SUCCORING THE NEEDY: ALMSHOUSES AND THE IMPOTENT POOR IN REFORMATION ENGLAND, c. 1534-1640
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This thesis discusses almshouses and the impotent poor in early modern England between c. 1534 and 1640. England’s Reformation had numerous implications for poverty and poor relief in the country, and a sorely neglected story in the current historiography is the charity provided to the impotent poor by the almshouse institution. The thesis analyzes the impact that the Reformation had on these institutions, and examines how English Protestantism influenced patterns of change and continuity in mid-sixteenth and early seventeenth century foundations by considering the statutes of pre- and post-Reformation almshouses. The discussion contemplates the cash, food, fuel, and clothing stipends afforded to residents, the rules and regulations that governed the behaviour of these almspeople, and the occasional difficulties that donors faced when founding an almshouse. The evidence suggests that the material benefits afforded by post-Reformation almshouses remained largely unchanged from earlier institutions, but it also indicates that in exchange for these benefits, founders expected their almsfolk to work and conform to particular behavioral standards. Some key changes nonetheless occurred during the early modern period. Almshouses, for example, became secularized institutions operated by private governors or civic bodies rather than the church, and the meaning behind prayers shifted toward thanksgiving for the founder’s beneficence. Labour also became an integral part of daily life in these almshouses, just as it would in other institutions functioning for a different class of English poor. The inclusion of this feature was influenced chiefly by the shifting cultural emphasis on hard work that occurred during the Reformation. The evidence similarly reveals that founders occasionally encountered legal and political resistance when attempting to found their charity.