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Mediaeval Scotland
Chapter VI. Taxation and Revenue


Not very long ago it would have been practically impossible to write any accurate or consecutive account of the taxation and revenue of the ancient kingdom of Scotland. The earlier chroniclers confined themselves chiefly to recording the historical events of their time, the lives and deaths of the kings, their wars and battles, and the events most nearly concerning the particular districts to which the annalists belonged. The later historians were too busily occupied in inventing an imaginary and purely fabulous account of what the history of Scotland ought, in their opinion, to have been, compounded generally with a total disregard of what, in point of fact, it actually was, to attend to such prosaic matters as those relating to the social or economical condition of their country. But the splendid series of authentic national records which has been already published and is still being issued by the authorities of H.M. General Register House, combined with the important contributions of historical material made by private bodies and individuals, is yearly adding to our knowledge of the past condition of Scotland, and is gradually enabling us to correct the erroneous ideas which have too often and too long hitherto prevailed. The publication of the Acts of the Parliaments of Scotland has placed a mass of reliable facts of the highest importance within the reach of the historical student, the value of which is greatly increased by an elaborate and most valuable index. Second only in importance to this great national record is the Register of the Privy Council, which is now in the course of being issued, while the Rolls of the Exchequer, the Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer, the Register of the Great Seal, and other publications, will, when completed, form a mass of evidence available for future historians which will enable them in many very important points to rewrite the history of Scotland. And the example thus set has been laudably followed by various societies and by public spirited individuals in every part of the country. Perhaps the most important publication after the national records is the Register of the Convention of Royal Burghs, which for all matters relating to one very important subject which will shortly engage our attention, the trade and commerce of early Scotland, is simply invaluable. But the usefulness of this work is greatly marred by the want of an index, thereby causing to the student an intolerable and altogether unnecessary amount of additional labour. It is from the sources above indicated that we derive our only knowledge of the revenues of taxation of Scotland in early times. The fiscal history of Scotland prior to the Union may be conveniently divided into four periods, each possessing different features. The first is characterized by a survival of the earlier Celtic imposts, and extends from a very early period to the reign of David I. The second is marked by feudal services and casualties, and continues till the return of James I. from his captivity in England. The third period closes with the accession of James VI. to the English throne, and exhibits the decay of the feudal principle of aids. The fourth period comes down to the Union, and shows the gradual rise of the modern system of taxes.

It will be necessary to make some preliminary observations. While these characteristics are sufficiently distinct for purposes of division, it is not to be supposed that each period is divided from the other by sharply-defined lines of demarcation. On the contrary, we find in each case the older features and methods gradually becoming extinct, but sometimes surviving for a considerable period in remote parts of the country. It is to be remembered also that a national currency, which now is the familiar medium both of taxation and revenue, was altogether unknown in Scotland prior to the reign of David I. who struck silver pennies; and for a long time afterwards existed only to a very limited amount. Burdens of all sorts, whether private, local, or public, were at first defrayed either by services, or labour, or in kind. We can trace the gradual commutation of these into money payments as the currency extended, and the progress of civilization rendered it more convenient. It is also to be borne in mind that many of the duties and obligations now universally undertaken by the State and paid for by the community by means of taxation were in early times performed directly by individuals. Thus, the duty of national defence was a burden imposed on every free man, and was undertaken by each at his own expense, and it is only in comparatively later times that we find the State gradually incurring charges for military stores, occasionally hiring “wageouris” for particular military services, and so developing into the army estimates of modern days. Similarly, what is now so familiar to us as the Civil Service expenditure had equally modest beginnings. The administration of justice in early times was an unpaid duty which required no national expenditure. Prior to the reign of David I. the expenses of the country and of the sovereign were almost entirely defrayed out of the old prescriptive dues which had descended from the Celtic kingdom, and which were payable by the community to the King, as well as by tenants to their chief. These were the Cain, Conveth, Feacht, and Sluaged (which we have already noticed as agricultural burdens in the first chapter), with the addition of another called Ich, which, Mr. Skene thinks, is probably equivalent to loch, payment. These are all enumerated in a grant by Sir Ewin of Erregeithill to the Bishop of Argyll in 1251 of lands in Lismore. The Cain provided a large revenue in kind, slowly being converted into money with smaller payments in silver, gradually getting larger as the process of commutation extended. The Conveth, which originated from the right of the Celtic chiefs not only to be obeyed but to be fed and sustained by the clansmen, appears in the time of Malcolm IV. (in a charter of Scone) to have been a fixed amount of provisions paid in kind. It can be identified with the “Waytingaa burden laid on the thanages, which, in 1292, was assessed in the Exchequer Rolls at 24 cows per annum for two nights’ “waitings” at Forfar, and 13 cows for a night and a half at Glammis. In Ireland it was called the Coinmedha, and was the subsistence of the chief or king when out of his own tilled lands. When systematically due it was called the “Custom of Cuddikie” (Cuid oidche), and was restricted to four meals, four times in the year, to the chief and his followers.

