History Tax - British Customs Tax Before 1334

History of Accounting > Tax History > THE CUSTOMS BEFORE 1334

Origin of the customs. Their confirmation and limitation by Magna Oarta. Quasi-parliamentary grant of the customs on wool, woolfells, and leather in 1275. The maletoute. It is suppressed by Confirmatio Oartarum in 1297. The antiqua custuma of 1275 are recognised. Commutation of prisage on wine of the foreign merchants for butlerage and the nova custuma in 1302. Refusal of the native merchants to commute.
Another ancient source of revenue in England consisted in exactions of toll at the ports from merchants importihttps://www.accountanttown.com/files/site/ng or exporting goods. The origin of these exactions is unknown; but the reason for their existence is clear. The merchant in those predatory times, when every one was so ready and eager to fleece him that ‘pille” comme un marchand’ became subsequently a proverb, willingly paid, on entering the kingdom and on taking his merchandise out of it, toll to the king, for the necessary safeguard for himself and his merchandise, ‘ineundo, morando et redeundo,’ in port, on land, and on the seas. The toll was, in short, in the nature of a premium paid to the king for insurance. But in whatever manner these tolls may have commenced in England, they became subsequently definite in amount, acquired by continuance the validity allowed to that which has long existed, and came to be termed ‘consuetudines ‘ or customs.
In the time of the Norman kings, the trade of England, insignificant in amount, was almost exclusively in the hands of foreigners, that is to say, the Easterlings, the men of Flanders, Holland, and the Baltic coasts, and the men of Normandy and Picardy. Their ships were mere coasters, as were all ships before the invention of the needle; the principal import was the wine of France, while wool, skins and leather formed the principal exports. Of wine, a toll in the strictest sense of the term was taken by the king’s officer from every ship having in cargo ten casks or more, on the arrival of the ship at a port in England, viz., one cask from a cargo of ten up to twenty casks, and two casks from a cargo of twenty or more, unless the toll formed the subject of a composition in the way of a money payment.1 The original amount of the custom for wool is unknown. For merchandise of other kinds the payment exacted was probably a disme or quinzinne, a tenth or fifteenth on the value of the goods.2
Before Magna Carta the levies of toll at the ports had become customary at certain amounts or rates; but the merchant was liable to further exactions at the hands of the king’s officers, until secured in his dealings by the 41st article of the charter, which suppressed the excessive tolls, while it recognised and therefore confirmed the ancient and just customs. ‘Let all merchants,’ says the charter, ‘have safety and security to go out of England, to come into England, and to remain in and go about through England, as well by land as by water, for the purpose of buying and selling, without payment of any evil or unjust tolls, on payment of the ancient and just customs,’—’ sine omnibus malis toltis, per antiquas et rectas consuetudines.’
1 Madox, p. 525. Liber Albus, pp. 247, 248. 8 Madox, p. 529 et aeq.
The amount received from these ancient and just customs was paid by the principal collectors into the exchequer; and the statute of the exchequer, in 1266, provided that the principal collectors of the custom of wool should pay the money they received of the said custom, half yearly, at the two terms of Michaelmas and Easter, and make account from year to year clearly of all parcels received in any of the ports or other places of the realm, so that they might answer for every ship where it was charged and how much it carried, and for every other charge of the ship whereof custom was due, and for the whole receipt.1
For sixty years after the signing of the charter the customs recognised as ancient and lawful by the 41st article continued to be levied. But great irregularities prevailed in the collection of toll at the ports, and therefore when trade felt the impulse it derived from the crusades, the merchants were willing enough to compound with the king, for further protection of an increasing trade, at a higher rate of insurance. At their instance and request—’ ad instantiam et rogatum mercatorum,’—the prelates, magnates, and communities granted to Edward I., in his first parliament, in 1275, the following duties on wool, woolfells, and leather exported from England and Wales, viz., half a mark for every sackl of wool, and every 300 woolfells, and a mark for every last of leather. These were granted under the name of customs, as in supersession of the ‘consuetudines ‘ under Magna Carta.
1 51 Hen. III. St. 6, e. 6.
But, not satisfied with this, and pressed onwards by his fiscal necessities for the war with France, Edward exacted from the merchants, in 1294, an additional toll on wool, woolfells, and leather; and in 1297 seized all the wool in the hands of the merchants in order to enforce a ransom at the rate of 40s., that is, 3 marks the sack.
This Prise of wool to enforce a toll in infraction of the clause in Magna Carta, led to the insertion of an article in the famous Confirmatio Cartarum, 1297, whereby the new exaction of 40*. the sack on wool was stigmatised as Mala Tolta, an evil toll, and the consequent release of it by the king. But at the same time the duties of customs granted to the king in 1275 at the instance of the merchants, were recognised and established. Henceforth these duties were termed the ‘Ancient Customs—antiqua custuma.’
A few years after this establishment of the ancient customs, Edward was compelled, in consequence of the heavy expenses of the wars in France and Scotland, to have recourse to further means of recruiting his revenue. In exercise of his royal prerogative, which he continued to maintain to be inclusive of the right to alter the customs by agreement with the merchants, he now effected a composition with the foreign merchants in respect of his prisage of wine. Prisage had proved peculiarly objectionable to them in consequence of the exactions of the king’s officers, who, observing that the vessels in which wine was imported came to be built of larger size, while casks were made of smaller dimensions than theretofore in order to diminish the prisage, in retaliation, applied to this new state of the wine trade rigorous exactions which rendered the merchant unable to calculate beforehand the probable outgoings in respect of his venture.
1 Twenty-six stone.
Under these circumstances, when, in 1302, the king offered to commute his prisage on the wine of the foreign merchants for a fixed duty or rate, together with certain additional duties on wool and other goods, promising at the same time to give them increased privileges and advantages for their trade, they willingly closed with the offer. The assent of the merchants abroad was obtained by commission or in some other such manner, and the foreign merchants in England, for themselves and the merchants abroad, granted to the king the following duties :—
1. For wine, for every tun imported, 2s., to be paid in forty days after landing the wine. This was termed Butlerage, as in commutation of the rights of the king’s butler.
2. Additional duties on wool and other exports, viz., for every sack of wool and every 300 woolfells, a quarter of a mark; for every last of hides, half a mark; for every scarlet cloth dyed in grain, 2s.; for every other cloth, Is.; and for every quintal of wax, Is. These were termed the New or The Small Customs, as opposed to the ancient or great customs confirmed in 1275—’ nova sive parva custuma,’ as opposed to ‘antiqua sive magna custuma.’
3. A poundage of 3d. on all other goods and merchandise exported and importehttps://www.accountanttown.com/files/site/d. In collection of this, credence was to be given to the merchants as to the value of merchandise imported, on the production of letters from their principals or partners—’ by letters which they might show of the same goods of their lords or companions;’ but should they not have any such letters, they were to be believed by their oath of the value.1
In May in the next year, 1303, the king endeavoured to obtain the consent of the native merchants to a similar arrangement regarding his prisage of the wine imported by them. Writs were issued to London and the other towns principally concerned, directing the mayor and sheriffs to send to a colloquium at York two or three citizens with full power to treat on behalf of the community of the town, inasmuch as the king had been given to understand that certain merchants of the kingdom, with a view to being quit of the king’s prisage and the enjoyment of certain privileges granted by the king to merchant strangers, desired to pay to the king for their goods and merchandise certain new duties and customs which the said merchant strangers
‘Recital, Statute of the Staple, 27 Edward III. St. ii. c. 20.

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