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King Henry VIII

The Tramp & The Law

Part Three

…Early in the reign of Henry VIII an unsuccessful attempt was made, following the failures of previous reigns, to fix wages. At the same time begging had reached a high-water mark, largely increased by the luxury of the rich, following commercial success in the reign of Henry VII…

…Harman, writing in 1521, gives an account of the beggars and poor residents that attended the funeral of a notability:

After the funeral the travelling beggars to the number of a hundred and forty men, each accompanied by his woman friend, found shelter in a barn. Thus having their mates to make merry withall the burial turned to bousing (drinking) and belly-chere (eating), mourning to mirth, fasting to feasting, prayer to pastime and pressing of paps, and lamenting to lechery.

The growth of vagrancy, and begging in particular, led to the passing of a comprehensive Act in the twenty-second year of Henry VIII. Impotent beggars were to be licensed, while all others, and wanderers particularly therein defined, were to be subject to a variety of punishments. Those begging with licences, but outside the prescribed limits, were to be set in the stocks for two days and nights with bread and water; those begging without licences were to be stripped from the middle upwards and whipped, or at the discretion of the justices set in the stocks for three days and then furnished with a licence assigning them a limit within which to beg. And all able-bodied persons found begging were to be taken to the nearest market town and there tied to the end of a cart naked and be beaten with whips throughout the town till their bodies were bloody, and then returned to their place of settlement with licence to beg en route…

beggar being whipped 16th century woodcut

…After five years experience of the Vagrant Act of 1530, another Act (27 Henry VIII, c. 25) was passed for the purpose of supplying a deficiency in the previous act, namely the relief of the poor. After reciting that all beggars were required to repair to the place of their birth, or where they had last dwelt, for three years, it requires that officers of cities, etc., shall receive and relieve such beggars, and set all sturdy and valiant beggars to work for their maintenance. Beggars travelling homewards with a pass were at the end of every ten miles ordered to repair to the constable of the parish, who was to furnish them with meat and drink for one meal and lodging for one night only.

This Act…was not one entirely beneficial to the tramp and vagrant, for it proceeded to direct that a search be made for sturdy vagabonds and valiant beggars, and of those found out of their place of settlement, the penalty was for the first offence whipping, for the second offence a whipping again, and the upper part of the gristle of the right ear clean cut off, and death was the penalty for the third offence…

…Harrison, writing of vagabonds in the time of Henry VIII says:

He (Henry VIII), executing his laws verie severelie against such idle persons, I meane great theeves, pettie theeves and rogues, did hangup threescore and twelve thousand of them in his time…

…Since the reign of Henry VII the sentimental sympathies of indiscreet almsgivers were being gradually disregarded and overborne by legislation of an increasingly severe character against vagrants and beggars…

King Edward VI

…An Act early in the reign of Edward VI, attributed to Sir John Cheke… surpassed in cruelty all Acts that had gone before. It ordains that every person not impotent, loitering or wandering, and not seeking work or leaving it, shall be taken up as a vagabond, and every master offering work which is refused might bring the delinquent before two magistrates, “who should immediately cause the said loyterer to be marked with an whott Iron in the brest the marke V and adjudge him the slave of the presenter for two years.” The slave was to be fed on bread and water or small drink and refuse meat as pleased the master, and he was to be compelled to do work, however vile, by beating, chaining or otherwise, If he ran away, the punishment the first time was to be branded on the forehead or ball of the cheek with a hot iron with the sign Ѕ, and death was the punishment for the second offence.

Children between five and fourteen years were to be apprenticed, if males until twenty-four, and if females until twenty. If they ran away they became slaves, to be sold or leased, and those who stole them became slaves for life. Those not taken into service were to be marked V as described and returned to their place of birth or settlement…

Extracts taken from:

The Tramp by Frank Gray, J. M. Dent & Sons, 1931

Frank Gray, Liberal MP, 1931

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April 6 1932 Taneda Santoka

Translated by Burton Watson

For All My Walking, Free-Verse Haiku of Taneda Santoka,

with Excerpts from His Diary 

Columbia University Press 2003

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Vita Irrequieta

The Tramp & The Law
Part Two

In the reign of Cnut (1017 – 1035), while the law against harbouring travellers was confirmed and re-enacted, alongside was statute law giving the first evidence of succour being accorded to the wanderer, for provision was made against the application of lynch law to him…

…About this time England suffered much through the prevalence of robbery with violence and highway robbery, and there is some substantial evidence that those who entertained the stranger within their gate made him their cat’s paw for these crimes. Edward the Confessor accordingly passed legislation making the host responsible for the acts of his guests…

…In 1102 we have a first record of foreign vagabonds arriving in England, when in the week of the feast of Pentecost there came thieves, some from Auvergne, others from Flanders. During the weak reign of Stephen all conditions were favourable for criminals, vagrants, and vagabonds, and they increased in number accordingly…

