The answer to Why did it take so long for Europeans to adopt the moldboard plow? mentions that "Anglo-Saxon law required every ploughman to make his own plough" What was the reason for that?

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    Documenting preliminary research will improve both the probability of an answer and the quality of the answer(s) ploughmen.co.uk I speculate that this rule removes arguments over who gets to use a shared plough during high demand seasons.
    – MCW
    Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 11:29
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    And it makes each ploughman individually responsible for their plow - they built it, the can fix it, there should be no reason that a plough is not in good working order.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 13:41
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    The source (Society of Ploughmen) is not a historical organization and the original source is not cited. I suspect it is a misreading of a source that said each ploughman must have his own plough. Of course, in a subsistence agriculture society there would have been no other way to obtain a plough aside from making it unless one inherited it from a relative.
    – SPavel
    Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 15:06
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    I believe that many agricultural societies share common capital goods. Ploughs, oxen fields are shared according to complex social entitlements. Regulation may have been a way for the executive power to replace folk-rights (a common conflict in agricultural societies)
    – MCW
    Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 16:09

1 Answer 1


It looks like there was a church tax ("plough-alms") levied on farmers at the start of the season ("Plough Sunday"). This involved everyone bringing out their ploughshares to church, and then the church sending out collectors to get a penny from everyone who brought one.

Despite the tithe going to the church, this was a legal obligation. From the Laws of King Edmound I:

  1. A tithe we enjoin to every Christian man by his Christendom and churchscot, and Rome-feoh, and plough-alms. And if any one will not do so, let him be excommunicated.

From the laws of Alfred, Guthrum, and Edward the Elder:

  1. If any one withhold tithes, let him pay lah-slit among the Danes, wite among the English. If any one withhold Rom-feoh, let him pay lah-slit among the Danes, wite among the English. If any one discharge not light-scot, let him pay lah-slit among the Danes, wite among the English. If any one give not plough-alms, let him pay lah-slit among the Danes, wite among the English. If any one deny any divine dues, let him pay lah-slit among the Danes, wite among the English. ...

It seems there was great concern among law-writers about enforcing this tithe.

So its possible that borrowing someone else's plough rather than owning your own was seen as an attempt to avoid the plough-alms.

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    I have to wonder if causality isn't reversed. Once you require that each ploughman create his own plough, then taxing the plough is an easy way to raise revenue and enforce the regulation.
    – MCW
    Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 16:07
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    @MCW - I actually found all this while looking for that plough ownership law. Funny thing is, I never found that law. Which leads to some other possibilities, such as the tithe was deemed more important to merit inclusion in the Dooms, or there actually wasn't any such law and the website quoted in the answer to the previous question was wrong.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 16:34
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    But this seems to be about making your own plough, not just owning your own. So you couldn't ask the local plough smith to make it (at least that's my reading) Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 16:57
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    @RichardTingle - Check out SPavel's comment on the question. I'd like to see the actual law (which is proving surprisingly difficult to find) before microanalyzing its wording. It certainly doesn't seem likely that it was required of every farmer to blacksmith the iron themsevles.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 17:05
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    @pat3d3r - I helpfully linked to a definition of the word in the answer, for curious folks such as yourself (and myself). The link mentions wite as well.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jan 20, 2023 at 20:45

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