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Hearth-money

Pronounced /ˈhɑːθ mʌni/Help with pronunciation

English kings and their advisors were ingenious in devising ways to tax their subjects. Hearth-money was brought in during the reign of Charles II in 1663. It was levied at two shillings a year on every hearth in the kingdom. This may not sound like a lot, but a couple of shillings went a great deal further then than today’s equivalent of 10 pence does now. It was also called hearth-tax and chimney-money. People hated it. It was repealed as one of the first acts of that curious composite sovereign William-and-Mary in 1689 on the grounds that it was

not only a great oppression to the poorer sort, but a badge of slavery upon the whole people, exposing every man’s house to be entered into, and searched at pleasure, by persons unknown to him.

It should not be confused with hearth-penny, which was a pre-Conquest name for a payment of one penny a year by better-off householders to the papal see at Rome, a tax that ended with the Reformation. As every home had to have a hearth for cooking and heating, to have one was equivalent to being a house holder. The tax was also known as Rome-scot and Peter’s pence. There were also smoke farthings, which were offerings that were made by householders to their cathedral church at Whitsun. The payment is known from the fifteenth century under that name, but in the eighteenth century, when the tradition was spluttering to its end, writers started to call it by the grandly Latinate moniker fumage (from fumus, smoke).

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 12 Apr. 2008

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Last modified: 12 April 2008.