“Feacht" and “Shiaged,” or "expedition and hosting,” covered not only the defence of the country, but offensive operations against an enemy, and were military services carried on by the tribesmen at their own charges. Shiaged also involved attendance at the king’s council. It is termed in the later records “servitium Scoticanum,” “forinsecum servitium,” and “servitium in exercitu et auxiliis.” The “Feacht” was the expedition within the kingdom or territory to repress rebellion or to enforce the law.

The “Ich ” was apparently a tribute paid at intervals as an acknowledgment of subjection, and perhaps survived in the “Calpe” or “Cawpe" of more modern times.

In the reign of David I. we find a very great change introduced. The tenures belonging to the feudal system, such as military service, ward, and relief, were gradually supplanting the older tribal system. A national coinage for the first time enabled a small but ever-increasing proportion of the revenue to be paid in currency. The establishment of the burghs encouraged trade and commerce, and the “Leges Burgorzim,” of which a considerable part belongs to David’s reign, contain probably the earliest provisions for a regular revenue which we have recorded. Though no burgh charter is extant belonging to such an early period, the references constantly made in the later grants of William the Lion to the privileges possessed by the burghs in the time of his grandfather show that if particular grants were not in existence some general body of legislation very favourable to municipal enterprise must have been in operation. No one can read the eulogium on David by Ailred of Rievaul, himself the friend and contemporary of the Scottish King, as it is recorded by Fordun, and confirmed by all that we know, without feeling that a new era in Scottish history commences with his reign. Society becomes more civilized, more settled, and therefore more progressive. “Ancient Gaelic Alban gradually fades into the background,” and of that historical Scotland of which Edinburgh is the capital, and the “ ruddy lion ramped in gold ” the emblem, unquestionably David was the creator.

Among the various offices which can be traced back to his reign is that of the Chamberlain, whose primary duty was the collection, custody, and disbursement of the revenue, combined at first with a general supervision over the burghs from which a very considerable portion of that revenue was derived. The institution of this office is one of the distinctive features of the second period indicated above. The national revenue, from many sources and through various channels, came all eventually to the Treasury, and from the records, many of which are still extant, we have a tolerably clear idea of the fiscal system.

The immediate receivers of the funds were the Sheriffs, who by the time of Alexander III. had succeeded the Earls as collectors of the revenue; the Ballivi ad extra, or administrators of some of the Crown lands, or lands temporarily in possession of the Crown; the Justiciars, the Magistrates, and the Custumars or receivers of taxes of the burghs.

The sources of income were either ordinary or extraordinary.

The ordinary sources of income were (1) the rents of the lands in the possession of the Crown; (2) the payments due from the Thanages; (3) the casualties of ward, marriage, relief and non-entry exigible from time to time from the Crown vassals; (4) fines imposed on misdoers; (5) the escheats, or forfeited estates of attainted persons; (6) the rents derived from the royal burghs; (7) compositions payable for letters of gift, remissions, and legitimations; (8) the Castle wards, or dues exacted from lands in the immediate vicinity of some of the principal fortresses towards the expense of upholding them; (9) the duties payable on merchandise, called the great customs; (10) the profits arising from the coinage of money.

The extraordinary sources of income were special contributions for particular purposes, and were at first confined to the occasions recognized by the feudal law, such as the redemption of the king from captivity, the marriage of his daughters, etc.

