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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Taxes, Lists, Business, Electoral and Insurance Records  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Clerical Taxation

Clergy were assessed differently with clerical subsidies. Fewer genealogists can claim descent from clergymen because they represented a small percentage of the population and, prior to 1549 when the Church of England lifted this obligation, they were (theoretically) celibate. The pope’s rules on celibacy were largely ignored and the greater part of the clergy were sons of priests (Sandford). Roman Catholic priests still did not marry after 1549, but descents are known from clerics, including even some popes.

Clerical taxation by the pope commenced during the 12th and 13th century with a gradual sharing of the proceeds with the monarch until by 1340 the crown received them all. One tenth of a clergyman’s income had become the standard fractional levy by the mid-13th century, for example in the pope’s Taxatio of 1291. Generally whenever a lay subsidy was granted a clerical subsidy was approved as well. The clerical records for England are in E 179 at TNA in a separate series from the lay subsidies, and typically name the benefice but do not give the incumbent’s name (Stoate and Howard).

The clergy were subjected to the poll taxes of the late 14th century and to a number of experimental taxes in the early 15th century. Clerical taxation was completely overhauled at the Reformation by the Act of First Fruits and Tenths which established:

  • The Valor Ecclesiasticus, being a survey and valuation of all benefices, including religious houses and Oxford and Cambridge colleges, performed after the Dissolution and prior to their sale to private individuals (more information can be found in the National Institute for Genealogical Studies’ course English: Land and Property Records Including Manorial Documents and Maps).
  • The first fruits, or profits from the first year after the death or resignation of an incumbent, originally made to the see of Rome were confiscated by the king.
  • A permanent tax of one tenth of income was payable by the clergy to the king at Christmas.

Apart from exemptions, and a hiccup during the reign of Catholic Mary I, this system continued until 1641. From thence the clergy were taxed along with laymen until the Victorian era, except for a brief interlude during Charles II’s reign.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course English: Taxes, Lists, Business, Electoral and Insurance Records offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at

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  • This page was last modified on 11 September 2014, at 21:24.
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