tithingman | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee


Course: Introduction / Policing

A tithingman was a man elected to preside over a tithing (a group of ten families) under the mutual pledge system.

The tithingman was an important figure in early English law enforcement, particularly during the Anglo-Saxon period. The mutual pledge system, which emerged during this time, required every free man to be part of a tithing, or a group of ten families. Each tithing was responsible for maintaining order and ensuring the behavior of its members. The tithingman was responsible for presiding over the tithing and ensuring that its members fulfilled their obligations.

The mutual pledge system was part of a broader system of law enforcement that relied on the participation of the community. Under this system, the community was responsible for maintaining law and order, and individuals were held accountable for the actions of their neighbors. This created a strong incentive for individuals to monitor each other’s behavior and ensure that everyone adhered to the law.

The role of the tithingman was crucial in maintaining this system. He was responsible for ensuring that the members of his tithing fulfilled their obligations under the mutual pledge system. This included making sure that they attended court when required, and that they paid any fines or penalties that were assessed. In addition, the tithingman was responsible for reporting any criminal activity to the higher authorities, such as the reeve or the sheriff.

Over time, the role of the tithingman evolved as the mutual pledge system was replaced by other forms of law enforcement. During the Norman period, the office of the tithingman was largely replaced by that of the parish constable, who was responsible for maintaining law and order in the local community. However, the concept of community-based law enforcement remained an important part of English law throughout the medieval period and beyond.

Today, the role of the tithingman is largely historical, but the concept of community-based law enforcement remains important in many countries around the world. In modern times, the police often work closely with local communities to prevent crime and maintain order, and community policing has become an important part of law enforcement in many areas. While the exact form of community-based law enforcement may have changed over time, the fundamental principles of working together to maintain law and order remain as important today as they were in the time of the tithingman.

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Last Modified: 04/10/2023


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