Regarding the poor

Charles Rex, right trusty and right well-beloved cousins and councillors, right reverend and reverend fathers in God etc. Although there be many good laws made for maintenance of the poor in that our kingdom, yet we understand that there is no settled course taken for the same but they still go in begging through the country and in burgh towns upon the streets, so as our subjects cannot pass in our highways for their importunity and pitiful crying, whereas other well reformed kingdoms take such order with their poor as they go not in public begging as yours do, to the great scandal and shame of your nation and to the dishonour of God in suffering all sorts of vices, atheism and impiety to reign amongst them without correction or discipline because they dwell in no certain place where the magistrates, either civil or ecclesiastical, might take order with them, which were enough although there were not any other crying sin in that land to bring the fearful judgements of God upon it. And seeing we intend (God willing) to come into that kingdom shortly for receiving of our crown (at which time it were unseemly that either we or such strangers as shall accompany us should see such uncharitable carelessness and disregard of the poor as they should be suffered to go abroad in such pitiful necessity for want of competent means to maintain them in houses), it is therefore our pleasure and we require you with all convenient diligence to ordain by act of convention a proclamation to be published in the most eminent places of that our kingdom commanding all archbishops, bishops, ministers, sheriffs, justices of the peace and magistrates of burghs to put the former acts of parliament in execution concerning the maintenance of the poor within their own parishes and the punishment of strong and idle vagabonds; and that our council call before them such persons as shall be found either remiss in putting of the aforesaid acts in execution or to disobey such orders as shall be prescribed to them for maintenance of their poor. And because there be some things in the said former acts which, seeming to be obscurely set down, have not been duly put in execution, therefore, by act of convention, you shall clear the said obscurities, as namely whereas by the former acts all beggars are ordained to repair to their own parishes there to be maintained, yet there be many who have ever been beggars from their youth and being begotten in begging never had any residence at all and so have no parish to resort to. For remedy whereof, you shall ordain the names of all who have no certain place nor parish to be taken up and themselves divided amongst the parishes in the kingdom to be maintained by them proportionately as if they had been born therein. And to the effect that their names may the better and more easily be taken up, let all such poor as have not certain parishes be warned publicly by open proclamation at all the market crosses in the kingdom to compear within the head burgh of that sheriffdom wherein they shall be at the time of the proclamation upon a certain day before the justices of the peace of that shire, whom you shall ordain to convene at that day, and give them power to divide amongst the parishes of their shire to be maintained in those parishes where they shall be placed, as if they had been born therein, those begging strangers who shall compear before them on the day appointed, giving their oath that they do know no certain parish to which they can resort; with power also and commandment to the said justices to go with the said poor to the particular parish kirks of the parishes to which they shall be appointed, and to see provision made for them among the native and kindly parishioners, for seeing the said begging strangers are a burden to the whole kingdom, it were better and much easier for each shire and each parish to have their own just part of that number to maintain in houses than to maintain them going yearly as vagabonds. Secondly, whereas by the former acts each parish is ordained to maintain their own poor, whereby clearly it is to be understood that each parish shall maintain their own poor in houses within their parish and not suffer them go abroad in begging, yet many parishes do make their poor go in public begging through their parishes, commanding them to keep themselves within the same, whereupon many evils do follow, as namely by that mean the poor are held idle, whereas if they were held in houses they might be exercised about some industry for the help of their maintenance. Next, by that mean they are many times disappointed of their maintenance from diverse of the parishioners, indeed, even of those who may best help bestowing either little or no alms at all, whereby the poor are compelled to break loose again and go abroad in the country. For remedy whereof, let it be ordained by the said act of convention that the minister and elders of each parish shall place their poor in houses and according to their number let them set down a stent upon each portion of rent paid in the parish and upon each farmer and householder according to his worth, which either in victual or money will extend to as much as will furnish and advance the particular quantity which shall be esteemed sufficient for maintenance of each person to be delivered weekly to them; with power also and commandment to the said justices of the peace to assist each minister to set down the said stents upon the duty paid in each parish and upon the indwellers thereof, and to command their constables to poind and distrenzie for the same in case need be. Thirdly, whereas by former acts of parliament it is ordained that all parishes shall maintain their own poor, in the which act by all parishes is not to be understood only indwellers in the parish, but the rents paid out of the parish to the owners thereof, wheresoever they remain, whether in burgh or abroad in the country, for otherwise it should fall out very often that the burden of the maintenance of the poor should lie upon the poor labourers of the ground in many parishes wherein none are dwelling but poor labourers and cottars, their master to whom the rent of the parish does belong being dwelling abroad, yet through not consideration hereof in many parishes the poor are disappointed. For remedy whereof, you shall ordain that the stent for maintenance of the poor in each parish shall be set down upon the rent paid out of each parish wheresoever the master thereof does dwell and upon the farmers and others proportionately, and the constables be ordained to have power to distrenzie if need be, as well the ferms of the heritors for the portion imposed upon them as the other indwellers for their parts. And this recommending to your special care, we bid you all and every one of you farewell. Given at Sarisbury, 22 October 1625.

  1. NAS, PC1/31, f.73r-74v.