Exploring the History: Why Were People Angry About Ship Money?

In the 17th century, ship money became a hot topic of discussion among the British people. The government under King Charles I enforced the levy of money from coastal communities to fund naval expeditions and upgrade the country’s defense. What could have started as a noble effort to strengthen national security soon turned controversial as more towns and cities began to receive demands for ship money beyond the coastal regions. This infuriated the inland communities who saw it as an unfair and unjust taxation tactic by the government.

The uproar against ship money grew loud and widespread across the country, with people demanding answers from the authorities. The public perception was that the taxes imposed on the coastal communities were already high, and adding the burden of ship money on top of that was unacceptable. The government’s decision to extend the levy to other areas became a show of their insensitivity to the people’s plight. The anger that surfaced from the affair became a precursor to more significant conflicts between the king and his subjects, which eventually led to the English Civil War.

As King Charles I’s reign drew to a close, the impact of ship money on the country continued to be felt. Its unfairness had resulted in increased resentment between the government and the people, which had far-reaching consequences. And while the ship money levy was eventually abolished, its impact on the relationship between the rulers and the ruled proved to be long-lasting. It is a crucial event in British history that demonstrates the importance of fairness and respect for citizens’ rights in creating and maintaining peaceful societies.

The History of Ship Money

In the early 17th century, England was in a state of financial turmoil. The government was heavily in debt, and King Charles I was finding it increasingly difficult to raise the funds he needed to govern effectively. In 1634, the king came up with a controversial solution: a new tax called “ship money.” The tax was designed to raise money for the Royal Navy by requiring every coastal county in England to provide a certain number of ships for the navy’s use.

At first, ship money was levied only in times of war. But in 1635, the king began collecting the tax annually, even in peacetime. This caused considerable anger among the population, who saw it as an illegitimate form of taxation without the consent of Parliament.

  • The tax was initially levied only on coastal counties, but it soon spread to inland counties as well.
  • The amount of ship money collected increased over time, and some counties were required to pay more than others.
  • Many people believed that the tax was being misused by the king for other purposes, such as funding his lavish lifestyle.

Opposition to ship money grew steadily throughout the 1630s. In 1637, a ship money case was brought to court by a member of the public, John Hampden, who refused to pay the tax. His case was heard by the highest court in the land, the Court of Exchequer, and although he lost his case, his stand against the tax made him a hero to many.

Overall, the history of ship money is a story of a king trying to raise money to govern effectively, but doing so in a way that was deeply unpopular with the people. The tax was one of the key factors in the lead-up to the English Civil War, which saw King Charles I deposed and ultimately executed.

Despite the fact that the tax was eventually abolished, the legacy of ship money lives on in English constitutional history. The controversy surrounding the tax helped to establish the principle that the king could not levy taxes without the consent of Parliament, a principle which remains a cornerstone of modern democracy.

Year Event
1634 Ship money tax introduced, initially for times of war only.
1635 Ship money collected annually, even in peacetime.
1637 John Hampden’s ship money case heard in court.
1640 Ship money abolished by Parliament.

(source: BBC – History https://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/ship_money.shtml)

King Charles I’s Financial Troubles

King Charles I inherited a lot of financial problems from his father, James I. James had spent a lot of money on war and luxuries, leaving very little money in the royal treasury. Charles’ own financial troubles were exacerbated by his extravagant spending habits and his foreign policy adventures.

  • War: Charles I was involved in several expensive wars during his reign, including the Bishops’ Wars and the English Civil War.
  • Royal Debt: The royal family was deeply in debt, owing money to various lenders and creditors.
  • Expensive Lifestyle: King Charles I had a love for lavish living, which contributed to his financial struggles. He spent large sums of money on clothing, art, and jewelry, as well as on building projects such as the palace of Whitehall.

In order to address these financial troubles, King Charles I introduced a number of taxes, including ship money. This tax was particularly unpopular, as it was based on a precedent that had not been used for almost 200 years. Many people felt that the tax was unfair and that it was being used to fund the king’s military adventures and wasteful spending rather than to address the country’s financial problems.

To make matters worse, King Charles I’s alliances abroad were costing the country a great deal of money. For example, his support of the Habsburgs in Europe led to expensive military campaigns that drained the royal treasury. Charles’ need for funds was so great that he was willing to resort to questionable measures to generate revenue, such as selling monopolies and patents.

Event/Expense Amount
Building of Whitehall and other projects Over £100,000
Loan from the City of London £200,000
Cost of supporting the Habsburgs in the Thirty Years War Over £1,000,000
Debts owed to various creditors Over £1,000,000

All of these factors contributed to King Charles I’s financial troubles and the widespread anger that was directed at him. While some people may have sympathized with the king’s predicament, many believed that his policies and spending habits were reckless and irresponsible, and that they were endangering the future of the country.

The Levying of Ship Money

Ship Money was a tax that was introduced in England in the 17th century. It was levied on coastal towns and cities in order to fund the provision of ships and equipment for the Royal Navy. However, it quickly became a controversial issue, with many people angry about the way in which the tax was being collected and used.

