The Poll Tax and Census of Sheep, 1549

The Poll Tax and Census of Sheep, 1549

Beresford, M.W.

Agricultural History Review, Volume 1 (1953)


In March 1549 Parliament granted Edward VI the proceeds of a tax on sheep coupled with a purchase tax on cloth. It was probably the shortest lived tax in English fiscal history, being hastily repealed in January 1550 and although some of the tax was collected, it is doubtful whether it ever reached the royal purse. The records of the collection are imperfect and the proposed national census of sheep failed to be completed.

This list of failures and lost documents may not seem a very promising beginning. In fact, the failure of the Lord Protector Somerset’s attempt to tax sheep is a significant comment on the place of the wool-growing interest in national politics; the proposal itself is directly related to the long debate on the place of graziers in the national economy which occupied public men all through the sixteenth century; while the surviving documents, with their information about the size and ownership of a small sample of flocks in seven counties may be matched by other documents, as yet undiscovered, in local private and public archives.

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