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Vagabonds and Beggars Act 1494

This entry is part 5 of 7 in the series Poor Law through the Ages
This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series Reform
This entry is part 5 of 15 in the series Reformers and Radicals
This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Reforming Women

Vagabbonds and Beggars Act 1494 and how idleness was treated as a crime

The lot of the poor in the late 15th Century was not good. Given the prospects that this act provided, for any poor soul found even suspected of vagrancy or idleness.

โ€œVagabonds, idle and suspected persons shall be set in the stocks for three days and three nights and have none other sustenance but bread and water and then shall be put out of Town. Every beggar suitable to work shall resort to the Hundred where he last dwelled, is best known, or was born and there remain upon the pain aforesaid.โ€ Vagabonds and Beggars Act 1494.
The only concession  was that  Beggars who were too infirm to work were to remain in their Hundred and be permitted to beg. but with no certainty of the receipt of any charity.
The development of the body of law known and codified as the Old Poor Law tells the story of the poor sadly though brutal times. Easy to judge with hindsight and our modern expectations but the laws imposed provided a good source of contemporary material showing what the ruling elite of the time believed were acceptable conditions to impose on and control the wider population.
To get an overview of the click here Old Poor Law for a summary and chronology of the relevant laws and subsequently the review of 1832  and impact of the 1834 Poor Law amendment Act which was to set harsh terms yet again for the less fortunate.
A browsing of the summaries certainly makes us realise how fortunate we have all been whatever the shortcomings to have grown up with the benefits of a welfare state. As ever the balance needs to be struck and maybe this historical context helps us re-consider what is balanced.
Social history of the time certainly set in context with a review of the relevant legislation, timelines will be added to help the speedy review and connections between the important acts.


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