Assumed Origin of Tithes

Book 2, Chapter 3, 827 AD to 857 AD – The Clergy and The Monasteries


It must not be supposed that a legal claim to tithes was substantiated by the clergy by one master stroke of policy, or that the earlier ecclesiastics foresaw and desired the full issue of their claim. The only reasonable explanation is the one suggested that the formal demand slowly grew out of voluntary gifts, and that custom at length attained to the verbal distinctness and force of an enactment, when priestcraft was able to operate upon superstitious minds.

Kings, under the influence of piety or remorse, poured their wealth into the church’s treasury, being taught that by so doing the favour of Heaven was to be bribed, and its indignation averted, and wealthy persons were in like manner taught to expiate their sins. It is alleged by some that in A.D. 794, two councils were held in Britain, at which two papal legates were ‘present, with a view to reform and establish ecclesiastical laws in the island, and that it was specially ordered, among other things, “that all be careful to pay tithes of all they possess, because they are the special property of the Lord our God.” The accuracy of this statement has been challenged, and even if the fact was as alleged, the enactment applied only to the kingdoms of Mercia and of Northumbria, and not to the country at large.

The legal claim is, therefore, generally traced back to the grant in the time of Ethelwulf, who appears, however, from ‘the tangled accounts of William of Malmesbury and of other early chroniclers, to have enacted in his time two provisions, one in 854 at Wilton, for the kingdom of the West Saxons, and another on his return from Rome, at Winchester, under circumstances of much greater solemnity. The latter enactment runs as follows, adopting the translation given by Prideaux, who has ingeniously pieced together the various readings of Ingulph, secretary to William of Normandy, and afterwards Abbot of Croyland, and of other writers:

 “1.Our Lord Jesus Christ reigning forever. Whereas in our time we have seen the burnings of war, the ravaging’s of our wealth, and also the cruel depredations of enemies wasting our land, and many tribulations from barbarous and pagan nations inflicted upon us, for the punishing of our sins, even almost to our utter destruction, and also very perilous times hanging over our heads :

“2. For this cause, I, Ethelwulf, King of the West Saxons, by the advice of my. bishops and other chief men of my kingdom, have resolved on a wholesome and uniform remedy, that is, that I grant as an offering unto God, and the Blessed Virgin, and all the Saints, a certain portion of my kingdom, to be held by perpetual right, that is to say, the tenth part thereof, and that this tenth part be privileged from temporal duties, and free from all secular services and royal tributes, as well the greater as the lesser, or those taxes which we call Witerden, and that it be free from all things else, for the health of my soul and the pardon of my sins, to be applied only to the service of God alone, without being charged to any expedition, or to the repair of bridges, or to the fortifying of castles, to the end that the clergy may, with the more diligence, pour out their prayers to God for us without ceasing, in which we do in some part receive their service.

 “3. These things were enacted at Winchester, in the Church of St. Peter, before the great altar, in the year of the incarnation of our Lord, 855, in the third induction, on the none’s of November, for the honour of the glorious Virgin and Mother of God, St. Mary, and of St. Michael the Arch-angel, and of the blessed Peter, Prince of the Apostles, and also of our blessed father Pope Gregory, and of all the Saints.

 “4. There were present and subscribing hereto, all the archbishops and bishops of England, as also Boerred, King of Mercia, and Edmund, King of the East Angles, and also a great multitude of Abbots and abbesses, dukes, earls, and noble. Men, of the whole land, as well as the other Christian people, who all approved of the Royal Charter, but those only who were persons of dignity subscribed their names to it.

“5. King Ethelwulf, for the greater firmness of the grant, offered this charter upon the altar of St. Peter the Apostle, and the bishops, on God’s part, received the same of him, and afterwards sent it to be published in all the churches through-out their respective dioceses.”

Chapter 3, Egbert

Character of Egbert

Repeated Incursions by the Danes

Succeeded by Ethelwulf

His Pilgrimage to Rome

Revolt under Ethelbald, and Division of the kingdom

Chapter 3, The Clergy and The Monasteries

Assumed Origin of Tithes

Condition of the Monks and Clergy

Archbishop Theodore

Venerable Bede

Chapter 3, The Witenagemot

Origin and Powers of the Witenagemot

The Witenagemot

Nature of the kingly Dignity

The Process of Governing


Categories: Book 2

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