Local Taxation, an emerging fact of life in the burgeoning towns.
One of the hard lessons that had to be learnt by the people from the seventeenth century onwards, was that everything has its price. They knew full well of old that taxes were necessary to pay for defence and war and had discharged their obligation by personal service. The provision of `coal and candle` and lodgings for soldiers was grudgingly accepted as necessary. Meanwhile the predominantly rural populace was slowly becoming accustomed to paying money rather than barter goods for rentals and tithes etc, With the growth of industries, albeit on a small scale to begin with; they began to experience a better quality of life as they moved from self sufficiency to become consumers of goods manufactured by others. This was more evident in the towns where the craft guilds and merchants developed their businesses, and personal wealth was more apparent being reflected in
the style of living, property, dress, social activities and the like. The fact that the poor greatly outnumbered the few wealthy people was another hurdle to overcome, particularly as taxation related in many instances to the property owner and tenants of the burgeoning towns ( Poll Tax, Hearth Money ). Local taxation to pay for local services soon materialised, as happened in Edinburgh with taxation to pay for horse and carts used in street cleansing. The people complained at the cost but continued unabated in throwing their refuse and
`night soil` into the very areas to be cleansed.
John Nicoll in his Diary gives an insight to the mounting pressures of taxation in October 1655
“[October 1655. Thair was ane new cess imposit upone the inhabitantes of Edinburgh, for bying of hors and kairtes, for careying away and transporting of the filth. muk. and fuilzie out of the clossis and calsev of Edinburgh. quhich much greived the pepill ; and so much the moir. becaus the pepill resavit no satisfactioun for thair money, bot the calsey and clossis continued moir and moir flithie, and no paynes takin for cleynging the streitis.
This and uther burdingis grevit the pepill, yit no remeid frome the world, for povertie increst daylie, and the moir povertie the pryde of men much moir aboundit ; for at this tyme it wes daylie sene, that gentill women and burgessis wyffes haict moir gold and silver about thair gown and wylicoat tayles, nor thair husbandis haid in thair purses and cofferis; and thairfoir, great judgement was evidently sene upone the land, and the Lordis hand stretched out still.”
1656 he complained
” The taxatioun imposit upone the Toun of Edinburgh, extending to thrie
score thouwsand pound, was exactlie takin up from the inhabitantes thairof,
swa that the Tounes burdings daylie increst, burding aftir burding; and
quhairas thair was ony deficiency, they war compellit, and sodgeris
quarterit upone thame till thair proportioune wer payit.”
In October 1656, he gives a long list of of the burdens imposed on the inhabitants of Edinburgh:
[ For large image click on thumbnail and then on the expand icon bottom right.]
But poverty and the general shortage of money seems to have continued in 1657 as Nicoll again records .
His note this time refers to the roping [rouping or auction, commonly forced sale of goods and property to satisfy a debt] being frequent.
The records of the Edinburgh Tolbooth contains many instances of persons
`warded` [imprisoned] for debt on letters of caption, [enforcement by law]
and arrangements of various kinds to discharge debts. It was not uncommon
for debts due to one person to be treated as a credit and transferred to a
third party, resulting in some very complicated arrangements.
The fact of years of hardship, increasing taxation and poverty, heightened by feast and famine of variable harvests from year to year, no doubt contributed to the general feeling of a desire for change. This would have overflowed into the general acceptance of a restoration of a Scottish Parliament and a King (Charles II) in the hope that it would improve their lot.
But it was not to be, as observed by Nicoll in 1664:
” In the monthis of
Januar and Februar in this yeir 1664, thair was sindry robreis in the
land, yea, very robbeing upone the hie streitis and clossis of Edinburgh,
occasioned throw the povertie of the land,and havy burdings pressed upon
the pepill ; the haill money of the kingdome being spent by the frequent
resoirt of our Scottismen at the Court of England.”
Indeed during the following
years the rampant greed of office holders of all kinds, whether the King`s
place men in the Privy Council and the organs of state, or at local level
among the Provosts, baillies and `magistrates` of local government, was
only too evident. There were some honest men about to be sure, but the
chance of a `quick buck` was seldom turned down. Records such as
Fountainhalls Notices – a series of diary notes by Sir John Lauder,
Lord Fountainhall, during the reigns of Charles II and James II , clearly
show the extent of corruption, malversation, bribery and plain theft among
the council leaders and officers, especially in Edinburgh. There is no
reason to believe that it was much different in the other burghs where
local self interest was possibly greater. It was very
much a case of who you knew, with favours and financially beneficial
appointments traded back and forth. Post the Restoration the issue of
religion was thrown into considerations, firstly concerning non
conformity, then pursuit of “phanaticks” as the Covenanters were
called, and ultimately the intense grovelling to please the Catholic King James II.
The inevitable loser was the common people.
In the countryside it was
worse. The tax demands on heritors and the various cess
requirements to fund the king`s spending and maintain an army filtered
down to tenants and the cottars. Shortages of food alongside poor
harvests, rising prices and the absence of any tangible money flow was
exacerbated by the pettiness of central government’s policies towards
religion. Those who could not pay taxes or fines were simply divested of
everything, home, furnishings (plenishings), livestock, crops,… and
their lives. What had been a subsistence existence now became a matter of
survival. A series of bad harvests occurred most notably
in 1623-4;1648-9;1650-1;1673-4 and 1693-5 when the
people were driven to consuming the seed corn put by for sowing, thus
resulting in a shortage in the following year. The winter of 1694-5 saw
poor people dying in the streets of Leith, and Edinburgh was flooded
with so many starving people that a relief camp was set up in the grounds
of Greyfriars Kirk. It was little wonder therefore, that thousands
migrated to Ulster , especially when land was available at a reasonable
rent to encourage settlers. Some took the gamble of travelling to the
colonies in the West Indies and America; those who fell foul of the
persecutors were sent as slaves to the same destinations.