Medieval poverty relief

Mar 2011
217
Your sources for this please.

I may be misremembering but in Melvin Bragg's novel 'Credo' some of the delegates on the way to the Whitby Synod go missing. When Hilda or possibly Owsy sends people to look for them they've been eaten... :sick:

We could ask him where he came up with that?
 

Ancientgeezer

Ad Honorem
Nov 2011
8,910
The Dustbin, formerly, Garden of England
England was overflowing with almshouses during the medieval period. The oldest recorded one was set up by Athelstan in the 10thC, although with the scant records it is quite likely that other existed earlier. There is the usual competition for the oldest still existing and operating and two candidates are St. Cross in Winchester (1132)-still operating and St John the Baptist in Canterbury(1085). Down the road from Canterbury in Sandwich there is St Bart's (1190) and John's (1287).
Although Almshouses were often operated by the Church, or more likely a specific order of monks or nuns they often came into existence after an endowment by a notable secular figure (although Bishops founded the first two mentioned above). Almshouses operated as refuges for the destitute poor, hospitals for the sick, feeding stations for the hungry and "sheltered" accommodation (as we would call it today) for orphans or widows.
Contrary to Black Dog's suggestion many Almshouses were for the provision of services to strangers, or "travellers" although this might have been just a method of stopping a beggar hanging around--rather feed him and send him on his way. St Cross had "Travellers dole" and Rochester has the (late medieval) "Six Poor Traveller's House".
Life could be quite good--e.g.

"Inmates were to be given clothing, beds fit for their ‘infirmities’, a ‘daily good loaf of wheaten bread of the weight of five measures’(approximately 2¾ pound by today’s standards), three dishes at dinner and one for supper. In addition, they were to have the equivalent of approximately three quarts of good beer!"

Try getting that down the DHS!

Most almshouses, having a religious/church association were closed down at the Reformation and that created the problems that led to the various Tudor Poor Laws, but as 2,600 almshouses STILL exist in Britain, there must have been an awful lot around.
 
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Tulun

Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
4,024
Western Eurasia
I like Domnall's answer. From everything I've read, being poor or destitute in medieval Europe, was to be in dire straits. You were pretty much on your own. Begging, stealing, or perhaps offering one's self, might be your only options. I'm also under the impression that a lot of medieval society was never too far from being destitute or poor. For instance, a successful and skilled tradesman, carpenter, blacksmith, tanner, could injure himself, thus be unable to work. No safety net that I know of, from riches to rags, almost overnight, I would think. This would extend to his family. A very precarious situation for medieval folks, very crude and scary.
urban poor could have more options i would guess and for the craftmen you mention i think the guilds also had this social function to look after their members and the widows, orphans of their members. for rural poor it could be harder, the landlord could ease their situation with decreasing the peasants obligations in time of poor harvests. afterall the landlords were not interested to totally exploit their serfs to death.

being poor was maybe better in muslim lands, the care for the welfare of the society was more central part of the ruling ideology, the islamic zakat tax for supporting the poor, and also both the royal family members and private families founded several waqfs, pious foundations to support the poor, particulary the imarets (soup kitchens), hospitals in cities but also dervish lodges (khanqah/zawiya/tekke) in the towns and in the countryside which were open to poor and traveller for free accodomation. and at least Ottoman tax and fine system considered more the economic conditions of the payers, differentiated between poor, "middle class" and rich. but even there the rural poor could be the most vulnerable.
 
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Mar 2014
8,881
Canterbury
being poor was maybe better in muslim lands, the care for the welfare of the society was more central part of the ruling ideology, the islamic zakat tax for supporting the poor, and also both the royal family members and private families founded several waqfs, pious foundations to support the poor, particulary the imarets (soup kitchens), hospitals in cities but also dervish lodges (khanqah/zawiya/tekke) in the towns and in the countryside which were open to poor and traveller for free accodomation. and at least Ottoman tax and fine system considered more the economic conditions of the payers, differentiated between poor, "middle class" and rich. but even there the rural poor could be the most vulnerable
Equivalent things existed in medieval Christendom; hospitals were often ran by holy orders and infirmaries by monks or the borough. The town rich or town administration would often run houses on the outskirts for lepers, or for sufferers of 'consumption' (tuberculosis) and 'the venereal plague' (syphilis), though conditions in them were hardly what we'd define as charitable.

