Poverty in England c.1580-1780

Between the 16th century and the 18th century, England developed a sophisticated system of poor relief. After the Reformation, when the monasteries were dismantled, local parishes were given civic responsibilities, and particularly the duty to assist the poor. The poor relief system developed as an important aspect of state formation, while the changing profiles of poverty were closely linked to the period’s broader economic and social history.

This Special Subject will offer students the chance to learn about such key issues in English history. Several sessions will focus on important themes. Indicative topics include: the impact of population growth, famine and disease, vagrancy and migration, illegitimacy, gender and poverty, crime, and the changing legal provision. Later in the course, we will focus on particular localities, such as the treatment of poverty in seventeenth-century London, and in Lancashire.

The field is flourishing and students will have access to plenty of secondary literature and primary sources. Students will participate in two field trips, including one to Lancashire archives at Preston. It is expected that some of the specific discussions of themes and localities will be introduced by students.