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(L to R) William Cecil, Lord Burghley; Elizabeth I; Sir Francis Walsingham, Principal Secretary.
Artist: William Faithorne (1620-1691)

[85]           In England, the job of Treasurer was the most important one in Court. Seeing that Control was no longer gained by fists and armoury, but by purchase powers, the man who held the key to the Treasury was the man who held the key to the Ruler’s whims.

      Not all Treasurers were equally apt, and Elizabeth 1 (1533-1603) inherited a royal debt. But thanks to Lord Treasurer Winchester and his successor, Burghley, by 1584, when the debt was gone and the royal coffers were stuffed with the spoils of one year´s revenue, Elizabeth called Burghley fondly: “Both Our Treasurer and Our principal treasure.”

      Lord High Treasurer Burghley’s death in 1598 and the incapability of his successor, Thomas Sackville, led to the Stuarts’ spending more money than they could amass. Charles II (1630-1685) was so broke that he couldn’t pay his Navy enough for a proper maintenance, resulting in the humiliating defeat at sea, by the Dutch, in 1667. Recognizing that his Navy was not at fault, Charles II replaced his Treasurer, appointing George Downing, (who

was also into real-estate, building Downing Street,) as Secretary to the Commission whose wise pondering led to the Treasury no longer being responsible for keeping AND spending the Royal’s money.

      The concept of Divide and Rule, that worked so well for the Roman Emperors, was now adopted also for Internal Affairs, and as soon as a committee was set on an issue, the last word was back again with the Ruler.

      Interestingly, Downing was also the man who invented what is now known as Government Bonds. He also abolished the business of Private Tax Collectors, recognising that cutting the Middleman will leave the Treasury with more income.         For a while people were happy, thinking that with the demise of the cruel private tax collectors, their tax-miseries would be over.

      In the context of the Treasury, I’d like to tell you about Lady Damaris Cudworth Masham (1659-1708.) Too little is known on how instrumental she was in shaping the thought of the philosopher John Locke (1632–1704), who also acted as an unofficial economic adviser to the Treasury. The concept of a person’s ownership of his or her body is one of many that John Locke would have grasped from his intercourse with Lady Masham.

So, what do you think is the most important tax,

and for whom?

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