Taxes and Tithes: How Did This Affect our British Allreds?

by Linda Allred Cooper (2013)

In 1789, Benjamin Franklin summed it all up with a simple statement: “In this world, nothing is certain but death and taxes.” As T-Day (aka April 15th) draws near, I thought you might enjoy a little information about our British Allred ancestors and how taxes affected them.

In 1533, when Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic Church, he created a very unstable religious situation in England. Until that time, all of England was Catholic.  Henry had no doctrinal problems with Catholicism; his motivation for separating from the Catholic Church was Anne Boleyn; he wanted to divorce his wife, Catherine of Aragon, so he could marry Anne. But the structural changes he made to the English church (now called the Anglican Church or the Church of England) meant that the ruler of England also was head of the church. This meant every time the ruler changed, there was potential for major change in religion.  

This potential proved to be fact when, after Henry’s death, Edward (his son) was dominated by advisors who pushed England toward Calvinism. When Edward died, Mary, Henry’s daughter by the divorced Catherine, shifted religious policy toward Catholicism. When Mary died, Elizabeth, another of Henry’s daughters, had no patience with either extreme. The result of Henry’s changes: an Anglican/Catholic/Puritan split that eventually led to religious civil war.

Religion, although a major concern, was not the only problem. Taxes and Tithes: without tax money coming in, the government could not survive.  Per the American Heritage Dictionary, the definition of Tithe is: A tenth part of one’s annual income contributed voluntarily or due as a tax, especially for the support of the clergy or church. In 17th Century England, the Church and the Government were tightly intertwined and the Tithes received by the Church eventually made their way into the King’s coffers. 

The 17th Century English people were, no doubt, familiar with the phrase: “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” Matthew 22:21. I’m sure most were hard working, honest folks who strived to pay all their bills, including taxes, the same as we do now.

However, as the Quaker movement expanded and membership grew, more and more Friends began to question the payment of taxes which were used, in part, to fund war and the military. Some Quakers also began to protest, as non-conformists (no longer members of the Church of England), paying taxes which financed the King who was head of the Church of England. Anglican church membership dropped as the Quaker movement grew which began to affect tithes and other mandatory fees destined for the establishment/management of the church. As you can imagine, non-payment of taxes by these non conforming Quakers was not tolerated.

Refusal by the Quakers to pay taxes eventually included refusal to participate in anything relating to the military.  The book, The Quakers in Peace and War, An Account of Their Peace Principles and Practice, by Margaret Hirsch tells us “In 1655 Cromwell appointed new Militia Commissioners for the English and Welsh counties, upon who rested the duty of raising a force. The horses, arms, and money required were to be obtained from Royalist estates, and used to equip the well-affected, who were formed into regiments and trained. Those who refused to train were to be fined £20, and the obstinate imprisoned.

The policy of mulcting (fining) Royalist estates was soon abandoned, but the militia was maintained throughout the Protectorate, and heavy fines “for not sending a man to serve in the train-bands” soon became a common form of Quaker suffering.” 

During this Tax Season, as you sit down with all your bank statements, receipts, finance papers, and work on filling out those pesky IRS forms, and fuss to yourself or whoever is nearby about how much you hate paying taxes – remember our Quaker Allred Ancestors who also hated paying taxes. Benjamin Franklin certainly was right! The only thing certain is Death and Taxes!