• Arms and the (tax-)man: The use and taxation of armorial bearings in Britain, 1798–1944.

    Philip Allfrey (see profile)
    British History, Victorian Studies
    British history, Social history
    Item Type:
    University of Dundee
    CAIS, Heraldry
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    From 1798 to 1944 the display of coats of arms in Great Britain was taxed. Since there were major changes to the role of heraldry in society in the same period, it is surprising that the records of the tax have gone unstudied. This dissertation evaluates whether the records of the tax can say something useful about heraldry in this period. The surviving records include information about individual taxpayers, statistics at national and local levels, and administrative papers. To properly interpret these records, it was necessary to develop a detailed understanding of the workings of the tax; the last history of the tax was published in 1885 and did not discuss in detail how the tax was collected. A preliminary analysis of the records of the armorial bearings tax leads to five conclusions: the financial or social elite were more likely to pay the tax; the people who paid the tax were concentrated in fashionable areas; there were differences between the types of people who paid the tax in rural and urban areas; women and clergy were present in greater numbers than one might expect; and the number of taxpayers grew rapidly in the middle of the nineteenth century, but dropped off after 1914. However, several questions have to be answered before the records of the tax can be used to draw conclusions about the use of heraldry: Are the surviving records representative? Does tax evasion introduce any bias? How does one handle changes in what was considered taxable over the 150-year period? How does one distinguish between people who were taxed because they had an object decorated with a coat of arms, and people who intentionally displayed their personal or institutional coat of arms? The records of the armorial bearings tax have the potential to be useful, but as the above questions indicate, a much closer analysis of the records, as well as additional sources of information, are needed to fully realise this potential.
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