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Study Notes

The Poor in Elizabethan England

AQA, Edexcel, OCR

Last updated 10 Jun 2017

The poor is a key topic within the Elizabethan course and it is essential that you understand why poverty increased during the reign of Elizabeth. It is also important that you understand who the poor were and how the government dealt with the problem.

There were two types of poor in England at the time of Elizabeth. The first was the impotent or deserving poor. These poor were people who were unable to work due to being ill, disabled or simply being too old. Elizabethan society was often sympathetic to this type of being poor.

On the other hand those who chose to not work but were able to were called able bodied or idle poor. These people were punished harshly with punishments including whippings. The number of able bodied poor would increase and decrease in line with how successful trade was. In good years there would be a fall in the number of able bodied poor but in bad years this would increase. 

This increase in the able bodied poor as a result of poor trade led to a recognition of unemployment as a problem. The Elizabethan government introduced different pieces of legislation aimed to tackle the problem of the poor.

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