Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts




Tudor England experienced crisis levels of poverty and unemployment which manifested in the form of widespread vagrancy during the sixteenth century. From 1530 to 1597 the central government, often with inspiration from local initiatives, enacted a series of laws which attempted to address the causes of the problems as perceived by the public, in an effort to quell popular fears and anxieties regarding vagrancy.

The focus of this paper is on the response of Tudor society to the problems of poverty and vagrancy. It studies the statutory distinctions drawn between various states of poverty and how these differences disposed society towards categories of the poor. The impact of crime and the sense of economic instabilty caused by failed harvests and dearth is investigated. The images of social and economic dysfunction formed in the public mind and articulated in the rogue literature of the Elizabethan period are included in discussion of the subject. The bulk of the paper examines the major statutes of the period, the Elizabethan poor laws, to understand the process by which Tudor society made and discarded policies in effort to reach a functional and morally tenable welfare philosophy. The four primary areas of concern examined in the laws are begging, punishment of vagrants, labor and employment, and voluntary and involuntary poor relief. The laws of charitable trusts and the secularization of charitable gifts are also related aspects of the topic.

The paper concludes that the development of the poor laws represented a dramatic change in social values, precipitated both by reasons of compassion and utilitarianism stemming from the rising importance of the Protestant work ethic. This revolution in social outlook caused society to move away from the giving of charity for personal salvation, towards a new role for charity as an instrument to ensure the communal well-being.