Subjects: Tithes – modus
Tithes originated as a personal tax of one tenth on all income to be handed over annually by parishioners to support their parish church and clergy.
Over time a system developed whereby tithes were classified as
‘predial’, charged on produce of the land and usually payable in kind or
‘personal’, arising from the product of labour
Subsequently predial tithes were further distinguished as great (or mixed) tithes and small (or minute) tithes or greater tithes and lesser tithes. The great tithes were payable to the rector on the most valuable crops while the small tithes were payable to the vicar and comprised all other tithes arising from less valuable crops and animal produce.
The ownership of tithes could be bought, sold, leased or mortgaged like any other property rights and the occupier after such a transfer was known as the ‘farmer’.
Following the dissolution of monasteries and colleges in the sixteenth century many rectories, and their associated rights to tithes, passed into lay hands although the vicar usually continued to receive the vicarial tithes.
In the medieval period money payments increasingly took over from payments in kind and in some cases fixed sums (moduses) were agreed for some categories of produce, particularly for livestock and perishable produce. Additionally some variable payments known as compositions were agreed.
As inflation began to take hold in the sixteenth century, however, and as lay impropriators sought to increase their return from their investment, they sometimes sought to overturn the old agreements.
Andrew Lewis, ‘Tithe Personal and Praedial’, The Journal of Legal History, 42.2 (2021), pp. 123-146.