Poor relief changed in the 16th century for two important causes: the Catholic-Protestant
split, and the significant increase in the number of permanently poor throughout
the 16th century. Past scholars have examined charitable institution, but newer
work has focused on the 60-80% of the population who lived at or near the poverty
line but received no official help, and had to find other resources to stay
alive. So Jutte includes direct studies of archival and other sources, institute
records, and the legislation relating to the politics of relief. His chapter
themes are as follows: 2) Perceptions of the Poor 3) Economic Causes of Poverty
-- including the life-cycle "nuclear hardship" hypothesis 4) Selection
and comparison of data - criteria choice 5) The resident poor and their lives
6) Strategies for survival 7) Protestant-Catholic typologies of poor relief 7) Criminals and Deviants 8) Vagrancy, stigmaticization, segregation and punishment 9) The strategies of the vagrant, including self-organization, rebellion, (e)migration in the literature of roguery 10) Comparisons of past and present.
As a side note, this book is furnished with very good short chronology, biographies and bibliographies. It is part of the "new approaches to European history" series.
The language of class replaced the language of orders/ranks/sorts/degrees. Previously, the poor had been a rank, worthy of the charity of the upper orders simply by their station in life. There had been absolute poverty, relative poverty, spiritual poverty . Now the poor were separated out as being thriftless or criminal, figured as being social deviants needing elimination or discipline. In the 16th century the manners, expressions, and dress of the poor were illustrated by artists in broadsheets. In the 17th and 18th centuries, pictures of workhouses and prisons, hospitals and inmates made it to the press. The poor had an iconography; their meaning, as they were included in images of the streets, the countryside, or in the hospital, was different.
Up to the 20th century, disease was a major cause of pauperism, and vagrants
were linked with the plague. Furthermore, permanent physical disabilities were
caused by a poor diet. Warfare also caused poverty in the loss of trade, goods,
land, and property. Cyclical causes of poverty included population increases
without corresponding grain yields. The price revolution of the long 16th century
is framed by two other upward population trends: (upward) 1450-1630; (downward)
1630-1750; (upwards) 1750-1850.
(see p. 32) Bad harvest years drove up the price of grain, so that all extra money had to go to food. Structural causes of poverty are somewhat different: first, the individual's life cycle has danger points for poverty, of which childhood and old age are the chief. Among other structural causes were the wage limits on some kinds of jobs, such as weaving, day-laborers, soldiers, sailors and servants. A third structural cause is gender: women's work was paid rather poorly.
Poverty is a relative term, and modern standards may not apply; the context of contemporary standards should be used. There are three ways of finding the poor: tax surveys (the fiscal poor); poor relief recipients; and scales as developed by census records. Tax surveys have great variations as to who is exempt and why and what the bottom may be in that case. The trend is generally over 20%, but there is great local variation. About 5-10% received dole money - these are the structural poor - clearly more wanted assistance than could get it. Local and national censuses were first being taken during this century, and may not be commensurate. The poor tended to live in enclaves, outside the main gates of a city, or just inside the walls, or possibly in a suburb, and certainly in walk-ups.
Rent agreements and rent recipients offer useful records, as do probate inventories. The poor found rooms in hospitals for a fee; cheaper were attics and inns. Country cottages had dirt floors, no storage and no fireplaces. Overcrowded alleys held 2-3 people per room and 2/3 per bed. Goods were scanty - maybe a bed, bed sheets, some dishes and old clothes, maybe a jacket or patched pants. (Thieves were supposed to have much more flashy clothes.) Some relief organizations gave outfits or uniforms. Diet over the century appears to have worsened; cabbage, bread, peas and onions were common. (Some cities gave fairly decent food relief).
The help networks of the poor were governed by distance - age, social physical, and economic. One called upon one's clubmates; household, kin, godparents, employers, landlords, neighbors and friends. Having lodgers in the house was a common and useful strategy. In some cases, family members were compelled by the larger parish community to take in relatives. (Of course, some did so willingly.) Godparents also played a part in helping, as did employers in trade and guild networks (e.g. funerals and masses). Domestic servants were considered a part of the family, and so received help as well. Ties may have been brittle, but loyalties were expected and reciprocated. Rural laborers got food discounts and loans from land-owners. Informal networks of neighbors and friends also operated and were very important.
Social welfare roughly doubled in this period and became a rather important financial outlay. Jutte says that Catholics and Protestants distinguished between the deserving and undeserving poor. In fact, the debate was between public or private, centralized or decentralized relief. There are three common features of the new poor relief: the enhanced role of the state; an increasing rationalization, bureaucratization and professionalization of relief work (are these nouns in German? ugh!); and an increased emphasis on education to combat poverty. Centralized relief was pioneered in Germany in cities via a city grid, a poor tax, and a common chest. Reformers contributed ideas and structure. Funds were divided between hospitals and outdoor relief. What to do with vagrants and beggars was always a problem.
Spain and Italy remained decentralized in their approach; Germany, Holland, England and Scandinavia were centralized, with unique features to each country. France was sufficiently large to try but not quite succeed, although they did a decent-enough job. Decentralized relief used charitable and penitential organization for welfare: hospitals that functioned something like nursing homes and confraternities (last ditch good-works organizations). Outdoor relief was not so well established. Christian pawnshops were established as a rebuke to Jewish lending institutions. Catholics, at the Council of Trent, told the state to stay out of their hospitals. Finally, personal alms-giving never quite went away, although beggars (class and not order) stayed in disrepute.
What about deviance? The poor, in becoming an outcast class, and not a divinely ordained order, were seen as wicked and envious, as well as dangerous and bestial. Punishments became harsher for beggars: whipping, deportation or compulsory work being the most common. The sturdy vagabond was especially repudiated, but it is (now and then) difficult to see if unemployment is by inclination or by situation. Organized crime apparently increased - but clothing and food were the most common items stolen. Luxury items were a target, and so were the few goods of the poor (being stolen, of course, by other poor people!) Smuggling - especially salt - was a kind of national industry in France and England, with much of it done by children. Prostitution was also choice for the very poor women in big cities like London, Paris, Venice and Nuremberg. Many were servants, textile workers and unmarried mothers.
The worthy poor were given costumes or badges, often enough - and unsurprisingly
these gifts were unwelcome humiliations. As one might suspect, the undeserving poor who hung around got nicknames - that is, in Germany. In England, it was like as not a brand. Segregation in ghettos was one city strategy, but city officials were more likely to remove unwanted vagrants than to lock them up. Transportation was a feared and more permanent solution. Chaining and beating were common in houses of correction and bridewells and a stay in one might stigmatize or cripple someone for life. In most countries these institutions cost money and had no "return."
Naturally, the poor took counter-measures to avoid being stigmatized, beaten or locked up. Among thieves, there was a sub-culture and a well-known argot; sixteenth and seventeenth-century canting dictionaries were written by authors who, presumably, did not all belong to the "rogue class." Temporary group alliances came in all sorts: some were armed bandits; more were small groups of thieves; and beggars tended to form a kind of informal guild of specialization. Did organization go farther? The poor did join in large revolts, but most political revolts were organized by the middle class. Some of the poor roved across Europe and back, and others removed to America voluntarily.
For the church, the helping the poor served as a chance at salvation. For the state, the poor were a problem of public order. The permanent poor composed at least 5-10% percent of the population from the 15th- 18th century. The sometime or cyclical poor were at least 20-30% of the urban population. Most of the poor were found among the old, female-headed households and children. Hospitals, the poor tax, and civil control are the distinguishing features of early modern Europe. Labor as relief was yet another feature which was to develop into a modern and impersonal approach to the poor.