applied before to Greece and Rome and the pre-medieval church.
The Family.—Largely Germanic in its origin, we may perhaps set down as elemental in the English race what Tacitus said of the Germans. They had the home virtues. They had a high regard for chastity, and respected and enforced the family tie. The wife was honoured. The men were poor, but when the actual pressure of their work—fighting—was removed, idle. They were born gamblers. Much toil fell upon the wife; but slavery was rather a form of tenure than a Roman bondage. As elsewhere, there was in England “the joint family or household” (Pollock and Maitland, English Law before Edward I. i. 31). Each member of the community was, or should be, under some lord; for the lordless man was, like the wanderer in Homer, who belonged to no phratry, suspected and dangerous, and his kinsfolk might be required to find a lord for him. There was personal servitude, but it was not of one complexion; there were grades amongst the unfree, and the general advance to freedom was continuous. By the 9th century the larger amount of the slavery was bondage by tenure. In the reign of Edward I., though “the larger half of the rural population was unfree,” yet the serf, notwithstanding the fact that he was his lord’s chattel, was free against all save his lord. A century later (1381) villenage—that is payment for tenancy by service, instead of by quit-rent—was practically extinguished. So steady was the progress towards the freedom and self-maintenance of the individual and his family.
The Manor.—In social importance, next to the family, comes the manor, the organization of which affected charity greatly on one side. It was “an economic unit,” the estate of a lord on which there were associated the lord with his demesne, tenants free of service, and villeins and others, tenants by service. All had the use of land, even the serf. The estate was regulated by a manor court, consisting of the lord of the manor or his representative, and the free tenants, and entrusted with wide quasi-domestic jurisdiction. The value of the estate depended on the labour available for its cultivation, and the cultivators were the unfree tenants. Hence the lord, through the manor-court, required an indemnity or fine if a child, for instance, left the manor; and similarly, if a villein died, his widow might have to remarry or pay a fine. Thus the lord reacquired a servant and the widow and her family were maintained. The courts, too, fixed prices, and thus in local and limited conditions of supply and demand were able to equalize them in a measure and neutralize some of the effects of scarcity. In this way, till the reign of Edward I., and, where the manor courts remained active, till much later, a self-supporting social organization made any systematic public or charitable relief unnecessary.
The Parish and the Tithe.—The conversion of England in the 7th century was effected by bishops, accompanied by itinerant priests, who made use of conventual houses as the centres of their work. The parochial system was not firmly established till the 10th century (970). Then, by a law of Edgar, a man who had a church on his own land was allowed to pay a third of his tithe to his own church, instead of giving the whole of it to the minister or conventual church. Theodore, archbishop of Canterbury (667), had introduced the Carolingian system into England; and, accordingly, the parish priest was required to provide for strangers and to keep a room in his house for them. Of the tithe, a third and not a fourth was to go to the poor with any surplus; and in order to have larger means of helping them, the priests were urged to work themselves, according to the ancient canons of the church (cf. Labbeus, IV. Conc. Carthag. A.D. 398). The importance of the tithe to the poor is shown by acts of Richard II. and Henry IV., by which it was enacted that, if parochial tithes were appropriated to a monastery, a portion of them should be assigned to the poor of the parish. At a very early date (1287) quasi-compulsory charges in the nature of a rate were imposed on parishioners for various church purposes (Pollock and Maitland, i. 604), though in the 14th and 15th centuries a compulsory church rate was seldom made. Collections were made by paid collectors, especially for Hock-tide (q.v.) money—gathered for church purposes (Brand’s Antiquities, p. 112). But there must have been many varieties in practice. In Somersetshire the churchwardens’ accounts (1349 to 1560) show that the parish contributed nothing to the relief of the poor, and it seems probable that the personal charities of the parishioners, and the charities of the gild fellowships and of the parsonage house sufficed (Bishop Hobhouse, Churchwardens’ Accounts, 1349–1560, Somerset Record Society). Many parishes possessed land, houses and cattle, and received gifts and legacies of all kinds. The proceeds of this property, if given for the use of the parish generally, might, if necessary, be available for the relief of the poor, but, if given definitely for their use, would provide doles, or stock cattle or “poor’s” lands, &c. (Cf. Augustus Jessopp, Before the Great Pillage, p. 40; and many instances in the reports of the Charity Commissioners, 1818–1835.) Of the endowments for parish doles very many may have disappeared in the break-up of the 16th century. There were also “Parish Ales,” the proceeds of which would be used for parish purposes or for relief. Further, all the greater festivals were days of feasting and the distribution of food; at funerals also there were often large distributions, and also at marriages. The faithful generally, subject to penance, were required to relieve the poor and the stranger. In the larger part of England the parish and the vill were usually coterminous. In the north a parish contained several vills. There were thus side by side the charitable relief system of the parish, which at an early date became a rating area, and the self-supporting system of the manor.
