Attitudes Regarding Europe's Poor, 1450-1700 Essay

Attitudes Regarding Europe's Poor, 1450-1700 Essay

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Between 1450 and 1700, attitudes toward the European poor changed dynamically, roughly following a three-part cycle. In the late 1400's, the poor were regarded with sympathy and compassion; generous aid from both public and religious institutions was common. By the 16th Century, however, the poor were treated with suspicion and harsh measures, to ensure that they were not becoming lazy, using welfare as a substitute for labor. Beginning in the 17th Century, the attitudes toward the poor again shifted, returning to more sympathetic views and responses, though many members of the upper-class still retained the negative outlook on the destitute of the 16th Century.

In the 15th Century, growing awareness towards the plight of the destitute led many to partake in almsgiving (charitable donations to the poor). Many well-off members of society took this as an opportunity to attain salvation, donating money--as Jesus advocated--so that their deeds might be smiled upon from above. A Catholic priest, in a sermon in France in this time period, cautioned against this, praising those who contributed money while in good health, but rebuking those who donated when they were sick or near death: "There is no great value in giving" when one will be dead shortly, and has no use for the money. While he encouraged almsgiving, he warned that God would see if selfish reasons existed. In addition to private donations, handled through religious institutions, civil governments also felt a responsibility to help the poor. A resolution, passed by the town council of Dijon, France, in 1482 stated that "[The town] will rent...a barn to put [the destitute] for the night," in addition to caring for the needs of the poor as well as possible.

This generou...

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...n in 1674 that the poor "have no worries." Excessive charity had given the destitute a carefree lifestyle: they had nothing to lose. Though he retained the harsh views of the 16th Century, the general attitude of the 1600's was one of sympathy and charity.

To conclude, three sets of views existed in the 15th, 16th, and 17th Centuries regarding the destitute. In the 1400's, the poor were treated with sympathy and charity. In the next century, the poor were regarded with suspicion and hatred, which occasionally led to abuse. By the 17th Century, charity had resumed through private citizens and religious orders, though the wealthy still regarded the idle poor as worthless and undeserving of aid. These three often-conflicting sets of views had a profound effect on the lives of the European poor: they determined how the destitute were treated and socially regarded.

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