TAILLE, basic direct tax under the Old Regime, permanently established in 1439 and abolished by the Law of 17 March 1791. Originally a war tax, in principle the taille was payable by all who did not perform military service. Nobles, who were presumed to perform such service, were exempt. So were the clergy, who were forbidden by their calling to fight. Later the privilege of exemption was extended to other categories, such as acquirers of certain offices or burghers of certain important cities. Town dwellers in general always bore a much lighter burden. Accordingly, most of the weight of the taille fell on the peasantry.
The taille was assessed arbitrarily, according to the government's needs rather than the faculties of the taxpayer. Each year the total sum required was fixed and divided up among the généralités. They in turn imposed their own arbitrary assessments on their constituent fiscal districts (élections), and so on down to the village level. Matters were complicated by the fact that the government could, at will, revise or add to each year's total according to its needs. A collector was elected by the assembly of each village community to assess and levy the contribution of each taxpayer. In two-thirds of France, the taille was "personal," payable by those of taillable status according to the collector's opinion of their faculties. In the pays d'états, however, the taille was "real," payable on the basis of whether a person's landed property was legally designated noble. Owners of noble land were exempt; owners of non-noble land, whatever their personal status, were required to pay. These and other anomalies have led scholars recently to question the true extent of exemptions. Clearly in the pays d'états, many nobles paid the taille, and in other areas they often paid indirectly by reducing their tenants' rents to take account of their tax burden. Equally clearly, most wealthy non-nobles managed to escape the burden entirely. Nevertheless, down to 1789, exemption from the taille remained the first and most fundamental test of noble status, and it was this rather than the pecuniary advantage that made exemption so constantly sought after.