On this day in history : 11th January 1569 – England’s first state lottery takes place….outside the doors of the west wing of the Old Saint Paul’s Cathedral….

Queen Elizabeth I had been on the throne for just over a decade and had so far enjoyed a relatively smooth reign….whereas in Europe things were a ‘little’ more unsettled…. France and Holland particularly had suffered severe conflict and revolts…. But – now Anglo-Spanish relations were breaking down….and England’s harbours and coastal defences were in a sorry state – and in desperate need of repair….


It was also a time of expansion in England’s export market – although trade was being compromised in Europe because of recent events – there was still plenty of potential for trade in other parts of the World…. More ships were needed to transport goods – and more ports needed to be built to accommodate them….

The Queen had a dilemma…. In order to fund all the necessary work she had to either raise taxes – or come up with another way of finding money….


Lotteries had been common practice on the Continent for at least the last 100 years – merchants would often use them to shift expensive stock that was not selling…. So, Queen Elizabeth I and her advisors came up with the idea of a state lottery – far more palatable than raising taxes….

The lottery was advertised as…. “A very rich Lotterie generall, without any Blanckes, contayning a great number of good prizes”…

The first prize was a jackpot of £5,000….£3,000 of which was in “ready money” – £700 in “plate gilte and white” and the rest in good “Tapillarie meete for hangings and other couertures and certaine lottes of good linnen cloth”….

Every ticket was guaranteed a prize – and these ranged from money, to silver plate, tapestries and good linen cloth…. To help with the promotion all ticket holders were promised freedom from arrest for any crimes they may have committed – other than murder, treason or piracy….

So, on the 11th of January 1569 people gathered outside of St. Paul’s Cathedral to see what they had won – in England’s first state lottery draw….

Old Saint Paul’s Cathedral

The ‘ticket’ would have been a blank piece of paper on which the holder would write their name – along with some unique words….maybe a couple of lines of poetry….or a prayer…. A named ticket would then be drawn from an urn – to be ‘married-up’ with a prize ticket drawn from another urn…. This process would then be repeated until all tickets and prizes had been allocated….

England’s first national lottery was not overly successful….out of the 400,000 tickets available only 10% sold…. At 10 shillings each they were remarkably expensive – although it was possible to buy a share in a ticket ~ the first ‘lottery syndicates’….

But – what was even more off-putting for would be punters – the odds in winning the jackpot – or a high prize….1 in 16,000 – so they didn’t even bother to try…. If you play today’s National Lottery your chance is 1 in 14 million….or 1 in over 45 million if you’re going for the Jackpot….


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