Papists and the Taxman - A Warwickshire Intrigue

A series of enrolled deeds of papist estates.
Warwickshire County Record Office reference QS9/7

Taxation like death is one of life’s certainties. As one would expect, Warwickshire County Record Office has numerous tax records within our holdings from copies of the earliest subsidy rolls to the later wonderfully ad hoc taxes of the 17th and 18th centuries such as the hair powder tax. Although many of these were actually forms of indirect taxation being excise duties levied against goods.

One thing which caught my eye suggested that papists were being singled out to pay higher rates of taxation than the general population. Taxing aliens during Tudor and Stuart times at double rate was the norm and from 1625 recusant Catholics, who were defined as those being over 21 and who had not taken communion in Church of England for over a year, were subject to the same set of charges as aliens, namely double.

A Background: Reimbursing the Great Expense

But in 1723 a tax was levied which became known as the Papists Tax. Its motive was clear:

An Assessment of the papists land towards raising £100,000 for His Majesty King George for the year 1723.1

The direct trigger for the papist tax was the discovery of the Atterbury plot in 1722 to restore the Stuarts to the throne. Robert Walpole put forward a motion for an extraordinary tax on papists to cover any shortfall in the budget which would be 5s in the £1 on the estates of all papists. Supporters of the bill did not see this as unreasonable bearing in mind what had been spent to maintain the Pretender abroad and fomenting sedition and rebellion at home.

They argued that the nation had been in great danger ever since the reformation from the consistent endeavours of papists to subvert the constitution and the protestant religion. The measure was designed to deter catholic powers on the continent supporting future attempts to restore the Stuart monarchy by highlighting the potential impact on Roman Catholics in the United Kingdom. Opponents of the bill countered that it smacked of persecution and the plots had not been wholly Catholic. There were many Catholics who were equally appalled by the conspiracies.

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Examples of how this played out practically are abundant within the records of the County Record Office. Among them are 12 certificates2 addressed to the Remembrancer of H.M.’s Court of Exchequer and issued by the Commissioners of Hemlingford Hundred (Henry Greswold, Marshall Greswold and Andrew Archer) in pursuance of the Act. They relate to the transmission or remission on the passage of the property to a protestant or on the exemption of the estate for another reason.3 On one of these documents in which a woman was concerned is written the following:

In them all Mischeifs & all sorrows Dwell Wer’t not for woman there would be no Hell

The certificates mention the requirement to register papist estates. Requiring Catholics to swear oaths of allegiance to the crown were not new. But on the same day that the bill to raise £100,000 for King George was passed there was a corresponding bill providing that anyone failing to take the oaths of allegiance, supremacy and abjuration by 25 Dec 1723 must register their names and real estates before the courts. The penalty for failure to do so was forfeiture of estates.

Products of the legislation

In our series of quarter session records we see the products of this legislation. The constables returns of papists estates for the year 1723-17244 include one relating to Sir Robert Throckmorton and it is a list of his manors, messuages and farms lying in the County of Warwick. These returns would be submitted to the clerk of the peace who would then compile registers. Addressed to the clerk of the peace or his lawful deputy – pursuant to the act to oblige papists to register their estates and provides the script to be enrolled in the books kept by the clerks. This would then be put into a register.5

As a matter of symmetry a document from the Throckmorton collection6 is a copy of a statutory return made by Sir Robert Throckmorton of Weston Underwood bart., to the Clerk of the Peace for Co. Warwick under the late Act to oblige papists to register their names and real estates.


1 Warwickshire County Record Office reference CR1998/J/Box 86/15

2 Warwickshire County Record Office reference CR1291/639/1-12

3 Parishes referred to being Aston (Water Orton), Birmingham, Coleshill, Chilvers Coton, Fillongley, Hampton-in-Arden (Balsall and Knowle), Maxstoke, Solihull, Tamworth and Over Whitacre. 

4 Warwickshire County Record Office reference QS62/18 

5 Warwickshire County Record Office holds examples, such as reference  QS62/6, a register for the year 1723-1724.

6 Warwickshire County Record Office reference CR1998/J/Box 86/39

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