R v Hampden (1637) 3 State Tr 826 (Ship Money Case)

Royal Prerogative; constitution

(203 words)


Ship money was a type of tax originating from medieval times. It was historically collected as part of the Royal Prerogative from coastal areas without approval from Parliament. King Charles I wished to extend the collection of the ship money tax to peacetime and to non-coastal areas of England. This plan resulted in fierce resistance from the people of England. Mr Hampden, a wealthy landowner refused to pay, so proceedings were started against him.


The case concerned whether the monarch could extend the application of ship money to peacetime and non-coastal areas without having the tax approved by Parliament.


In an unusually narrow judgment, the Court found in favour of the Crown. The Court held that the monarch did indeed possess the legal power to impose the ship money tax on the population without Parliament’s approval, even in times of peace and in areas irrelevant for shipping purposes. The Court further state that the monarch had the power to make laws, to decide on peace and war, to be the ultimate appeal authority, to pardon offences and to impose tax without Parliamentary consent – among other rights.