CLOSE
Original image
iStock

What Happened When Elizabeth I Organized A National Lottery

Original image
iStock

Raffles and lotteries are by no means new. Legend has it that funds raised by a traditional lottery, known as keno, were used to partly finance construction of the Great Wall of China. The widow of the great painter Jan van Eyck dispensed with many of his remaining artworks in a fundraising raffle after her husband’s death. The sale of more than £600,000 worth of lottery tickets partly funded the construction of the original Westminster Bridge in the mid-18th century. And almost 450 years ago, even Queen Elizabeth I got in on the act by organizing the very first national lottery in English history—and perhaps the first state-sanctioned lottery in the English-speaking world.

The early years of Elizabeth’s reign were overshadowed by her need to not only pay off the colossal debt her father had lumbered the nation with on his deathbed, but to build on Britain’s foreign trade and colonial enterprises. But both international trade and overseas exploration—not to mention the construction of the new ships, docks and harbors that they require—are far from cheap. Keen not to increase taxes or enter into potentially ruinous money-lending deals with other countries, Elizabeth and her court looked elsewhere to find a fundraising idea to finance the nation’s overseas endeavors. And in 1567, she struck upon the perfect idea.

In a letter that came up for auction in 2010, on August 31, 1567 Elizabeth wrote to Sir John Spencer (a High Sheriff of Northamptonshire, and a distant ancestor of both Sir Winston Churchill and Diana, Princess of Wales) explaining that he was to help organize England’s very first national lottery. Similar letters were likely sent out to high-ranking officials in all the English regions, but Spencer’s is the only one to have survived, and it is ultimately thanks to him that we know just how Elizabeth planned the lottery to run.

Four hundred thousand tickets, or “lots,” were to be put up for sale nationwide, at a cost of 10 shillings each. The tickets themselves were not merely numbered tokens, but specially printed slips on which anyone wishing to enter the draw would be asked to write their name and a short written “device” (typically a brief biographical note or a favorite Bible verse) that was unique to them and so could be used to identify them if they won. Essentially, it was a Tudor English equivalent of a password reset security question. “God send a good lot for my children and me,” wrote one entrant on his ticket, “which have had 20 by one wife truly.”

The lottery itself was to be played “without any blanckes”, meaning that all ticket holders whose tickets were picked from the hat were guaranteed a prize. Unlike today, prize draws at the time tended to employ two separate draws, one from a tub or “lot-pot” containing the players’ tickets, and the other from a tub containing the names of all the prizes. This second tub also typically contained a large number of blank tickets alongside all the prize tokens, meaning that a winning player could have their number come up, only to go on to be awarded nothing at all; it’s the reason we talk of “drawing a blank” when we’re utterly nonplussed or defeated today. But in this unique national lottery, Elizabeth decreed that somewhat unfair system was to be ignored.

Out of every pound raised, Elizabeth explained, sixpence was to be set aside to pay a salary to the ticket-sellers and revenue collectors, described in the letter as “somme persons appointed of good trust,” who were to be specially chosen for the task. For his trouble, out of every £500 raised and sent to London, Spencer was to be paid 50 shillings (the equivalent of almost £600/$750 today). Corruption and any attempts to cheat the system were to be severely punished, Elizabeth warned, as the entire enterprise was for the good of the country—or, as she explained, “anything advantagious is ordered to be employed to good and publique acts and beneficially for our realme and our subjects.”

The 10 shilling ticket price (equivalent in value to almost £120 today) sadly put entry into the lottery far outside the reach of most ordinary citizens of the time—but the prizes and incentives on offer were tempting for many. First prize was a staggering £5,000 (equivalent to more than £1.1 million today), which was to be paid partly in £3,000 cash (“ready money”) and partly in an extravagant prize package containing fine tapestries and wall hangings, gold and silver plate, and a quantity of “good linen cloth.” Second prize was £2000 cash and a further £1500 worth of luxury items; third prize £1500 cash and the same amount of luxury goods, with similar prizes of diminishing value awarded for any player drawn in fourth to 11th place. And as if that weren’t enough, anyone wealthy enough to purchase a ticket was even granted a temporary immunity from arrest for all crimes except felonies, piracy, and treason.

Unsurprisingly, the logistics involved in running a fair, corruption-free, high-stakes national lottery in Elizabethan England—not least one that awarded anyone holding a ticket near total criminal immunity—proved challenging. Not only that, but the hefty entry cost meant only a fraction of the 400,000 tickets on sale (possibly as little as 10 percent) were actually purchased. As a result, the draw itself did not take place until almost two years later: On January 11, 1569, an eager crowd standing in a square outside the old St Paul’s Cathedral in the City of London watched as a blindfolded child steadily picked tickets and prizes from two large urns. And although they didn’t sell as many as hoped, according to one 19th century history, “the drawing [continued] without intermission till the 6th of May, day and night.”

