A new tax year

Only in recent years did I discover why the tax year began on 6th April.

Because we were always a sceptical race, suspicious of innovation and resentful about change, it took the England one hundred and seventy years to accept the Gregorian calendar. Introduced by Pope Gregory in 1582, it was not introduced in England until 1752.

The New Year had always begun on Lady Day, 25th March, but to adjust to the new calendar there had to be a twelve day shift meaning the financial and tax year began on 6th April.

Undoubtedly, the resentment felt towards taxation was not mitigated by adjustments to the calendar, it is a resentment that stretches back at least eight hundred years.

The villain in our story of unfair taxes was the evil Prince John, imposing a heavy burden upon the people while his brother King Richard was away at the Third Crusade.

Richard, in the story we were told in our books, was a good and just man. Richard was the Lionheart who would restore equity and justice when his battle for the Holy Land was complete. Richard was a heroic figure whose bravery was not reflected in his exploitative younger brother.

Of course, the stories we were told were all nonsense. Richard would never return to England because he had hardly spent more than a few months here since childhood. Richard’s home was in Aquitaine in south-west France, he spoke French and Occitan, the people of England would not have understood him if he had spoken to them.

The Lionheart was a cruel and violent man who was responsible for the cold-blooded murder of two and a half thousand Muslim prisoners whom he had been holding as hostages at Ayyadieh. Those who participated in the Crusades would have been complicit in the killing of countless Muslim children, women and men, all of it in the name of the Church.

At one point, Prince John, the boo-hiss pantomime villain in our stories, was forced to raise money to ransom his brother, who had been captured by the Holy Roman Emperor. The ransom was two or three times the income of the Crown, so John had to raise taxes, and his raising of taxes was something for which he was vilified in the tales we were told. No-one ever mentioned the recklessness of Richard.

Far from being a man of the people, Richard was someone who claimed “divine majesty” for himself, he believed he had the right to rule by “force and will.” If John was high-handed in his manner, he was following a long tradition. It is a tradition that the inspectors of revenue and customs have maintained.

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