  • The scope of the tax – Ship Money had traditionally been levied only in times of war, and then only on coastal areas. However, Charles I began to levy the tax on areas that were not coastal, and during times of peace. This was seen by many as a violation of traditional usage, and a way for the king to raise revenue without the consent of Parliament.
  • The amount of the tax – Ship Money was originally levied on the basis of the value of a person’s property. However, Charles I began to demand increasingly large sums, regardless of the size of a person’s estate. This was seen as arbitrary and unfair, and led to protests and petitions from many people who felt that they were being unfairly burdened.
  • The enforcement of the tax – One of the major complaints about Ship Money was the way in which it was enforced. Many people felt that the collectors of the tax were over-zealous and heavy-handed, and that they were using threats and intimidation to extract payments. There were also complaints about corruption and abuses of power, with collectors misusing their position to enrich themselves.

In response to these concerns, many people began to speak out against the tax. Petitions were sent to the king and Parliament, and pamphlets were published that criticized the way in which Ship Money was being levied and collected. Eventually, the issue became one of the major points of contention between Charles I and Parliament, and helped to lead to the outbreak of the English Civil War.

Overall, the levying of Ship Money was a key issue that highlighted the growing tension between the king and his subjects, and helped to set the stage for the events that would follow.

Perception of Ship Money as an illegal tax

Ship Money was perceived by many as an illegal tax imposed by the king without the consent of Parliament. This perception was fueled by a number of factors:

  • The traditional English legal principle that no tax could be imposed without the consent of Parliament was seen as being violated by the king’s actions.
  • Many people saw the king’s decision to impose Ship Money as an attempt to bypass Parliament and increase his own power.
  • The lack of a clear rationale for why the tax was being imposed, as well as the lack of any specific purpose or goal associated with the funds raised, strengthened the perception that the tax was illegitimate.

These perceptions were further reinforced by the widespread resistance to the tax that emerged across England. People refused to pay the tax, and some went so far as to take legal action in order to challenge the king’s authority.

Year Events
1634 The first year that Ship Money was collected
1635-1637 Opposition to Ship Money increased, with many people refusing to pay
1637 John Hampden challenged the legality of the tax in court
1638 Charles I abandoned attempts to collect Ship Money

Overall, the perception of Ship Money as an illegal tax was a significant factor in the opposition that arose against it, and in the eventual abandonment of attempts to collect it. The tax served to further erode the already fragile relationship between the king and Parliament, and contributed to the political and social unrest of the time.

The resistance and protests against Ship Money

As ship money continued to be collected, more and more people grew angry and discontented with the King’s actions. Many individuals and groups began to actively resist and protest the collection of the tax. Here are some of the notable forms of resistance:

  • Refusal to pay: Many citizens simply refused to pay the ship money, often citing the fact that it was not a traditional tax and therefore not legally required. Some were even willing to face legal consequences and imprisonment rather than pay the tax.
  • Petitioning: Some groups of citizens and local governments sent petitions to the King and his advisors, requesting that the tax be abolished or at least reduced. Many of these petitions were ignored or dismissed outright.
  • Litigation: Some citizens took the issue to court, arguing that the collection of ship money was unconstitutional and illegal. Although some courts ruled in favor of the King, others found that the tax was indeed illegal.
  • Riots and unrest: In some cases, protests against ship money boiled over into violence. There were riots in several English towns and cities, including Bristol and Newcastle.
  • The Long Parliament: The resistance against ship money helped to fuel the political turmoil that led to the convening of the Long Parliament in 1640. Members of Parliament were sympathetic to the people’s grievances and ultimately voted to abolish the ship money tax once and for all.

The impact of resistance and protests

The resistance against ship money was a significant moment in English history, marking a turning point in the relationship between the monarchy and its subjects. The protests and petitions demonstrated that many citizens were willing to stand up against the King’s arbitrary actions, and that they were prepared to take extreme measures to defend their rights and freedoms.

The resistance also helped to galvanize opposition to the monarchy and paved the way for the English Civil War. Ultimately, ship money became a symbol of the larger struggle between the King and Parliament, and helped to fuel the political upheaval that would reshape English politics in the coming years.

The legacy of ship money

The ship money controversy left a lasting impact on English political and legal history. Among other things, it helped to establish the principle that taxes could not be levied without the consent of Parliament.

Furthermore, the arguments made against ship money by the King’s opponents helped to shape the broader understanding of the rule of law and constitutional government in England. In particular, the ship money controversy served as a powerful reminder that even the King was not above the law, and that his actions could be challenged and restrained if they were seen to be unconstitutional or against the public interest.


The resistance against ship money was a key moment in the history of English political and legal thought. It helped to shape the way that citizens understood their rights and responsibilities, and reinforced the idea that taxes could only be levied with the consent of the governed.

The protests and petitions that were made against ship money demonstrated the power of collective action and the willingness of ordinary citizens to stand up for their beliefs. Ultimately, ship money became a powerful symbol of the broader struggle between the King and Parliament, and helped to pave the way for the English Civil War.

