Royal Taxation in Fourteenth-Century France: The Development of War Financing, 1322-1359

Royal Taxation in Fourteenth-Century France: The Development of War Financing, 1322-1359

by John Bell Henneman


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The capture of the French king John II at Poitiers in 1356 marked the end of royal taxation as a temporary, wartime expedient and its beginning as an annual assessment. John Henneman's detailed treatment of war financing in the period immediately preceding, from 1322 to 1356, is the first volume in a proposed study of royal finances in France during the fourteenth century. Mr. Henneman has chosen a chronological approach to his subject in order to show how the evolving theory and practice of taxation were affected by these turbulent years of war and negotiation, political faction and dynastic feuds, social and economic change.

Mr. Henneman discusses the king's requirements for money over and above his normal revenues, the methods he used to raise the funds, the responses of his subjects, and the changes these procedures made in the development of French institutions. His study is based largely on unpublished sources, especially the manuscripts found in French provincial archives. As the royal financial records in Paris have been dispersed or destroyed, these manuscripts arc of particular importance.

Originally published in 1971.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691620176
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 03/08/2015
Series: Princeton Legacy Library , #1443
Pages: 408
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.50(d)

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Royal Taxation In Fourteenth Century France

The Development of War Financing, 1322-1356

By John Bell Henneman


Copyright © 1971 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-691-05188-8


The French Crown and Its Finances at the Beginning of the Fourteenth Century

To understand the financial position of the French monarchy in the first quarter of the fourteenth century, one first must be acquainted with the fiscal terminology and administrative geography employed in the documents. Of even greater importance are the economic, social, and political factors which conditioned the development of royal taxing powers at the beginning of this period.

1. Fiscal Terminology

The term "taxation" is used here to describe a set of late medieval practices which produced revenues but which often seem rather remote from "taxation" in the modern sense. The fourteenth century had no single word to describe these practices, but several which overlapped in meaning, each referring to the collection of money by a government. When a ruler canceled a tax or granted exemption, he usually used several words, such as "aids," "subsidies," "impositions," and gabelles, in order to be properly inclusive. All these words, however, seem to have had a preferred meaning.

Perhaps the most widely used term was aide, derived from the feudal concept of auxilium. By 1500, an "aid" in France usually meant an indirect tax, but two hundred years earlier, it was used for almost every type of tax at one time or another. Four special circumstances under which a vassal owed his lord a payment are usually called "feudal aids" to distinguish them from other uses of the term. A lord could demand these payments when his eldest son was knighted, when his eldest daughter was married, when he was captured and had to be ransomed, and when he went on crusade. When King John II had to be ransomed in the 1360s, certain sales taxes were levied as a feudal aid to raise the required sum. As these taxes became more or less permanent, the word "aid" gradually acquired its later, more restricted, meaning of indirect tax.

Sometimes a vassal might be asked to render pecuniary aid to his lord in a military emergency. These "aids for war" or "aids for the host" were not limited to royal vassals but usually were extended to most of the king's subjects. Despite royal efforts to associate wars with the public weal, the habit of considering them a sort of private venture — "the king's wars" — persisted well into the fourteenth century. Aids for these wars could be regarded as the public financing of a private undertaking, and were usually called "subsidies." It is almost redundant to say "war subsidy," but many documents do so, perhaps because even this word had other uses. Two "feudal aids" — for the knighting of the future John II in 1332-1335 and for his ransom thirty years later — are explicitly called "subsidies" in some texts.

Another word, "subvention," was rather close in meaning to subsidy, generally referring to a tax whose proceeds were earmarked for some particular purpose, often war but not invariably so. "Imposition," on the other hand, increasingly tended to mean a particular form of tax — an indirect levy on exports or domestic sales. Two other terms, more regional in nature, seem to have been reserved exclusively for sales taxes. Maltôte, a term of opprobrium which enjoyed widespread use in the 1290s, was employed only in northern France in the middle fourteenth century. The term gabelle meant roughly the same thing in Auvergne and Languedoc, a tax on sales. First in the North and much later in Languedoc, gabelle gradually acquired its more restricted meaning, referring to the notorious tax on salt established first in 1341. We encounter much more rarely the term capage, meaning "head tax."