Most of these sources of income were common to both the periods succeeding the reign of David I. Taxes in the modern sense of the word were not known till a later period.

It will be convenient to indicate shortly the general nature of each of these ordinary sources of revenue :—

(1) The Crown lands varied considerably at different periods, but in the time of the Alexanders were very extensive. They were partly in the actual occupation of the King (terra dominica or demesne), and cultivated by his tenants and nativi, and partly held as thanages by vassals who paid a rent instead of military service. A large portion of this revenue was at first paid in kind, such as oats, wheat, barley, malt, fodder, cattle, swine, and poultry. In some districts, such as Forfarshire, part of it was paid in cheese. When the Exchequer Rolls commenced considerable sums were paid in money, but the revenue from this source was very much curtailed by the dilapidation of the Crown lands before 1350.

(2) The thanages were lands which were granted feudally by charter, not for military services, but for the payment of an annual sum as “census” or feu-duty. The thanes held them “in capite” of the Crown, and paid their “reddendo” to the Sheriffs, who accounted for them to the Exchequer. These were gradually becoming extinct, and by the close of the reign of Alexander III. had almost all been converted into ordinary feudal tenures.

(3) The casualties of the feudal law payable by the vassal to the superior were a very considerable source of income. They were often gifted by the sovereign to individuals as rewards for particular services.

(4) Three times in each year the Justiciar, the supreme judge in criminal and civil cases, held Circuit Courts at the head burgh of each shire for the administration of law and the redress of grievances. At the time of the Alexanders there were three of these officers—the Justiciar of Scotland, of Lothian, and of Galloway. A large proportion of offences were punished by fines, and even murder, under the old law of “Cro” or “Wergild,” could be compounded by the payment of a certain number of cattle, proportioned to the rank of the victim. The King’s displeasure was often atoned for by a substantial fine. Thus in 1261 the Earl of Sutherland was fined 20, and in 1262 the Earl of Caithness paid 50 marks.

(5) Requires no particular explanation.

(6) The rents derivable from the royal burghs were, in the first place, an annual payment of five silver pennies from the holder of each rood of land in a burgh; secondly, the fines awarded in the Courts of the royal burghs; and thirdly, the burghal toll or parva custuma. About the beginning of the fourteenth century the burghs began to rent these petty customs from the Chamberlain, paying a fixed sum per annum and collecting them themselves ; and some of the burghs, such as Aberdeen, in 1319, and Edinburgh, in 1329, had charters of feu farm from the Crown converting their tacks into perpetual rights, on payment of a fixed annual reddendo. In 1327 the aggregate revenue derived from this source amounted to 1,133 3s. 4d.

Apart altogether from their bearing on the national revenue, the accounts of these burgh rents afford us a very valuable index to the varying states of prosperity of the different centres of population at different times.

(7) The compositions payable for letters of gift and other concessions amounted to a considerable sum in some years, but varied so much that it is impossible to give an average.

(8) The castle ward payments were very trifling, and are only important for the principle recognized in their exaction.

(9) The King’s “great custom” on merchandise exported must have originated in very early times, for grants to monasteries of one ship duty free are found in the reign of David I. It was collected at the ports of export by “custumars,” who were generally one or two of the leading burgesses appointed for the purpose and remunerated by fees. It was mainly derived from three classes of exports —wools, woolfells (or sheepskins), and hides—and was payable about the time of Robert the Bruce at the rate of half a mark (6s. 8d. Scots) the sack of twenty-four stones on wool, at a quarter mark (3s. 4d.) on the hundred of woolfells, and at a mark (13s. 4d.) on the last of hides of twenty dacres, counting at that time probably ten to the dacre. The revenue derived from this source in 1327 amounted to ,1,851 14s. 4^d. from the ten principal burghs in the kingdom.

An important change took place in 1357. The defeat of the Scots at Durham and the capture of David II. led to a treaty finally concluded at Berwick, by which England was to receive 100,000 marks from Scotland in ten yearly instalments, commencing on the 25th of June, 1358. Among other expedients to raise this, in those days, enormous sum, the great customs were first trebled, and afterwards, in 1368, quadrupled; and the revenue from this source amounted sometimes to over 10,000 in the period between 1370 and 1379. These increased rates continued long after the ransom had been settled, for we find them in the succeeding reigns down to a late period.

