History Tax - Benevolences of King Edward

History of Accounting > Tax History > BENEVOLENCES

Popularity of Edward with the towns. His demands for benevolences. The benevolent widow. His gentle fashions towards the rich citizens. The statute against benevolences.
It was fortunate for the rich bourgeoisie of the time of Edward IV. that the attempt made in 1463 to obtain a new roll of the names of persons possessed of property l failed to succeed; for the king, later on in the reign, drew considerable sums of money from the rich merchants, traders, and persons of that class, by demands for assistance from their well-filled coffers, a not very novel means of obtaining revenue, whenever a king’s popularity justified the attempt.
The Jews had, until expelled from the kingdom, proved an excellent milch cow to the king; and subsequently, particularly during the reigns of the kings of the House of Lancaster, the king had drawn largely from the vast resources of a church which had acquired, by various means, a fourth part, at the least, of the lands of the kingdom. The popularity of Edward in London and the towns made him successful in his applications for aid to the bourgeois; and his demands for benevolences mark an important rise in riches of the merchants and trading class.
1 Ante, p. 149.
Sometimes he applied, personally, to the rich for aid; sometimes, by letters, and sometimes, by means of commissioners, in the manner used in former times for the tallages on the tenants of demesne. The first
method is amusingly illustrated in the case of the benevolent widow of the well-known story. Edward, one of the handsomest men of the age until worn out by debauchery, was, moreover, a particular favourite with the ladies; and this rich widow, when he asked her for a benevolence, gave him 20/. down at once, saying:—’By my troth, for thy lovely countenance thou shalt have even 20/.’ The king, who had ‘looked for scarce half that sum, thanked her, and lovinglie kissed her,’ gaining her heart—and purse, for she doubled the benevolence, paying another 20/., either ‘because she esteemed the kiss of a king so precious a jewele,’ or ‘because the flavour of his breath did so comfort her stomach.’l
This pretty conceit, as Holinshed terms it, is, of course, but a trifle of fiscal history; it is more to the purpose to note that it arose in the collection of a benevolence from ‘ the wealthiest sort of people in the realm,’ and that the king ‘used such gentle fashions toward them, with frceudlie praier of their assistance in his necessitie, that they could not otherwise doo, but franklie and freelie yield and give him a reasonable and competent summe.’ While some notion of the manner in which these gentle fashions were used towards the citizens of London, who were, as might be expected, the principal contributors, may be formed from the description given of an entertainment provided by the king for the mayor and aldermen. The mayor was ‘a merchant of wondrous adventures into many and sundry countries, by reason whereof the king had yearly of him notable sums of money for his customs, beside other pleasures that he had shown unto the king before times,’ and, with the aldermen, he is entertained by the king in the forest of Waltham in lodges of green boughs; when, after dining with great cheer, and hunting of red and fallow deer, the festivities end with a present of harts, bucks and a tun of wine for the wives of the aldermen.
1 Hall.
In fact, riches were rapidly increasing in the kingdom; the rich paid but a very small quota to the ordinary taxes; and no great harm to them or injustice was done in any moderate request for additional aid from their well-filled purses. No doubt these sort of proceedings were dangerous, as capable of extension into a system of obtaining money without any parliamentary grant; and no doubt Edward’s levy of benevolences for the operations in Scotland formed a considerable step towards general exaction; but his undiminished popularity with the towns to the end proves that benevolences in his reign were not felt as a general hardship.
The severe terms in which they were condemned in the statute against benevolences in the first parliament of Eichard III. were probably due to a desire of the king to prop up a shaky title to the throne by a popular measure; nor do they greatly exceed the usual expression of the views of an incoming govern .

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