Posts Tagged ‘Dudley family’

The First Tax Lawyers

Posted in General, On This Day on August 17th, 2009 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

August 17th

Upon ascending the throne, handsome young Henry VIII knew how to ingratiate himself with his subjects. On this day in 1510  he executed his father’s two most unpopular ministers

Edmund Dudley and Richard Empson had been geniuses at collecting taxes, to the delight of Henry VII. The first Tudor was stingy by nature, perhaps the consequence of his early life as a penniless adventurer–the dubious and none-too-legitimate claimant to the English throne. But like everything else in the wily Welshman, even the vices of Henry VII were prudent.

The purpose of his tax policy was to drain the nobility into a passive stupor. The taxes were never onerous enough to incite a revolt, just heavy enough so that the aristocracy could no longer afford their own militia. Toward that end, Henry VII surrounded himself with a group of mercenaries who were as bellicose and ruthless as the nobility but also viciously intelligent: lawyers. Edmund Dudley and Richard Empson were part of this English Inquisition.

The King’s policy was expressed by the Lord Chancellor, John Morton: “If the subject is seen to live frugally, tell him because he is clearly a money saver of great ability he can afford to give generously to the King. If, however, the subject lives a life of great extravagance, tell him he, too, can afford to give largely, the proof of his opulence being evident in his expenditure.” In other words, damned (taxed) if you do, damned (taxed) if you don’t.

Morton died of natural causes in 1500, avoiding Henry VIII’s idea of a retirement. Empson and Dudley obviously did not have such a good sense of timing. They were beheaded, which Henry VIII considered a generous departure. Empson was irrefutably middle-class and could have been hanged, drawn and quartered. Dudley was of minor nobility but just the younger son of a younger son of a baron, so he barely qualified for the privilege of decapitation.

Of course, their estates were confiscated–and Dudley had somehow amassed a considerable one. In 1513, the handsome, young but increasingly mercurial Henry VIII decided to restore the estates to the widows. The Empson family felt itself lucky to regain its property and has since avoided the notice of history. The Dudleys, however, evidently like the politics and the prominence, attaining both dukedoms and executions for their efforts. John Dudley, the son of Edmund, ingratiated, intrigued and actually deserved power. A capable soldier and excellent administrator, he successfully manuevered himself to become the regent of Edward VI–ruling the country (very well!) in the name of the boy king. When Edward died, the scheming Dudley was loathe to relinquish power and so attempted to foist his daughter-in-law Lady Jane Grey on the throne. That didn’t end well. This time, his right to decapitation was never in doubt–and no one thought him innocent.

By the third generation, the Dudley ability had completely dissipated although the ambition had not. Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, thought himself  both a statesman and a general, proving himself a man of expansive ineptitude. Henry VII would never have trusted him with a tollbooth, Henry VIII would have killed the blundering dolt, but Elizabeth thought him charming. So he died of natural causes–unlike his clever grandfather and his conniving father.

Ironically, Robert Dudley was exactly the kind of upper-class fool that Edmund Dudley would have exploited.