chapter  5
Charity and social control, 1580-1620
Pages 45

The sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries marked a transition between ideals of medieval face-to-face alms and eighteenth-century 'benevolence' in the history of English charity. Through the 1500s, testators, parishes, London's government and Parliament gradually established a system of involuntary rates to provide poor relief. Beginning in the later sixteenth century, but culminating in the eighteenth century, charity accentuated social difference and furthered worldly or civic goals.! The English Reformation did not end voluntary gifts to the poor, as contemporaries feared that it would, but it redirected charity and altered charitable motives. Pre-Reformation emphasis on prayers for the dead had made the poor indispensable to the eternal life of donors, creating a mutually beneficial community, though not one peopled by peers. Post-Reformation Londoners sensed the danger to giving, and charitable feeling, when religious change denigrated the recipient and devalued the exchange itself. Testators by 1580 eschewed helping the unknown poor, instead utilizing occupational, social or parochial ties to identify the worthy poor, or to thank friends and family with final tokens of respect and affection.