The London lay subsidy of 1332: (Margaret Curtis), I, The tax and its assessment

Pages 35-43

Finance and Trade Under Edward III the London Lay Subsidy of 1332. Originally published by Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1918.

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In this section


I The Tax and its Assessment

The London Lay Subsidy Roll of 1332 is to be found in the Public Record Office It consists of seven sheets of parchment, the entries are made in double columns, and all the sheets, except the seventh, are written on both sides The roll is in a state of good preservation, only eleven items are missing In Cordwainer Ward the pence are torn off in two of the amounts, in Farringdon Without the sums paid by four persons, and in Cripplegate Within, those of five people are wanting

The value of the roll may be realized when it is stated that there is only one subsidy roll of London in print-that of the lay subsidy of 1411-12 (fn. 1) The earlier roll is of greater importance since it shows the incidence of the normal form of taxation- a fraction of moveables, while the later one is a record of an exceptional impost on rents

The year 1332 is memorable in the history of taxation The disputed right of the King to tallage was then probably claimed for the last time Tallage had not been expressly forbidden in the "Confirmatio Cartarum," and was levied in 1304 apparently without opposition In 1312, however, London and Bristol made a strong resistance to a similar demand by Edward II The Londoners finally escaped payment by raising two loans amounting to £1,400, which were to be allowed for in the collection of the next general aid The tax apparently proved unprofitable, and was not revived for twenty years (fn. 2) Then Edward III issued letters for the collection of tallage on June 25th, 1332 (fn. 3) The next Parliament did not meet till September 9th, and the subject of taxation was almost immediately opened up "They granted the King one Disme and one Fifteenth to be levied of the Laity, so as the King will live of his own, without grieving his subjects with outragious prises and such like." (fn. 4) The King in return recalled the commissions for the collection of tallage (fn. 5)

The grant that replaced the tallage was a fraction of moveables, which, known in England as early as 1166, had been a frequent form of taxation since Henry III's reign (fn. 6)

But whilst in similar grants previous to 1332 the fractions had varied from a fortieth to a fourth, after that date they were always a tenth and a fifteenth, as in 1332 Moreover this was the last time that in London (fn. 7) and many other places the amount of taxation due from them was fixed by the valuation of goods In 1334 (professedly owing to complaints of the strictness of the 1332-3 collection, more probably in order that the King might know beforehand how much a subsidy would yield, and not be the loser through any misdeeds of the collectors, since the fixed amount could be demanded from each district), the writ ordered, that in place of assessment, the royal commissioners should treat with the men of the different districts for a composition for a tenth and a fifteenth The method of assessment was only to be used in case of a refusal to compound, and the amount levied was not to exceed the sum assessed in 1332 (fn. 8) The settlement made in 1334 proved permanent, and accordingly the fractions of moveables were stereotyped as a tenth and a fifteenth This arrangement made the tenth and fifteenth merely a name for a tax levied as in 1334, and known to yield from £38,000 to £39,000

The difference in the fractional amounts of the subsidies originated in the payment of tallage (fn. 9) The ancient demesne of the Crown with the boroughs contributed in a larger proportion than the counties London, however, obtained the privilege from Edward III in 1327 of being assessed with the counties at a lower rate (fn. 10)

Edward maintained the concession, though he seems to have regretted his generosity In a writ to the Mayor and Aldermen in 1335 he signified his readiness to accept the sum fixed according to the county rating, "although inadequate" (fn. 11)

There were other advantages in being assessed with the counties The exemption of goods from taxation was much larger in their case In the boroughs the only exemptions in 1332 were "a dress for the man, and one for the woman, and a bed for both, a ring and a chain of gold or silver, and a girdle of silk that they use every day, and also a goblet of silver or mazer from which they drink" (fn. 12) But in the counties, armour and riding horses, all the jewels and dresses of the man and his wife, and their vessels of gold and silver were exempted

