Peter-pence, Poll-money, and Poll-tax:



11 June 2014

A tax on one's very existence? Yes, indeed, such taxes were common in the past. Regardless of social or economic status, taxation was a burden that every free person was expected to share. Today's terms cover three of those tax types that have fallen from disfavor:


Peter-Pence: An ancient English levy or tax of a penny per household.

Poll-Money: A British parliamentary tax imposed upon "every subject in the kingdom" according to his or her status.

Poll-Tax: A traditional American "head tax" imposed (typically) upon free adult males within specific age brackets that varied across the colonies and states—in exchange for which, they had the right to vote. In some times and places, poll taxes were also imposed upon free women of color, although they were barred from voting because of their gender.

So, what do these various types of "head" taxes have to do with our fascinating document from Mesoamerica?  In the 1530s, the Nahua people of what is now the modern Mexican state of Puebla protested their taxes. With the support of Hernando Cortés, they persuaded King Charles of Spain to over-rule the local administrators, reduce their tax burden, and order a return of two-thirds of the "tribute" they had been forced to pay to colonial officials.This document survives from their court case to attest their struggle. 


PHOTO CREDITS: "File:Huexotzinco Codex, 1531 WDL2657.jpg," Wikimedia Commons ( : downloaded 10 June 2014), a public domain image contributed by "."

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