chapter  4
The Elizabethan Poor Laws
Pages 14

When Elizabeth ca me to the throne in 1558 the parliamentary attitude to poor reliefhad changed litde since the days ofher father. It was still assumed that there were only two categories of vagrant, those who begged because they were incapacitated in some way and those who did so because they found the life congenial. The main Act governing the country's actions remained that of 1531, supplemented in certain particulars by the laws passed during the reigns of Edward VI and Mary I. It distinguished between the able-bodied vagrant, who was to be whipped, and the impotent beggar who was to be relieved, but made no provision whatsoever for the man who desperately desired to be employed but had no job to go to. A move had been made in the direction of parish responsibility for the poor, for whereas the laws of Henry VIII presupposed that they would be relieved by voluntary alms, those of his son and eldest daughter at least prescribed persuasion. This was clearly insufficient, however, and the laws in the mid-sixteenth century did litde to deter vagrants or to relieve the poor.