Author Archives: Joanna

Tax is always with us. Could it be worse?

gold coins for taxI’ve been reading a fascinating book, Follow the Money, by Paul Johnson (yes, the one who is Director of the Institute of Fiscal Studies). It includes passing references to financial history, including tax and the kind of revenue-raising choices made by British governments over the centuries.

I’ve written before about some of them, like the tax on footmen. I’m sure that, like me, you knew about the window tax, too. But had you heard about the brick tax? Or the glass tax?

No, me neither. Or if I had, I’d forgotten.

So today’s blog is going to be about types of tax in British history, some successful, some not. And, yes, it will include income tax. (Do I hear booing from the back stalls? No surprise there.)

Taxes pay for wars. And that includes income tax

The first “income tax” in England was possibly the tithe instituted by Henry II in 1188 for the Third Crusade. It was a tenth—tithe means a tenth—of both income and movable property. And since Henry II was a tough cookie, he probably ensured it was all collected.

Cartoon Pitt demands Income Tax

Courtesy of the British Museum

In the UK, income tax as we know it dates only from 1799, under William Pitt (seen above, demanding 10% from John Bull’s annual income of £200). The cartoon is very anti, but paying income tax came to be seen as a patriotic duty during the French Wars and so there was less avoidance than there might have been. Once the war was won, however, the country wanted no more of it.  So it was abolished in 1816, after the end of the Napoleonic Wars. There was even a public burning of all the related records. (However, the canny Treasury kept copies—are you surprised?)

Back to the old-fashioned and long-established system of raising money for the state via other routes. Down with Income Tax!

Which prevailed for a while…

But then, in the early 1840s, the budget deficit became so worrying that, in 1842, Sir Robert Peel’s new Tory government had the bright idea of introducing income tax as a temporary measure.

Peel had opposed income tax during the previous year’s election but, as we all know, promises made during election campaigns don’t mean much, do they?

And temporary?

Well, income tax has been with us ever since.
Without a break.

Getting at bachelors

I chortle at the the idea of a bachelor tax. (Not for spinsters, please note.)
It all started with the Romans, apparently, who wanted men to marry and have children. Marriage alone wasn’t enough: childless married people were also taxed. The Empire needed soldiers, after all, and workers, and taxpayers…

Bachelor tax, Puck Magazine, late 19th century

Puck Magazine, late 19th century, on the Bachelor Tax

And when England became involved in the Nine Years’ War against France, under the new monarchs, William III and Mary II, it wasn’t long before more money was needed to fund it. So various taxes were brought in, including the Marriage Duty Act in 1695. (You can see examples of parish lists via that link.) It imposed a duty on births, marriages and burials; it also taxed widowers and bachelors over 25.

lovers against fire backgroundSt Paul said “better to marry than to burn”, didn’t he? Well this was a case of “better to marry than to pay tax”. Of course, while the man who married would avoid the continuing bachelor duty, he would have to pay the (one-off) marriage duty instead. Catch 22?  😉

The Marriage Duty Act didn’t work very well and only lasted about 10 years. The Nine Years’ War was over by then, but Britain was involved in the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1715) instead. More taxes needed?

Poor bachelors. The later tax on servants (1785) and Pitt’s income tax both discriminated against bachelors. Tough, eh?

Property is easy to find and easy to tax. Or is it?

Houses and land are there, immovable. They can’t be hidden away. So it would seem easy to tax them. But revenue men have to allow for human ingenuity.

Take the window tax.
That was another tax introduced (in 1696) to help pay for William III’s wars (and not repealed until 1851).

It was initially levied at a flat rate of 2 shillings per house per year, plus an extra 4 shillings for 10-20 windows, and 8 shillings for 20 windows or more. Those rates were increased several times and were much higher during the Regency, especially as the threshold for extra tax had been reduced in 1766 from 10 windows to 7. (Guess how many windows new houses tended to have?)

Avoiding (or reducing) the window tax wasn’t too difficult. Either you built your new house with fewer windows, or you bricked up the ones you already had. It’s not clear which was the case for the Georgian terrace shown here.

light can be subject to taxAnd if yours was the room with the bricked-up window? Also tough. You don’t really need light, do you?

Actually, you do. And the glass tax of 1745 (to pay for the cost of the Jacobite Rebellions?) further reduced your access to it.

Here’s The Lancet thundering against it in 1845, the year it was abolished:

In a hygienic point of view, the enormous tax on glass, amounting to more than three hundred per cent on its value, is one of the most cruel a Government could inflict on the nation …

orangery with lots of glass to taxSo, in the Regency period, if you had a house with lots of large windows, or, perhaps even more expensive, a succession house for your peaches and grapes, you were telling the world that you were very wealthy indeed.

