Anda di halaman 1dari 4

Eric Thorpe Period 6 12/15/2011 The Poor: Problems or Solutions? Famine, disease, war.

These devastating events were all too common for the impoverished of Europe during the second millennium, particularly between 1450 to 1700. Poverty affected around half of the population during this time, causing many people to live at their minimum subsistence levels, or an all-around degrading quality of life. Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the spectrum, the wealthy lived in opulence, with a dearth of a middle class extremely noticeable. Between 1450 and 1700 in Europe, similar reactions were common among the same social classes, with the aristocracy/nobles despising the poor and viewing them as a problem, while the middle class tried to be more sympathetic, clergy strived for a solution to the issue, and various town councils tried to solve the issue through public works. Town councils between 1450 and 1700 in Europe, bodies of law-makers that were generally prominent members of a town, worked to better society. In towns such as Dijon, France, shelters were created for the poor from a barn or other place to put them for the night and to care for them as well as possible (Doc. 2). While this did not necessarily solve the issue of the poor, this resolution shows that sympathy for the poor was prevalent among town councils. Meanwhile, in Document 7, the issue of the poor was solved through 12 stripes with the whip on the bare skin and a thinner diet, and harder labor. While the regulations of Suffolk County, England did not necessarily represent benevolence to those affected by poverty, they strived to solve the drain on society caused by the impoverished beggars. Views on those who were poor by choice or by force will also polarizing. In Rouen, France,

those unwilling to work would be expelled from the city, but those who were simply unable to find work were placed in a job (Doc. 8). This town council held the attitude that the poor who were truly forced into that position were an unfortunate folk, and should be given to work to work their way up the socioeconomic ladder. All of these town councils consistently passed laws or resolutions to deal with the problem of the poor in a rigid and regulated manner that promoted the well-being of the general populace, and generally, the poor as well. The Catholic Church produced various opinions and actions to the poor throughout the time period between 1450 to 1700. In a Catholic priests sermon in the fifteenth century, it was said that giving pennies to the poor was a good deed that could be valued in the afterlife (Doc. 1). However, the priest also proclaimed that giving pennies in sickness or in death was worse less or nothing at all, respectively. This shows that the point of donating was for ones own salvation, and not for the benefit of the poor. This is a perfect portrayal of the mentality during this time period that every person is responsible for his/her salvation and should do anything to attain it. The priest giving this speech probably was from the country, and is disconnected from the upper hierarchy of the Catholic Church and their views on giving alms. Vincent de Paul, a much more worldly French priest who created a religious order dedicated to aiding the poor, preaches the view that *one must+ assist the poor and see that they are helped in every possible way (Doc. 10). It must be taken into consideration that this quote is coming from a member of the clergy who has dedicated his spiritual and occupational life to aiding the poor. Therefore, whether or not, the official Catholic Church possesses the same opinion is to be contested. Various branches of the Catholic Church from 1450 to 1700 preached for a general assistance to the poor, but rather for ones own benefit in the afterlife rather than for its morality. The middle class possessed many opinions on the issue of poverty, but most included a general sense of benevolence and passive tolerance. William Turner portrayed the poor as a proud people,

refusing to accept free medical care (Doc. 6). The poor are described as to rather be sick and live with ease and idleness than be well and to honestly earn their living with great pain and labor. Turner possess a positive opinion of the poor, but still thinks them to be rather lazy. Turner represents many of the views of the educated middle-class, having been educated enough to be a doctor and write a book, the New Booke of Spiritual Physick. Another educated citizen of Europe, Juan Luis Vives, describes the poor as being dirty due to being forced to despicable methods of surviving. He then goes on, saying that many people do not donate to the poor due to discomfort at the unworthiness of the applicants (Doc. 3). Vives is sympathetic to the poor, although appalled at what some of them do to survive. He writes that it is common for people to donate, however many do not, while they should. Juan Luis Vives is a Spanish Humanist, and represents the views of many of his educated contemporaries on the poor. He also lives in the Netherlands, and may be Calvinist, representing many of the wealthy merchant class. In Document 11, Jean Maillefer, a wealthy merchant, describes the life of poor as an idyllic and carefree one. He possesses the ignorant belief that the poor have it good. He possesses this view because he is rich, and probably has never seen the true devastation of poverty. The middle-class, while often misguided, exuded a general benevolence to the impoverished from 1450 to 1700. The noble class, meanwhile, despised the poor and viewed them with disdain, whom often complained due to unfair treatment by said nobles. Emperor Charles V particularly represented this disdain, claiming that it was the choice of the poor to be impoverished. However, he did decree that these people should receive food and sustenance (Doc. 4). While he ends his decree with a general statement that the poor should be cared for, he also claims that the poor will fall in idleness, which is the beginning of all evils. Charles V never encountered the tragedies of everyday life as a poor person, due to his birth into the Habsburg dynasty as ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, Spain, and all of its remaining territories. He is ill-equipped to deal with the issue of the poor and how to think of them. Cardinal Richelieu, another major player in European politics, despised the poor, speaking in an

unofficial statement on poverty, Vagabonds and good-for-nothings have turned to begging, taking the bread from the sick... (Doc. 8). One must remember that this is an unofficial statement, so, while this may not represent Richelieus public opinion or response to the poor, it exemplifies the nobles contempt for the impoverished from 1450 to 1700. Richelieu is also ill-equipped to speak badly of the poor, having probably never encountered it in his life. The nobles of 1450 to 1700 represented many of the beliefs that caused the poor to stay poor, and the rich to stay rich. However, the poor could not be contained for eternity. After years of being oppressed, revolutions would later spring up across Europe, the most notable being in France in 1789. While some of the revolutions were unsuccessful, or even counterproductive, they would lead to democracy. While it may not seem significant to many attitudes and reactions prevalent among the same social classes, with the aristocracy/nobles despising the poor and viewing them as a problem, the middle class trying to be more sympathetic, clergy striving for a solution to the issue, and various town councils trying to solve the issue through public works would be monumental to not only European history, but the history of government.