Ship money, 1638

Ship money was a property tax, traditionally levied on coastal towns as a contribution towards the cost of their naval protection. When in 1635 Charles I extended it to the whole country, the returns were initially high; but opposition to the tax soon developed and the yield declined.

John Hampden, who had served as MP for Wendover in Buckinghamshire, refused to pay his assessment. As a result, in 1637 he was brought to trial in the Court of Exchequer, in what became a test case regarding the legality of taxation levied without the consent of Parliament. On 12 June 1638 the court found in favour of the Crown, by a majority of only 7 to 5. Ship money was declared illegal by Parliament in 1641.

Reproduced here is the argument of Sir John Finch, Lord Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas, in favour of the tax.
Catalogue reference: SP 16/394, f. 79, pp. 82-3 (June 1638)


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