These exemptions were considerable when we remember that people spent their money in the middle ages on ostentatious personal display, on rich garments and jewels and vessels of gold and silver, rather than on costly furniture (fn. 13) This is proved by the wills of the Londoners A bed is almost the only piece of furniture which was ever bequeathed Their treasured possessions appear to have been exactly those mentioned in the list of exemptions, with the exception of riding horses and perhaps armour (fn. 14) To take one example Richard Constantyn left to his son two goblets of silver, a silver water vessel, a sapphire of value and a silver ring with a precious stone To his daughters he bequeathed a silver goblet each, and to his wife all his vessels of silver (fn. 15) The value of the Londoners' clothes may be judged by the fact that a third best robe sometimes formed a separate bequest

An additional privilege which London secured in being taxed with the counties was that no payment was demanded from those whose possessions were worth less than ten shillings, whereas the limit in the boroughs was six shillings (fn. 16) in 1332

The ways of the mediæval taxgatherer were marked by a leisureliness which must have been trying to a King in need of supplies In the case of the grant made in September 1332, although Edward was in great need of money owing to the Scotch war, the tax was not paid into the Exchequer till 1334 The dates for the delivery of the money at the Exchequer were fixed in the first place as February 3rd and May 31st, 1333 These were the times named in the writs of appointment of collectors, issued on September 16th, 1332 (fn. 17) But the writs ordering the assessment were not issued apparently till 1333, and in them the dates for the payment of the tenth and fifteenth were postponed to April 4th and September 30th, 1334 (fn. 18)

The method of assessing the taxation was the same for the boroughs and counties It was usual to have two chief taxers for each district, but in 1332 the first intention seems to have been to associate two high officials with two men of the city John de Stonore, second justice of the King's Bench, and William de Denum, baron of the Exchequer, were appointed with Richard de Hakeney and John de Preston, (fn. 19) aldermen of London (fn. 20) as collectors of the fifteenth for London But eventually the two latter were alone entrusted with the duty (fn. 21) The chief taxers were commanded to choose four or six, or more if required, from the most lawful and most esteemed men of each district (fn. 22) The administrative divisions of London naturally formed the districts for the assessment of the taxation The wards, at this time twenty-four in number, presented no great inequality of size, except those which stretched beyond the walls of the city With regard to those to the east of the Walbrook (the natural division of the city), the scantiness of the population counteracted the extent of the wards But in the west, the large size and population of Farringdon and Cripplegate made it convenient to divide them into a ward within and a ward without for the purposes of taxation (fn. 23) The size of the ward would doubtless determine the number of collectors, in 1319, six or more were selected from each ward for the collection of a twelfth (fn. 24)

The status of the taxers seems to have varied considerably Henry de Preston, collector for Dowgate in 1334, possessed goods of the value of £20 in 1332, but William de Sabrichesworth in Limestreet (fn. 25) had moveables worth only twenty shillings

The deputy assessors had to swear by the Holy Evangelists to state fully what goods the inhabitants of each district possessed and to tax them at their true value The Parliamentary grant was a fraction of the moveables possessed on September 29, 1332, but in the writ for the collection it was stated that all goods acquired since that date had also to be taxed The collectors were to proceed hastily with the assessment, and "reduce it into writing and put it in a roll written quite plainly" They were to deliver one roll to the chief taxers and retain a duplicate themselves

The business of the chief taxers was to check the work of their subordinates, and report any misdeeds to the Treasurer and Barons of the Exchequer As soon as they received the indentures of the collectors they were to cause the tax to be raised The chief taxers drew up two rolls, one they retained to raise the taxation, the other was presented at the Exchequer with the first payment of the tax It is one of these two rolls that has survived The collectors were taxed by the chief taxers, and their names are doubtless entered in the roll But the taxation of the chief taxers and their clerks was reserved to the Treasurer and Barons of the Exchequer, so they were not enrolled with other Londoners (fn. 26)

