Did Tobacco Duties Help Trigger The English Civil War?

I seem to be becoming immersed in Anglo-American history. The mention by Nisakiman that James I had increased the duty on tobacco by 4000% (in 1604)  started me looking for more information. It turned out that his son, Charles I, had also raised tobacco duties in 1633 by some unknown amount. It was nearly all coming from Virginia.

TOBACCO was introduced to Europe by the Spanish, who had learned to smoke it from Native Americans. Despite some early criticism of “drinking smoke,” tobacco became popular among the middle classes in England…

By 1630, over a million and a half pounds of tobacco were being exported from Jamestown every year.

The tobacco economy rapidly began to shape the society and development of the colony. Growing tobacco takes its toil on the soil. Because tobacco drained the soil of its nutrients, only about three successful growing seasons could occur on a plot of land. Then the land had to lie fallow for three years before the soil could be used again. This created a huge drive for new farmland.

Settlers grew tobacco in the streets of Jamestown. The yellow-leafed crop even covered cemeteries. Because tobacco cultivation is labor intensive, more settlers were needed.

With tobacco sales in England (and nearly everywhere else) rocketing, the American colonists were growing it everywhere they could, and commanding more land to grow it (which brought them into increasing collision with native Indians), and requiring more and more labour – which eventually resulted in the import of slaves.

The original English settlements in Jamestown had no slaves, but by 1700 there was not enough labour to be of sufficient use. The first black slaves arrived in 1619 and in 1660 only 3% of the colonists were black. By 1680 the black population still only composed less than 7%. Between 1667-1686 Virginia created a legal structure for holding black families in permanent slavery, and imported a huge quantity of slaves after 1700 to provide sufficient labour to grow tobacco. At the time of the first census in 1790, 20% of the residents in Virginia were slaves.

The first shipments of tobacco to England in 1613 were sold at 3 shillings/pound. But it seems that this price didn’t hold up for long.

By 1630, the English tobacco market had become thoroughly flooded as colonial supplies overwhelmed English demand. Prices accordingly collapsed. In Bermuda’s case, the wholesale price of island tobacco fell by 96% in just eight years, plummeting from two shillings, sixpence in 1622 to  twelvepence in 1628 and falling again to sixpence the following year. In 1630 it bottomed out at a mere penny per pound.

Since in 1604 James I of England had imposed a tobacco duty of 6 shillings and 8 pence on every pound, that must have been passed on to the customers. And indeed it was:

At the end of the 16th century, tobacco retailed by the pipeful at 3d. per fill. Then as imports increased, it sold by the pound, at 20s. – 40s. , up to 1619. In mid-century, “Spanish” tobacco sold at 7sh. per pound in Ipswich: 17½ – 35% of its price in the early seventeenth century. By the 1670s, the retail price stood at a shilling or less per pound, although the best Virginia cost more than twice as much at 2s. 2d. per pound. In 1681, average tobacco sold retail at 6d. per pound.

If tobacco wholesale prices were one penny/lb in 1630, the retail price of tobacco must have been wholly made up of the tobacco duties imposed first by James I and then by Charles I.

If you were an English smoker in England in 1630, you were paying Charles I the full price of the tobacco in your pipe, while being told that you were one of

a nomber of ryotous and disordered Persons of meane and base Condition , whoe, contrarie to the use which Persons of good Callinge and Qualitye make thereof, doe spend most of there tyme in that idle Vanitie…

Another one of this “nomber of ryotous and disordered Persons of meane and base Condition” seems to have been a certain Oliver Cromwell.

Cromwell’s popular image is that of a dour Puritan but in his private life, he was fond of sherry and beer, smoked tobacco and appreciated music.

I’ve been arguing recently that smokers have exerted hidden influence in both the recent Brexit and Trump votes. I’m now beginning to suspect that smokers may have exerted similar influence on the eve of the English Civil War of 1642-1651.

