Taxes have a long and ugly history. The pharaohs, of course, were big taxers and spenders. You don’t build pyramids stuffed with luxury goods for the next life by letting your constituents buy untaxed corn. Even Solomon the Wise squeezed his subjects like the vintners squeezed grapes. A thousand wives means a thousand wedding rings and a thousand peek-a-boo nighties, and a thousand honeymoon cottages. His administration rarely ran a surplus. “And he did evil in the sight of the Lord,” says that big black book found in hotels and courtrooms. I strongly suspect it’s his tax policy the celestial author is referring to.
A couple thousand years later, with the advent of feudalism, rulers continued their campaign to wring riches out of their subjects – like crushed grapes yield wine.
From then to now – whatever the form of government – Kings, Commissars Chancellors: even Presidents and Prime ministers lust for loot. It’s enough to set one pining for the reincarnation of Lady Godiva. Remember her? Remember the story about her parading around the square like she was Paris Hilton and Coventry England was Hollywood, California and it was Oscar night? Well, it’s no fable – it’s absolutely true. The history books tell us that she bared her bod in an era when gowns went from crown to toenails. Nudity, along with bathing, was not fashionable in courtly circles. A woman who bathed twice a month by paddling around the moat was considered bawdy.
Madam Godiva had a mission. She yearned to elevate the artistic tastes of the masses. But hubby Leofric, the Earl of Mercia and Lord of Coventry, had no cultural aspirations and he positively adored taxation. A Federal Form 1040, circa eleventh century, instead of the Magna Carta, sat on his bedside table.
Leofric the Looter he was called by his friends. His victims called him worse.
Lady G noticed that the locals spent a lot of time pushing grindstones to generate taxes for her husband. Art Appreciation courses at Coventry U were unattended. But classes in millstone propulsion, yoked oxen plowing and timber chopping were oversubscribed: all wage-paying, taxable professions.
One night Lady Godiva, dressed in her 11th Century equivalent of a Saranwrap gown, called upon her avaricious hubby. She sat down closely beside him on a wooden bench. She spoke softly and called him “Sweet Leo”. She told him that the cultural level of Coventry was declining like a barrel of beer on Saturday night. He must chop that onerous tax rate!
He laughed. “Hah.”
The good wife cried a moatful of tears. It did no good. She pulled her gown tightly about her pudgy, pink, michealangelesque body. That did no good, either. Then she just laid on the bench and kicked and screamed.
Negotations began. Lady G offered to swim once around the moat as bare as a newborn babe if Leofric would abstain from his favorite vice – taxation. “Nope,” said the Liege Lord. “Only if you do three laps. Backstroke, too!!” He loved to show the locals how well he’d done in the marriage market.
She countered with an offer to bolt through the marketplace at midnight as naked as a jay bird, on Nanosecond Nell, the fastest filly in Mercer County. Nope. But, suggested Licentious Leo, how about a few lazy circuits around the square, au natural, on Slowboat Sally so the villagers could really understand and respect their liege lord’s pulchritudinous pickings. “A done deal,” shouted the lady who would enshrine tax reduction, chocolates and nudity.
History doesn’t tell us whether Leofric the Looter honored his bargain. But even if he did, his moratorium didn’t survive a millennium and the 5,000 miles that separate Coventry, England and my Alabama, USA home. And I bet that his ancestors emigrated to the New World. And I bet they reported for work every morning to IRS Headquarters in Tax Central, District of Columbia, USA. I mourn this historical fact with a black arm band every year on April 15.