So who won Elizabeth’s national lottery? Sadly, the names of all the winners, including that of the grand prize winner, are unknown. But it’s fair to say a £5000 prize more than four centuries ago would have been a life-changing amount of cash—especially for someone with 20 children.

Original image
Getty
arrow
Lists
8 of the Weirdest Gallup Polls
Original image
Getty

Born in Jefferson, Iowa on November 18, 1901, George Gallup studied journalism and psychology, focusing on how to measure readers’ interest in newspaper and magazine content. In 1935, he founded the American Institute of Public Opinion to scientifically measure public opinions on topics such as government spending, criminal justice, and presidential candidates. Although he died in 1984, The Gallup Poll continues his legacy of trying to determine and report the will of the people in an unbiased, independent way. To celebrate his day of birth, we compiled a list of some of the weirdest, funniest Gallup polls over the years.

1. THREE IN FOUR AMERICANS BELIEVE IN THE PARANORMAL (2005)

According to this Gallup poll, 75 percent of Americans have at least one paranormal belief. Specifically, 41 percent believe in extrasensory perception (ESP), 37 percent believe in haunted houses, and 21 percent believe in witches. What about channeling spirits, you might ask? Only 9 percent of Americans believe that it’s possible to channel a spirit so that it takes temporary control of one's body. Interestingly, believing in paranormal phenomena was relatively similar across people of different genders, races, ages, and education levels.

2. ONE IN FIVE AMERICANS THINK THE SUN REVOLVES AROUND THE EARTH (1999)

In this poll, Gallup tried to determine the popularity of heliocentric versus geocentric views. While 79 percent of Americans correctly stated that the Earth revolves around the sun, 18 percent think the sun revolves around the Earth. Three percent chose to remain indifferent, saying they had no opinion either way.

3. 22 PERCENT OF AMERICANS ARE HESITANT TO SUPPORT A MORMON (2011)

Gallup first measured anti-Mormon sentiment back in 1967, and it was still an issue in 2011, a year before Mormon Mitt Romney ran for president. Approximately 22 percent of Americans said they would not vote for a Mormon presidential candidate, even if that candidate belonged to their preferred political party. Strangely, Americans’ bias against Mormons has remained stable since the 1960s, despite decreasing bias against African Americans, Catholics, Jews, and women.

4. MISSISSIPPIANS GO TO CHURCH THE MOST; VERMONTERS THE LEAST (2010)

This 2010 poll amusingly confirms the stereotype that southerners are more religious than the rest of the country. Although 42 percent of all Americans attend church regularly (which Gallup defines as weekly or almost weekly), there are large variations based on geography. For example, 63 percent of people in Mississippi attend church regularly, followed by 58 percent in Alabama and 56 percent in South Carolina, Louisiana, and Utah. Rounding out the lowest levels of church attendance, on the other hand, were Vermont, where 23 percent of residents attend church regularly, New Hampshire, at 26 percent, and Maine at 27 percent.

5. ONE IN FOUR AMERICANS DON’T KNOW WHICH COUNTRY AMERICA GAINED INDEPENDENCE FROM (1999)

Although 76 percent of Americans knew that the United States gained independence from Great Britain as a result of the Revolutionary War, 24 percent weren’t so sure. Two percent thought the correct answer was France, 3 percent said a different country (such as Mexico, China, or Russia), and 19 percent had no opinion. Certain groups of people who consider themselves patriotic, including men, older people, and white people (according to Gallup polls), were more likely to know that America gained its independence from Great Britain.

6. ONE THIRD OF AMERICANS BELIEVE IN GHOSTS (2000)

This Halloween-themed Gallup poll asked Americans about their habits and behavior on the last day of October. Predictably, two-thirds of Americans reported that someone in their house planned to give candy to trick-or-treaters and more than three-quarters of parents with kids reported that their kids would wear a costume. More surprisingly, 31 percent of American adults claimed to believe in ghosts, an increase from 1978, when only 11 percent of American adults admitted to a belief in ghosts.

7. 5 PERCENT OF WORKING MILLENNIALS THRIVE IN ALL FIVE ELEMENTS OF WELL-BEING (2016)

This recent Gallup poll is funny in a sad way, as it sheds light on the tragicomic life of a millennial. In this poll, well-being is defined as having purpose, social support, manageable finances, a strong community, and good physical health. Sadly, only 5 percent of working millennials—defined as people born between 1980 and 1996—were thriving in these five indicators of well-being. To counter this lack of well-being, Gallup’s report recommends that managers promote work-life balance and improve their communication with millennial employees.