The causes of the English Civil War are ascribed to various things, including religious differences, a breakdown of relations between Crown and Parliament, and excessive taxation imposed by spendthrift Charles I – for example Ship Money used to fund the Royal Navy.

But with the prevalence of smoking in England rising dramatically in the 30 years prior to the civil war, isn’t it likely that one of the largest groups to feel the effects of excessive taxation were England’s new class of smokers? And wouldn’t they have seen their champion in the “ryotous and disordered” Oliver Cromwell rather than “Persons of good Callinge and Qualitye” like Charles I, or like the medical profession that had started the complaint about smoking.

1603: ENGLAND: Physicians are upset that tobacco used by people without physician prescription; complain to King James I.(TSW)

So English people took up smoking in large numbers from about 1610 onwards. The medical profession (no doubt as wonderfully competent then as they are now) complained. Huge duties were then imposed on tobacco by the Crown. After the ensuing civil war, during which the Crown was overthrown by smoking-and-drinking Oliver Cromwell, tobacco duties must have been lifted (or substantially reduced) if tobacco subsequently retailed at a shilling or less per pound.

What’s so different between then and now – except that we haven’t had the civil war yet?

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16 Responses to Did Tobacco Duties Help Trigger The English Civil War?

  1. petesquiz says:

    Another interesting piece; I hadn’t realised the Charles I taxed tobacco so much! The main difference between then and now, as far as I can see, is that now almost everything is taxed heavily (not as much as tobacco, I agree) whereas back then not much was taxed and so it tended to be more visible. Sadly, we’ve now become inured to taxation on pretty much everything!

    • Harleyrider1978 says:

      Obama raised the taxes by 2400%

      Shillary created schip taxes the ACS created extreme state taxes all of which make 90% of the retail price.

      All this has done is make bootlegging the only game left in town. However the tax law didn’t affect pipe cut tobaccos so cig loose leaf became pipe tobacco overbite in America

  2. Rose says:

    Frank, according to this, the English tobacco growers were moved to support the Parliamentary cause, but in the end it did them no good.

    1635: Officers trying to interfere with tobacco growing in Gloucestershire were met with resistance.

    This move against local people by the monarchist state was greatly resented and encouraged the growers to support the Parliamentary cause and the English Revolution of 1640-48. But, in the 1650s, the Commonwealth eventually took the same line and fights were rife with Parliamentary Agents, who were sent to uproot and/or set fire to the crops.”

    1652: A fresh Act in prohibiting the growing was passed, and it was said that it was still forming competition with the Virginian Trade. The growers succeeded in gaining a year’s reprieve, arguing that “their crops will be perilled and lost, and it will be ye ruin of very many labourers…” Cromwell allowed just one years crop to be sown and reaped. MPs for Bristol support the Act as the city’s merchants want to maintain colonial trade (By 1670 half of Bristol’s shipping was employed in the tobacco trade).

    1654: This year the tobacco crop was larger than ever leading Bristol merchants to protest in July of this year. Bristol Corporation (aka the Merchant Venturers) expressed a desire, in its ‘instructions’ that MPs for the city should prevent growth of English tobacco which was to the “extraordinary prejudice” of local trade. The constant sale of English crops nullified, to a large extent, what advantages the out-ports, e.g. Bristol gained from the prohibition of foreign tobacco.

    As a result of the above campaign special Commissioners were empowered by Parliament to put into execution the Act prohibiting domestic tobacco growing. But their enforcement of the law resulted in the locals raising a force of some three hundred horse and foot to resist government troops.

    1655: So popular was tobacco growing in the area the Gloucestershire hangman lamented:

    Harry Hangman’s Honour, or the Gloucestershire Hangman’s Request to the Smokers and Tobacconists of London, a quarto pamphlet in the King’s Collection, June 11, 1655

    “The very planting of tobacco hath proved the decay of my trade, for since it hath been planted in Gloucestershire, especially at Winchcombe, my trade hath proved nothing worth.” He adds: “Then ’twas a merry world with me, for indeed before tobacco was there planted, there being no kind of trade to employ men, and very small tillage, necessity compelled poor men to stand my friends by stealing of sheep and other cattel, breaking of hedges, robbing of orchards, and what not.”

