Tax day here in the United States has come and gone, leaving either joy, despair or resignation in its wake, depending on if you received a refund or owed money. Like most Americans, I dislike taxes intensely, especially in years when I end up owing. To ease the pain, I thought it would be fun to make a list of all the things that people in regency England had to pay taxes on. I knew there were a lot, but the final list ended up being longer than I had thought. Much longer! Just looking at it makes my head hurt. Was there anything in regency England that didn’t get taxed?
Taxes were levied on:
- Alcohol – all kinds. Rum, beer, malt, spirits, you name it. If it bubbled or fizzled, it got taxed.
- Bachelor tax- that’s right: there was a tax for being single!
- Carriages- Only the well to do could afford a carriage, Like many items on this list this was effectively a tax on the wealthy.
- Coat of arms on a carriage- this seems like overkill. Wasn’t taxing the carriage enough?
- Coffee- If you didn’t like paying tax on coffee, perhaps you might want to switch to tea instead. But tea was even worse!.See tea, below.
- Employees in certain categories
- Gamekeepers- but let’s face it: if you could afford a gamekeeper, you could afford a gamekeeper tax.
- Hair powder
- Highway maintenance
- Income- Some things never change!
- Land- another obvious tax on the rich
- Men’s hats (headgear)- What, no tax on women’s hats? Hooray!
- Newspapers and newspaper advertisements
- Playing cards
- Poor tax- Not a tax on *being* poor (though I wouldn’t have put it past them); a tax for the support of the poor in your parish
- Ribbons- I guess they decided to tax ribbons instead of women’s hats.
- Soap- In an era with poor hygiene, why on earth would you want to tax soap?
- Shooting licenses
- Sporting dogs
- Tea – The tax on tea was as high as 119% at one time; it was down to “only” 12.5% by Austen’s day
- Tithe to clergy (paid by farmers and craftsmen)
- Windows- As if taxing glass wasn’t enough already.
No wonder the American colonies revolted! And no wonder smuggling was such a large problem in England during this time period.
It’s easy to look at this list and congratulate ourselves on the “lower” taxes we now pay in the United States, but sometimes we forget how much tax we, too, pay. It’s just that some of our taxes are more subtle. For instance, gasoline has a federal tax of eighteen cents per gallon, and states add their own tax on top of that (an average of thirteen cents). So every good or commodity that is transported by plane, train or automobile has a hidden tax on it. There’s a “gas guzzler” tax on large vehicles sold through a dealer, and we also have an employee “tax” in the form of FICA, unemployment and other charges the employer must pay. And most states have a sales tax on general goods sold, except for basic foodstuffs. So perhaps our taxes are not so different after all.
Oddly, we have an entire class of taxes today that was not collected in England (that I know of): Americans are charged taxes on hotel stays, rental cars and airplane tickets. I have not found any equivalent tax in regency England.
I am curious about how some of these taxes were collected. Things sold in a store, like gloves or playing cards, could obviously be taxed at the point of sale. But what about the servant tax? Did the tax man come to your house and count the number of manservants? Who was responsible for reporting the number of windows in a home? And how did that whole bachelor tax thing work, anyway? If anyone knows, please enlighten me!
I look forward to hearing what you have to say!