Elizabeth I held England's first recorded state lottery on this date in 1569. The queen needed to raise funds to rebuild some harbors and make England more competitive in global trade, so she instituted the lottery for "reparation of the havens and strengths of the Realme and towards such other public good works." Her lottery was limited to 40,000 entries of 10 shillings each - too steep a price for most commoners. People lined up at the west door of St. Paul's Cathedral in London to buy their tickets. The prize was 5,000 pounds, part paid in cash and the rest paid in tapestries, plate, and good linen cloth. To sweeten the pot even further, the queen offered all entrants a "get out of jail free card" for all crimes besides murder, treason, piracy, and other felonies. The total jackpot was equal to the number of tickets sold, but the prize wasn't paid out for three years, so the crown enjoyed an interest-free loan.
The winner's name has been lost to us, but governments learned a valuable lesson: the lottery - sometimes known as a "voluntary tax" - is a great way to bring in some extra revenue to fill state coffers. Many British colonies - including Jamestown, Virginia - were founded and settled with the help of lottery funds. The national lottery has fallen in and out of favor in Britain since 1569, and was out of favor for most of Queen Victoria's reign, but Prime Minister John Major reinstated it in 1994 and it's still going strong, and at a price more affordable to working-class Britons.
As Henry Fielding wrote in his play The Lottery (1732): "A lottery is a taxation upon all the fools in creation; and heaven be praised, it is easily raised, for credulity's always in fashion."