Greater and Lesser Tithes and Who Received Them

When I first learned something about the difference between rectors and vicars, I accepted the  definition as rectors received the greater tithes, vicars received the smaller tithes, and curates received wages. In writing my new Austen-inspired tale, Amending the Shades of Pemberley, I created a character related to the Bennets’ Aunt Gardiner, a younger brother who is a clergyman and Mary’s “love” interest in the tale. I originally thought to make him a rector, so he might be richer, but then I chose to make him a vicar, where he would receive part of the tithes, not all of them.

A fortunate chance had recommended him [Mr. Collins] to Lady Catherine de Bourgh when the living of Hunsford was vacant; and the respect which he felt for her high rank, and his veneration for her as his patroness, mingling with a very good opinion of himself, of his authority as a clergyman, and his right as a rector, made him altogether a mixture of pride and obsequiousness, self-importance and humility.—Pride and Prejudice, chapter 15

from C. E. Brock


A church living was accepted to be a respectable occupation among the gentry and the aristocracy. It was a “job” which came with an income, house, and, often, farmland. It was not an occupation, such as than of a surgeon, where the man actually collected his wages for his services. Generally speaking, in a country parish, those living within the parish were required by law to pay the clergyman 10% of their income. Those “tithes” were not all paid in cash. The man might receive a percentage of the crops, the eggs, the animals, etc. The clergyman could “earn” fees for performing weddings, funerals, baptisms, etc.

In addition, there was something called “glebe,” not a word we often hear nowadays, but part of the everyday language in Jane Austen’s England. Glebe referred to a piece of land serving as part of a clergyman’s benefice and providing income.


In Sense and Sensibility, Colonel Brandon offers a rectory to Edward Ferrars. “It is a rectory, but a small one”Sense and Sensibility, chapter 39

from C.E. Brock


An essay in Persuasion 16 of Jane Austen Society of North America, it says often the documents setting up each living set out who received what.
Of course, a living in Kent, where Lady Catherine resided, would have different produce and tithable products from those in Derbyshire, where Darcy lived.

“The tenth part of all profits or fruits, both praedial, personal, and mixed, allotted to the clergy for their maintenance. Of tithes there are three kinds, viz., personal, predial, and mixed. Personal tithes are those duo or accruing from the profits of labour, art, trade, navigation, and industry of man. Pradial tithes, those which arise either from the fruits of the ground, as corn, hay, underwood, flax, hemp, &c.; or from the fruits of trees, as apples, pears, plums, cherries ; or from the produce of the garden. Mixed tithes arc such as arise from beasts, and other animals fed with the fruits of the earth, as cheese, milk, wool, lambs, calves, fowls, &c . Preadial tithes, again, are either great or small. Great tithes are those of corn, hay, and wood. Small tithes are those of flax, &c., which are prsedial; and those of wool, milk, cheese, lambs, ferrets, &c., which are mixed . The tithes of grounds newly broken up and cultivated are called decimce novates, and always belong to the vicar, as well as the small tithes. ”  Dictionary of the English Church Ancient and Modern.

A Companion to the English Parish Church says of tithes: There are three types of tithes :praedial tithes ( calculated on income produce), mixed tithes (calculated on income from stock and labour) and personal tithes (based on income derived entirely from labour).

Where a rector was not the incumbent, the tithes were divided between the rector and the vicar. They were the Great or Rectorial and small or Vicarial tithes. Vicarial tithes were generally those raised from labour and minor produce and as such were most difficult to raise.


“He [Mr. Elton] had a comfortable home for her [Harriet], and Emma imagined a very sufficient income; for though the vicarage of Highbury was not large, he was known to have some independent property”Emma, chapter 4

from C. E. Brock


Greater tithes:

1. corn and other grain as beans, pease, tares, vetches. These are to be put into shocks.

2. hay and other herbs and feeds like clover, rape, woad, broom, heath, furze– and even grass.

3. Wood

Wood included hazel, birch, willow, whitethorn, holly, alder, maple, hornbeam.

Note:Trees such as oak which are used for timber are wood if less than twenty years old. Over twenty years of age, they are timber and not subject to the tithe. An exception was made of cherry wood in Buckinghamshire and the willows in Southampton.

Lesser tithes:

pasturage for sheep or cattle



madder (a scrambling or prostrate Eurasian plant of the bedstraw family)






fruit of trees including acorns

calves, colts, kids, sucklings

wool and lamb




bees— no tithe on bees but tithe on beeswax and honey

Nothing that comes from a mine or a quarry is tithed. No new stone or lead grows.

You might also find my piece on What Exactly Did It Mean for a Clergyman To Have a Living Bestowed on Him useful.


About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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2 Responses to Greater and Lesser Tithes and Who Received Them

  1. Glynis says:

    Well I don’t see that Mr Collins deserves any tithes. Instead of tending to and caring for his parishioners’ needs he only cares for Lady Catherine’s! I would definitely object to paying any of my hard earned cash or goods to him in exchange for lectures on how Lady Catherine expects me to behave!
    I would probably object to paying Mr Elton also given his choice of wife and air of superiority!

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