at this date fixed: the toll touched the wool merchants only. In this view, on the augmentation of the price of wool in the different counties of the kingdom, the lords and commons, with the consent of the merchants, granted an additional duty of 40s. the sack on wool, as a subsidy, for three years.1
1 Meanwhile, in 1339, the lords had granted the tenth sheaf, fleece and lamb from their demesnes for two years; and the commons, 30,000 sacks of wool. And in 1340 the king had had a grant of 20,000 sacks of wool, and from the lords and knights of counties, another grant of the ninth sheaf, fleece and lamb for two years, which had been cancelled in 1341 on the grant of 30,000 sacks of wool.
In 1344, the repeal of the ordinances fixing the price of wool2 altered the position of the wool-growers of the kingdom. The price now became a matter of agreement, a subject of bargain between buyer and seller. The seller felt the immediate incidence of the tax. And henceforth on every occasion of the renewal of the subsidy we find the commons opposing, and the merchants willing to sanction, the grant.
In 1346, the subsidy was renewed for two years, and in 1347 duties were imposed upon cloth of different kinds. Edward had improved this home manufacture, if indeed he did not practically start a home manufacture, by the introduction into the country of skilled weavers from Flanders; and the new duties, though the cause of considerable complaints, were confirmed to the king on the ground that it was reasonable he should have the same profit from cloth made in the kingdom and exported, as from wool exported, according to the total amount of cloth made from a sack of wool.1 There were two rates, for merchants denizens, and for merchants strangers. For denizens :—For every cloth, 14rf.; for every cloth of worsted, 1d.; and for every lit, d. For strangers: For every cloth, 21d.; for every cloth of worsted, lid., and for every lit, 15d.
1 ‘De chescun sak de legne que passera.’—Par. Rolls, ii. 138.
2 18 Edw. Ill St. 2, c. 3. All persons miij buy wools.
In 1348 the subsidy of wool again formed the subject of complaint from the commons. They urged that the 605000/. a year it produced came out of the pockets of the landowners, because the merchants simply gave, in consequence of the subsidy, so much the less for every sack of wool. The tax was, therefore, a tax on the produce of land—in short, a land tax and not a tax on the merchants. And, eventually, they made their grant of fifteenths for three years upon the condition that the subsidy of wool should not be renewed, and that, for the future, no such grant should be made by the merchants.
A long contest followed as to the exercise of the prerogative of the king to levy an impost on wool in the hands of the merchants, with their consent and without a parliamentary grant; and the dispute was settled, in 1362, in a manner resembling the settlement of the contest about the malctoute in 1297. The lords and commons granted a subsidy of 20s. on the sack of wool and 300 woolfells and 40s. the last on leather, for three years: the king accepted the grant and gave his assent to an enactment prohibitory of the imposition of a subsidy on wool without the assent of parliament.
1 Tar. Rolls, ii. 168,
But notwithstanding this arrangement, the subsidy was subsequently increased in amount,1 and the enactment against imposts upon wool without the assent of parliament had to be repeated in 1371.
Meanwhile the royal prerogative had also been exercised in imposts upon wine and other merchandise, with the consent of the merchants and without any parliamentary grant.
The practice haJ commenced in 1347, when Lionel of Antwerp (Clarence), guardian of England, imposed, in council, by agreement with the merchants, a toll of 2s. the tun on wine, and 6d. in the pound on goods, for the purpose of paying the wages of ships of war required for the protection of traders. And this increased premium for insurance in a time of great risk, formed the first of several similar grants resulting from negotiations with the merchants as opposed to parliamentary grants.
In 1371, when the native merchants had considerably extended their business, parliament took up this question as they had taken up that relating to the wool merchants, and granted to the king a subsidy of 2s. the tun on wine and a poundage of Gd. on imports and exports, excepting wool and skins, ‘for the safe and sure conduct of the ships and merchandize coming inwards to this country by sea and passing outwards.’ But this subsidy, granted only for a limited term, was allowed to expire in 1372, when parliament renewed only the subsidy of wool and skins. The Prince of Wales, the Black Prince, who had returned from the continent in the previous year, now took up the question. After the knights of the shire had received their conge” and departed, the city and borough members were by his order retained. An assembly was held in a chamber near the White Chamber, the prince and several lords being present, and the city and borough members, ‘ having regard to the perils and mischiefs that might happen to their ships and merchandize by the enemy at sea,’ renewed, as it was suggested that they should, the subsidy of tunnage and poundage of the previous year.
1 In 1365 it was doubled—mailing the rate 40s. on wool and 41. on
leather for three years. In 1368, I/. 6s. 8 •wan granted lor two years.
This separate negotiation for tunnage and poundage with the city and borough members was not more to the liking of the lords and commons than had been the separate negotiations with the wool merchants, or with the merchants dealing in wine and other merchandise. In the next year they took the matter into their own hands by granting tunnage and poundage for three years. The subsidy was renewed in 1376 for another three years, and henceforth the kings of England had practically a permanent revenue by successive parliamentary grants of Tunnage on wine and Poundage on goods.
