By the middle of the 11th century in the town of Coventry, England, the local townspeople had spent years under the oppressive regime of their ruler, Leofric of Mercia.
Leofric taxed his people heavily… which was commonplace in the Middle Ages.
Feudal barons were extremely creative in taxing trade and commerce, demanding egregious tolls from merchants who passed through their lands and waterways.
Clive Day's book History of Commerce describes the absurd state of taxation in Medieval Europe, counting a total of 62 toll stations on the Rhine River, 74 on the Loire River, and 77 on the Danube River, resulting in an effective tax rate that could easily exceed 60%.
Merchants paid a disproportionate amount of the tax; when King Richard I of England was raising money for the Crusades in the 12th century, the merchants numbered 0.25% of the population, but paid 25% of the tax.
Peasants also had it rough.
A typical serf owed his feudal baron three types of annual taxes– one called a 'small head' tax for each member of the household, a property tax, plus an additional fixed fee that was in the Baron's discretion.
Serf's also owed their lord a share of their crops and livestock, a certain number of days of unpaid labor, military duty in the local regiment, plus a sales tax on all goods purchased from the market.
If a peasant died without heirs, all of his belongings passed to the Baron. And even with heirs, the Baron was entitled to help himself to the departed's property.
And of course the Baron was also frequently entitled to the right of primae noctis, in which he was allowed intercourse with a peasant's bride on their wedding night.
(The only way out of this was for the groom to pay yet another fee to the Baron in exchange for his bride's chastity.)
All told, it was a pretty brutal system. And the people of Coventry had it particularly bad under Leofric.
Leofric's wife took pity on the poor Coventry townsfolk, and pleaded with her husband to cut their taxes.
He agreed– on the condition that she ride naked through the streets of Coventry on horseback to prove her devotion to the peasants.
So she did.
Her name was Lady Godiva. And the story became a popular legend for tax-oppressed peasants across Europe.
Now, the feudal system may have ended hundreds of years ago. But the concept of heavy taxation still remains.
Think about it– we're taxed when we earn. We're taxed when we save. We're taxed when we spend. And we're taxed when we die.
Even if one might believe that taxes are a necessary evil to pay for various government services, I always find it ironic that many low-tax countries provide ample services and security to their citizens.
Singapore is a notable example; it boasts one of the lowest tax rates in the world and is compulsively business-friendly.
And despite its low tax rate, the country has a strong military, enviable infrastructure, universal healthcare, low-income housing, and ZERO net debt.