…This resulted in fresh legislation affecting strangers and travellers. No traveller could be entertained or harboured for more than one night, and then only in a town or borough, and for the due observation of the Act both the traveller and the entertainer were held responsible, and moreover, the guest of the time was required to depart in the daytime. It was apparently found that this law was so stringent as to destroy all hospitality, and four years later an amending law allowed the guest to remain only two nights, and the host only became responsible if he stayed for three nights, and the host failed for a month and a day to bring him to justice if an offence was alleged against him…

…At the time of the commencement of the reign of Edward I vagrancy was very prevalent, and was said to be due to many causes. Some adopted it to escaped slavery – although there had been a cessation of foreign slave trade and villeins became entitled to freedom if they lived unclaimed for a year and a day in a town – others to save themselves from starvation or torture… Edward I’s reign was notable for many things, and one of these was that free labourers began to exist and persist…

Ad se ipse

…In the reign of Edward III a new phase arose which had a lasting effect upon the elements which go to make up the vagrancy world. Owing to the joint effect of the plague, which diminished the supply of labour, and the king’s action of selling freedom to his bondmen to raise money – an example readily followed by his nobility – wages rose. This made the labourers masters of the situation; and in their search for the best market for their labour the ranks of wandering vagrants were greatly swollen, and this at a time when the roads were infested with beggars of all descriptions. Many of the latter were cripples – real or pretended – some of them relied upon begging simple and unadorned, while others resorted to violence, and were, too, the spies of large bands of robbers. In the twenty-third year of Edward III, 1349, to meet the circumstances of, the first law associating conditions of unemployment and vagrancy came into force. Up to this date vagrancy and legislation dealing with it had reference either to the relief of poverty or the suppression of crime.

NPG D22804; King Edward II; King Edward III (fictitious portraits)

The Act of Edward III, fixed wages, limited the price of food, and sought to restrain the movement of labourers. It required less than two years to show the futility of this Act. An Act for its correction, imposing fines, imprisonment, and the stocks for defaulting labourers, had an even worse effect; for it not only drove labourers in greater numbers to flight in order to escape its provisions, but embittered the relations between the upper and lower classes, and forged a common bond of union among the latter. These acts of Edward III imposed penalties upon those who gave to beggars as well as upon those who received… Ten years later the legislature added to the punishments to be meted out to fleeing labourers and vagrants those of whipping and branding their forehead with a hot iron…

Impavidum ferient ruinae

…From the reign of Richard II to that of George IV a number of Acts – many of a purely local character – were passed which in their terms varied in the severity of punishment to be meted out to beggars. The provisions were of the strangest nature, particularly in Tudor times, when beggars were imprisoned, branded, and even hanged.

Dr. Burns says: “Almost all severities have been exercised against vagrants, except scalping, and as one severity fell short it seemed naturally to follow that a greater was necessary.”

Extracts taken from:

The Tramp by Frank Gray, J. M. Dent & Sons, 1931

Frank Gray, Liberal MP, 1931

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Forever Wander - Han Shan

Translated by Red Pine (Bill Porter)

The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain, Copper Canyon Press, 2000

Painting: Portrait of Gao Yongzhi as Calligrapher-Beggar (Detail) by Ren Yi, 1887

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Weigh This Well - Han Shan

Translated by Red Pine (Bill Porter)

The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain, Copper Canyon Press, 2000

Painting: A Beggar at Mt. Luofu (Detail) by Su Liupeng (1796 – 1892)

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Le Juif Errant - The Wandering Jew

The Tramp & The Law

Part One

The first tramp was Cain, the last will probably be the Wandering Jew. Between the two lies the history of a whole race of men, who sometimes deserve their ill-fortune and sometimes do not…

The vagrant is a figure in national life all through English history; “remote, unfriendly, melancholy, slow,” he goes on his way a picturesque and pathetic figure. True, he has sometimes been treated with brutality, sometimes with tolerance, but he has survived.

…Their history is, as might be expected, a record of persecution by their fellow-men, interspersed with attempts at coddling them, made in the best of faith.

The early history of the tramp can be dealt with very briefly. Legislation on the subject consists chiefly in devising primitive measures for the suppresion of begging and giving to beggars, wherever these worthy objects could possibly be attained…

…The earliest reference to vagabondage in the British Isles is to be met with in the “Roman History” of Ammianus Marcellinus under the year 368, and this in relation to the Picts and Scots roving over different parts of the country and committing great ravages.

Caledonian Pict

Laws are never made in advance of requirements, but to remedy existing evils, and therefore it may be assumed that vagrancy existed in Saxon times on an extensive scale, for the first record on the subject is that of the Kings Hlothære and Eadric, who respectively reigned in Kent from 673 to 685, and from 685 to 686, when a law was framed to make those who entertained travellers responsible for their acts of misfeasance, a law confirmed by King Edmund in 940.

At that time the lowest classes of the population were sunk in bondage. There were then no inns or workhouses to shelter the vagrant, and monasteries which could give him casual shelter were far apart, in most instances too far to enable him to cover the distance in a day, and only two sources of subsistence remained to him – private hospitality or plunder.

