As we all know, it is not uncommon for rich people to seek to dodge their tax and other financial obligations. This is nothing new. So it is scarcely surprising that Edward Cayley – or Caley (the surname spelling was fluid) – of Brompton, Yorkshire, father of the first Cayley baronet, was charged in the 1620s with non-payment of sums due for church repairs and other local obligations.
On 4 October 1624, at the Yorkshire Quarter sessions at Malton, Yorkshire, a warrant was issued to attach Edward and another member of the local gentry called John Agar “for refusing to paie all their arrearages imposed on them” for repair of the chapel, the support of the poor, a hospital “and other services of [obligations due to] His Majestie.”
This was not a one-off. Edward must have been a habitual defaulter. Clearly arrears had built up. And just over three months later he and John Agar were the subject of another court order at the Yorkshire Quarter Sessions at Helmsley. This was for non-payment of “their rates and cessmts [that is, cessments, meaning taxes or assessments] for the lands they hold in Sleightes and West Inges, and all parochial duties to Amonderby Church, and all arrears, as the same have been anciently and accustomably paid: and to be discharged from paying any such duties to Appleton le Street Church, but, notwithstanding, to be at liberty to repaire to either of the said churches as they thinke fitt.”
A few years later, in about 1630, Edward declined the honour of knighthood, opting to pay £25 into royal coffers instead. The monarch had the right to demand that all holders of land equivalent to the old feudal measure of one knight’s fee or more accept knighthood or pay a fine. The law still held at this time that a knight was required to supply the king with a body of soldiers on demand (a hangover from the feudal era), and many people preferred to pay the fine. This was a common way for a king short of funds – as Charles I was – to mulct landowners, though I believe the fine could be imposed only once on a landowner in each reign.