Political Implications of the Ship Money Controversy

As the Ship Money controversy escalated, it had significant consequences for the political landscape of England. Here are some of the key ways in which the controversy impacted English politics:

  • Increased tensions between the Crown and Parliament: The controversy deepened the existing conflict between King Charles I and Parliament, with many MPs seeing the tax as a violation of their power and authority.
  • Strengthened anti-monarchical sentiment: The controversy contributed to growing skepticism about the authority of the monarchy and fueled calls for greater political representation and accountability.
  • Formed alliances between disparate political groups: MPs who opposed the tax came from a diverse range of political backgrounds, ranging from moderate conservatives to radical Puritans. The controversy brought these groups together and strengthened the opposition to the king.

The events of the Ship Money controversy ultimately paved the way for the English Civil War, which saw the king’s forces pitted against Parliament’s armies. The conflict resulted in the establishment of a republic in England and marked a major turning point in the country’s history.

When examining the political implications of the Ship Money controversy, it is important to consider the broader context of the time. The seventeenth century was a period of significant political and social upheaval, with various forces vying for power and influence. The Ship Money controversy was just one element of this complex web of events, but it had a profound impact on the trajectory of English politics.

Key Players in the Ship Money Controversy Positions
King Charles I Supported the tax as a means of maintaining royal authority
John Hampden Opposed the tax and became a leading figure in the Parliamentary opposition
Archbishop William Laud Supported the tax and was a key figure in the king’s government

Overall, the Ship Money controversy was a crucial moment in English history, with far-reaching political implications. Its legacy can still be felt today, as the conflict between the Crown and Parliament and the tension between centralized authority and individual liberties remain ongoing themes in British politics.

Ship Money’s role in the English Civil War

Ship Money was a form of tax imposed on coastal towns and counties in England by King Charles I. It was originally intended to be used for the maintenance of the navy, but the king saw it as a way to raise revenue without having to involve the Parliament. The tax was deeply unpopular, and it became a major factor leading to the English Civil War.

  • Resistance from the coastal towns and counties: The imposition of Ship Money was seen as an infringement of local rights and autonomy. The coastal towns and counties where the tax was imposed resisted the tax and refused to pay it. This resistance fueled the growing dissatisfaction with the king’s rule in England.
  • Increased tensions between the king and Parliament: The Parliament resisted the imposition of the tax on the grounds that it was illegal and unconstitutional. This increased tensions between the king and Parliament and set the stage for the power struggle that ultimately led to the English Civil War.
  • Perceived threat to liberty: Ship Money was seen by many as a threat to their liberty and economic well-being. The tax was seen as a violation of the Magna Carta, which had established the principle that no one could be taxed without the consent of Parliament. This perception of the tax as a threat to liberty fueled the growing discontent with the king’s rule and furthered the cause of the opposition.

The resistance to Ship Money and the growing discontent with the king’s rule in England ultimately led to the outbreak of the English Civil War. The war was fought between the royalist forces loyal to King Charles I and the opposing forces led by the Parliament. The war lasted from 1642 to 1651 and resulted in the execution of King Charles I and the establishment of the Commonwealth of England under Oliver Cromwell.

Overall, Ship Money played a significant role in the lead up to the English Civil War. The resistance to the tax fueled the growing opposition to the king’s rule, and the tensions between the king and Parliament set the stage for the power struggle that ultimately led to the war.

Why Were People Angry About Ship Money? FAQs

1. What was ship money?

Ship money was a tax that was imposed on coastal towns and counties by the English monarchy during the 17th century. It was meant to fund the building of warships and improve the navy’s capabilities.

2. Why were people angry about it?

People were angry about ship money because it was supposed to be a temporary measure, but it became a permanent tax that was enforced year after year. Additionally, many people felt that the tax was unfair because it only applied to coastal areas, leaving other regions of the country unaffected.

3. Who was affected by ship money?

Coastal towns and counties, as well as merchants and ship owners, were the primary targets of the ship money tax. However, some inland areas were also impacted if they had rivers or canals that were deemed to be of strategic importance for the navy.

4. Did people protest against ship money?

Yes, people did protest against ship money. There were numerous petitions and legal challenges brought against the tax, and many people refused to pay it. Some even went so far as to use violence to resist the tax collectors.

5. Was ship money successful in funding the navy?

Ship money did help to fund the navy and improve its capabilities. However, it was not the sole source of funding for the navy, and some historians argue that other taxes were just as important or more so.

6. When did ship money come to an end?

Ship money was abolished in 1641 after a long period of controversy and resistance. The decision to abolish the tax was largely due to the efforts of lawyers and politicians who argued that it was illegal and unconstitutional.

Closing Thoughts

Thank you for reading our article on why people were angry about ship money. We hope that you found the information helpful and informative. The controversy over ship money is an important moment in English history and provides us with insights into the tensions between the monarchy and its subjects. Please visit our site again soon for more articles on history and current events.