The collectors would probably proceed according to parishes, but it is impossible to prove this, as the residences of the men whose names are enrolled can seldom be discovered They may have conducted their inquiries on a plan like that adopted at Colchester in 1301 (fn. 27) The taxers there visited the treasure-chest first, then the chamber and the rest of the house, passing from the kitchen to the brewery, larder and granary, when the houses contained these offices Afterwards they directed their attention to the stock-in-trade or implements of handicraft, and, lastly, to the animals, hay and fuel (fn. 28) The tax collectors valued each article separately in 1301; in 1332 they probably made a rough estimate of the goods, as the items are not enrolled The large number of round sums suggests this Fractional amounts are not found in five of the wards, and they only occur once in seven wards The collectors in Bassishaw and Walbrook appear to have done their work more thoroughly as fractional sums ranging from £4 8s 10¾d to 9¾d are common

The assessment was apparently not strict, as the highest amount paid was only £8, whereas in 1319 several citizens paid £20 Also London paid only £670 7s 5¾d according to the roll, although 1332 is supposed to have been a heavy year, (fn. 29) and yet paid £733 6s 8d in later years The small payment was not due to an inability to meet the demands of the collectors, (fn. 30) as in the case of John de Triple, who at his death owed £53 16s 8d for divers assessments, (fn. 31) since it has already been seen that the rolls were drawn up from the assessment and not the levy of the tax (fn. 32) This is further proved by the 1319 roll (also probably by the 1334 roll), (fn. 33) where there is a memorandum, at the end of the account of some of the wards, of the amounts which had been assessed and collected, and the sum which consequently still remained to be paid The total of the separate items equals the amount of the assessment The smallness of the amount paid may be accounted for in the following ways Some of the wealthy London citizens gained exemption from taxation, while the aldermen seem to have been persistently guilty of attempts at evasion Edward II and Henry IV had to command that the property of aldermen should be taxed in aids, tallages and contributions by men of the wards in which such aldermen resided in the same manner as the property of other citizens (fn. 34) The names of seven of the twenty-three secular aldermen of the city are absent from the 1332 roll The assessors were also usually dishonest In 1334 there were complaints that the collectors in 1332 had connived at evasion, and applied to their own use great sums which they had extorted (fn. 35) This accusation has no special reference to London, but the morals of the city were evidently not superior to other parts of the country In 1346 in the assessment for the loan of 3,000 marks to the King, one hundred and sixty-two men, many of them assessors, had their payments increased, or they were inserted where they had previously been omitted, by order of the King's writ (fn. 36)

Before leaving the taxation of London it is interesting to consider the proportion which it bore to the taxation of the whole country This cannot be definitely stated for 1332, as there is no evidence how much the subsidy yielded in that year But it is probable that the amounts paid by different parts of England were in the same ratio as in later years The average yield of a tenth and fifteenth after 1334 was from £38,000 to £39,000 (fn. 37) and the amount which London had compounded for in 1334 was £733 6s 8d (fn. 38) This is the sum which the city paid in 1373 according to the subsidy roll of that year, which is the only printed roll, showing the taxation of the whole country under Edward III (fn. 39) It affords a means of comparing the amounts contributed, and consequently the wealth of London with other parts of England Only three other towns were assessed separately, like the counties, and their payments are insignificant in comparison The largest city of the North, York, was assessed at £162, the flourishing port of Kingston-on-Hull paid only £33 6s 8d, and Bath £13 6s 8d It is with counties that London must be compared, in the fourteenth century Leicestershire, the West Riding of Yorkshire and Nottingham had almost the same taxable capacity


