Window tax in The Hague

All of us must face life’s two certainties: death and taxes. There are, of course, many different types of taxes. And the way we are taxed changes in the course of time. In the 19th century, Dutch people paid window tax – the amount based on the number of windows in a house.

Tax harmonization

During the time of the Republic of the Seven United Provinces each province had its own system of taxes. From 1806 onwards, however, a central system of taxes was enforced in the Netherlands. This was the work of the then minister of finance, Alexander Gogel, who devised a national system of property taxes. “Property” in this system was defined quite differently from the way we do now. Under Gogel’s system, the amount you had to pay depended on the number of servants you employed or the number of horses you had in your stables!

Alexander Gogel Schilder Mattheus Ignatius van Bree - Rijksmuseum
Alexander Gogel*

Window tax

In 1810 Napoleon Bonaparte annexed The Netherlands into his French Empire. He needed a lot of money for his wars and taxed the Dutch as heavily as he did the French. In France he had already introduced the window tax: the property tax based on the number of doors and windows in a house. Because he wanted to be sure about the revenues, he used simple maths. He declared the amount that he needed and this amount was distributed per province and municipality. This way the rate per door / window was established.

Nederlandse 20 francs - 1813 - Napoleon Rijksmuseum
Dutch 20 francs*
King William I*

Many people, of course, opposed this tax. But even after Napoleon was defeated in 1815 and The Netherlands became a kingdom under William I, the window tax was maintained. This tax had clear advantages to the authorities. It continued to provide revenue, and, unlike the counting of servants or horses, could be determined easily from outside, without the need to enter a property.

Tax evasion

Every law abiding citizen knows that paying taxes is inevitable, but that same citizen tries his very best to pay as little as possible. So if you commissioned an architect to design a new house in the Netherlands in the 19th century, you would state in the brief: fewer windows, but make them large. Residents of existing houses could arrange to have some of their windows bricked up, as can be seen today in corner houses, where original windows on are now filled with brick. 

By the end of the 19th century, however, Dutch cities were experiencing large increases in population, which of course meant a great need for more housing. In order to stimulate building, the government abolished the window tax.

So this special type of taxation came to an end. But its effects can still be traced in The Hague.

 I will show you these during my city walk “Look Up!”

*Collection Rijksmuseum

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Blogger Jacqueline Alders
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