The first fruits (primitiae) or annates were the profits of an ecclesiastical benefice for the first year after a voidancy. Their payment to the Pope was instituted by John XXII in 1320 and made perpetual by Boniface IX in the late fourteenth century. The tenths were levied for the recovery of the Holy Land and were assigned by various popes to kings who undertook to apply them for that purpose or for other expeditions against non-Christians.
The Payment of Annates Act 1532 c20 forbade the payment of annates to the papacy, and two years later under the First Fruits and Tenths Act 1534 c3 these, together with 'one annual pension of the tenth part of all the possessions of the church, spiritual and temporal', were granted to the king. Commissioners, of whom the Chancellor and the Master of the Rolls (at that time Thomas Cromwell, the author of the policy) were always to be two, were empowered to value all benefices and compound for the first fruits, a process resulting in a comprehensive survey (the Valor Ecclesiasticus). The moneys and bonds resulting from first-fruits compositions were to be paid to the Clerk of the Hanaper in Chancery; tenths, payable at Christmas from 1535 onwards, were to be collected by archbishops and bishops and paid yearly by 1 April to the Treasurer of the Chamber.
These arrangements were, in the event, aborted before they came into effect, because on 7 May 1535, in confirmation of an appointment already apparent by 21 March, John Gostwick was appointed a commissioner of First-Fruits and Tenths, and Treasurer and Receiver-General of the same, acquiring, too, jurisdiction over various other sources of revenue directly or indirectly associated with ecclesiastical sources. For all these, no formal departmental structure was established; Gostwick acted largely through clerks answerable to himself, and he answered to Thomas Cromwell. First-fruits, being collected directly by the Crown, were payable to Gostwick as the Treasurer; tenths, on the other hand, being collected by intermediaries who expected more orthodox accounting, were (at least notionally) subject to Exchequer procedures, and Gostwick was frequently bypassed, despite his attempts to prevent this.
On Cromwell's fall in 1540 it was discovered that no official accounts for first-fruits or tenths had ever existed, and a Court of First Fruits and Tenths was established (32 Henry VIII, c45), staffed by a Chancellor (replacing the former commissioners), Treasurer, attorney, two auditors, a clerk, a messenger, and an usher. Process in the court was modelled on that used in the Chamber of the Duchy of Lancaster - in other words, on a species of household or chamber procedure - and the Exchequer was forbidden to issue process on matters under the court's regulation. Surpluses in income were paid direct to the Royal Household.
In 1552 a commission to examine all the courts of revenue suggested that the staff of the Court of First-Fruits and Tenths might usefully be reduced, and in 1554, by letters patent of 23 and 24 January issued under the Dissolution of Courts Act 1553 c10, the court was abolished and its business transferred to the Exchequer. A new Exchequer officer, the Remembrancer of First Fruits and Tenths, was appointed to take charge of the records of the court and of all future business concerning first fruits and tenths, to write and issue all process, commissions, entries, bonds, orders, judgments, and decrees of the Exchequer concerning such matters, and to make a yearly ledger of all compositions of first fruits to be taken. All sums of money due for first fruits were to be paid to him, and he was to deliver them at or before the end of every term to the tellers of the Exchequer of Receipt. Archbishops, bishops, and others who had the collection of the tenths were to account before the auditors of the Exchequer and to pay the sum due direct into the Exchequer of Receipt. First fruits were abolished under the First Fruits Act 1555 c4, but were revived under the First Fruits and Tenths Act 1558 c4, vested in the Crown, and restored to Exchequer administration.
In 1704, the Governors of Queen Anne's Bounty were granted all the revenue of first fruits and tenths.