Some of the first taxes in England took the form of commutations. One of the earliest was known as the ship-geld. When the country was threatened with invasion, the coast towns were expected to furnish ships to aid in the defense. If, for any reason, they did not do this, the tax was levied, and was used exclusively for naval purposes. This might be looked upon as a commutation for naval services. An interesting early revenue, while not exactly a commutation, was the Dane-geld. It was levied upon land, and paid as tribute to the Danes to keep them from invading the coasts of England.
The taxes just mentioned were levied to secure particular services, and the persons taxed were exempt from personally rendering the service. A number of early taxes, however, were levied to secure revenue for general purposes. One of the earliest of these was the hearth tax. This, in effect, was a tax on the family, and was used for a long period of time. Need for increased revenue led to the adoption of still other taxes. One of the first was upon tenants occupying royal lands. It was gradually extended until it applied to all rents. It varied at different times, and the tax was often known by the amount taken, as "fifteenths" and "tenths." At times these taxes were supplemented or replaced by some form of poll tax. The exemptions from poll taxes were few, since they were levied upon all men and women above a certain age, actual beggars alone being excluded. It is interesting to note, however, that these poll taxes were often graduated on the basis of property. Some of the more popular rulers secured special funds from the richer classes, which were termed " benevolences." Another fruitful source of funds which was extensively used at various times was the charge made for granting industrial monopolies. The field open to competitive industry was at times extremely limited, and the burden placed upon the consumers of products was severely felt.
Besides all these forms of direct taxes, duties were levied upon goods which came in or left the country, and that they were generally found as a part of the fiscal system can be seen from the fact that they were called "customary duties." The modern expression, "customs duties," had its origin in this early phrase.