English Lay Subsidies

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The subsidy was imposed upon persons according to the reputed value (moderate estimate) of their estates. The rate at one time was fixed as 4s for land and 2s 8d for goods. The word subsidy is used to define a specific set of records as well as an umbrella name for a group of records.

Lay Subsidy Rolls included the taxes assessed against the laity ("common" people). Clerical Subsidies were similarly collected at the rate of 4s assessed on ecclesiastical preferments, and made by the clergy in Convocation and afterwards confirmed by Parliament.


Subsidies consist of rolls of accounts, assessments, inquisitions, certificates and other documents bearing on the assessment and collection of the following items.

  • Hidage and carucage, on lands not held by military service.
  • Tallage, paid by the King's ancient demesnes, and by cities and towns.
  • Scutages, in lieu of military service.
  • Subsidies, of a percentage (tenth, fifteenth, etc.) on moveables.
  • Poll taxes, per head on all types of land.
  • Hearth tax, 2s per year for each hearth, with some exceptions.

Information in the records

Between the years 1290-1334, the names of the people paying the tax, usually the freeholder, were entered on a roll. The rate of the tax was given at the head of the roll. The amount assessed depended on how much money the Crown needed for various military campaigns in France, Scotland and Wales. Rolls were arranged village by village and listed the names of the individuals responsible to pay the tax. From 1334 to about 1542, the total quotas were listed along with place names; no individuals were recorded. The Great Subsidy of 1524-5 lists all people over the age of 16 years with income from land or with taxable goods worth £2 per annum, or with annual wages of £1 or more.

Value of the Records

The value of these records is in the evidence they provide, to place an individual in a specific parish at a given time. There are instances where escaped the assessment. There is evidence that some rolls appeared to contain only a fraction of the population. Combined with other lists and returns, the local historian can study:

  • Changes in medieval population and wealth.
  • Development of place-names and surnames
  • Development of crafts and trades.

Finding the records

Many printed editions of the original subsidy rolls exist, leaving little need for a person to go to the originals. Subsidy Rolls are housed at The National Archives, Kew, in class E 179. Extant items cover the time period for approximately 1154 to 1700. They are sub-divided into two series: Lay and Clerical.

References to the Family History Library’s collection of these records are found in the catalog. Use the Place Search for England and the topic Land and Property.

For additional information, read Tax Records in England