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Tax

The complex relationship between the owners and occupiers of  which was in operation from Saxon times at least can be simplified as a three-tier system. The king was the top of the pile and owned everything. He divided the land between his allies, who formed the second level, and they were responsible for providing the king with soldiers who formed the third level. He also assigned some land to the church for the ‘cure of souls’. The clergy, or who ever actually held the church land collected tithes. There was a level of society below that who worked the land as virtual slaves.
 The proprietors of  the land were responsible for paying taxes or rents and providing services to the person in the level above. The lowest level were called villains in the medieval period and they were commuted to working for their lord for a set number of days but this was later commuted to cash payments. Some villains did try to escape their bondage by fleeing to a town were everyone was ‘free’ in theory. The problem was that the guild system excluded people from work so the agricultural refugee may have been forced into a life of crime to support himself. This may be how the term villan assumed the meaning of a law-breaker.
 Dying was an expensive business for in the Saxon and later medieval period. The family had to pay a form of death duty called a herriot from the Old English ‘heregeat’ or ‘war gear’. Originally this would have been a sword, shield, horse or something else of military value and it was claimed by the person from the higher social level. This was later commuted to a cash settlement but the payment of cattle or sheep as a herriot continued into the medieval period. The lands occupied by the deceased returned to the higher lord who may have demanded some form of payment or at least a commitment of loyalty. The Normans established the role of the Escheater to manage this process which was later replaced by the Court of Wards and Liveries.
 The king would also claim taxes from the proceeds from trade which was one reason for granting charters to hold fairs.
 This revenues was often not enough so the king would be forced to hold a ‘parleiment’ to ask for a subsidy or additional tax. usualy to fight a war. The clergy paid taxes for the land they held  but the laity were also asked to contribute money. These have resulted in ‘lay subsidary’ returns which list the people who paid and how much they paid. The earliest Lay subidy return quoted in the publsuhed sources was in 1327.
 Other taxes generated information of interest to historians as welath as money for the king. Taxes are never popular but the Ship Tax was one of the causs of the civil war in the 17th century and the hearth and window taxes were also deeply unpopular.
 Poor rates or taxes were raised localy from the tudor period but have now been absorbed into general taxation and the council tax.
 Income tax was introduced in the Napoleonic wars and is still a major source of direct taxation.
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