of seven, of all such children whose mothers died in the house. St Thomas’s (rebuilt 1228) had a master and brethren and three lay sisters, and 40 beds for poor, infirm and impotent people, who had also victual and firing. There were hospitals for many special purposes—as for the blind, for instance. There were also many hospital orders in England and on the continent. They sprang up beside the monastic orders, and for a time were very popular: brothers and sisters of the Holy Ghost (1198), sisters of St Elizabeth (1207–1231), Beguines and Beghards (see Beguines), knights of St John and others.
The Mendicant Orders.—The Franciscans tended the sick and poor in the slums of the towns with great devotion—indeed, the whole movement tells of a splendid self-abandonment and an intensity of effort in the early spring of its enthusiasm, and with the aid of reform councils and reformations it lengthened out its usefulness for two centuries.
As in the pre-medieval church, the system of relief is that of charitable endowments—a marked contrast to the modern method of voluntary associationsMedieval endowed charities. or rate-supported institutions.
(1) The Church as Legatee.—The church building among the Teutonic races was not held by the bishop as part of what was originally the charitable property of the church. It was assigned to the patron saint of the church by the donor, who retained the right of administration, of which his own patronage or right of presentation is a relic. Subsequently, with the study of Roman law, the conception of the church as a persona ficta prevailed; and till the larger growth of the gilds and corporations it was the only general legatee for charitable gifts. As these arise a large number of charitable trusts are created and held by lay corporations; and “alms” include gifts for social as well as religious or eleemosynary purposes. (2) Freedom from Taxation and Service.—Gifts to the church for charitable or other purposes were made in free, pure and perpetual alms (“ad tenendum in puram et perpetuam eleemosynam sine omni temporali servicio et consuetudine”). Land held under this frankalmoigne was given “in perpetual alms,” therefore the donor could not retract it; in free alms, therefore he could exact no services in regard to it; and in pure alms as being free from secular jurisdiction (cf. Pollock and Maitland). (3) Alienation and Mortmain.—To prevent alienation of property to religious houses, with the consequent loss of service to the superior or chief lords, a licence from the chief lord was required to legalize the alienation (Magna Carta, and Edw. I., De viris religiosis). Other statutes (Edw. I. and Rich. II.) enacted that this licence should be issued out of chancery after investigation; and the principle was applied to civil corporations. The necessity of this licence was one lay check on injurious alienation. (4) Irresponsible Administration.—Until after the 13th century, when the lay courts had asserted their right to settle disputes as to lands held in alms, the administration of charity was from the lay point of view entirely irresponsible. It was outside the secular jurisdiction; and civilly the professed clergy, who were the administrators, were “dead.” They could not sue or be sued except through their sovereign—their chief, the abbot. They formed a large body of non-civic inhabitants free from the pressure and the responsibilities of civil life. (5) Control.—Apart from the control of the abbot, prior, master or other head, the bishop was visitor, or, as we should say, inspector; and abuses might be remedied by the visit of the bishop or his ordinary. The bishop’s ordinary (2 Henry V. i. 1) was the recognized visitor of all hospitals apart from the founder. The founder and his family retained a right of intervention. Sometimes thus an institution was reorganized, or even dissolved, the property reverting to the founder (Dugdale, Monasticon Anglicanum, vi. 2. 715). (6) Cy-près.—Charities were, especially after Henry V.’s reign, appropriated to other uses, either because their original purpose failed or because some new object had become important. Thus, for instance, a college or hospital for lepers (1363) is re-established by the founder’s family with a master and priest, quod nulli leprosi reperiebantur; and a similar hospital founded in Henry I.’s time near Oxford has decayed, and is given by Edward III. to Oriel College, Oxford, to maintain a chaplain and poor brethren. Thus, apart from alienation pure and simple, the principle of adaptation to new uses was put in force at an early date, and supplied many precedents to Wolsey, Edward VI. and the post-Reformation bishops. The system of endowments was indeed far more adaptable than it would at first sight seem to have been. (7) The Sources of Income.