Category Archives: Tax

History of English facial hair

It’s Movember once again, and I’m starting to see men around the town with the beginnings of this year’s autumnal facial displays!

But moustaches have been around for a while. When Caesar came to Britain, he recorded that the ancient Britons wore no beards except upon the upper lip. This was different to many European nations where it was most common for full beards to be worn.

When the Anglo-Saxons came to England, they wore full beards, but as they converted to Christianity, the clergy were obliged to be clean shaven, to distinguish them from the lay person. Over time Englishmen began to imitate the clergy and shave their beards, once again just leaving their moustaches.

The Normans went completely clean shaven, and William the Conqueror decreed that Englishmen must shave off their moustaches. Some men were reportedly so appalled at the idea that they chose to leave the country rather than give up their moustache.

In 1535, King Henry VIII introduced a beard tax, which was graded according to the social status of the wearer. Later, his daughter Queen Elizabeth I reintroduced the tax on all beards which had more than two weeks’ growth, making the beard a rich man’s accessory.

Perhaps part of the success of Movember is because it taps into an ancient British tradition and has reawakened the desire to have a hairy upper lip that lies deep within the genes of modern British men!