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Tudor Poor Laws

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Title: Tudor Poor Laws  
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Subject: John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland, Vestry, Scotland in the Early Modern Era
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Tudor Poor Laws

The Tudor Poor Laws[1] were the laws regarding poor relief in Kingdom of England around the time of the Tudor period (1485-1603). The Tudor Poor Laws ended with the passing of the Elizabethan Poor Law in 1601, two years before the end of the Tudor dynasty, a piece of legislation which codified the previous Tudor legislation.[2]

During the Tudor period it is estimated that up to a third of the population lived in poverty.[3] The population doubled in size between the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.[2] The closing of the monasteries in the 1530s increased poverty as the church had helped the poor.

The Vagabonds Act 1530 introduced a requirement for a license in order to beg. This meant that only the elderly and disabled could beg and also prevented the able-bodied from begging.[2] In 1536 a more severe law was passed stating that those caught outside of their parish without work would be punished by being whipped through the streets. If caught a second time they could lose an ear and if caught a third time they could be executed.[3] However officers of the law were reluctant to enforce such a draconian provision.[4]

The Poor Act 1551 was passed requiring parishes build workhouses for the poor.[3] In 1552 Registers of the Poor were established and parishes gained the power to raise local taxes through rates. However, help was only available to those considered deserving of poor relief. The deserving poor were those who were willing to work but were unable to find employment as well as those too old, young, or ill to work. Beggars were not considered deserving of poor relief and could be whipped though the town until they altered their behaviour. In 1572 it was made compulsory for all to pay a local poor tax; the Poor Act 1575 was introduced making sure that each parish had a store of "wool, hemp, flax, iron" so that the poor could be set to work. The Act for the Relief of the Poor 1597 gave all parishes an Overseer of the Poor and the Vagabonds Act 1597 abolished the death penalty for vagrancy.[4]


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