An important fiscal term was fouage (focagium in Latin), which meant "hearth tax," whenever and wherever found. There has been much debate, however, about what was implied by the word "hearth." Originally, the hearth was a household or family unit, probably a married couple and their unmarried children, but in some places, perhaps, a larger patriarchal family. Official hearth counts were compiled for fiscal purposes and they presumably did not include tax-exempt persons, such as those with privileges or those who were very poor. The latter were normally those households possessing less than ten pounds. A fouage was usually described as so much per hearth or per hundred hearths. It is probable that these taxes began quite early to be apportioned such that the wealthier units paid more and the poorer less. This was invariably the case in later centuries.

The difficulty concerning the word "hearth" arises mainly in the case of Languedoc, and indeed the fouage appeared only infrequently outside Languedoc until 1363. Many documents pertaining to hearth taxes in Languedoc required nobles or clergy to pay only for their roturier or urban property. Some historians have inferred from these texts that the hearth in the Midi was a unit of real estate rather than a household unit as such. In the second half of the fourteenth century, moreover, we sometimes find taxes being assessed "according to the old number of hearths," and communities eagerly sought the privilege of being charged with fewer hearths for tax purposes. These facts have led other scholars to conclude that the hearth was merely an administrative fiction. In the face of these views, Borrelli de Serres has argued persuasively that the hearth was still a family unit in the later 1340s and was treated as such long after this time. Beginning in 1348, a series of plagues, increased warfare, and economic depression greatly reduced the total number of households and may well have pushed many of the surviving ones below the minimum taxable income. Faced with rising fiscal needs, the monarchy tended increasingly to treat the fouage as an apportioned tax, assessing a given region, town, or diocese on the basis of a given number of hearths. In time, therefore, it appears that hearths did become an administrative fiction, although still tied in principle to the number of family units whose wealth exceeded a given minimum.

Towards the end of the fourteenth century, the crown levied a series of taxes in the form of a fouage but called grandes tallies? These gave rise to a gradual change of terminology, and the annual apportioned taxes from the fifteenth century onwards became known as tallies. Through most of the fourteenth century, however, the word tattle had little or no connection with royal fouages. The term had once described an arbitrary seigneurial exaction, but by 1300, the taille in rural society was arbitrary only when applied to unfree persons described in the documents as "tallageable at will." Meanwhile, the word had experienced a different evolution in urban communities. Another complication arises from the use of inventories compiled in the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries when the taille was the royal tax apportioned unevenly over most of the kingdom. When the word appears in inventory descriptions of fourteenth century texts, it may refer to royal taxes which were not called by that name at the time.

Townspeople originally were tallageable in the same way as rural dependents, but the process of enfranchisement had gradually eliminated arbitrary urban tallies by 1200. Once enfranchised, the bourgeois might still be asked by the king or seigneur for voluntary payments. These were a matter of negotiation, and in the fourteenth century they were called subsidies or impositions. For much of the thirteenth century, however, they were called tallies like their more degrading predecessor. By 1300, the word taille still had meaning in the towns, but it referred increasingly to taxes levied on burghers by their own municipal government. Municipal taxes also had other, less common names, like socquet and barrage, both found mainly in Languedoc and generally designed for the maintenance of fortifications.

