Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Who Was it Who Willed to Hang the Vagrants?

1547 England introduced a very evil legislation which was in itself not carried out.* It partly inspired a subsequent one of 1572, which was carried out. Both involved hanging of vagrants if sufficiently obstinate and reoffending and the first included lifelong slavery in a stage before the hanging. However, the act of 1547 was revoked well before that.

Now, the law of 1547 was nominally by King Edward VI but really by one Lord Protector Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset.

Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset

The wiki on him includes some information about his frequentations, among others this one:

Somerset's commissions were led by the evangelical M.P. John Hales, whose socially liberal rhetoric linked the issue of enclosure with Reformation theology and the notion of a godly commonwealth. Local groups often assumed that the findings of these commissions entitled them to act against offending landlords themselves. King Edward wrote in his Chronicle that the 1549 risings began "because certain commissions were sent down to pluck down enclosures".

OK, then we have John Hales:

John Hales (politician)

When King Edward VI came to the throne in 1547, Hales was appointed a Justice of the Peace for Middlesex and Warwickshire, and became a Member of Parliament for Preston, Lancashire.

Hales supported the economic policies pursued by the young King's uncle, Protector Somerset. Hales was particularly opposed to the enclosure of land, and is said to have been the most active of the commissioners appointed in 1548 to redress this evil. However he failed to carry several remedial measures through Parliament. When Somerset fell from power in October 1549, Hales was imprisoned in the Tower, likely as a result of his support for Somerset's policies. He was released in 1550, and after enfeoffing his lands to his brother, Stephen, and to Sir Ralph Sadler, obtained licence on 2 February 1551 to leave England in the company of Sir Richard Morison, who was being sent as ambassador to Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.

Hales lived in Germany with his brother, Christopher, principally at Frankfurt, until Queen Elizabeth I came to the throne. While there he formed a friendship with the scholar Sturmius.

Who was this scholar Sturmius?

Johannes Sturm

Based on:

New Schaff Herzog, Religious Encyclopedia, vol. XI, p. 121

Johannes (or Jean) Sturm, Latinized as Ioannes Sturmius (1 October 1507 – 3 March 1589) was a German educator, influential in the design of the Gymnasium system of secondary education.


Influenced by the writings of Martin Bucer he adopted the principles of the Protestant Reformation. He participated in the attempt to reconcile Protestant and Roman Catholic parties in 1534.


After helping to negotiate peace between England and Francei 1545, he again went to France in 1546, at the outbreak of the War of the Schmalkaldic League, to seek the help of François I. He asked for German aid to the Huguenots, which made him suspect in the eyes of Lutherans.


Sturm was generally regarded as the greatest educator connected with the Reformed Church. The school he directed and his art of teaching were a humanist model for a century all over Europe. His ideal in education was “to direct the aspiration of the scholars toward God, to develop their intelligence, and to render them useful citizens by teaching them the skill to communicate their thoughts and sentiments with persuasive effect.”

Sturm implemented a gradation of the course of study, and novel methods of instruction. His system of classes (practically the same that still prevailed in all gymnasia some centuries later), his classification of literary material for use in schools, his writing of textbooks, and his organization of school management shaped the practice of secondary education, not only in the German schools, but also in secondary schools of England and France.

In addition to the Gymnasium, Foyer Jean-Sturm, a modern student dormitory in Strasbourg, also bears his name.

More Reformed than Lutheran. An admirer of Bucer. A humanist. Maybe a fit friend for an Evangelical like Hales? We do not have to guess, we know they were friends.

But Hales was after all doing the evil under Seymour before making friends with Sturm ... can we have any assurance that it is connected with as highly esteemed Protestants as Sturm? Look at the last three sentences condemned by Leo X in Exsurge Domine:

39. The souls in purgatory sin without intermission, as long as they seek rest and abhor punishment.

40. The souls freed from purgatory by the suffrages of the living are less happy than if they had made satisfactions by themselves.

41. Ecclesiastical prelates and secular princes would not act badly if they destroyed all of the money bags of beggary.


Exsurge Domine
Bull of Pope Leo X issued June 15, 1520

So, unless Leo X lied about what Luther had written, Luther himself was against beggars - as well as against seeking relief without taking pains in the next world.