    1658: Thomas Colclough became a Common Councillor of the City of London. He was a monopolist who imported, in his own his ships, Virginian tobacco that mostly came from his own plantations. These plantations in turn were kept supplied with essentials from England and to export these from England required special licences from Cromwell. In 1658 Thomas was one of eight signatories to a “Petition of the Merchants and Traders to Virginia” to the Privy Council claiming that:

    “…diverse persons having in a hostile manner opposed the execution of the law for suppressing the planting of English tobacco, the petitioners pray that direction may be given to destroy the tobacco and secure the peace of the country.”

    1658: The Republican army that had put the king himself to flight found themselves outnumbered and outmanoeuvred by the Cotswold tobacco growers. Colonel Wakefield, the Governor of Gloucester sent a Troop of Horse to uproot the crops. One contemporary pamphlet described it thus: “The country did rise against in a great body, to the number of 500 or 600, giving them very reviling and threatening speeches, even to kill them, horse and man, if that he and his soldiers did come on insomuch that the tumult being so great he was constrained to draw off, and nothing more done.”

    1659: Court cases were brought against plantation owners in Kempsey, Upton Snodsbury, Pensham and Eckington for growing and curing tobacco. Each had 400 poles (About 2.5 acres) under cultivation and each was fined £400 (£1 per pole).

    1662: Restoration: It was once again directed that the crops should be banned, and Sir Humphrey Hooke, who was formerly the Mayor of Bristol, and Sheriff of Gloucestershire, was ordered in the May of that year to resist anybody who tried to stop him from destroying the crops. The growing of tobacco actually spread to other counties and to Ireland despite injunctions, appeals, letters of state to Sheriffs and Lord Lieutenants and military deployment.

    1667: Diary of Samuel Pepys: September 19th, 1677. …the lifeguard… was sent down into the country about some insurrection, was sent to Winchcombe, to spoil the tobacco there, which it seems the people there do plant contrary to law, and have always done, and still been under force and danger of having it spoiled, as it hath been oftentimes, and yet they will continue to plant.

    1670s: Force was alternated with fines (as much as pounds 10 for every piece of land planted), and then by force again. The Cotswolds remained outlaw territory – hard to imagine now – as attempts by the local constables to destroy the crop were met with a fierce, and sometimes violent, response.

    1678: Thomas Colclough, again, was organiser of a petition to the King from seventy-six “Merchants, planters and traders to the English Plantations in America but more especially Virginia setting forth the great detriment of planting tobacco in England and imploring that an Act of Parliament be speedily passed to prevent the abuse”

    1695: John Redding of Kempsey was fined for planting, growing, setting, making, and curing tobacco at Kempsey.

    1700: The industry survived until the end of the 17th century.”

    • Frank Davis says:

      Since the duty on imported tobacco must have been reduced at some point if tobacco retail prices had fallen to one shilling/lb, it rather looks as if the crackdown on homegrown tobacco was purely in support of Virginian tobacco imports (and Bristol docks and the revenue from tobacco duties). Many of the colonial tobacco plantations (much like sugar and tea plantations) would have been owned by English investors who didn’t want their markets lost to home growers.

      But it’s interesting that English smokers responded to high taxation by determinedly growing their own.

  3. Harleyrider1978 says:

    Viva le Revolution

  4. Rose says:

    The last attempt at commercial tobacco growing in England was by the Government itself.

    28 June 1922
    NEW CLAUSE.—(Excise duties on homegrown tobacco to cease.)

    Viscount WOLMER
    ” What we are asking for is the protection of the industry of tobacco growing in this country until such time as it shall be able to establish itself.