In the time of James I. they produced in 1428 6,912, the highest sum recorded in his reign, with an annual average of about 5,000. Certain additional customs were imposed by James I. He taxed the skins of the martin, polecat, otter, fox, rabbit, and deer. The produce was very trifling, the largest export being in rabbit skins, and the highest revenue recorded being 3 16s. 8d. in 1431. A further duty was imposed in 1424 of one shilling in the pound on the exportation of horses, sheep, and cattle, and a small duty on herrings exported of one penny on every thousand fresh fish sold, four shillings on each last of 12 barrels barrelled by Scotsmen, six if by foreigners, and fourpence on every thousand red herrings. A duty of two shillings in the hundred exported was also laid on "mulones,” possibly cod. The second Parliament of the same year imposed a new custom of two shillings in the pound on woollen cloth exported, and another of two shillings and sixpence in the pound on salmon if bought by foreigners for exportation. Goods imported from England were also subjected to a duty of two shillings and sixpence in the pound. The average amount during the reign of James I. raised from the custom on woollen cloth was 300 per annum, and from salmon about 115 per annum. In 1428 a duty appears in the accounts on white salt at the rate of fivepence for every twelve chalders, but the Act of Parliament imposing it cannot now be found.

In the reign of James III. the gross revenue from the wool, woolfells, and hides fell on an average to less than 2,600. The revenue derived from the salmon and fish duties during the same period was about 310. Though at first put on the pound of value it was soon collected on the barrel, 12 of which made a last of Hamburg measure, and each was to contain 14 gallons. The custom was raised in 1480 to 4s. per barrel. In 1481 the custom of Lochfyne herrings amounted to the comparatively large sum of 34, and in 1487 the custom paid on the herrings of the “Lowis” (or Clyde lochs) at Dumbarton was as much as 379-

The revenue from the average gross customs in the reign of James III. amounted to about .'3,300 annually.

In 1455 the whole customs of Scotland were annexed inalienably to the Crown.

From a complaint made by the Comptroller in 1542 it would appear that the total income from this source then amounted to about ,5,000.

The later history of the customs after the accession of James VI. to the English throne must be dealt with hereafter.

(10) The profits arising from the coinage do not appear in the Rolls till the reign of David II. The earlier accounts are, unfortunately, lost. But, in 1358, Adam Thore, Warden of the Mint, accounted for ^108 5s. 2d. profit to the King arising from a charge of seven pennies per pound weight of silver. As in 1367 the pound weight of silver was coined into 352 pennies, this was nearly equal to two per cent. In 1451 the seigniorage had risen to rather more than three per cent. In 1441 the seigniorage on gold was 16s. from each pound, and in 1525 it had mounted up to 26s. from each ounce of gold and 20s. from each pound weight of silver minted.

In 1593 the Mint was farmed out at a weekly rent of one thousand merks, and at the accession of James VI. to the English throne the seigniorage was fixed at 25s. 5d. per ounce from the gold coinage and one-twelfth part of the silver bullion for the silver coinage, including the expense of mintage. In 1683 the Commissioners appointed to report on the Mint affairs pronounced in favour of a free coinage, which was carried into effect in 1686.

