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Old Age and the English Poor Law, 1500-1700

Old Age and the English Poor Law, 1500-1700

L. A. Botelho
Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Old Age and the English Poor Law, 1500-1700
    Book Description:

    This study is a test-case of the old poor law. In its exploration of the virtually unknown world of the aged poor in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England, it asks how the elderly poor managed to survive in a pre-industrial economy, and answers through focusing on the many factors that make up the experience of old age - status, health, wealth, and local culture - in two Suffolk villages. Botelho demonstrates that the poor law did not, nor did it intend to, provide complete support, and she documents the individual efforts of the poor as they made their own old age arrangements, drawing as heavily upon their own initiatives as upon charity and legislated relief. LYNN BOTELHO is Associate Professor of History, Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-249-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Note to the reader
    (pp. vii-viii)
  5. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-ix)
  6. [Maps]
    (pp. x-x)
  7. 1 Questions and contexts
    (pp. 1-17)

    Jesus’ words, ‘for ye have the poor always with you’, must have seemed directed particularly at the inhabitants of early modern Europe.¹ In late seventeenthcentury England, a rural yeoman wrote of ‘The Multitude of Poore that dayly lie in every coner of the Streets notwithstanding the great Collections in every Parish’; while in Venice, the chronicler Marino Sanudo recorded the usual winter-time swarms of children crying, ‘Give us bread! We’re dying of hunger and cold’, as well as his impressions of the intensified conditions of the 1528 famine: ‘Impossible to listen to mass in peace, for at least a dozen...

  8. 2 The parish’s relief of the poor
    (pp. 18-73)

    The history of England’s statutory relief of the poor has a long and distinguished past.¹ In its fundamental form of 1601, it stated that the worthy poor were to be housed and provided with a weekly pension; poor children and bastards were to be apprenticed; the labouring poor were to be given work; and the wilfully idle, those who according to common perception ‘lick the sweat from the true labourer’s brows’, were to be punished and forcefully employed.² The entire structure of relief was to be underwritten by a weekly rate and managed by especially appointed officers, the overseers of...

  9. 3 The marginally poor
    (pp. 74-103)

    While describing Sheffield, this surveyor of the poor could have been rehearsing the inhabitants of any early modern English community: ratepayers, pensioners, and those in the middle who neither paid the rate nor received it. The neither-rich-nor-destitute survived through a precarious balance of resources and resided on the knife’s edge of self-sufficiency. Economic depression, harvest failure, or even ‘the storme of one fortnights sickness’ could hurl such households into the hands of the overseers and on to the charity of their neighbours. Such an existence left precious little extra to be saved for old age. The poor, wrote Thomas More...

  10. 4 The aged parish pensioner
    (pp. 104-152)

    Parish paupers, that ‘multitude of poor and needy folks’, hovered near the bottom of early modern England’s social hierarchy.¹ Constituting the final rung of respectable society, they were only a mis-step away from the world of the idle and the vagrant.² The elderly members of this group, however, held the place of highest honour, and were considered by many to be the quintessential worthy poor. Key to their rank was their position at the conjunction of two themes of contemporary thought: discriminatory poor relief and respect for the elderly. Throughout the period, society was obsessed with separating out the truly...

  11. 5 Conclusion
    (pp. 153-158)

    The aged poor of rural, early modern England were not uniformly assigned to the fringes of the physical community and to the extremities of its affection, as were the solitary woodsmen and terrifying witches that inhabit so many fairy-tales. The indigent elderly were very much part of the village’s mental world, as well as within its physical bounds. They delivered messages, as well as babies. They nursed the sick, washed the dead, swept the church, and sometimes collected poor relief. They remained an active part of the daily give-and-take, the social exchange of village life.

    Just as the elderly were...

  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 159-187)
  13. Index
    (pp. 188-198)