    The reasons upon which this is put forward are, briefly, as follows: Tobacco was once grown on a very large scale in this country. It was once grown in no fewer than 31 different counties.
    In the year 1660 it was prohibited by Act of Parliament.

    In 1910 a Liberal Government made the growing again permissible, but the Government not only did that, but on 1st January, 1911, they granted a protective rebate of 30 per cent. to English-grown tobacco in order to establish the tobacco-growing industry, thereby following out the well-known maxims of Adam Smith and Cobden that an infant industry can be protected consistently with Free Trade principles.

    In 1913 the contribution was altered by a grant of 820,000 from the Development Commission for English-grown tobacco. That was not nearly so successful. The acreage under tobacco, which had reached 140 acres, declined in two years to about 40 acres, and the great bulk of the money of the Development Commission was spent on administrative expenses and unprofitable expenditure.

    But what has really put the English tobacco industry in such a ruinous condition—and this is the point I wish to bring before the Chancellor of the Exchequer—was not only the events of the War when all acreage was devoted to growing food that could possibly be devoted to it, but the policy of the Government themselves in regard to Imperial Preference.

    In 1919, the Lord Privy Seal, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, granted a preference to Empire-grown tobacco of one-sixth of the duty, and that preference was extended to English-grown tobacco as well. For all practical purposes English-grown tobacco and Empire-grown tobacco was put on an absolute equality, whereas under the Liberal Government English-grown tobacco had been given a rebate of 30 per cent. over Empire-grown tobacco.”

    “It is a complete fallacy to think that tobacco-cannot be successfully grown in this country. At the present moment it is grown in my constituency. I have cigarettes here which were grown in my constituency, which I shall be delighted to offer to any hon. Member. The tobacco is very much like Rhodesian tobacco of a light sort.”

    “Tobacco is grown on the very lightest soils. It is grown on the sands round Aldershot, which will not bear an ordinary crop. For that reason it is grown in parts of Berkshire and Norfolk.”

    Church Crookham – 3 miles from Aldershot.

    “At Redfields Farm Mr A.J. Brandon commenced to grow tobacco as a commercial crop. This proved to be very successful and within a few years a large staff was employed to cultivate the plants and cure the leaves. The crop was then packed into huge barrels and sent to Salisbury to be blended and made into pipe tobacco or ‘Blue Prior’ cigarettes. (Tobacco was last grown on this farm in 1938).”

  5. Wow – fascinating post! I want to re-blog it because then I know where I can find it! And Rose’s knowledge is always humbling. Thank you Frank and Rose. Good stuff!

    It did occur to me that Anti Tobacco has been trying to stamp out smoking for four hundred years. I doubt they are going to succeed – ever – and that pleases me,

  6. Clicky says:

  7. Illegal smokes on the rise in Ontario
    Study finds more contraband cigarettes being smoked in the province

    Smokers’ use of contraband tobacco is pervasive and growing in Ontario, according to new study.

    Dave Bryans, of the Ontario Convenience Stores Association (OCSA), said that 32.8% of the cigarette butts collected in the study were from illegal sources — an increase of 8% from 2015.

    The finding raises questions about the effectiveness of government attempts to curb the spread of tobacco sold illegally off First Nation reserves, he said.

    “It’s actually discouraging and shocking at the same time,” Bryans said. “Every year, we hear in provincial budgets or we hear from different levels of governments that we are doing things to correct contraband. And then when we do this unscientific sweep, it now increases again.”

    Use across Ontario was up — 21% of cigarettes butts collected in the GTA were contraband, 26% in southwestern Ontario, 29.3% in eastern Ontario and an astounding 54.2% in northern Ontario.

    “This is a product that has no advertising, has no promotions, no marketing plans — nothing,” Bryans said. “And you’re starting to see 34% of all smokers having access to the product, delivered to them in every community.”

    Smokers can purchase “quality” contraband tobacco for an average of $37 a carton, compared to $100 in a convenience store for a similar legal product that is taxed, he added.