8. THE WORLD IS BECOMING SLIGHTLY MORE NEGATIVE (2014)

If you seem to feel more stress, sadness, anxiety, and pain than ever before, Gallup has the proof that it’s not all in your head. According to the company’s worldwide negative experience index, negative feelings such as stress, sadness, and anger have increased since 2007. Unsurprisingly, people living in war-torn, dangerous parts of the word—Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Syria, and Sierra Leone—reported the highest levels of negative emotions.

Original image
Getty Images
arrow
Lists
11 Times Mickey Mouse Was Banned
Original image
Getty Images

Despite being one of the world’s most recognizable and beloved characters, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Mickey Mouse, who turns 89 years old today. A number of countries—and even U.S. states—have banned the cartoon rodent at one time or another for reasons both big and small.

1. In 1930, Ohio banned a cartoon called “The Shindig” because Clarabelle Cow was shown reading Three Weeks by Elinor Glyn, the premier romance novelist of the time. Check it out (1:05) and let us know if you’re scandalized:

2. With movies on 10-foot screen being a relatively new thing in Romania in 1935, the government decided to ban Mickey Mouse, concerned that children would be terrified of a monstrous rodent.

3. In 1929, a German censor banned a Mickey Mouse short called “The Barnyard Battle.” The reason? An army of cats wearing pickelhauben, the pointed helmets worn by German military in the 19th and 20th centuries: "The wearing of German military helmets by an army of cats which oppose a militia of mice is offensive to national dignity. Permission to exhibit this production in Germany is refused.”

4. The German dislike for Mickey Mouse continued into the mid-'30s, with one German newspaper wondering why such a small and dirty animal would be idolized by children across the world: "Mickey Mouse is the most miserable ideal ever revealed ... Healthy emotions tell every independent young man and every honorable youth that the dirty and filth-covered vermin, the greatest bacteria carrier in the animal kingdom, cannot be the ideal type of animal.” Mickey was originally banned from Nazi Germany, but eventually the mouse's popularity won out.

5. In 2014, Iran's Organization for Supporting Manufacturers and Consumers announced a ban on school supplies and stationery products featuring “demoralizing images,” including that of Disney characters such as Mickey Mouse, Winnie the Pooh, Sleeping Beauty, and characters from Toy Story.

6. In 1954, East Germany banned Mickey Mouse comics, claiming that Mickey was an “anti-Red rebel.”

7. In 1937, a Mickey Mouse adventure was so similar to real events in Yugoslavia that the comic strip was banned. State police say the comic strip depicted a “Puritan-like revolt” that was a danger to the “Boy King,” Peter II of Yugoslavia, who was just 14 at the time. A journalist who wrote about the ban was consequently escorted out of the country.

8. Though Mussolini banned many cartoons and American influences from Italy in 1938, Mickey Mouse flew under the radar. It’s been said that Mussolini’s children were such Mickey Mouse fans that they were able to convince him to keep the rodent around.

9. Mickey and his friends were banned from the 1988 Seoul Olympics in a roundabout way. As they do with many major sporting events, including the Super Bowl, Disney had contacted American favorites to win in each event to ask them to say the famous “I’m going to Disneyland!” line if they won. When American swimmer Matt Biondi won the 100-meter freestyle, he dutifully complied with the request. After a complaint from the East Germans, the tape was pulled and given to the International Olympic Committee.

10. In 1993, Mickey was banned from a place he shouldn't have been in the first place: Seattle liquor stores. As a wonderful opening sentence from the Associated Press explained, "Mickey Mouse, the Easter Bunny and teddy bears have no business selling booze, the Washington State Liquor Control Board has decided." A handful of stores had painted Mickey and other characters as part of a promotion. A Disney VP said Mickey was "a nondrinker."

11. Let's end with another strike against The Shindig (see #1) and Clarabelle’s bulging udder. Less than a year after the Shindig ban, the Motion Picture Producers and Directors of America announced that they had received a massive number of complaints about the engorged cow udders in various Mickey Mouse cartoons.

From then on, according to a 1931 article in Time magazine, “Cows in Mickey Mouse ... pictures in the future will have small or invisible udders quite unlike the gargantuan organ whose antics of late have shocked some and convulsed others. In a recent picture the udder, besides flying violently to left and right or stretching far out behind when the cow was in motion, heaved with its panting with the cow stood still.”

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios