The English Once Had To Grow Hemp, Or Be Punished For Not Doing So

We all know that hemp is a wonderful crop that can be used to make food, clothes and even cars. But it also once played a vital role in preventing England from being conquered during the reign of the Tudor Dynasty, which included famous monarchs like Henry VIII and his daughter, Elizabeth I - who was born 483 years ago today.

In 1533, Henry VIII made hemp cultivation the law of the land. For every 60 acres of land, farmers had to set aside one rood (about 1/4 acre) to cultivate flax or hemp. Otherwise, they would face a fine of three shillings and four pence - about half a year's wage for a household servant - for breaking the law.

That's right: there was once a time in history when you would get punished for not growing hemp. We hope actor Woody Harrelson brought that up when he was put on trial for sowing the illicit crop on American soil back in 1996.

Henry VIII passed the hemp law to make sure he had enough material to make rope, sails, nets and other naval equipment. At the time, England was a black sheep among European countries because of the Reformation - England's split from the Catholic Church (the Brexit of the day). The Reformation left England short on allies and flush with enemies who wouldn't mind plundering or perhaps even conquering the island kingdom. To defend his realm, Henry mustered one of the world's first professional navies.

The threat of invasion became a reality under the reign of Elizabeth I, who faced war with Spain - the global superpower of the 16th century. So the Virgin Queen ordered farmers to grow even more hemp and and made the penalties for breaking that law stiffer than a starched ruff.

Diego Velázquez - Philip III on

Yes, before neckties became a thing, people wore doilies around their heads.

Elizabeth's hemp agenda paid off in 1588, when England's hemp-outfitted ships thrashed the Spanish Armada. So in an alternate history, Spanish might be the official language throughout North America if it weren't for the cannabis plant.

At the same time, a certain Elizabethan playwright might have used cannabis to inspire some of the greatest works in English literature. Whether or not Shakespeare actually had a puff now and then is up for debate. But there's no doubt these fans of his work enjoyed marijuana:

h/t ABC News

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