Tithe Origins

The Origins of Tithe

The tithe was an annual payment of an agreed proportion (originally one-tenth) of the yearly produce of the land, which was payable by parishioners to the parish church, to support it and its clergyman. Originally tithes were paid ‘in kind’ (wool, milk, honey, fish, barley etc) and were payable on 3 categories of produce:

  • All things which grew and which increased annually e.g. grain, vegetables and wood
  • All things which were nourished by the ground – lambs, calves etc. – and animal produce like milk, hides, eggs and wool
  • The produce of man’s labour – particularly the profits of mills and fishing

Tithes were also categorised as being great and small. Great tithes – from corn, other grains, hay and wood – commonly payable to the Rector of a parish – were also called ‘rectorial tithes’.

Rectors were often remote from the parishes, so a new deputy or vicar was appointed to act as the parish priest. Because the vicar was not entitled to the great tithe, it was usual to provide him with the small tithes – worth about a third of the total tithe of the parish – as a basis for a living.

Small tithes – from all other things which grew, like vegetables, fruit, hops; also animals and animal produce, and milling and fishing profits – commonly payable to the Vicar of a parish – also called ‘vicarial tithes’.

The difference in income between the Rector and the Vicar could be quite considerable, with the bulk of the tithe income often going to an absentee Rector. Some Vicars did their utmost to increase their income by making such produce as acorns or fallen apples tithable!