    There are dozens of cigarette factories on reserves and an underground system of gangs to bring the product to buyers, including underage smokers, he said.

    At the very least, governments should consider banning possession of tobacco for youth but they’ve been reluctant to do so, he said.

    “You don’t see a high school student standing next to a high school drinking beer at lunch hour,” said Bryans.

    The Ontario government said in the spring that it continues to strengthen tobacco enforcement, which included a raw leaf tobacco oversight system.

    “Since 2008, more than 252 million contraband cigarettes, 4.3 million untaxed cigars and 169 million grams of untaxed fine-cut tobacco or other tobacco products have been seized by the (finance) ministry,” the government said in a statement.

    Bryans said the continuing spread of illegal tobacco use should be a cautionary tale as the country moves to legalized marijuana.

    It would not take much effort for factories now churning out illegal cigarettes to focus on pot production, he said.


    Percentage of illegal cigarette butts:

    – GTA: 21%

    – Eastern Ontario: 29.3%

    – Southwestern Ontario: 26%

    – Northern Ontario: 54.2%

    – Sault Ste Marie: 75.5%

    – Oshawa: 32.4%

    – Whitby City Hall: 92%

    – St. Joseph-Scollard Hall School (North Bay): 82.8%

    – Orillia Square Mall: 73%

  8. magnetic01 says:

    The magnitude of extortionate taxes on tobacco in Australia.

    By 2020 the cost of a $5-6 pack of 20 cigarettes will be well over $40 (~£20), artificially inflated by government taxes.

    It’s the Labor Party (one-time “workers party”) that has initiated tax hikes. While in government it instituted a 25% increase in excise in 2010. In the lead-up to the 2013 elections, it indicated that it would increase excise by 12.5% for each of 4 years (2013-2016). The Liberal Party (one-time “small government and individual autonomy” party) initially rubbished the proposal. Yet within a few weeks, it adopted the exact, same policy. So, with the last (2016) of the 4 x 12.5% excise increases, the cost of a pack of 20 cigarettes at this time is well over $20.

    If the above wasn’t insane enough, in the lead-up to the mid-2016 elections, the Labor Party announced that, if elected, it will impose another round of 12.5% hikes in tobacco excise for each of the next 4 years (2017-2020), and is the exact same policy as in the lead-up to the 2013 election. That would make 8 years x 12.5% tax hikes plus a 10% goods and services tax (GST) slapped on top. And believe it or not, that still isn’t enough for these greedy, foaming-at-the-mouth hogs. For years there have also been 2 automatic tax hikes (+GST) per year on tobacco that used to be aligned to the Consumer Price Index. But, you guessed it, even this wasn’t enough. These automatic tax hikes are now aligned to “average male weekly earnings” which yields a higher amount of tax.

    And just like in 2013, the Liberal Party initially rubbished Labor’s intent to introduce another 4 x 12.5% of taxes. But within a few weeks it adopted the exact, same policy. It’s this exact, same policy adopted by both major Parties that’s particularly disturbing. There is no variation on the policy by the Liberal Party…. none. It strongly suggests that the useful-idiot politicians of both Parties are being directed on policy by outsiders (e.g., the World Health Organization). So, not only are smokers robbed financially but they are also robbed of choice at the ballot box when both major parties adopt the exact, same policy.

  9. magnetic01 says:

    The Anti-Tobacco Racket: History Revisited

    Anti-tobacco/smoking has had a long, sordid, 400+ year history. Pretty well all of the antismoking crusades have been prohibitionist, usually banning the sale/use of tobacco. There was one notable exception – King James I (‘tis he who commissioned the King James Bible translation) in the early-1600s. Jimmy did a few things. He penned the antismoking piece, “A Counterblaste To Tobacco”, a work loaded with inflammatory drivel written in ye olde English. It was important to clearly indicate moral outrage because this provides the pretext for taking action on the tobacco “issue”. But Jimmy didn’t prohibit tobacco/smoking. Armed with the appearance of moral high ground, he banned the growing of tobacco in England and arranged for the importation of tobacco from Virginia, America. Banning the growing of tobacco in England reduced the risk of locally produced contraband. So, King Jim manufactured a monopoly on tobacco (entering through imports) in England. And didn’t Jimmy have a field day with the monopoly. He set a ration on the sale of tobacco per person and super-inflated the price of tobacco. He was robbing his tobacco-users blind. What a good “Christian” king.

