ByPeregrine Horden
Pages 3

This paper dates from the early years of the millennium. It was written for a collection of studies on ‘The Parish in Late Medieval England’. The collection included discussions of parish clergy, their learning, their patrons, parishioners in general terms, choirs and liturgy, drama, material culture, and so forth. I thought – as, happily, did the editors – that it would be helpful if the parish were also represented as a potential source, or at least venue, for poor relief (a subset of the far larger medieval category of ‘charity’ or ‘alms’) and for healing (wider than, perhaps different from, ‘medicine’). I started by suggesting that we should pretend we did not know what was to happen under Tudor legislation and the Old Poor Law. We should look, without Whiggery or teleology, at the later medieval parish in its own terms. We should see what could be said in its favour as a place of material support and healing for the needy. The required context was not so much what would happen next but medieval comparisons from continental Europe, where available, and the wider background of the ‘mixed economy’ of care. All the same, some discussion of the question of continuity across the Reformation period was inevitable: did the parish become the vehicle for Tudor poor relief faute de mieux, as the ‘last institution standing’ after the various Dissolutions, or did it have something positive to be said in its favour in virtue of its long history of irregular but not negligible support in a variety of ways not derived from taxation?