What Were Tithes?

Tithes were payments made from early times for the support of the parish church and its clergy. Originally these payments were made in kind (crops, wool, milk, young stock, etc.) and usually represented a tenth (tithe) of the yearly production of cultivation or stock rearing.

There were 3 types of tithe:

  • Predial tithes were the products of crop husbandry - such as grain, woodland, and vegetables
  • Mixed tithes were the products of animal husbandry - such as calves, lambs, wool and milk.
  • Personal tithes were the profits of man's labour - such as fishing or milling (and largely insignificant after 1549).

It is more usual to refer to tithes as ‘Great Tithes’ and ‘Small Tithes’. The great tithes, also known as the ’rectorial tithes’, were payable to the rector and generally comprised the predial tithes of corn, grain, hay and wood while the small tithes, also known as the ‘vicarial tithes’, were payable to the vicar and comprised all other tithes.

The ownership of the tithe was a property right that could be bought and sold, leased or mortgaged, or assigned to others. This resulted in many of the rectorial tithes passing into lay hands - particularly after the dissolution of the monasteries. These tithes then became the personal property of the new owners, or lay impropriators. After the sale of the tithes forfeited to the Crown in the 1530s, about 22.8% of the net value of tithes in Wales were held by lay impropriators at the time of commutation in 1836. A vicar usually continued to have the spiritual care of the parish and to receive the vicarial tithes.

From early times money payments had begun to be substituted for payments in kind. Fixed sums (moduses) were substituted for some categories of production, particularly for livestock and perishable produce; while adjustable payments known as compositions, which were sometimes assessed annually, were increasingly being substituted in local arrangements in latter years.

Tithe Maps Online

Visit Places of Wales to search and browse the tithe maps of Wales and accompanying apportionment documents.

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