- Taxation under the Early Tudors 1485–1547
The subject of taxation does not claim universal appeal as a source for understanding the values of a specific political group. However, Benjamin Franklin's famous remark about the ultimate certainty of only death and taxes describes the inevitable dilemma faced by a civil society. How does a community, whether local parish, county, or entire nation, mobilize personal economic resources to provide for the good of the greater polity? In the case of a popular war — an obvious threat to the well-being of a society — individual sacrifice in the form of taxes may be [End Page 253] relatively easy to effect. Ongoing maintenance of the machinery of governance or the prosecution of military activities to support unpopular or obscure political agendas frequently result in an erosion of public support. Individual or collective resistance to or subversion of direct (personal) taxation in such circumstances is an effective means of political action by those required to produce the funds. Constitutions and revolutions in England, France, and America during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were a result of the role taxation played in those societies. Why does taxation appear to be supported in one era and not in another?
Roger Schofield's recent study of taxation under the early Tudors considers the ultimate failure of direct assessment as a form of taxation by the end of the reign of Elizabeth I. The significance of this study lies in its examination of the process by which direct assessment was conducted and how that process reveals the reason for its failure as a viable form of taxation. In nine chapters the author considers the history of taxation and its legitimacy under the law and with the consent of Parliament. He examines the two major sorts of taxation under the Tudors, the fifteenth and tenth and direct assessment, as well as the means by which they were granted, assessed, and collected. Chapter 5 focuses specifically on the directly assessed subsidies of Henry VIII. There is a useful chapter on the role of the Exchequer as the crown's agent in the conduct of taxation. It is, however, only in the final chapter that the reader understands most clearly Schofield's conclusion, that the commissioners who collected the subsidies chose their own private benefit over the common weal.
This study is most useful for scholars already knowledgeable about taxation and the politics of the entire Tudor period from 1485 to 1603. While the title suggests that the research is limited to the period from 1485 to 1547, Schofield, in fact, uses data from the reign of Elizabeth I, and his concern is with change occurring across the entire period. Schofield does not provide the reader with any historical context within which to assess his reading of the events and issues of the period. Such information is only provided in reference to his analysis of the process by which taxation policy was developed and implemented during the period. Furthermore, most of the secondary sources cited are dated. Schofield's conclusion that there was a change in the values of those who served as commissioners is important, and he might have cited the research done on many of these individuals as support for his analysis.
The impact of the Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure on historical analysis after World War II has gone far beyond the confines of early modern England. Schofield's monograph, the result of a lifetime of study and reflection on taxation in this period, provides scholars with a methodology for analysis that is at once useful and limited. It is useful because it seeks to elucidate a subtle, human problem with quantifiable data. It is limited because Schofield does not offer an explanation for why the commissioners were unable to maintain the commitment to the public good of their forefathers. The study provides a challenge for future scholars to use taxation as a source material to...