At this date we see Geoffrey Chaucer sitting at the receipt of custom, taking such fees as previous comptrollers of the custom and subsidy of wool, woolfells and leather in the port of London had been accustomed to receive, writing all official accounts with his own hand, continuing in residence and performing his duties
personally, and retaining in his custody one of the two parts of the seal termed ‘corket.’ He was appointed comptroller in 1374.1
The Comptroller was one of the three ancient officers of the customs; the others being the Customer and the Searcher. The customer received the duties; the comptroller (contrarotulator) enrolled the payments at the custom house, and thus raised a charge against the customer; while the searcher received from the customer and the comptroller the document authorising the landing of goods, which was termed the Warrant, and, for exportation, the document authorising the shipment of goods, which was termed the Corket; and thereupon allowed the goods mentioned in the document he received to be landed or shipped, as the case might be.
The corket was so termed from the words at the end of the document, abbreviated. It ran—
‘Edwardus, omnibus, ad quos, &c., salutem. Sciatis, quod A.B. nobis solvit in portu nostro London, custumas nobis debitas pro tribus saccis lanae, quo quietus est,’ and was signed, in attestation, by the collector or customer and the comptroller of the customs in the said port and dated. A.B. has paid the customs due to us for three sacks of wool, by which he is quit. ‘Quo quietus est;’ ‘Quo quetus est; ‘Coketus est.’
‘Quietus est’ was the form of acquittance in the entries on the Exchequer Eolls, where, after the recital of a payment, the entries usually conclude with—’ Et quietus esl,’ or, shortly, ‘Et. Q. e.’
1 Foedera, vii. 38.
Subsidies on wool, skins and leather and tunnage and poundage were continued during the reign of Eichard II.; but with every precaution to prevent this all-important source of revenue—’ de quoi le greindre profit que le roi prent en son royaultne sourde,’—from passing into the category of ‘customs.’ In this view the grants were, at first, limited to terms certain, for instance, in 1381, the renewal was for less than a year; there was an interval of a week, ‘lest the king by continual possession of the said subsidy might claim it as of right and custom.’l And when at last, in 1397, the king received a grant of the subsidies for life, it was accompanied with a proviso that the grant ‘should not be made a precedent in the time of his
The yield of the revenue at the ports kept up fairly during the reign of Kichard, but fell off in the reign of Henry IV., partly in consequence of frauds committed by, or with the connivance of, corrupt collectors, and in 1411 was estimated at 30,000/.3 This king did not receive any life grant of the subsidies; but a life grant was made to his successor, in 1415, after the victory of Azincourt, as follows :—From denizens: for wool, woolfells, and the last of leather, 21. 3s. 4d. From strangers: for wool and woolfells, 31.; and for leather, the last., 51. 6s. 8d. Tunnage at 3s. and poundage at Is., with an exemption in favour of imported wheat, Hour, fresh fish, and cattle (chescun manere de blee, floure, et pesson rees, et bestiall entrant en ie clit roialme).1
1 Par. Rolls, iii. 104. 3 Ibid. iii. 114, 368.
3 Ordinances, ii. 7. Stubbs, Const. Hist. iii. 65.
In 1421 the yield was as follows:—
Small customs on wools ….. 3,976 Great customs ……. 26,036
Small customs on goods 2,438
Subsidy of tunnage and poundage …. 8,237
Total . . £40,687
The subsidies were continued to Henry VI., at first, by grants for stated terms, and the yield from the duties at the ports, inclusive of the customs and the. subsidies, was in the three years 1431-3 inclusive, as follows :—
1431 1432 1433
The custom of wool and small £ £ £
customs …. 7,780 6,996 6,048
The subsidy of wools . . . 20,151 16,808 14,259
Tunnage and poundage . . 6,920 6,998 6,203
Total . £34,851 £30,802 £26,510
The account shows a falling revenue. The decrease was due, in the main, to frauds at the hands of the officers of the customs. Blank forms of corkets— ‘blankes escrows en pnrchemyn appellez blankes cokkettez ‘—were kept sealed for use in order to deceive the king of his customs; a form of fraud for which, in 1433, the severe penalty was imposed of forfeiture of goods and imprisonment for three years.2 While such were the malpractices of the searchers, that another officer called the Surveyor Of The Searcher was appointed to act as a check upon him and prevent fraud in allowing more goods to be shipped or landed than were mentioned in the corket or the warrant. Lastly, all ‘customers, controllers of the custom, clerks, deputies, ministers, and their servants, controllers or surveyors of searchers, and their clerks, deputies, ministers, and factors, were forbidden to have ships of their own; to buy or sell by way or colour of merchandise; to meddle with freighting of ships, or have or occupy any wharfs or quays; or hold any hostries or taverns; or be any factors, or attorneys for any merchant, denizen or alien, or be hosts to any merchant alien, under a penalty of 40/., as often as they did the contrary.’1
1 Par. Rolls, iv. 64. 3 H Hen. VI. c. 16.
The tide waiters and land waiters were, it may be mentioned, originally only servants to the searcher and surveyor.2
In 1453 Henry VI. had, at last, a life grant of the subsidies, with, as stated in the last chapter, a poll tax on aliens and a fifteenth and tenth.
1 20 Hen. VI. 1442, s. 5. 2 Gilbert, Exoh. p. 230.

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