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Vagabond!

Mark Rathbone assesses the effectiveness of measures taken in Tudor England to meet the problems of poverty and vagrancy.

In February 2004 a new law came into force to get tough with vagrants. The use of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders was part of a concerted attempt to drive beggars off the streets. In central London, Westminster Council began a crackdown on vagrants, taking fingerprints and DNA samples from people found begging. 'Beggars identified as repeat offenders or those that are active around cashpoints,' said a council spokesman, 'will be considered for post-conviction ASBOs if their behaviour continues.'

The methods used in the twenty-first century may be more sophisticated, but in the Tudor era too vagrancy was seen as a social problem needing tough solutions.

The Reign of Henry VII

The first major Tudor statute which attempted to tackle the problem was passed by parliament in 1495. This ordered officials to seize 'all such vagabonds, idle and suspect persons living suspiciously and then so taken to set in stocks, there to remain by the space of three days and three nights and there 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 then to be commanded to avoid the town.'

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