POVERTY LEGISLATION BY CHARLES I
Orders and directions, together with a commission for the better administration of iustice: how, and by whom the lawes and statutes tending to the reliefe of the poore, the well ordering and training vp of youth in trades, and the reformation of disorders and disordered persons, are executed throughout the kingdome.
London, Robert Barker, printer to the Kings most excellent Maiestie: and by the assignes of Iohn Bill, 1630 (i.e. 1631).
FIRST EDITION, third issue. 4to. pp. (iv), 33, (xxi) 17 (i). A-I4, K2. first leaf blank but for signature. Roman and Italic letter. Full page woodcut arms of Charles I on verso of title page, large historiated woodcut initials, historiated and grotesque woodcut head and tail-pieces. Light age yellowing, verso of last fractionally dusty. A very good copy, crisp and clean in excellent speckled calf c. 1900 by Riviere, covers bordered with a triple gilt rule, spine with raised bands, richly gilt in compartments red morocco label, inner dentelles and edges gilt, a.e.r.
Important third issue of the first edition of Charles I landmark “Book of Orders” concerning the treatment of the poor, vagabonds, drunkards, unmarried families, poverty, corn hoarding, famine and pestilence, of tremendous social, political and historic interest: this issue has been partially reset and reimposed from the first two editions and it adds a list of Privy Councilors and Justices allotted to each circuit not previously printed. As described in its introduction, the purpose of The Book was to ensure “better administration of justice (…) relief of the poor and (…) reformation of disorders”, greatly increasing the control of Charles’ government over what had until then been largely local affairs handled by the local gentry.
The book directed the Justices of the peace in measures for the control and relief of the poor, and dealt with issues such as vagrancy, alehouses, the binding out or apprenticing of pauper children and houses of correction. To guarantee the due implementation of these orders, Justices of the Peace were to hold monthly divisional meetings and to provide the sheriff with quarterly reports. A royal commission or privy councillors was established to oversee the whole operation. “Poor laws were instituted by many sixteenth-century European governments: Catholic and Protestant, urban provincial and national. The legislation had two main focuses: first, regulating the supply of relief by reforms of medieval hospitals and almshouses, and by statutory provision for the “worthy” poor, second controlling demand for relief by punitive measures against the “unworthy”, especially the able bodied who begged, who were defined as vagabonds.
The English legislation included several components, including settlement acts and vagrancy regulations, as well as poor relief provisions. There is considerable evidence of the enforcement of the poor laws under the early Stuarts. The ‘Book of Orders’ of 1630 was the most comprehensive attempt to date to enforce the legislation. Large numbers of vagrants were arrested – about 25,000 between 1631 and 1639, according to reports by county officials to the privy council. There is also considerable evidence of of the implementation of poor relief in the 1630s. Of course the orders of 1630 were not unprecedented. Similar action was taken after four poor harvests between 1594 and 1597 and following Elizabethan legislation in 1598 and 1601. It was in the 1620’s that widespread enforcement began, which suggests that the orders of 1630 were building on established foundations”. Ronald H. Fritze “Historical Dictionary of Stuart England, 1603-1689”.
Charles I’s ‘Book of Orders’ did more to establish a national system of “Poor Relief” than any previous edict. A very good copy of an important work.