Although this study is concerned with royal, not municipal, taxation, the distinction was by no means as clear as one could wish. Towns frequently paid royal subsidies by means of a lump-sum payment. This money was raised through municipal taxes levied on the burghers, and a great many such levies were actually disguised royal taxes. Moreover, when a town collected a taille to finance repair of ramparts or to equip a contingent of sergeants, it was subsidizing a military operation which was ultimately a royal responsibility. In this way, urban taxes substituted for royal ones. The troubled 1350s witnessed a significant increase in locally financed military efforts as the weakened monarchy had difficulty mounting an effective campaign. Urban tallies which substituted for royal taxes must be considered along with more direct forms of royal revenue. Moreover, many taxes, both royal and municipal, were in fact shared between the two governments. It had become established that municipal tailles could not be levied without the permission of the king (or the local seigneur if he was an important prince). Sometimes the king obtained a part of the receipts in return for permitting a town to levy a tax. Sometimes also, a town paying the king a subsidy was allowed to keep a portion of it for local needs. Thus it is clear that municipal finance was closely connected to royal finance.

A final term which often meant "tax" in the fourteenth century was "loan." The crown frequently obtained loans, more or less forced, which simply were disguised taxes. Some were advances later repaid from slowly collected subsidy receipts, but many were never repaid and in some years loans formed a significant percentage of the king's revenue.

The king deemed it advisable to invoke the expression "defense of the realm" when seeking to obtain subsidies, but the precise meaning of the term "realm" was not always completely clear. Even if we assume a fairly well-accepted frontier separating France from Spain and from the Holy Roman Empire, the fact remains that the French king exerted considerable authority in some regions outside this kingdom while having little effective control of certain regions within it.

From a legal standpoint, the lands within the kingdom may be classified as royal domain, apanages, and fiefs. The fiefs may be reclassified only with the greatest difficulty because of variations in power, wealth, and jurisdiction. In these lands, the effective authority of the king depended on many factors. Feudal/seigneurial power often involved rights or revenues which cannot be described in geographical terms. Even if we confine ourselves to the territorial aspect of royal authority, we must remember that fiefs of comparable legal status might vary considerably in size. They might be compact in nature or consist of scattered holdings; located near a frontier or close to Paris. With respect to both fiefs and apanages a vital personal element could be involved. A given king might be on friendly terms with some lords, indifferent or hostile to others. Some great magnates were related by marriage to the king; others guarded a strategic border; certain ones might be strong or weak personalities; others were minors or women or clergy.

Bearing in mind all these complexities, we can make certain generalizations concerning the period 1322-1356. Among the great fief-peerages, Flanders had so successfully defied the king in the period 13021320, that it was, from the fiscal point of view, virtually a foreign country. The same can be said for Aquitaine or Guyenne, whose duke was king of England. Brittany enjoyed considerable independence by virtue of its geographical position. Besides these three, Burgundy and Blois were in practice freer from royal control than the other lay fiefs, but their respective lords enjoyed a close personal relationship with Philip VI. A strategic location enabled the count of Foix to obtain fiscal privileges, while his enemy the count of Armagnac rose to a position of great power because of his marriage connections with the royal house. Among the apanages, Artois was ruled by women throughout the fourteenth century and their close connections with Philip V and Philip VI helped the crown exercise considerable authority in the county up to 1348. Two other princes, Bourbon and Alencon, usually cooperated closely with the crown, but the Evreux branch of the Capetians were far less friendly to the Valois and their lands virtually became enemy territory in the generation after 1354. All these factors, as well as the political circumstances of a given year, affected royal taxing power, and the crown usually had to negotiate special subsidy arrangements with these magnates.

In the winter of 1327-1328, when the royal domain achieved its greatest territorial extent of the later Middle Ages, the crown conducted a census of hearths and parishes in the kingdom, presumably for fiscal purposes. The only lands excluded from this census were the remaining apanages (Alencon, Artois, Bourbon, Evreux) and a few great fiefs (Blois, Brittany, Burgundy, Flanders-Nevers, Guyenne). It has been argued that these territories were the only parts of the kingdom in which royal fiscal officers did not have the power to act. It does not follow, however, that all the rest of the realm constituted royal domain. Royal accessibility to the many other fiefs varied according to time, place, and political circumstances. Even when not a part of the royal domain, they were attached to one of the bailiwicks or seneschalsies of the domain for administrative purposes.

