At Stirling, 12 September 1593

Act regarding beggars

The king's majesty and his estates presently convened, remembering of the many good and lovable acts made by his highness's most noble progenitors and in his highness's own reign regarding punishment of strong and idle beggars and relief of the poor and impotent, and how through occasion of the negligent execution of the same acts by some of the judges ordinary to whom the execution thereof was directed, sundry of the sheriffdoms being also of wide and ample bounds, whereby it was difficult to convoy vagabonds and other persons offending to the common prisons of the head burghs of the shires, for that cause there was a special act made in his highness's parliament held at Edinburgh upon 5 June the year of God 1592 for punishment of vagabonds and relief of the poor, ratifying and approving his highness's other act of parliament of the same title made in the parliament held and begun at Edinburgh upon 20 October the year of God 1577 and ordaining and commanding sheriffs, stewarts, bailies, lords and bailies of regalities and their deputes and provost and bailies of burghs to make prisons, stocks and irons not only at the [head] burgh of the shire, but also at the principal thoroughfares, towns and parishes within the whole bounds of the shire, as well to burgh as landward; and to constitute one or more sheriff deputes of honest and zealous men for putting of the said act of parliament into execution. Or in case the sheriff or other ordinary judges should be remiss or negligent, giving power, charge and authority to the said elders and deacons within every parish, or of so many parishioners as will concur together to nominate and elect one, two, three or more persons of best ability, zeal and discretion within the same parish and bounds whom his highness, with advice of his estates, has made and constituted justices in that part jointly and severally, with full power, charge and authority to execute the said first act of parliament, as the said last act of commission sufficiently published, divulged and imprinted at more length purports. Which containing as large commission as necessarily can be required, has proven notwithstanding heretofore ineffectual, while experience has declared the great inconveniences following thereof, testifying by the noblemen and others of the estates present in so far as thieves, rogues and sorners are so multiplied and grown to such boldness that they spare not to pass and wander over all parts of the realm severally or in companies together armed with swords, hackbuts, pistols and other weapons invasive, sometimes alleging themselves to be banished for slaughter or burnt and harried in the bounds nearest to the highlands and borders, and sometimes disguised with false beards or in linen clothes or in fools' garments, begging and extorting not only meat, drink and victuals but money; and in case of refusal, awaiting in their places of harbour until they may steal and thieve the same in the night, compelling both gentlemen and yeomen after their daily labours to stand on their feet all night for safety of their own gear; in which kind of trade are sundry feigning themselves passing in pilgrimage to chapels and wells, and the counterfeit idle rogues and harlots falsely calling themselves Egyptians, being nothing else but thieves, witches and abusers of the people. For remedy whereof, his majesty, with advice of his estates present, ordains letters to be directed charging all ordinary judges, as well as in regality as royalty, to burgh as in landward, and in case of their negligence, the justices or commissioners nominated or to be nominated in the parishes or presbyteries, to put the said acts of parliament to due execution in all points after the form and tenor thereof; and that inquisition and trial be taken of the names of the common sorners, vagabonds and masterless beggars, feigned fools and counterfeit Egyptians that they may be known and denounced as the said act of parliament provides, within 40 days after the charge, under the pain of rebellion; and in case they fail, to put them to the horn and to escheat etc. And that his highness's master almoner cause the said letters be duly executed over all parts of this realm and report sufficient diligence thereupon to his highness and his privy council between now and 1 November next to come, as also cause the said acts of parliament be newly imprinted, if need be, to the effect that probably the contents thereof may come to the knowledge of the whole subjects, that none have occasion to pretend ignorance of the same. And further, with power also to the said ordinary judges and their deputes, or to the said justices and commissioners elected and to be elected according to the said act of parliament, to proceed and administer justice upon all the said strong and idle beggars, vagabonds, thieves and sorners or their harbourers and partakers in their thievous and wicked deeds; and, being convicted, to punish them presently to the death or otherwise as they shall find cause worthy at their good discretion, notwithstanding the several forms of punishment and at several times prescribed by the said former act of parliament. And to that effect, to fence and hold court or courts as often and in whatsoever places as they shall think expedient; clerks, serjeants, dempsters and all other officers and members of court needful to make, treat, substitute and ordain for which they shall be held to answer; assizes, one or more, to sufficient number, each person under the pain of £10, to summon, warn, choose and cause be sworn and for the same, if need be, to poind and distrenzie; and that letters be directed for publication hereof, that none pretend ignorance of the same. And to command and charge all wandering beggars to resort to the parish where they were born, or where they dwelled and haunted the last seven years, and in any way take upon them to remove from there in begging or to come to conventions and markets under the pain to be taken, used and demeaned as vagabonds and thieves in manner as by the said acts of parliament is appointed.

  1. NAS, PC1/15, 246-247. Back
  2. APS corrects this to '1579'. Back
  3. APS interpolation. Back
  4. i.e. as a dress of repentance. Back