—The hospitals were chiefly supported by rents or the produce of land; or, if attached to monasteries, out of the tithe of their monastic lands or other sources of revenue, or out of the appropriated tithes of the secular clergy; or they might be in part maintained by collections made, for instance, by a commissioner duly authorized by a formal attested document, in which were recounted the indulgences by popes, archbishops and bishops to those who became its benefactors (Cobbe, p. 75); or, in the case of leper hospitals, by a leper with a “clapdish,” who begged in the markets; or by a proctor, in the case of more important institutions in towns, who “came with his box one day in every month to the churches and other religious houses, at times of service, and there received the voluntary gifts of the congregation”; or they might receive inmates on payment, and thus apparently a frequent abuse, decayed servants of the court and others, were “farmed out.” (8) Mode of Admission.—The admission was usually, no doubt, regulated by the prior or master. At York, at the hospital of St Nicholas for the leprous, the conditions of admission were: promise or vow of continence, participation in prayer, the abandonment of all business, the inmate’s property at death to go to the house. This may serve as an example. The master was usually one of the regular clergy. (9) Decline of the Hospitals.—It is said that, in addition to 645 monasteries and 90 “colleges” and many chantries, Henry VIII. suppressed 110 hospitals (Speed’s Chronicle, p. 778). The numbers seem small. In the economic decline at the end of the 15th and beginning of the 16th centuries many hospitals may have lapsed.
In the 15th century the towns grew in importance. First the wool trade and then the cloth trade flourished, and the English developed a large shipping trade. The towns grew up like “little principalities”; and for the advancement of trade, gilds, consisting alikeGild and municipal charities. of masters and workmen, were formed, which endeavoured to regulate and then to monopolize the market. By degrees the corporations of the towns were worked in their interests, and the whole commercial system became restrictive and inadaptable. Meanwhile the towns attracted newcomers; freedom from feudal obligations was gained with comparative ease; and a new plebs was congregating, a population of inhabitants not qualified as burghers or gild members, women, sons living with their fathers, menial servants and apprentices. There was thus an increasing restriction imposed on trade, coupled with a growing plebs. Naturally, then, lay charities sprang up for members of gilds, and for burghers and for the commonalty. Men left estates to their gilds to maintain decayed members in hospitals, almshouses or otherwise, to educate their children, portion their daughters, and to assist their widows. The middle-class trader was thus in great measure insured against the risks of life. The gilds were one sign of the new temper and wants of burghers freed from feudalism. Another sign was a new standard of manners. Rules and saws, Hesiodic in their tone, became popular—in regard, for instance, to such a question as “how to enable a man to live on his means, and to keep himself and those belonging to him.” The boroughs established other charities also, hospitals and almshouses for the people, a movement which, like that of the gilds, began very early—in Italy as early as the 9th century. They sometimes gave outdoor relief also to registered poor (Green i. 41), and they had in large towns courts of orphans presided over by the mayor and aldermen, thus taking over a duty that previously had been one of conspicuous importance in the church. As early as 1257 in Westphalian towns there was a rough-and-ready system of Easter relief of the poor; and in Frankfort in 1437 there was a town council of almoners with a systematic programme of relief (Ratzinger, p. 352). Thus at the close of the middle ages the towns were gradually assuming what had been charitable functions of the church.
While a new freedom was being attained by the labourer in the country and the burgher in the town, the difficulty of obtaining a sufficient supply of labour for agriculture must have been constant, especially at every visitation of plague and famine. In accordanceStatutory wage control. with a general policy of state regulation which was to control and supervise industry, agriculture and poor relief and to repress vagrancy by gaols and houses of correction, the state stepped in as arbiter and organizer. By Statutes of Labourers beginning in 1351 (25 Edw. III. 135), it aimed at enforcing a settled wage and restraining migration. From 1351 it endeavoured to suppress mendicity, and in part to systematize it in the interest of infirm and aged mendicants. Each series of enactments is the natural complement of the other. In the main their signification, from the point of view of charity, lies in the fact that they represent a persistent endeavour to prevent social unsettlement and in part the distress which unsettlement causes, and which vagrancy in some measure indicates, by keeping the people within the ranks of recognized dependence, the settled industry of the crafts and of agriculture, or forcing them back into it by fear of the gaol or the stocks. The extreme point of this policy was