Worlds 1st National Lottery starts
Lotteries had been known since Roman times, and probably even earlier, but in Medieval Europe they began to play a significant role in fund raising for practical purposes: Sluis in the Netherlands held such a lottery in 1434 to help fund the fortification of the town; Bruges followed in 1466, though that was to benefit the city's paupers; but England was the first to have a truly national event.
Elizabeth I needed money for major public works, in particular the repair and improvement of England's harbours. Rather than an unpopular tax, her government chose to hold a lottery. Just as Henry Fielding wrote more than a century later: A lottery is a taxation, upon all the fools in Creation.
Tickets went on sale in 1568, the draw taking place in January the next year. The ticket price was 10 shillings, with 400,000 tickets to be sold. On offer: a top prize of £5,000, but to ensure greater participation other baubles and inducements were dangled before the public: silver wine cups; free entries to libraries; and even the Elizabethan equivalent of a get-out-of-jail free card, giving immunity from arrest for a week, though not for serious crimes.
The lottery was a major event, and created huge interest, but it is thought that financially it managed not to be a great success, even if socially it was a hit.
More famous dates here
13671 views since 11th January 2008
On this day: