Powys Digital History Project 

Care of the poor 1
Medieval poverty


The medieval poor
The earliest arrangements for the relief of the local poor or paupers were provided by the parish, but there is a long history of measures being taken to avoid this sort of responsibility. From the earliest days of poor relief it has been the role of the local owners of land and property, and their better-off tenants, to make the Engraving of beggar womandecisions over the ways in which the local unfortunates should be treated. As these were among the very people who had to provide the funds through the local poor rate, it is hardly surprising that the main objective of the overseers of the poor and other officials over the years has been to do the absolute minimum, and at minimum cost, to help the local poor in order to keep the poor rate as low as possible.

Harsh treatment of beggars
Although a share of medieval tithes was, in some areas, used to help the local poor, beggars and vagrants who were judged to be able to work were often treated very harshly and could be whipped or even hanged. Labourers had to carry a testimonial from the justices of the peace before being allowed to venture outside their home parish to look for work. Those who were unable to work had to carry a begging licence, but every effort was made to force beggars to work, and those who refused were branded with a letter "V" for vagrant.

There are 2 pages on the origins of care of the poor. Use the box links below to view the other pages.