Henry VIII,the Reign
The Subsidy of 1523 and Amicable Grant of 1525
In 1523, in order to pay for the kings grandiose foreign policy, Wolsey put before parliament heavier financial demands than the House of Commons had ever faced or envisaged: £800,000. The House of Commons, Hall relates, said ‘the sum was impossible to be levied'. They argued with some sense that if such a sum of ready money was taken by the king the economy would collapse: Then men must barter clothe for vitaille and bread for cheese and soone thyng for another.' In fact Wolsey had probably pitched his demand high as a bargaining ploy (Guy, 1987: 1-5). The subsidy, phased over four years and collected at much lower rates than first sought, yielded £151,215. The major part of this, £136,578, had been collected by the spring of 1525. It was at this moment, when the country had just paid out the largest grant in taxation of the whole period 1485-1543, that Wolsey sent out commissioners to collect the Amicable Grant. He was desperate for money to satisfy the kings urge to grasp the opportunity offered by the defeat of France at Pavia.
The Amicable Grant belied its name, and the names novelty was an unhappy witness to the tax's novelty. It was a levy of between one-sixth and one-tenth on the goods of the laity and one-third on the goods of the clergy. Wolsey’s idea was to extend the benevolences which Edward IV had extracted from the wealthy, and which (as a London councillor had reminded him)the Act of 1483 had forbidden, to the country' as a whole. Commissions to collect the grant were sent out on 21 March 1525 to senior lay or clerical figures in each county, and they ordered that the bulk of the money should be collected by Whitsuntide (4-6 June): a startlingly short time. Moreover, the second instalment of the 1523 subsidy had not fully been collected yet (Bernard and Hoyle, 1994: 191-2).
Trouble was inevitable and was indeed anticipated in the commission. Archbishop Warham reported on 12 April that he found the Kentish clergy ‘not inclined to the grant' and that heads of religious houses had answered ‘that they cannot contribute as they are required'. People who said they sim-ply had not the money may have been honest. At Ely they said they would gladly sell their cattle and goods ‘but no man in the country has money to buy or lend’. ‘Some who at the first loan were well off now are not worth a groat when their debts are paid.’ At Norwich the wealthy aldermen could offer plate but not money. The Duke of Norfolk explained to Wolsey the plight of the large population of the poor who depended on worsted and straw making and were paid weekly (Pound. 1960).
In a letter of 5 April Warham gave Wolsey a full account of the arguments and attitudes he had encountered, and with which he may have sympathised.