Having reviewed the ordinary sources of income, we come now to those particular contributions, which were called for at uncertain intervals and on special occasions. There is positive evidence in the Cartulary of Scone that a national aid was asked for in Scotland during the reign of Malcolm IV. Another is said to have been granted by a National Assembly in 1174. The first tax of which we have any actual record was imposed in 1190 to assist William the Lion in paying off the 10,000 marks of sterlings which he agreed to pay to Richard I. of England to obtain the discharge of the Treaty of Falaise. In 1211 a further aid of 16,000 marks—-10,000 of which were paid by the barons and 6,000 by the burghs— was granted to the same King. These aids were probably imposed by some sort of national authority, and in certain cases were assisted by voluntary contributions. This appears from a deed granted by William the Lion to the monks of the Cistertian Order, who claimed exemption from all taxation, but paid their share as a voluntary gift. Evidence exists in a charter granted to Aberbrothock by Alexander II. that aid had been called for by him in the beginning of his reign, perhaps on occasion of the marriage of his sister in 1224. When Alexander III. betrothed his daughter to Eric of Norway in 1281 he gave her a dowry of fourteen thousand marks of sterlings, and this sum would in all probability be raised in the same way. It is certain that during the reigns of the Alexanders there was a valuation roll or “ extent ” made containing the actual annual value at that time of a very considerable portion of the country. All the contributions up to this period were granted under the then common rule of the feudal system that in certain events the superior could call on his vassals to grant him special aid. It was not till after the successful conclusion of the War of Independence that we find a regular fixed sum granted to the Crown. Upon the 15th July, 1326, the Earls, Barons, Burgesses, and Free-tenants of Scotland, assembled in Parliament at Cambuskenneth, granted to Robert Bruce for his life the tenth penny of their rents, “tam infra burgos et regalitates quam extra,” according to the valuation made in the reign of Alexander III., with the provision that in the cases when the lands had been wasted by war the owner might apply to the Sheriff for a revaluation. This aid was given because the Crown lands were so wasted they could not support the necessary expenses of the King.

David II. was taken prisoner at the Battle of Durham in 1346, and in 1357 a tax was appointed to be imposed on all the rents and goods in the kingdom, for the purpose of paying his ransom of 100,000 marks of sterlings. The lands were to be taxed on their real value, and various other means were taken to raise this large sum of money. The financial embarrassment in which the country was placed by this burden was greatly increased by the debts and expenses incurred by the King. We get a glimpse of the comparative wealth of the various classes in Scotland at this period from the proportions in which the loans were to be gathered. The barons were to pay one-half, the clergy three-tenths, and the burghs two-tenths. The Parliament of October, 1370, imposed a special rate of one shilling in the pound; but, nevertheless, at David’s death, on 22nd February, 1370-71, there still remained unpaid a balance of 48,000 marks.

When James I. returned from his captivity in England in 1424 his ransom, decently veiled under the name of “costage,” was fixed at 60,000 marks of English standard money, to be paid in six yearly payments of 10,000 marks, but the last annual instalment was to be repaid as the dowry of the Queen. Of this large sum the burghs undertook to pay two-fifths, the other two Estates raising the remaining three-fifths. This affords us some idea of the comparative wealth of the different classes of population in Scotland at this period, and shows the progress made by the commercial interest since the middle of the fourteenth century, when their proportion of special taxes was only one-fifth, the barons paying one-half and the clergy three-tenths.

To raise this large sum special taxation was again imposed by Parliament, besides great additions to the customs. In every parish and burgh “extentors” were to be appointed, who, along with the priests, were to value each parish and town, and enter the rents of the lands, the names of the owners, their goods and substance in a book, to be presented to the King’s auditors at Perth. On every pound’s worth of rent and goods in burgh as well as out the tax was one shilling; every boll of wheat paid two shillings; of rye, sixteenpence; of oats, sixpence; every cow and her followers of two years and every ox, six shillings and eightpence; every sheep, one shilling; and so on. The expenses of the various embassies, such as that to the Duke of Burgundy in 1471, to France and Spain in 1488, to Denmark in 1491, and others seem to have been always defrayed by special taxation. In 1540 we find for the first time a sum imposed on the burghs for the purpose of furnishing “small artillery” (such as hagbuts and culverings), the other Estates providing them according to their valuation. Shortly afterwards a special sum of 16,000 was raised to assist in sending 1,000 horsemen to the Borders to repress incursions by “our aulde inymeis.” These were to be engaged for three months, and each man was to receive four shillings a day. The proportion of the different Estates in these taxations for national defence are not indicated, but in 1580, when 40,000 was imposed for defence of the Borders, the Barons and Freeholders paid two-sixths, the Church three-sixths, and the Burghs one-sixth.

