"A levy on all subjects according to their ability to pay. Scot means tribute or tax, and lot means allotment or portion allotted. To pay scot and lot, therefore, is to pay the ordinary tributes and also the personal tax allotted to you."Historians have followed suit in focusing on the taxation aspect, in part because of the slightly misleading breakdown of borough charter privileges made by Ballard. However, the actual situation is more complex. To be "at scot and lot" meant having a share in the obligations and responsibilities of a member of the community; in return members shared in communal privileges and advantages not all town-dwellers were part of that privileged community. In essence, scot and lot was an indicator of status, in terms of membership. Some historians have connected the status of being at scot and lot with householding, and certainly we should not ignore that 'lot' is a term applied to real estate plots, which in the case of new town foundations might be allotted to settlers; householding, however, was not a prerequisite (although in some towns it later became a requirement) for citizenship, but there was a natural concern that members of the community have property whether real or moveable by which they could be distrained if they failed to pay their contributions. "Scot" seems clearly enough associated with being contributory to taxations, aids or customary dues imposed on the community (e.g. see the Norwich custumal). The term survives today in the idiom that someone "got off scot-free". Similarly, "lot" survives in concepts such as "lottery" and "to cast one's lot in with". It is a Teutonic term that found its way into Norse, Old English and the Romance languages; the derivation is uncertain, but may be associated with a term for a piece of wood, in reference to the use of such in the drawing of lots. Drawing lots was associated with such things as the order of dividing plunder; by extension, the term "lot" came to be associated with a share in a distribution of goods or property, calling to mind the customary right of each burgess an urban status possibly synonymous with being at scot and lot to claim a share in any commercial bargain underway in a public place (again, see the Norwich custumal, and for the reciprocity of obligation and privilege, that of Yarmouth). The Leges Quatuor Burgorum explicitly applied the term lot to that situation, while the Northampton custumal talks about dividing up essential goods (victuals) by "divination" (i.e. casting lots). A royal charter to Chesterfield (1294) uses the entire phrase "lot and scot" in this context of sharing in bargains. If, as seems possible, scot and lot referred to the two-sided coin of sharing in both obligations and advantages, the nearest modern equivalent to the concept may be the colloquialism "You pays your money, and you takes your chances", although this decontextualized from a social setting has lost the original's nice expression of reciprocity. There is a further application of "lot" which must be considered. The drawing of lots was anciently a method of selecting from a group one or more individuals for some role such as a winner, or an office-holder. "Accepting one's lot in life" may heark back to election to office. This form of election was considered to call into play divine judgement, and could still be found in Yarmouth at the end of the Middle Ages. The London authorities explicitly made this connection in 1415: "every freeman is bound to be a partaker in Lot, which is liability to hold office, and in Scot, which means contribution to taxes and other charges" [H.T, Riley, Memorials of London and London Life, 602]. It is evident that "scot and lot" is not, as in Brewer's definition, two terms with essentially the same meaning, but presents two separate yet related concepts. The two may represent dual responsibilities, of contributing to taxation and bearing one's fair burden in administrative duties (the latter, as a pivotal element of the definition of citizenship, traceable back at least to the time of Aristotle, whose Athens of course provides the best-known government in which officials were chosen by lot), or the opposites of obligation and benefit; perhaps "lot" itself communicated more than one idea.
|Created: August 29, 1998. Last update: July 9, 2018||© Stephen Alsford, 1998-2018|