  • 1. Edited by J C L Stahlschmidt Archæologia, XLIV, 56-82
  • 2. Stubbs, II, 545-8
  • 3. Rot Parl, II, 446
  • 4. "Cotton's Abridgement of Records," quoted by Rylands, Lancs and Cheshire Record Society Miscellanies, II, VI
  • 5. Rot Parl, II, 66
  • 6. There were four taxes on moveables in Henry III's reign, nine in Edward I's reign Cf J F Willard, Roy Hist Soc Trans, 3rd Series, Vol VII, p 168
  • 7. Bk F, p 68 In December 1335 London is said to have compounded for the fifteenth
  • 8. Rot Parl, II, 447
  • 9. Dowell, I, 58
  • 10. Liber Albus, pp 146-7 It was renewed by Henry IV, ib, p 168 Stubbs, II, 545, gives the reference, but writes Richard II in place of Henry IV
  • 11. Bk F, p 68
  • 12. Rot Parl II, 447 Also C P R, quoted and translated by Rylands op cit, p xi The exemptions of 1332 were the same as those of Edward I's reign from 1283 onwards, with the exception of 1301 Prof Willard, "Taxes upon Movables in Edward I's reign," Eng Hist Rev, July 1913, p 517
  • 13. Rylands, op cit, II, xi
  • 14. Robert de Lincoln and Thomas Corp left armour, however, Cal Wills, I, 477 and 624
  • 15. Cal Wills, I, 482
  • 16. Rot Parl, II, 447
  • 17. Foed, II, 11, 845 The day after the Purification and the day after Trinity Sunday are the dates given
  • 18. This postponement may not apply to the whole country It appears in C P R 1330-4, p 484, for Northumberland Northumberland was in an exceptional position owing to the disturbances of the Scotch War and the death of one of the collectors But in the assessment writ in Rot Parl, II, 447, which appears to have a general reference, the later date is given for payment, and Sharpe refers to it as if it were identical with the London writ, Bk F, p 290 (The dates are the day after the close of Easter and the day after Michaelmas )
  • 19. C P R, 1330-4, pp 357-9
  • 20. Beaven, Aldermen of London, pp 22, 137
  • 21. C P R 1330-4, p 359 Also see the heading of the roll
  • 22. Rot Parl, II, 447
  • 23. For further proof of what is found in the roll, see Bk F, pp 4, 9, 27, 33 In the case of Farringdon the custom was extended by the Statute of Richard II, and since 1394 Farringdon has been represented by two aldermen (Beaven, op cit, p 144), but Cripplegate has never attained to this dignity
  • 24. Bk E, p 123
  • 25. Bk F, pp 33-4
  • 26. Rot Parl, II, 447
  • 27. The poll tax of 51 Edward III was drawn up according to parishes
  • 28. Dowell, I, Appen II, p 232 He translates and arranges the information given in Rot Parl, I, 243 seq
  • 29. Ib, I, 86, says it seems to have been heavier than the last grant of a fifteenth and tenth, but contrast the larger amounts paid in Edward I's reign Willard, Eng Hist Rev, July 1913, pp 517 seq
  • 30. C P R 1338-40, p 76 This appears to have been one of the causes of Essex being in arrears in taxation in April 1338
  • 31. Bk E, p 198
  • 32. Ante, pp 11-12, cf Willard, Eng Hist Rev, July 1913, p 517
  • 33. Bk F, p 3 See such entries as "John Lovekyn and his fellow collectors of the Ward of Bridge £51 18s 8d, viz of £53 assessed in the said ward"
  • 34. Liber Albus, pp 144 and 167
  • 35. Rot Parl, II, 447
  • 36. Bk F, pp 148-9 n The increase varied from 20/- to £25 They are in many cases the same men as were enrolled in 1332
  • 37. Dowell, II, 86 In 1344 it appears to have fallen as low as £28,682 Ramsay, The Antiquary, I, 158 The amount was £38,170 9s 2½d in 1373 Archoologia, VII, 337-47
  • 38. Bk F, p 68 The King says they had compounded for 1,100 marks Bk F, p 4, also shews that this was the amount paid in 1334
  • 39. Archoologia, VII, 337-47, edited by Topham