    Fast-forward some 400 years to the island nation of Australia. Since the early-1900s, growing tobacco in Australia has required a government permit. The only ones issued these permits were tobacco companies.

    Australia bought into the antismoking hysteria in the 1980s. The leaders of the current antismoking crusade are prohibitionists. Their goal, as it was in early-1900s America, is to destroy the tobacco industry. The prohibitionists have brought to the table the “moral outrage”. Having partnered with the prohibitionists, the moral outrage permits the government to act on the tobacco “issue”. The beginnings were small. The goal was to put the heat on the “evil” tobacco industry – banning of advertising, constantly referred to as the “merchants of death”, etc. By 2014, the tobacco companies have been chased out of Australia. The tobacco companies no longer contract tobacco growing and no longer manufacture tobacco products in Australia. All tobacco products are now imported into Australia. The growing of tobacco in Australia, based on early-1900s law, is effectively banned; tobacco-growing permits are not issued to individuals. If someone wants [legal] tobacco, they have to buy the officially-imported, government-tax paid stuff. The Australian government finds itself in a manufactured position not unlike King James. It has a monopoly on [imported] tobacco in Australia and has complete control over its price through excise tax. Unlike Jimmy, the government hasn’t even had to get its hands dirty sourcing imports. It uses tobacco companies as offshore growers/manufacturers that then import tobacco products into Australia. And, just like Jim, isn’t the Australian government having a field day with the monopoly. It just keeps jacking up the taxes on tobacco. It’s, again, mass-scale robbery.

    It’s important to note the collusion between government and zealot prohibitionists. The prohibition sought this time is not the sale of tobacco but to effectively ban smoking in all the places that people typically smoke. Taxation is also a “punitive” tool. Important is that the same step is interpreted differently by prohibitionists and the government. Increased taxation is viewed by the zealots as a coercive tool to antismoking conformity, whereas the government views it as a means to increased revenue (through robbery). To maintain the appearance of a moral “high ground” the government needs the moral outrage of the zealots. It doesn’t matter if the moralizing zealots are constantly lying in their claims. All that matters is the moral outrage and the appearance of moral high ground. To keep the zealots on-side, it has to appease the antismoking whims of the zealots, e.g., smoking bans, plain packaging. In doing so, it legitimizes what are baseless claims by the zealots. The government can then claim that extortionate taxes, which it’s really interested in, are necessary to “help” people to quit and will receive full support from prohibitionists. The fact of the matter is that those who smoke are being fleeced by baseless, ever-increasing taxes. The government knows that most won’t quit smoking and it counts on increased revenue from tax hikes in its budget forecasts. It’s robbery based on the moral fraud of antismoking rhetoric. It’s a racket. Worse is that some of the zealot prohibitionists want kick-backs in the form of funding to further “educate” the public, advance their careers, and remain in comfortable employment.

    This results in the utterly perverse situation that those who smoke are further and further marginalized through baseless antismoking laws, smoking deemed “unfit” for normal society while they’re also being robbed through ever-increasing extortionate taxes. Smokers are forced to pay for their own “denormalization” and further fleecing. And this is occurring not in the autocracy of 1600s England but in a one-time relatively free society like Australia where the government is supposedly a servant of the people (which includes those who smoke). It’s the government in its partnering with zealot prohibitionists that is conducting itself like a criminal entity.

    Bring on the contraband.

  10. Pingback: The Necessary and the Unnecessary | Frank Davis

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