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Thursday, October 22, 2015

An Acte for the Reliefe of the Poore (1601)

In the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century a man called Thomas St. Gubbington (Or St Gubbins or Hubbins) printed a series of pamphlets in Ghent concerning the plight of the poor. Whether Queen Elizabeth l was ever aware of these is debatable but her reign marked a series of laws that provided for the relief of the poor and which became the foundation for the welfare state that has continued as a proud part of English society four hundred years later.  These pamphlets have all but disappeared but one or two can be found reproduced on the web.


A seer lay down and dreamed and in that dream he went into a strange country and he saw things which were to come in that country.

He walked about the streets of a great city and he saw many great buildings and storehouses and granaries that were full to overflowing.  And many men went about in the streets of that place who had high office and who wore fine raiment and had many servants. He saw also beggars that were lying in the dust and those with raiment that was filthy and torn.  There were many who were sick and who asked for alms but who were turned away.

And he asked of one of those who went about in this city whyfore was it that so many were in want when the granaries and storehouses were full to overflowing. And he said:  “The men who are rich are few and those who are in want are many and if that which is in the storehouses and granaries is shared with the poor then we shall have to give up one portion of our riches and that would be intolerable.”

And the seer asked and said “Is it not your duty to bring succour to those who are in want?”

And the rich man mocked the seer and said: “Whyfore should I give up so much as one groat of my riches? For my riches have been bequeathed to me by my father and my father’s father and are mine by right.  If the poor man want riches then he should labour for them until the sweat runneth from his brow and so should his children and their children’s children even unto the seventh generation and they will not have money enough for them to be called rich because it is not ordained so.  Therefore must I keep my wealth unto my bosom and not let one groat of it slip from me.”

And the seer asked him: “Is there no charity in this city?”

And the rich man answered him saying: “Let he who wanteth of charity provide the charity.  I want for nothing therefore I need it not.”

And again the seer asked him: “Is there no pity in this land?”

And the rich man said: “Pity taketh away from the pride that all men should feel.  Whyfore should I deprive him of pride who has naught else?”

And the seer saw the rich man go in at his door and he saw a poor man afflicted with sores seeking alms at the door in the manner of Lazarus at the door of Dives.

And the rich man sayeth: “Let the poor man be turned away from my door and let my servants beat him with sticks and with cudgels because he is an abomination in my sight.  And I shall stand in an high place and watch as the poor man is beaten until he departeth and goeth privily into a lowly place and it shall bring me joy that the poor man is seen no more

And there shall be no balm for his hurts because the poor man is as a clod under my sandal.”

And the rich man continued to preach; “And all sick men shall likewise be turned away as they have no money wherewith to pay. And they shall lie down with the stones of the street for a pillow because they have nowhere else for a shelter. The rich man shall be exalted and the poor man shall be cast down.  For to he that hath will be given an hundredfold, yea a thousandfold and from the poor man will be taken away the little he hath and shall be given unto the rich man even though the rich man hath not deserved it.  And those that are raised up shall be blessed and those that are cast down shall be cursed.  And those with nowhere to lay their head shall be spat on and derided. And those seeking succour shall be turned away.  And those cursed with demons will rent their garments and run naked as there is no succour for them.  And the laughter in high places will be loud at the plight of those who are cast down and those that are exalted will drink wine and hold council how to diminish those who toil by the sweat of their brow and to take unto themselves more and more of the goodness of the land.

And the rich men will appoint councillors who will speak together with the money lenders and they will make laws so that all this will come to pass and more things.

And the councillors shall decree that the widow be cast down and her children and her children’s children.  And if the widow hath so much as one room in the house more than the one that is needed for her to lie in then it will be taxed even if the widow has no money wherewith to pay.  And the taxes shall be divided among the rich men and the widow shall be sent weeping from her door.  And there shall be no more alms for the poor or succour for sick so that the councillors may wash their hands of them utterly.”

And the seer saw that all this came to pass and a darkness will come upon the land and the people of the land were cursed. And when he awoke he was sore troubled as to what the dream could mean...