The price of a slice of the truth

Nearly 350 years ago William Prynne, a lawyer from Lincoln’s Inn, found himself in a dank and dirty corner of the Tower of London.
It was a place where soldiers and civil servants refused to work ‘for fear of fouling their fingers, spoyling their cloathes, endangering their eyesight and healths by the cankerous dust and evil scent.’
Prynne was King Charles II’s new keeper of the National Archives.
And he was no stranger to the Tower. He had been jailed for life, had his cheeks branded with the letters SL – for seditious libel – and his ears chopped off, for a pamphlet attacking actresses and, by implication, Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I.
A report of  the trial of William Prynne Esq, in the Star Chamber, for writing and publishing 'A Scourge for Stage-Players,' can be found in the Archives. Subsequent keepers have been less harshly treated.
Prynne wrote: ‘In raking up this dung heap I found many rare antient precious pearls and golden records &c.’
It is a sentiment echoed every day in the modern National Archives building at Kew, where researchers request 600,000 document files a year and millions of documents are viewed online.
These are just some of the gems from my researches, many of them published for the first time, but none of them worth losing an ear for.

© These pages and their content are copyright of Peter Day 2014.

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King George VI

Royal tax breaks paid for young princes to play polo and go hunting

The future King George VI was given the equivalent of a £20,000 a year tax break so that he could go hunting and play polo.
His courtiers argued that he only did it as part of his official duties. When the Inland Revenue disagreed they were overruled by the attorney general.
A deal was done behind the scenes to avoid telling parliament and has been kept secret until Treasury papers from the 1920s were released at the National Archives in April.
King George V’s younger sons were entitled to receive £10,000 a year of taxpayer’s money from the civil list when they reached the age of 21 and the amount increased to £25,000 when they married. They were expected to use it to maintain their own households and entertain visiting dignitaries.
At today’s prices the upper figure would be equal to around £1m. But they were being charged income tax and super tax, which virtually halved what they had to spend.
In 1922 Sir Frederick Ponsonby, private secretary to the King, wrote to Sir Ralph Harwood at the Treasury complaining that the princes were finding it ‘somewhat difficult to make ends meet.’
In particular the Duke of York - the future George VI – was struggling to pay for all his engagements out of his allowance because he was expected to do everything ‘on a lavish scale.’
Sir Frederick made clear that he was looking for a private deal, adding: ‘If it is only a matter of asking the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer to decide the question, I do not suppose there will be much difficulty, but I imagine that His Majesty would hardly wish to have his children’s grants from Parliament discussed at the present moment, when everyone is groaning under the heavy taxation.’

Sir Ralph Harwood thought he saw a way out by allowing the princes to claim tax exemption for the expense of performing their royal duties.
The Inland Revenue objected that the civil list payments were not conditional on the performance of any duties and could not be described as a salary or fees. They were simply ‘a provision for the benefit of the princes.’
But the King and Sir Frederick Ponsonby were not to be deflected. Ponsonby wrote again to Harwood telling him how impressed the King was by his tenacity in fighting the case and suggesting that it could not have been Parliament’s intention that the princes should pay tax. Queen Victoria’s children never did, he pointed out.
Harwood was supplied with a copy of the Duke of York’s accounts showing that he had spent more than £4,000 during the year on official duties. It included the cost of employing staff, travel costs to official engagements, donations to charities of which he was patron and 18 different uniforms required for ceremonial duties.
The biggest single item, other than staff wages, was £500 - equivalent to £20,000 today – for the cost of stabling horses, and travelling to hunt and play polo.
A footnote explained: ‘The Duke of York indulges in these pastimes simply because it is regarded as most desirable that the King’s sons should take part in Sports of this description.’
With this ammunition Harwood persuaded the Chancellor of the Exchequer in Lloyd George’s coalition government, Sir Robert Horne, to refer the matter to the government Law Officers.
The Attorney General, Sir Ernest Pollock and Solicitor General, Sir Leslie Scott, ruled that the allowances fell within Schedule E of the Income Tax Act 1918 and as such were exempt from tax if they were used for the performance of Royal duties.
It was agreed that in future 80 per cent of the allowance would be tax free and the tenacious Sir Ralph Harwood got his own reward – he was appointed deputy treasurer to the King.




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