Occasionally a general tax was raised for a more local purpose, such as the building of the bridge at Perth in 1578, the repair of the bridge of Don in 1587, and the protection of Dumbarton from the inroads of the Leven and the sea in 1607. But the most common cause for these special calls, more especially after the accession of James VI. to the English throne, was as aids not only for the contingencies recognized by the old feudal law, but to defray the Sovereign’s expenses. Thus, in 1625, 400,000 was asked for to pay the debts of James VI. and the King’s expenses at home and abroad. In 1630 the same amount was called for, nominally to defray the expenses of a proposed visit of the King to Scotland ; and special aids on various other pretexts occur in 1633, 1639, and 1640. No little dissatisfaction was caused by these exactions, and in 1643 an experiment was tried of asking for a loan of 800,000, one-sixth of which was to be advanced by the burghs and the remainder by the clergy, barons, and freeholders. The nature of the loan will be better understood when it is remembered that in the following year it was ordained that the names of those declining to lend were to be publicly read over in Parliament, their goods escheat, and their persons imprisoned.

During the Commonwealth matters were, if possible, worse. The Scotch members of Parliament sat in London, and their voice was little regarded. In 1652 they were ordered to raise 10,000 a month, and this sum is apparently sterling money, not Scots currency. The Scotch deputies prayed that Parliament would allow Scotland to be represented in the Parliament in London in proportion to its population, but this was refused by the English Committee, who decided that the number of members should be in proportion to the money raised from Scotland. On the 10th of March, 1652, the Scotch deputies protested against the heavy burden of taxation laid upon Scotland, but without any effect. In 1655 there is a return showing the division of this sum of 10,000 sterling among the various shires and burghs of the country. From this record we see that the shire of Ayr had to provide 545 12s. 2d. per month; the shire of Renfrew, 190 15s. 6d.; the shire of Lanark, 446 8s. gd.; the shire of Edinburgh, 448 19s. 2d.; the city of Edinburgh, 540; the city of Perth, 60; and the city of Glasgow, 97 10s.

The money was raised on all personal as well as real estate, each 20 of personal estate having to bear the same charge as 1 of valued rent. Tenants, and all persons by whom annuities, pensions, stipends, or yearly rents or profits were payable, were to pay the tax and make deductions in reckoning with the owners and beneficiaries. The commissioners appointed to collect this tax in each shire or burgh had power to fine, imprison, sequestrate the estates, and poind and sell the effects of every person refusing to pay. There was also a power of quartering soldiers upon all persons in arrear. In 1656 an additional 6d. was assessed upon every 100 Scots of valued rent to defray the expense of arresting and punishing all vagrants and vagabonds.

At last General Monk became satisfied that Scotland could not really pay the sums demanded by the English Parliament, and he accordingly addressed a letter from Dalkeith in June, 1657, to Secretary Thurlow, in which he says :—

“I must desire you will consider this poore country, which truely I can make itt appeare that one way or other they pay one hundred pounds out of fower for their assessment: and the warre having soe much exhausted them as itt has done as by forfeitures and fines wee have much adoe to get itt uppe : and the soulders that receive itt had almost as well goe without their pay as gather itt uppe. And unlesse there bee some course taken that they may come in equality with England itt will goe hard with this people.”

This shows that Scotland was more heavily taxed in proportion than England, and seems to have had some effect, for in the same year the proportion payable by Scotland was reduced to 6,000 per month. But in 1659 it was again raised to 12,000 a month, though probably never paid owing to the King’s restoration in 1660.

Charles II. agreed to accept the sum of ,40,000 a year from Scotland, but this sum was paid entirely by the Customs and Excise. A voluntary supply of 864,000 Scots was offered by the Scotch Parliament to the King in 1672 for the war against the States General, which was accepted. A supply was offered by the estates to James VII. in 1681 amounting to 1,800,000 Scots. In 1696 a supply of 1,440,000 Scots was granted to William II. for the security of the kingdom, but part of this was raised from the Excise. The last supply before the Union granted to Queen Anne was in 1706, and amounted to 577,066 13s. 4d. Scots.

