ship-money fleets

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The annual fleets sent out by King Charles I between 1635 and 1641 to assert the sovereignty of the Narrow Seas which at that time were plagued by piracy and with the local fisheries being plundered by Dutch fishing busses. These fleets got their name from the fact that they were financed by the levy of a tax known as ship-money. No English parliament was sitting at that period and the king levied the tax by his own decrees. Such a tax had been levied previously, frequently during the 15th and 16th centuries and again in 1626 when a fleet had been fitted out during the war with Spain. The form of the tax was to assess each port and maritime town with a sum of money which the mayor had to raise however he thought best. Later, as the cost of succeeding fleets grew greater, the levy was made on all towns and parishes throughout the country.

These ship-money fleets achieved the object for which they were designed, clearing the English waters of the many pirates who were operating in them and policing the east coast herring fisheries so efficiently that almost all illegal fishing by the Dutch was stopped. But as the annual levy of ship-money grew, it became more and more difficult to collect as resistance to paying it spread. Parliament was recalled in November 1641 and in January of the following year the House of Lords declared ship-money illegal. This brought Charles I into a head-on collision with Parliament, and in the fleet fitted out in 1642 all captains with royalist sympathies were removed from their commands. It was a signal for the start of the English Civil War.

Subjects: Maritime History.

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