The Monasteries.—As Christianity spread monasteries spread, and each monastery was a centre of relief. Sometimes they were established, like St Albans (796), for a hundred Benedictine monks and for the entertainment of strangers; or sometimes without any such special purpose, like the abbey of Croyland (reorganized 946), which, becoming exceeding rich from its diversorium pauperum, or almonry, “relieved the whole country round so that prodigious numbers resorted to it.” At Glastonbury, for instance (1537), £140 16s. 8d. was given away in doles. But documents seem to prove (Denton, England in Fifteenth Century, p. 245) that the relief generally given by monasteries was much less than is usually supposed.
The general system may be described (cf. Rule, St Dunst. Cant. Archp. p. 42, Dugdale; J. B. Clark, The Observances, Augustinian Priory, Barnwell; Abbot Gasquet, English Monastic Life). The almonry was usually near the church of the monastery. An almoner was in charge. He was to be prudent and discreet in the distribution of his doles (portiones) and to relieve travellers, palmers, chaplains and mendicants (mendicantes, apparently the beggars recognized as living by begging, such as we have noted under other social conditions), and the leprous more liberally than others. The old and infirm, lame and blind who were confined to their beds he was to visit and relieve suitably (in competenti annona). The importunity of the poor he was to put up with, and to meet their need as far as he could. In the almonry there were usually rooms for the sick. The sick outside the precincts were relieved at the almoner’s discretion. Continuous relief might be given after consultation with the superior. All the remnants of meals and the old clothes of the monks were given to the almoner for distribution, and at Christmas he had a store of stockings and other articles to give away as presents to widows, orphans and poor clerks. He also provided the Maundy gifts and selected the poor for the washing of feet. He was thus a local visitor and alms distributor, not merely at the gate of the monastery but in the neighbourhood, and had also at his disposal “indoor” relief for the sick. Separate from the rest the house there was also a dormitory and rooms and the kitchen for strangers. A hospitularius attended to their needs and novices waited on them. Guests who were laymen might stay on, working in return for board and lodging (Smith’s Dict. Christian Antiq., “Benedictine”).
The monasteries often established hospitals; they served also as schools for the gentry and for the poor; and they were pioneers of agriculture. In the 12th century, in which many monastic orders were constituted, there were many lavish endowments. In the 14th century their usefulness had begun to wane. At the end of that century the larger estates were generally held in entail, with the result that younger sons were put into religious houses. This worldliness had its natural consequences. In the 15th century, owing to mismanagement, waste, and subsequently to the decline of rural prosperity, their resources were greatly crippled. In their relation to charity one or two points may be noted: (1) Of the small population of England the professed monks and nuns with the parish priests (Rogers, Hist. Agric. and Prices, i. 58) numbered at least 30,000 or 40,000. This number of celibates was a standing protest against the moral sufficiency of the family life. On the other hand, amongst them were the brothers and sisters who visited the poor and nursed the sick in hospitals; and many who now succumb physically or mentally to the pressure of life, and are cared for in institutions, may then have found maintenance and a retreat in the monasteries. (2) Bound together by no common controlling organization, the monasteries were but so many miscellaneous centres of relief, chiefly casual relief. They were mostly “magnificent hostelries.” (3) They stood outside the parish, and they weakened its organization and hampered its development.
The Hospitals.—The revival of piety in the 11th century led to a large increase in the number of hospitals and hospital orders. To show how far they covered the field in England two instances may be quoted. At Canterbury (Creighton, Epidemics, p. 87) there were four for different purposes, two endowed by Lanfranc (1084), one for poor, infirm, lame and blind men and women, and one outside the town for lepers. These hospitals were put under the charge of a priory, and endowed out of tithes payable to the secular clergy. Later (Henry II.), a hospital for leprous sisters was established, and afterwards a hospital for leprous monks and poor relations of the monks of St Augustine’s. In a less populous parish, Luton (Cobbe, Luton Church), there were a hospital for the poor, an almshouse, and two hospitals, one for the sick and one for the leprous. The word “leper,” it is evident, was used very loosely, and was applied to many diseases other than leprosy. There were hospitals for the infirm and the leprous; the disease was not considered contagious. The hospital in its modern sense was but slowly created. Thus St Bartholomew’s in London was founded (1123) for a master, brethren and sisters, and for the entertainment of poor diseased persons till they got well; of distressed women big with child till they were able to go abroad; and for the maintenance, until the age