The next great special source of revenue was the Excise, but this only came into operation at a comparatively late period. The first notice of it in the Records occurs in 1644, when Committees were appointed to consider whether money could be raised for the army by means of Excise. The result was that in the same year an Act of Parliament was passed imposing Excise duties on ale, aqua vitae, wine, tobacco, etc. The rates were fourpence on every pint of ale or small beer; on foreign beer, a shilling; on French wine, is. 4d. per pint; on Spanish wine, 2s. 8d.; on aqua vitae, 2s. 8d.; on every pound of tobacco, 6s.; on every ox, bull, or cow slaughtered above ,16 in value, 20s.; if below ,16 in value, 13s. 4d.; on every ell of silk stuff imported, from 6s. 8d. to 10s., according to value; on every beaver hat, 24s.; on every pair of silk stockings, 13s. 4d.; and similar duties on a long list of like objects. In Royal Burghs the Excise was to be collected by persons appointed by the Magistrates and Town Councils, who were allowed to retain 10 per cent, “for public, pious, and charitable uses within their burghs,” and for payment of the sub-collectors’ fees and expenses. The elders and deacons of every landward parish were to collect the Excise in their districts on similar terms. The original rates were from time to time varied and the articles added to or altered. In 1647 it was determined to farm the Excise, as being the most expeditious and easy way of raising the money. Sir William Dick paid, in 1648, 100,000 merks per annum for the Excise on wine for three years, and on the expiry of this term in 1651 it was granted to the Marquis of Argyll and Sir William Dick for five years at the yearly rent of 140,000 merks per annum, but adding the Excise in “strong waters.”

We have a very good account of the fiscal state of Scotland at this period in the report made by Thomas Tucker in 1656. In May, 1655, Cromwell had appointed a Council of nine to administer the affairs of Scotland, who inter alia had full power and authority to collect the duties of Custom and Excise according to the rates in force in England.

In order to assist at the settlement of these matters the Lord-Protector and Council of England sent Mr. Thomas Tucker, then Register to the Commissioners of Excise in England, into Scotland, and appointed him a Commissioner during his residence in Scotland. From a letter from one of the Council to Secretary Thurlow it appears that before the Commonwealth the proceeds of the Excise on ale, beer, aqua vitae, and tobacco, the most important articles for excise purposes, had only amounted to about 1,100 sterling per month, and that the new Council hoped by greater strictness to double it. Their proceedings excited great discontent, as appears from the contemporary authors. Nicoll says—“The burdings of the land at this time (October, 1655) wes verie havie and grevous to be borne;” and Tucker in his report says the people were very impatient of the Excise duties to which they were not accustomed, and accounts for it through “an innate habit of theyr owne to bee crosse, obstinate, clamorous, and prone to apprehend every action an oppression or injury.”

The first recommendation made by Tucker was that the Excise should be farmed out to the highest bidder, but that the term should be at first for four months, afterwards extended to one year. The result of this was that during the first four months (19th September, 1655, (January, 1655-56) the amount of Excise collected amounted to ,10,471 9s. 10d., of which ,9,824 was paid by the tacksmen and ,647 9s. iod. by collectors directly appointed by the Commissioners. The greatest difficulties in the collection were in the Western Highlands. For the counties of Argyll and Bute nobody would bid anything at all, and only nominal sums for Inverness, Ross, Sutherland, Cromarty, and Caithness. The Commissioners kept these in their own hands and sent out two collectors, “gentlemen of those countryes, one of which went clad after the mode of his countrye with belted playde, trowses, and brogues,” as Tucker carefully informs us, but only succeeded in raising ,27 in Argyll and Bute. In the second tacks for one year from January, 1655-6, to January, 1656-7, the whole sum raised by the Excise on ale, beer, and aqua vitae amounted to 35,054 8s. 8d. sterling.

Excise duties were also charged on salt, but the result was very small.

In 1661 the Excise on malt was charged at two merks per boll, and in 1693 an additional duty of 3d. per pint on ale and beer, and 2s. per pint on aqua vitae and strong waters was imposed. These additional duties were continued by an Act of 1695. January, 1701, the Excise was farmed for ,30,000 sterling.

At the period of the Union the public revenue of Scotland from these various sources was estimated as follows, in sterling money :—

Excise, per annum .................................50,000
Customs, per annum .............................. 50,000
Crown rents and casualties....................... 8,500
Post office and casualties ........................ 2,000
Coinage and casualties ........................... 1,500
Land tax and casualties ........................... 48,000
Total 160,000


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