Statute of Cambridge 1388
The Statute of Cambridge was the first major statute to address law specific to the poor and poverty. It commenced the sequence of related legislation which was subsequently codified and known as the Old Poor Law (you can track the chronology of the Old Poor law from that link .) It strengthened the law and established important principles that were to shape the rest of the poor law.
The significance of the Act
This statute’s significance was as follows:
- This law was enacted, after the end of the Peasants Revolt in 1381 by Richard II who was the reigning monarch at this time.
- It concerned the Labourers, Servants and Beggars
- The statute strengthened the powers of the Justices of the Peace to impose and administer the law.
- Distinguished between the “sturdy beggars” capable of work andthe “impotent beggars” those incapacitated by age or infirmity
- It forbade servants to move out of their “hundred” (this was the administrative area of the time and may have consisted of several Manors and related Manorial lands.) without legal authorisation. This meant that roaming around the countryside in search of work,was no longer allowed and allocated responsibility to the leaders of a particular Hundred. It introduced a formal geographic basis for accountability for the poor which would be delegated down in time to the Parish.
- Each “hundred” was made responsible for housing and keeping its own paupers, but made no special provision for maintaining the sick poor.
For the next two centuries the aged and infirm depended upon pure charity for survival. The monasteries and the church communities were supposed to administer the charity required. In reality that performance was more patchy than we might expect.