Edward VI Passes Acts Related to Vagrants and Alms Collection

On July 31, 1547, Edward VI issued a royal injunction which decreed that parishes would furnish a chest for the collection of donations to the poor, to be placed near the high altar. This injunction was reflective of the post-Reformation climate in England; while the post-Reformation closing of hospitals and almshouses had left a void in local charity, money from these alms chests proved a more consistent form of aid for the poor, especially given that lay-people were encouraged to donate the money which they would have previously spent on newly banned Catholic practices. Official collections took place on Sundays and holy days, thus integrating almsgiving as a part of the churchgoer’s routine. In 1552, a new statute was passed which emphasized almsgiving further, assigning several parishioners each year to act as Collectors, who were to go about and seek donations from their fellow parishioners. Those who were financially able yet refused to donate were reported to parish officials, who would then continue to pressure the person into donating. In this way, almsgiving became an expected practice, rather than an exceptional outpouring of generosity. These changes would lay the basis for aid practices that would continue in the latter half of the sixteenth century and beyond.

In sharp contrast to the apparent goodwill of almsgiving acts, though, The Vagrancy Act of 1547 imposed a punishment of two years slavery upon vagabonds (a notoriously vague term in the first place). Although this was soon repealed in 1549 for being too harsh, this repeal only marked a regression to the vagrancy statute of 1530-1, which dictated that vagrants were “to be tied naked to a cart” and “whipped out of the town.”

McIntosh, Marjorie Keniston. “The Introduction of Parish-based Poor Relief under Edward VI.” In Poor Relief in England, 1350-1600, 127-138. New York, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012.
Slack, Paul., and Economic History Society. The English Poor Law, 1531-1782. Basingstoke: Macmillan Education, 1990.

Davies, C. S. L.. 1966. “Slavery and Protector Somerset; the Vagrancy Act of 1547”. The Economic History Review 19 (3). [Economic History Society, Wiley]: 533–49.

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