These administrative districts, of which there were about three dozen, form the territorial framework for considering taxation in our period. In the absence of a regular administration for collecting non-domainal revenues, the crown employed existing local officers or special commissioners. These were always assigned to one or more of the bailiwicks or seneschalsies. The five bailiwicks of Normandy and the four of Champagne were sometimes treated collectively because these regions had enjoyed a certain historic unity. More important in our period was the lieutenancy of Languedoc, comprising the seneschalsy of Perigord and those lying south of the Dordogne river. The royal lieutenant in this large region wielded such powers that he has been called a veritable viceroy. Languedoc came to have an administration quite different from that of the North, particularly in the 1350s.

The central administration of the royal government consisted of five main branches whose personnel and functions were somewhat ill-defined and overlapping. These were the royal household, chancery, treasury, Chamber of Accounts, and Parlement. Together with the important prelates and lay magnates, these bodies formed the personnel pool from which was staffed the royal council. The main lines of governmental policy were established by the king and council. The king still traveled a good deal, as did the chancellor, and this practice helped create disordered procedures in the chancery. The treasury, which had long been run by the Templars, retained the organizational structure of a bank. The Chamber of Accounts, still in the process of development, supervised and audited the collections of domainal revenue. The records of these two financial bodies have largely been destroyed or dispersed, and those which survive are hard to use because of coinage fluctuations. Most of the documents express figures in money of account at the value current when the receipts or expenditures were made. This system was based on livres (pounds), each consisting of twenty sols, each consisting of twelve deniers. Livres parisis (Lp.) were used in the Ile-deFrance and the bailiwicks farther north. Four of these equaled five of the livres tournois (Lt.) used in the rest of the kingdom.

The bailiffs and seneschals in their respective districts were assisted by judges and "receivers," as well as the ubiquitous but unpopular sergeants who enforced executive orders. Administrative subdivisions, like the viscounties in Normandy and the jugeries or vigueries in Languedoc, were sometimes used as the basis for tax collection. The most powerful and flexible figure in French field administration was the special commissioner. The famous enquêteurs-réjormateurs sent by St. Louis to remedy the abuses of rural officials were such commissioners. Limited money and personnel increasingly led the crown to name as commissioners persons who were already in the field as bailiffs, judges, etc. Armed with extraordinary powers, such men proved to be formidable fiscal agents, and this function sometimes overshadowed their role as reformers of abuses.

Through the first half of the fourteenth century, the royal administration was designed primarily to exploit domainal resources and preserve public order. Derived from an earlier, simpler era, it was really not equipped to supervise an efficient system of taxation. Despite the domain's steady growth in the thirteenth century, its revenues were becoming inadequate to support the needs of the state. This growing deficiency may be associated in part with changing economic and social conditions.


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Table of Contents

  • Frontmatter, pg. i
  • Preface, pg. vii
  • List of Abbreviations, pg. xiii
  • Contents, pg. xv
  • Genealogical Table, pg. xvii
  • Map, pg. xviii
  • CHAPTER I. The French Crown and Its Finances at the Beginning of the Fourteenth Century, pg. 1
  • CHAPTER II. The War Subsidies for Gascony and Flanders, 1324-1329, pg. 40
  • CHAPTER III. The Fiscal Policies and Feudal Aids of Philip VI, 1329-1336, pg. 80
  • CHAPTER IV. The Beginnings of the Hundred Years' War, 1337-1340, pg. 116
  • CHAPTER V. The Fiscal and Political Difficulties of Philip VI, 1341-1345, pg. 154
  • CHAPTER VI. Military Disaster, The Estates, and the Plague, 1346-1348, pg. 191
  • CHAPTER VII. Towards More Uniform Taxation Under John II, 1349-1353, pg. 239
  • CHAPTER VIII. The Valois-Evreux Rupture and the Fiscal Crisis of 1354-1356, pg. 264
  • CHAPTER IX. A Half-Century of Royal Taxes: Major Conclusions, pg. 303
  • Appendices, pg. 331
  • Bibliography, pg. 361
  • INDEX, pg. 377

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