And Pope Leo X was for giving relief to the souls in Purgatory and for giving relief to the poor. He also showed that in another connexion. So, obviously not for enslaving them. In the case of loans, he had supported municipal authorities exacting an interest sufficient to pay office clerks living very modestly. But he had also uttered a preference for exacting only half the interest needed to pay them because it was more just and more holy to let municipal taxation pay for the other half.

Note, he was not for the modern intrusive state which taxes many beyond the half of their income and makes thousands of projects, only some of which come to the benefit of the poor, if he had been that, indeed if he had seen modern taxation without protesting against it, he might have suggested that the office clerks were entirely paid from tax money and no interest at all exacted. But the little taxation (compared to modern Western World standards) that there was back then, as well as municipal sources of income (for instance fields owned by the town and only rented by the peasants) he thought it correct to put into the Montes Pietatis so as to lower the interest on loans and make it pay only half the clerks' costs for their office work.

En lengua romance en Antimodernism y de mis caminaciones : Lateranense V Concilii Sessio X
Leo PP X, in conc. Lateranense V
Sessio X, 4 maii 1515
De reformatione Montium Pietatis

Luther at first rejected interest taken by Montes Pietatis altogether, and Calvinists of the first generation, excepting Calvin, were stricter on interest than Pope Leo X (but did not require the state to take measures against it). A generation or so later at least the Calvinists had come to accept interest much more "generously" (to the banker) than Leo X had.

No, I do not really think Pope Leo X was the enemy and the Calvinists the friends of Vagrants. Not really. Gilbert Keither Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc were perfectly consistent in being Catholics and in being in favour of vagrants.

However, they would have approved of one act of John Hales and Somerset, their opposition to the Enclosures. But back to English Poor Law between 1547 and 1572:

In 1550 these excessive punishments were revised in a new act that was passed. The act of 1550 makes a reference to the limited enforcement of the punishments established by the Act of 1547 by stating "the extremity of some [of the laws] have been occasion that they have not been put into use."

Parliament and the parish

Following the revision of the Duke of Somerset’s Act of 1547, parliament passed a new act in 1552. This act focused on using parishioners as a source of funds to combat the increasing poverty epidemic. This statute appointed two individuals from each parish to collect alms to distribute to the poor individuals inhabiting the town. These individuals were to ‘gently ask’ [1] for donations for the cause. Refusal to donate to the cause would ultimately result in a meeting with the bishop who would ‘induce and persuade’ them. However, at times even these intimidating meetings by the bishop would often fail to complete their objective.

It is possible that Cranmer - the man the teenaged King Edward trusted the most - had something to do with this. Let us not paint all of the Reformers as bloodthrsty enemies of the poor. But the revisions of the acts still suppressed vagrancy and individual supplication on part of the needy themselves.

Were there no antivagrancy acts before the Reformation then? Yes, as there were such in France before the Hundred Yaers War and before the French Revolution, under Louis XV!

In the later period of the 15th century, legal measures were put in place for poverty which focused on punishing the individual for acts such as vagabonding and begging. In 1495 during the reign of Henry VII of England, Parliament passed the Vagabond Act. This act stated that officials arrest and hold "all such vagabonds, idle and suspect persons living suspiciously and then so taken to set in stocks, there to remain three nights and to have none other sustenance but bread and water; and after the said three days and three nights, to be had out and set at large and to be commanded to avoid the town."

Two things strike: taken to the stocks for three days on water and bread and told to avoid the town (1495, in a still Catholic England) is much milder than two years indentured slavery with punishments against runaways going to lifelong slavery and to death penalty (1547, under first really Protestant, though not first Schismatic Ruler, enacted by basically his tutor). And, secondly, even the first Act was not unpunished by God, the Reformation came to correct with Martyrdoms a Catholic Clergy which had not objected to that earlier legislation. As the act of Jean le Bon (similar to the Act of 1495) had been punished by English Ascendancy in France. As the Act of Louis XV - left uncorrected by his successor Louis XV - had been punished in the French Revolution. There is a saying implying that God will not be mocked.

Hans-Georg Lundahl
BU de Nanterre
L'Apparition de ND
à Lourdes**

* The following reference is given by the wiki Poor Law:

Rathbone,Mark. "Vagabond!", History Review; March 2005, Issue 51, p8-13 Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed June 25, 2010)

** For the curious: Lourdes is in Latin either Lapurdum or Lapurdus. For the pious, the second feast of today is St Lucius and Companions, martyred by the Arians under Constantius in Adrianople or Edirne.

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