Sunday, 22 May 2011

The 'Sin Tax'.

King John - as pictured in an early manuscript.
Today’s blog post looks at the‘Sin Tax’imposed by King John.
King John (whose name is inextricably linked with stories of Robin Hood) came to the throne (1199) after the death of his brother, Richard the Lionheart. The one thing historians seem to agree on is that John’s personality was dangerously flawed: greedy, petty and selfish, with an inability to see anyone’s viewpoint but his own.

King John imposed heavy taxes, for example, a tax of sixteen pence in the pound on a wide range of imported goods. But one of his more unusual taxes was the ‘Sin Tax’, imposed after John was excommunicated for refusing to approve the Pope’s choice for Archbishop of Canterbury.
King John signing the Magna Carta at Runymede.
John ordered his men to seize the wives, and ‘hearth-mates’ or concubines, of the clergy, to be held for ransom. The women would only be released on payment of a high price or 'Sin Tax'.
However it wasn’t just the clergy who felt aggrieved. By 1215 the nobility had had enough of John’s heavy taxation and rebelled. They seized London, forcing John into a meeting at Runnymede to accede to their demands and sign the Magna Carta, or ‘Great Charter.’ This document lay down rules to protect individuals from the unfair demands of the monarch. After the Magna Carta:
“The church is free to make its own appointments.”
“No more than the normal amounts of money will be collected by the government.”
And accordingly the tax was abolished on the wives and hearth-mates of clergymen.

King John's tomb - Worcester Cathedral.

If you had the power, what unusual tax would you put in place, and why?


  1. I would like to impose a tax upon King John. Is his crown still available? It should be sold and 16% goes to me. What all still exists? If nothing else, his tomb and remains will bring a good price at auction. 16% will suit me fine. The rest of it can go to the Queen, I suppose, unless any of the rest of you levy against it as well.

  2. He certainly is usually portrayed as a weak little creep. My favorite movie is "Lion in Winter" and he was a pimply faced little maggot in that. The best portrayal of him had to be Claude Rains, the man with the golden voice. Wonderful post.


Due to the amount of SPAM I have been forced to moderate comments. If you are a spammer - please go away! You comment will not be posted and you are wasting your own time.