For contributions given to support a religious organization, see tithe.

A tithing or tything was a historic English legal, administrative or territorial unit, originally one tenth of a hundred, and later a subdivision of a manor or civil parish. The term implies a grouping of ten households (Scandinavian: ten = ti, assembly = thing). The tithing's leader or spokesman was known as a tithingman.[1][2]


The term originated in the 10th century, when a tithing meant a group of ten adult males (over the age of 12), each of whom was responsible for the other members' actions and behaviour in a system of frankpledge. It later came to be used in a wider range of legal, fiscal and estate-management contexts, sometimes applied to a grouping of householders and sometimes to an area of land (with considerable overlap between the two senses). It continued to be found in some parts of rural England well into the 19th century.

In Kent, and in parts of Surrey and Sussex, the equivalent term was a borgh, borow, or borough (not to be confused with borough in the more usual sense of a chartered or privileged town);[3][4][5] and the equivalent to the tithingman was a borsholder, borough-holder or headborough.[6][7]


"A tithe is a tenth, etymologically speaking; in fact, tithe is the old ordinal numeral in English. Sound changes in the prehistory of English are responsible for its looking so different from the word ten. Tithe goes back to a prehistoric West Germanic form *tehuntha-, formed from the cardinal numeral *tehun, "ten," and the same ordinal suffix that survives in Modern English as -th. The n disappeared before the th in the West Germanic dialect area that gave rise to English, and eventually yielded the Old English form tothe, "tenth," still not too different from the cardinal numeral [ten]".[8]

See also


  1. Dictionary definition of "Tithing"
  2. Dictionary definition of "Tithingman". Webster's Online Dictionary. Retrieved 19 January 2012.
  3. Parsons, David; Styles, Tania, eds. (1997). The Vocabulary of English Place-Names (Á–Cox). Nottingham: Centre for English Name Studies. p. 129. ISBN 0952534355.
  4. Baker, A.R.H. (1966). "Field Systems in the Vale of Holmesdale". Agricultural History Review. 14 (1): 11 (note). Click on the link for "Full text of article" to download the article in PDF format.
  5. E 179/249/33 Part 2 of 10. (1663). The National Archives. Retrieved 19 January 2012.
  6. Johnson, S. et al. (1835), English Dictionary, p. 148.
  7. Dictionary definition of "Borsholder". Webster's Online Dictionary. Retrieved 19 January 2012.
  8. “tithe, n. American Heritage Dictionary. 5th edn. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014. Retrieved 10 March 2015.

Further reading

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