The beginning of vagrancy in England may be found in the old tramping friar, or the itinerant seller or chapman. To the friar it was permitted, by special licence, to wander at his sweet will, taking toll from the laity which materially lightened the load of sins always noticeable on the shoulders of the uncharitable layman. In all ages it has been found that those whose circumstances border on poverty have most sympathy with the poor, and the law of King Ine appears to recognise the fact, for it forbids the ceorl, who stood lowest in the rank of freemen, to harbour fugitives; and at this time the greater number of travellers or tramps, excepting chapmen and friars, were escaped slaves.

The next record is the law of Whitræd, King of Kent 690 to 725, directed against wandering monks, ordaining that they should receive hospitality but once; and this legislation may be taken as giving birth to the principle of vagrancy law of driving the casual or vagrant ever on…

Extracts taken from:

The Tramp by Frank Gray, J. M. Dent & Sons, 1931

Frank Gray, Liberal MP, 1931

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June 6th

At the foot of Splendid Cloud Mountain there is a small village of huddled roofs and great banyan trees called Chin-k’an-pei. Somewhere in this region is the Pekin Mining Syndicate, but rather more important than any syndicates are the small houses covered with vines and approached only by long avenues where a few distinguished scholars have retired. This afternoon we called on an old scholar who is famous because in a book of a hundred pages published more than thirty years ago he made a reasonable attempt to synthesise the philosophies of Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism.

It was one of the smallest houses I have ever seen, a single room which he used as bedroom and study. He wore an old tattered gown and a grey patched skull-cap; yet he was not poor. He was absorbed in his studies – those studies which would lead him in another ten years if he survived to write another small book of perhaps eighty pages on the religion of the Chinese. He was thin-boned and had once been tall. His skin seemed paper-thin in the light coming from the paper windows. His white beard, like his clothes, was torn in places; but the great jade ring on his wrist, his courtly manners, his sharp beaked nose and the small black eyes peering from behind heavy lead-coloured spectacles, suggested an enormous capacity for sustained thought. We talked about his first work – that small pamphlet which had changed a little the opinions of scholars ever since.

“But scholarship is dying,” he said. “The old order is dying – that is true. Yet scholarship is so precious in itself and as an example to others. In the West you have to put your trust in scholars who are scientists, and perhaps that is legitimate; but I would prefer that there should be some good scholars who remain.”

He apologized for not speaking English perfectly and confessed that he had neither read an English book nor spoken to anyone speaking English for forty years, yet he spoke perfectly. “You have a good few scholars still in the Universities – there is a scholar who has studied the Chinese calendar in all its phases, having read 80,000 books on the subject, in your University. Perhaps he will write a book of 300 pages, or even of 400 pages, for all these things are important. People speak too much – speaking is an excuse for not thinking – and they study too little. Before the revolution we thought carefully before we spoke: today we think little, and talk too much. I cannot read the newspapers. There are speeches; there are battles; there is no thinking. In the old days Chinese scholars were chosen by the Emperor. On them was imposed pure trust, and rarely did they misuse the trust. They lived frugally, governed honestly, wrote little and were content with the world. Our military commanders were scholars, Tu Fu and Su T’ung-po were scholars and officials – even Tao Yuan-ming was an official. This was a world in which the behaviour of scholars was the hallmark of everyone’s existence. Then how could we fail?”

His room was even poorer than the rooms of the Chinese scholars in the University; he was talking a language which they alone understood. There was the table; three or four ivory brushes, a tattered scroll on the wall, a jeweled fly-whisk, which, since it was high summer, he was occasionally flicking against our clothes; there was cheese-cloth mosquito curtain and the thick-soled slippers under the bed, and here and there on the walls, cut out from the scrolls which he had once possessed and considered insufficiently dignified to grace his bedroom, were single characters of Chinese, written boldly and elegantly, with tremendous passion and effrontery. It was as though the calligraphers at the moment of writing had seized the secrets of nature. There were perhaps twenty of thee characters written in different styles and at different epochs; and it was clear that the old scholar believed that in the whole history of Chinese handwriting no characters as good as these had ever been painted. Later, just as we were about to leave, I noticed what appeared to be a bronze umbrella-stand behind the door filled with rolled-up scrolls.

It was then that the room became charged with excitement. One could not ask him – even as a favour – to show us the scrolls. One could only hope that he would notice their presence before we had gone. I felt sure that they were good; and they were better than anything I had ever seen before – copies of T’ang Dynasty paintings, a painting of a monk, perhaps Bodhidharma, in a red robe, a single curlew on a swinging branch painted in thick monochrome like tempera, some golden birds and some court ladies dancing at the foot of the throne, and four or five other paintings and a few pieces of calligraphy.

“The rain has got at them,” he said sadly, pointing to the yellow spots, “but perhaps it is better like this. The world no longer appreciates good painting or good government. The world is covered with high clouds, and we hear only the murmur of the rivers and see nothing clearly. All that is good in China has passed and I am too old to hope for a resurrection.”

Robert Payne, Chungking Diary, 1945.

Read more from Robert Payne’s Chinese Diaries: Leaves from a Chinese Diary, and, Chungking Diary – The Seal Carver.

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