Concerning the punishment of strong and idle beggars and provision for sustenance of the poor and impotent

Forasmuch as there are sundry loveable acts of parliament made by our sovereign lord's most noble progenitors for the staunching of masterful idle beggars, putting away of sorners and provision for the poor, bearing that none shall be allowed to beg, neither to burgh nor to land, between 14 and 70 years, that such as make themselves fools and are bards or other such vagabonds, being apprehended, shall be put in the king's ward or irons as long as they have any goods of their own to live on; and for those that have not whereupon to live of their own, that their ears be nailed to the tron or to another tree and their ears cut off and banished from the country; and if thereafter that they be found again, that they be hanged. Item, that none be suffered to beg but lame folk, sick folk, impotent folk and weak folk. Item, that none be allowed to beg in one parish that are born in another, that the head men of each parish make tokens and give to the beggars thereof, that they be sustained within the bounds of that parish, and that no others be served with alms within that parish but those that bear that token only, as in the acts of parliament made thereupon at more length is contained, which in time past has not been put into due execution through the iniquity and troubles of the times past. And by reason that there was not heretofore an order of punishment so specially devised as need required, therefore now, for avoiding of the confusion of sundry laws and acts concerning the premises standing in effect, and that some certain execution and good order may follow hereupon, to the great pleasure of almighty God and common benefit of the realm, it is thought expedient and ordained, as well for the utter suppressing of the said strong and idle beggars, so outrageous enemies to the commonwealth, as for the charitable relieving of the aged and impotent poor people, that the order and form following be observed until the next parliament or convention general of the estates: that is to say, that all persons being above the age of 14 and within the age of 70 years that hereafter are declared and set forth by this act and order to be vagabonds, strong and idle beggars, which shall happen at any time hereafter, after 1 June 1576, to be taken wandering and disordering themselves contrary to the effect and meaning of this act, shall be apprehended; upon their apprehension, be brought before the sheriffs, stewarts, bailies or lords of regalities to landward or their deputes, or before the provost and bailies within the burgh, and by them to be committed in ward in the common prison, stocks or irons within their jurisdiction, there to be kept without letting to liberty or upon bond or surety until they be put to the knowledge of an assize, which shall be done within six days thereafter. And if they happen to be convicted, to be sentenced to be scourged and burnt through the gristle of the right ear with a hot iron of the compass of an inch about, the process whereof shall be registered in the court books, unless some honest and responsible person will, of his charity, be content then presently to act himself before the judge to take and keep in his service the offender for a whole year next following, under the pain of £20 to our sovereign lord's use, and to bring the said offender to the head court at the year's end, or then good proof of his death, the clerk taking for the said act 12d only. And if the offender departs and leaves the service within the year, against his will that receives him in service, then being apprehended, he shall be of new presented to the judge and scourged and burnt through the gristle of the ear, as is before said; which punishment once received he shall not suffer again the like for the space of 60 days thereafter, but if at the end of the same 60 days he be found to have fallen again in his idle and vagabond trade of life, then, being apprehended of new, he shall be judged and suffer the pains of death as a thief. And that it may be known what manner of persons are meant to be idle and strong beggars and vagabonds and worthy of the punishment before specified, it is declared that all idle persons going about in any country of this realm using subtle, crafty and unlawful plays, such as magic fast and loose, and such others, the idle people calling themselves Egyptians, or any other that distinguishes them to have knowledge in physiognomy, palmistry or other abused sciences, whereby they persuade the people that they can tell their wards' deaths and fortunes and such other fantastical imaginations; and all persons being whole and stark in body and able to work, alleging to have been harried in the south land, burnt in the late troubles about Edinburgh and Leith, or alleging them to be banished for slaughter or other wicked deeds, and others neither having land nor master, nor using any lawful merchandise, craft or occupation whereby to win their livings, and can give no reckoning how they lawfully get their living, and all minstrels, songsters and tale-tellers not avowed in special service by some of the lords of parliament or great barons or by the head burghs and cities for their common minstrels, all common labourers, being persons able in body, living idly and fleeing labour, all counterfeiters of licences to beg, or using of the same knowing them to be counterfeited, all vagabond scholars of the universities of St Andrews, Glasgow and Aberdeen not licensed by the rector and dean of faculty of the university to ask alms, all shipmen and mariners alleging themselves to be shipwrecked, unless they have testimonials as is hereafter declared, shall be taken, judged, deemed and punished as strong beggars and vagabonds. And if any person or persons after the said 1 May 1576 give money, shelter or lodging, set houses or show any other relief to any vagabond or strong beggar, marked or not marked, wanting a licence of the ordinary judge of that jurisdiction, the same being duly proven at the head court, they shall pay such a fine to the king's use as by the judge at the head court shall be modified so the same exceeds not £5. And also if any person or persons disturb or let the execution of this act in any manner of way, or make impediment against the judges and ordinary officers or other persons travailing for the due execution hereof, shall incur the same pain which the vagabond should have suffered in case he had been convicted; providing always that shipmen and soldiers landing in this realm, having licence of the sheriff, stewart, bailie, lord of regality or provost or bailie or town where they were shipwrecked or first entered in the realm, shall and may pass according to the effect of their licences to the rooms where they intend to remain; and that the licences only serve in the jurisdiction of the giver, so that if the person travelling has further journey, he procure the like licences of the officer of the next shire or town through which he must pass, and so from shire to shire until he be at his resting place. And that there be certain persons, one or more, nominated in every parish by the sheriffs, stewarts, bailies, lords of regalities, their bailies, provosts, aldermen and bailies of burghs and other ordinary judges for searching, receiving and conveying of the vagabonds to the common prison and judges of the shire, town or place upon the common charge of the parish, which persons so elected shall be held to do their duties diligently as the said judges ordinary will answer thereupon. And since charity would that the poor, aged and impotent persons should be as necessarily provided for as the vagabonds and