Sunday, 14 February 2010
The Ship Money Case
The right of Parliament to approve (or not) taxes has been claimed from the fourteenth century. A statute of 1362 established that Parliament must assent to all lay taxation. Many Kings would have liked to evade this - and some tried - but Charles I was probably the greatest offender. He sought parliamentary approval - but when he failed to get it, attempted to live without calling Parliament. Ship money was a charge sometimes made on coastal towns for their defence. Charles attempted to impose this charge across the country. John Hampden - who had property in Buckinghamshire - a land-locked county, far from the sea (I know, Milton Keynes where I live is a long way from the coast. Hampden's property was in Stoke Mandeville) - refused to pay his assessment of One Pound.
Hampden lost the case - Rex v. Hampden, (3 State Trials, 825) by a vote of 7-5 in the Exchequer Chamber - but the closeness of the result, and the fact that Hampden was prepared to be taken to court for non-payment - encoraged many others to refuse. It was also the subject of many partisan pamphlets prior to the outbreak of the civil war. [If you have acess (possibly through a university library to JSTOR - you can read an article about the use of the case at the time here)]
The English have rightly regarded this case as an important part of the struggle which ultimately led to the Sovereignty of Parliament.
Further information on Parliament and control of taxes can be found here.