Ferdinand Grapperhaus and the history of taxation

Dutch legal historians are not often mentioned in national newspapers. On May 9, 2010, Ferdinand Grapperhaus passed away. Ferdinand Heinrich Maria Grapperhaus, born in Utrecht on December 26, 1927, became a legal historian after a career in fiscal law which brought him into politics. He had studied law at the University of Amsterdam where he got his degree in 1952.  He worked as a fiscal consultant and defended his doctoral thesis on fiscal law in 1966 at the University of Tilburg. From 1967 to 1971 he served as Undersecretary at the Ministry of Finance. In this position he was able to introduce some very important fiscal measures, for example the VAT. From 1971 to 1975 he was at the head of Bank Mees & Hope (now MeesPierson). In 1975 the University of Leyden gave him a professorship for the history of taxation which he held until 1993.

The obituaries published today do not mention any details of his publications in the field of legal history. In the Festschrift for Grapperhaus – Liberale gifte: vriendenbundel voor Grapperhaus, edited by J. Verburg, N.H. de Vries en O.I.M. Ydema (Deventer 1999) – his bibliography occupies eight pages. Using the Digital Bibliography for Dutch History one can rapidly retrieve his most important books and articles. A special characteristic of them are the very long titles reminiscent of eighteenth century books. Alva en de tiende penning (Alba and the tenth penny) (Zutphen 1982) is the exception. In this study he discusses the infamous taxation introduced in 1569 by the Duke of Alba. This action acerbated opposition against Spanish rule in the Low Countries. In fact the States of Holland had already in 1553 tried to impose the tenth penny on the possessions of William of Orange, Egmont and Horne, the richest aristocrats of these regions. In Belasting, vrijheid en eigendom (…) (Zutphen 1989) – the English version is titled Taxes, liberty and property : the role of taxation in democratization and national unity 511-1787 – he wrote about the way taxation helped the processes of state building in Europe. Grapperhaus treated regional history as well. In an article for the Jaarboek Oud-Utrecht for 1996 he discussed the meaning for fiscal history of the Utrecht Landbrief from 1375, a key document for the relations between the prince-bishops of Utrecht and the emerging States of Utrecht. Grapperhaus’ last book was about a very Dutch kind of taxation, a bicycle tax for which you had to put a copperplate on your bike: Over de loden last van het koperen fietsplaatje : de Nederlandse rijwielbelasting 1924-1941 (Deventer 2005).

No doubt Onno Ydema, now at the same chair of the history of taxation at Leyden University, will be able to give a more detailed appraisal of Grapperhaus’ work, but it seemed fitting to dedicate at short notice a few words to the memory of this remarkable lawyer, politician and legal historian.

An addendum: Grapperhaus published in 2009 two books for the International Bureau of Fiscal Documentation which appeared in one cover: Tax Tales  for the Second Millennium and Taxes through the Ages. A Pictorial History (Amsterdam 2009).

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