strong beggars are repressed, and that the aged, impotent and poor people should have lodging and abiding places throughout the realm to settle themselves into, that they should not need hereafter to beg or wander about to the slander of a Christian commonwealth that has received the evangel, it is therefore thought expedient that the elders and deacons in every city, burgh and good town, and the head men of each parish to landward, shall between now and the said 1 May 1576 take inquisition of all aged, poor, impotent and decayed persons born within that parish or which were dwelling and had their most common resort in the said parish the last seven years past, who of necessity must live by alms; and upon the said inquisition, shall make a register book containing their names and surnames, to remain with the elders and deacons or head men of the parish to landward; and the number of the poor people of every parish being this known, to provide, with advice of the parishioners where they may best be lodged and abide, and thereupon, according to the number, to consider what their needful sustenance will extend to in the week; and then, by their good discretion, tax and stent the whole inhabitants within the parish according to the estimation of their substance, without exception of persons, to such weekly charge and contribution as shall be thought sufficient to sustain the said poor people; and the names of the inhabitants stented together with their taxation to be likewise registered; and that at their discretion they appoint the deacons, one or more, or where they are not collectors for a whole year, for collecting and receiving of the said weekly portion, who shall receive the same and deliver so much thereof to the said poor people and in such manner as the said elders or head men in the parishes to landward respectively shall ordain and command; and the deacons or such other overseers of the said poor people as shall be appointed to their discretion to continue also for a year, and at the end of the year that also the taxation and stent roll be always made of new for the alteration that may be, through death or the increase or diminution of men's goods and substance. And that the elders in cities, burghs and good towns, and head men of the parishes to landward, shall give a testimonial to such poor folk as they find not born in their own parish, sending or directing them to the next parish, and so from parish to parish until they be at the place where they were born or had their most common resort and residence during the last seven years preceding, there to be put in certain abiding places and sustained upon the common alms and weekly contribution as is before ordained, except leprous people and bedfast people who may not be transported, providing that it be permissible to the poor people so directed to their own abiding places to ask alms in their passage, so as that they pass the direct way, not resting two nights together in any one place unless occasion of sickness or storm impede them; and if any of the poor people refuse to pass and live in the places appointed, or after the appointment be found begging, then to be punished by scourging, imprisonment and burning through the ear as vagabonds and strong beggars; and for the second fault to be punished for thieves, as is before appointed. And if the persons chosen collectors refuse the office, or, having accepted the same, are found negligent therein, or refuse to make their accounts every half year once at least to the elders and head men of the parishes, as is before specified, and to deliver the surplus of that which rests in their hands at the end of the year to such as are chosen collectors of new, then each one of the said collectors so offending shall incur the pain of £20, to be recovered on him before whatsoever judges to the use of the poor of that parish and imprisonment of their persons during the king's will. And if any persons being able to further this charitable work will obstinately refuse to contribute to the relief of the poor or discourage others from so charitable a deed, the said obstinate or wilful person being called before the ordinary judge of the shire, town or place and convicted thereof by an assize or sufficient testimony of two honest and reputable men, his neighbours, he shall be committed to ward and there remain until he be content with the order of his own parish and perform the same in deed. And if the aged and impotent persons not being so diseased, lame or impotent, but that they may work in some manner of work, shall by the deacons and overseers appointed to work refuse the same, then first to be scourged and put in the stocks; and for the second fault, to be punished as vagabonds as said is. And if any beggars' bairns, being above the age of 5 years and within 14, male or female, shall be liked by any subject of the realm of honest estate, the said person shall have the child by order and direction of the ordinary judges bound with him, if he be a man child to the age of 24 years and if she be a woman child to the age of 18 years; and if they depart or be taken or enticed from their master's or mistress's service, the master or mistress to have the like action and remedy as for their foot servant and apprentice, as well against the child as against the taker or enticer thereof. And where collecting of money cannot be had and that it is over great a burden to the collectors to gather victuals, meat and drink or other things for relief of the poor in some parishes, that the elders or head men of the parish give licence, under their handwriting jointly, to such and so many of the said poor people, or such others for them as they shall think good, to ask and gather the charitable alms of the parishioners at their own houses, so as always it be specially agreed and appointed how the poor of that parish shall be sustained within the same and not to be chargeable to others nor found troublesome to strangers. And that no Irish and highland bards and beggars be brought and received in the lowlands, by boats or otherwise, under the pain of £20 from the bringers; and if any be already brought, they shall be conveyed again to the next port, near where they were landed or near the same, and from that transported at the common charge of the country where they were set on land to the parts they come from. And seeing by reason of this present act and order the common prisons, irons and stocks of every head burgh of the shire and other towns are likely to be filled with a greater number of prisoners than of before has been accustomed, in so far as the said vagabonds and other offenders are to be committed to the common prison of the shire or town where they were taken, the same prisons being in such towns where there are great numbers of poor people, more than they are well able to sustain and relieve, and so the prisoners are likely to perish in default of sustenance, therefore the expenses of the prisoner shall be paid by a part of the common distribution and weekly alms of the parish where he was apprehended, allowing to him daily one pound of oat bread and water to drink; for payment whereof, the presenter of him to prison shall give surety or make present payment. And the present act and order until the next convention or parliament to endure, that then it may be considered what is further requisite to be provided for in this behalf or if anything here ordained shall then appear unprofitable, superfluous or worthy to be changed, and further, until express derogation be made thereto. And that letters be directed for publication and execution hereof in the appropriate form.

  1. NAS, PC1/7, pp.300-4. Back
  2. Sic. Should be 1 June, as above? Back