The Origin of the Phrase, “Daylight Robbery”

Written while travelling by train from Edinburgh Waverly Station to London King’s Cross

I have been in Edinburgh, Scotland, for my girlfriends MBA graduation the past four days.  While we were there, I heard something fascinating – I learned where the term “daylight robbery”comes from.  To understand this captivating fact, let’s go back to the late 1700’s and early 1800’s; when Napoleon Bonaparte was quickly conquering Europe.

Bonaparte became Emperor of the French and from around the late 1700’s to 1815, the Napoleonic Wars waged throughout Europe.   Napoleon eventually gained control of nearly all of continental Europe.  Great Britain was Napoleon’s arch nemesis and fought Napoleon for many years; while Great Britain controlled the seas, Napoleon was never able to conquer England.

Great Britain, along with a few other countries, was eventually able to stop Napoleon at the battle of Waterloo in 1815.  They were also the main funder of the Napoleonic Wars and they proved to be mightily expensive.

During the wars they were desperate to raise money to continue to fund the battles.  Bonaparte was creating his empire and in order keep Great Britain as an economic powerhouse of Europe, it was detrimental Napoleon be stopped.

Scottish Highlands

Our daytrip to the Scottish Highlands

The Window Tax

There was a small window tax in England and Scotland that had been in effect since the late 1600’s.  Those with seven or less windows were allowed to pay a smaller amount of tax than those with more than 7 windows.  One day in 1797, the prime minister, Robert Pitt, decided to increase the tax on windows 3x in order to raise funds for the war against Napoleon.

During this time in Edinburgh, beautiful Georgian architecture filled the city.  The Georgian buildings were sprinkled with beautiful symmetric windows.  Maybe the prime minister noticed these windows and had a light bulb go off – why don’t we create a window tax!?

What an ingenious thought – create revenue streams from these wealthy Edinburghers’ windows to help pay for the wars.  For the prime minister, he underestimated the Scottish people’s gift of frugality.  Many of the people of Edinburgh decided the last thing they were going to do was to give those English any more of their hard earned money.  So, almost overnight, thousands of windows were boarded up so they wouldn’t have to pay their additional window tax.

To this day, you can look around Edinburgh and you will see Georgian buildings filled with windows – and in some of those buildings, you will still see a sealed off space where the building was constructed where a window should be.

A few things to take away from this fascinating fact.  First: never underestimate the frugality of a Scot.  They like to keep their money close to them.  Second: sometimes taxes don’t quite achieve the government’s desired outcome.  Third: maybe you should take a look at your current taxes and see if you can reduce what you owe.  You never know, you may be suspect to daylight robbery!

Thanks for reading this note Penned from the Train.  Time to Enjoy some time in London before I’m off to Italy.


Scottish Castle

Relic of a castle we happened upon.