Taxmen can be innovative

light bulb idea for new taxTreasury men can be inventive when they’re rooting around for revenue-raising ideas. I’ve blogged before about the tax on hair powder. Another part of the trend towards immovable property was the brick tax. It was introduced in 1784 to help pay for yet more wars—in the American colonies, this time.

It must have seemed a great idea. Building houses needs bricks, so if we tax the bricks (initially at two shillings and sixpence a thousand) we’ll get lots of revenue because a house needs thousands of bricks.

Wilkes' Gobs large bricks to avoid brick tax

By MaltaGC – Self-photographed, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Um. It depends.
On the size of the bricks.

Not surprisingly, bricks got bigger, especially after the duty was raised to 5 shillings a thousand, in 1797 (for the French wars this time).

The image here shows Wilkes’ Gobs oversize bricks in the wall of a warehouse in Measham alongside modern bricks in a bridge. Don’t you love the name “Wilkes’ Gobs”?

The Treasury men fought back by levying higher rates on larger bricks. And the tax didn’t help the quality of construction, especially as it was also levied on tiles and pipes. As a result, poorer people might not be able to afford drainage pipes for their houses.

In spite of the downsides, the brick tax was not repealed until 1850. Perhaps the revenue collectors thought they could afford the repeal since income tax was then well established? Besides, Britain wasn’t involved in a major war at the time. That would come a few years later, in the Crimea…
Wars and taxes, eh?

Till the pips squeak?

Many of these taxes, like those on windows and glass, would be paid by the rich. “Tax the rich till the pips squeak” is a misquote from Denis Healey, UK Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1974-79. He actually said he would “squeeze property speculators until the pips squeak”. But the misquote trips off the tongue better. A terrific rallying cry for those who do not see themselves as rich, possibly?

Benjamin Franklin by Duplessis

Franklin by Duplessis

All of the above (and there are many more taxes and duties I haven’t covered) suggests that Benjamin Franklin had it right when he wrote (in 1789):

Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.

I agree, though I think wars might be in there somewhere, too.

Libertà co-founder Joanna Maitland


How the Union Flag has evolved

When I wrote about coronations a few weeks ago, I didn’t mention flags. But for the 2023 coronation, they were everywhere, weren’t they? Strings of bunting featuring the Union Jack (or Union Flag, if you prefer). So I thought I might blog about the origins and evolution of the flag we all recognise and take for granted.

Many, perhaps most, national flags are fairly simple, perhaps just three coloured stripes, like the French and German ones. The Union Jack is much more complicated, as is the flag of the USA. That’s another flag that has evolved and may continue to do so, like the differences in our languages. Dame Isadora has blogged about that, more than once 😉

Amercian and English spoken

Two Nations divided by a common language  Rawf8

The Union Jack is the flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, to use the full title. And so the flag should represent the constituent parts. But does it? Where is Wales, for example? Continue reading

Coronation excess: Napoleon, George IV, William IV

St Edward's Crown used in British coronation

St Edward’s crown used in coronation

You may already be fed up with coronation information and PR. However, my blog this week is not about next Saturday’s coronation of Charles III. It’s about earlier ones, specifically about the outrageously extravagant coronation of George IV on 19 July 1821.

Well, the long Regency is my period, isn’t it?

And although the Regency ended on the death of George III on 29th January 1820, the coronation had to be delayed from August 1820 because the new king wanted to deal with the “problem” of Caroline of Brunswick.

He didn’t succeed in divorcing her, but he did succeed in keeping her out of his coronation.
She died two weeks later, still Queen Consort, but never crowned.

Why was George IV’s coronation so extravagant?

Two basic reasons. First, the new king’s love of excess. Second, Napoleon. Continue reading

Do troubles always come in threes?

Troubles always come in threes. Isn’t that what they say?

I’m writing this on April Fool’s Day and, boy, do I feel like an April Fool.
Let me explain my trio of troubles. Continue reading

Formatting Back Matter : hints for Independent Publishers

fanfare of trumpetsBack matter is where the independent publisher can blow their own trumpet. It’s a great PR opportunity for an author to get readers involved and, crucially, buying more of the author’s books. So it’s worth doing it as well as you possibly can.

Back matter is probably the second-last thing an author needs to do before uploading her ebook. (The last thing is to update the Table of Contents.) Before doing back matter, you should have done all in the following list (click to see my previous blogs on how to do them):

What should be in back matter?