No safety net that I know of, from riches to rags, almost overnight, I would think. This would extend to his family. A very precarious situation for medieval folks, very crude and scary
It wasn't quite so bleak. There was no state safety net - because back then no-one saw it as the state's responsibility - but a person's family and parish community was expected to provide for them if they became ill or disabled. Human emotion still applied; people weren't likely to let a relative fall through the cracks. The dowry originated as an expression of this: money for the widow when the husband was no longer able or willing to provide for her. Sometimes there were byelaws or cultural customs enforcing familial or communal responsibility.
 
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Aug 2014
9
Las Vegas, NV
I've read that it was common for large noble houses to have an alms man, whose duty was in part to collect the leftovers from meals and distribute them to the needy in the surrounding town.
 

Pendennis

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
3,386
Kirkcaldy, Scotland
Good post Black Dog you covred most f the bases well but as ST Francis of ASSASISI shows some poor could be lucky if someone like St Francis born an Italian toff decided to cahmpion the poor .These folks with a keen eye on Hell wich for them really was a place to avoid would byuy they hoped) ad infinitum time inHeaven by helping the poor with charity andgetting the raputation for doing so .Just chek out Roman Catholic books on the lives of Saints from the 16th century onwards and see how many were into helping te poor .
Shakespeare's dictum from ''Hamlt ''Conscience doth make cowards of us all..'' was a boon to the Middle Ages poor lucky enough to live adjacent to some rich do goding would be Saint like ST Francis.
 
Mar 2011
217
Good post Black Dog you covred most f the bases well but as ST Francis of ASSASISI shows some poor could be lucky if someone like St Francis born an Italian toff decided to cahmpion the poor .
Which worked fine as long as you were an aristocrat but if you were a common as muck like Gerhard Segarelli... Anyone got a match? But hey ho a least the revenge was cold, casting the Holy Roman Church into centuries of bitter dispute.

But talk about good intentions being the easiest path to the hot place eh :lol:
 

Naomasa298

Forum Staff
Apr 2010
36,320
T'Republic of Yorkshire
Thank you to everyone who replied. I was starting to worry at one point that since this topic didn't involve wars, nationalism or who was better than whom at doing what, it might not get any replies. :)

I'm also still waiting to hear about all these starving cannibals roaming the British countryside, outside of Scotland anyway.
 

Pendennis

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
3,386
Kirkcaldy, Scotland
Naomasa-It was simply a typing mistake -a Homeric nod if you like .Also please source me with accurate historical sources about Scottish cannibalism?
Although poor quality subsistence farming was widespread in Scotland the periodic famines that happened occasionally in Scotlandi n the Middle Ages may well have seen examples of cannibalism occur but on a very small scale indeed..
My sdopted home county of Fife was known as ''A beggar's mantle fringed with gold..''
Due to the poverty in the Middle Ages in the internal regions of Fife being counterpointed by the thriving prosperous trading communities of Culross, ST Andrew's with its university established in 1410; Dunfermline seat of the Scottish monarchs; the thriving fishing ports of Dysart Anstruther Crail et al and other thriving coastal Fife communities being on the maritime periphery of Fife which had the world's earliest ever undersea coalmine which was sunk under the Firth of Forth in 1609.
These prosperous Fife coastal ports and towns were trading with Europe progressively from the early Mediaeval period .Fife coal was hugely popular n Holland
So as Mark Twain said about his misreported premature death -rumours of Scottish poverty/ cannibalism have been greatly exaggerated
Perhaps you are confusing Scoltand, Naomasa with the Nazi POW Camps for Soviet POWS beteen 1941-45 where cannibalism was well documented.
However, if you really want to study Scottish cannibalism then I suggest you study the case of Sawney Bean-who -fortunately-unlike the Heinz variety - did not come in 57 varieties.
Ole Sawney Bean was probably the Caledonian clone prototype of. Hannibal Lecter