ID: PH01_SHM / Elaine Barker

TitleShip Money
AbstractIn 1634, with Charles I on the throne, Parliament had not convened for six years. The King, wanting to raise money, had no intention of following the usual course of recalling Parliament and decided to levy a tax known as Ship Money. This was a tax extending back into the medieval period, last levied in Queen Elizabeth's reign. Hitherto, always used in times of war, this peace-time levy caused outrage and to counter the many accusations that this was unconstitutional, great efforts were made to justify it, searching State papers going back centuries. The King's Privy Council presented it as being an emergency fund and made a case that England was being threatened by foreign powers and the coastline by pirates. The outcome was that Ship money was collected each year between 1634 and 1638.

Ship money had been raised in previous times but always in times of war and levied on coastal towns. This project was intended to provide a defence force in the Narrow Seas, i.e. those waters that surrounded Britain, most especially the English Channel. It did seem however that Charles was using the money to fund his everyday expenses of government.

In the first year of this unpopular tax it was only coastal towns called upon to contribute but by 1635 those inland also were required to pay.

Each county was to fund one ship, London, two. The payment was made direct to the Treasury of the Navy, not to the Exchequer.

In Essex and Suffolk, the King's writ in October 1634 was addressed to the Sheriffs of the county and town bailiffs and other legal men. It called upon their towns to provide a fully equipped warship of 700 tons, and 250 men by 1st March 1635 and to provide maintenance for the ship and crew for 26 weeks. The ship, along with those from other counties, was to be in Portsmouth by that date. Under the terms of the writ, the King gave the power to local authorities to imprison anyone who refused to pay. Many cases were brought to court by aggrieved tax payers arguing they were paying too much or shouldn't pay at all! Sometimes opposition to Ship money took on a violent turn and goods and livestock were seized from those unwilling to pay. One Essex man who had his horse seized simply went and took it back again!

This failed to produce the amount expected and in August 1635 the levy was extended county-wide to include the nineteen Essex Hundreds as well as the principal towns. The whole of Essex was expected to raise £8,000.

An extremely unpopular tax among the wealthier classes, this was one of the several grievances of the English propertied classes leading up to the Civil War between 1642 - 1651 when Charles was deposed and executed by Oliver Cromwell. As the levy was made annually it seemed to have become a permanent National tax 'by the back door'. As the Sheriff of Essex at the time, Sir Humphrey Mildmay wrote

there is no penny paid that is not forced among the people

By 20th January 1637, £6,100 had been received leaving £1,900 to pay and three days later the King ordered Sir Humphrey to have it by Shrovetide

takeing notice that this arrear is far greater than that of any other county

Sir Humphrey's successor, John Lucas, it would appear met with more success due to diligence and persistence and was to meet with the King's approval. He was to be later replaced by Sir William Luckyn.

The towns charged were Colchester (£300), Walden (£80), Maldon (£70), Thaxted (£40) and Harwich (£20) totalling £510 with the remainder borne by the hundreds.

Winstree Hundred has 13 parishes incorporating Peldon, Great and Little Wigborough, Layer Marney, Layer Breton, Layer de La Haye, Abberton, Langenhoe, Fingringhoe, Salcott, Virly, East and West Mersea and was expected to raise £164 5sh.

In all about 20, 000 Essex men were assessed as being required to pay. Where these lists survive for a village they act as a census of the wealthier members of the population in 1637.

Between 1634 and 1638, overall, the collection of Ship Money provided between £150,000 and £200,000 annually and was deemed to be a great success, it is believed about 90% of the money due was collected. During the Long Parliament (1640 - 1660) an act was passed outlawing this medieval tax. By the time it ended there was a new focus on land defences arising from the Bishops' Wars in Scotland. The fleet in fact never waged war.

Locally, in Peldon's Churchwardens' accounts there is a document revealing that Henry Bullock of Peldon had been assessed to pay 12 shillings Ship Tax in 1636. Comparing this with the list below for Salcott and Virley it would seem he was a moderately wealthy man and we do know he belonged to the Bullock family, originally of Arborfield, Berkshire who came to Great Wigborough in the sixteenth century and established themselves in this area over three hundred years. Their family seat in Essex was Faulkbourne Hall and members of the family owned Moulshams Manor and Rowses, both in Great Wigborough. In Session Rolls where Henry was indicting a labourer for stealing a gelding in 1637 he is referred to as a yeoman.

From the research of the late Tom Millatt we have the complete list of Ship tax payers from Salcott and Virley in 1636, confirming that the villages were considerably much more populous in the seventeenth century than later in their history.

SHIP MONEY ASSESSMENT 1636         VIRLEY (Winstree Hundred)

Matthew Bigges clerk eccl.   0 14 0
      temp0 0 0
William Aylett, gent0 11 6
George Reade0 18 0
John Smith1 3 6
Henry Reade0 2 0
Richard Newland0 2 0
Roger Thorpe0 2 6
Thomas Ellis0 3 6
Richard Cabell0 2 0
Thomas Tomalison0 4 0
Peter Cranfield0 7 0
John Walker0 1 6
Christopher Osborne0 1 6
Henry Knevett0 2 0
Total5 0 0

          SALCOTT (Winstree Hundred)

William Sampford0 6 0
Thomas Tomlinson       0 7 0
John Jolley0 7 0
William Bucke0 6 0
Total1 6 0

Elaine Barker
Peldon History project

"The Personal Rule of Charles I" by Kevin Sharpe
Alison Gills thesis 1991 Ship Money
Andrew Derek Thrush: Thesis: The Navy Under Charles I 1625 - 1640

AuthorElaine Barker
SourceMersea Museum