Back matter is very much at the discretion of the author but the following are often included: Continue reading

Female language: English and French differ. Or do they?

woman against background of questionmarksRecently, I was stopped in my tracks over female language. Specifically French female language. And then I thought about English, and how different it is. Or is it?

What do I mean by “female language”? Well… I suppose I mean the words and phrases used to signify that we are referring to someone female rather than male. It’s an issue in French, because it’s a gendered language. In English, we’re increasingly moving away from gendered language. For example, we don’t talk about actors and actresses any more, just about actors. And in cricket, we have batters, not batsmen. In the fishing industry, we have fishers, not fishermen. Back before the war, the women who painted china were called paintresses. I can’t imagine anyone using that word now, can you? Or—pace Jane Austen—authoress.

The issue arose because, in the book I’m currently working on, there is a reference to a female examining magistrate in Paris. Now, the French for judge is “le juge” and an examining magistrate (the one who oversees the pre-trial enquiry) is “le juge d’instruction”. So far, so fairly OK. One would address such a magistrate as “monsieur le juge”. But what if he is a she? Continue reading

Heroines, Heroes, Failure and Jacinda Ardern

New Zealand map with pinThis blog doesn’t normally touch politics but today (Friday) I learned that Jacinda Ardern is resigning as Prime Minister of New Zealand. She has decided to leave the job after more than five years because, she said, she “no longer has enough in the tank to do it justice.” It’s a frank and honest statement. Possibly even heroic? But is it failure?

Can heroes admit to failure?

handsome dark-haired young man with beard and faraway gazeAnd then I started thinking about the heroes we write and wondering whether any of them would get away with making a statement like Ardern’s. Does an alpha hero (say) ever admit that he’s no longer up to whatever it is he does? That he’s a failure? Or that he would be if he continued?

Can’t say I’ve met many in the fiction I read, especially not in contemporary romances. Romantic heroes may occasionally fail at some task, sure. But don’t they usually learn from their failure and go on to bigger and better things?

And, even when they do fail, do they confess it to the world at large? Or do they keep that chiselled jaw suitably clamped and say nothing?

The key question, I suppose, is this:
is a hero a failure—unheroic—if he admits he is no longer up to the job? Continue reading

Underwear: what was worn under Regency gowns?


See-through petticoat with flounced hem

What underwear did ladies have beneath their Regency gowns? Generally, not much. I’ve blogged before about see-through gowns and the Regency petticoat but what else was underneath?

The go-to reference book for underwear is The History of Underclothes by C. Willet and Phillis Cunnington which starts at the medieval period and finishes at 1939. The History of Underclothes by C Willet and Phillis Cunnington



As you can see from the cover, it includes corsets and bustles and much, much more. And it includes underwear for men. That gent in the middle of the cover is wearing a Jaeger nightgown, dating from the early 1880s.

The lady to his right is wearing “cami-knickers in crêpe-de-chine” from 1922. (No, they didn’t look like knickers to me either!) The lady to his left is much earlier, of course. She may look fully dressed, but she isn’t. That’s corset, chemise and underskirt, dating from about 1780. And French!

Regency underwear

Continue reading

Christmas greetings and a variant on 12 days

Fire Oranges Happy Christmas 2017

The Libertà hive is again taking Christmas and New Year off. The next “proper” blog will appear on Sunday 8th January, 2023.

2023?? Gosh, where did 2022 go?

However, we don’t want to leave you with nothing so, for those who haven’t seen it before (and for anyone who’d like to see it again), we are repeating Joanna’s 12 Days of Christmas, Botswana style.

Enjoy and do sing along. With love from all in the Libertà hive.

Twelve Days of Christmas, Botswana-style:
you may wish to sing along as you read 😉

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

a raptor in a bare tree.

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: Continue reading

Autumn colour: ups and downs

Autumn colour in carpet of fallen forest leaves.

Autumn colour can be uplifting. Good for the soul, perhaps?

Yes, we know that it’s essentially a by-product of deciduous trees closing down for winter, but it’s still beautiful, isn’t it? So I make no apology for filling this blog with gorgeous images of autumn colour. Though there are downsides to some of it (for me, at least). Read on to find out more…

Autumn Colour at Westonbirt Arboretum (one of the UPs)

autumn colour at Westonbirt

autumn colour at Westonbirt © Joanna Maitland

I had intended to go leaf-peeping at Westonbirt in Gloucestershire back in October. The tree collection there is fabulous and the maples, in particular, provide wonderful autumn colour.

But. Continue reading