Alan Forrest

in The Oxford Handbook of the Ancien Régime

Published in print November 2011 | ISBN: 9780199291205
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in History



Poverty was an endemic condition across Europe from the later middle ages until the end of the eighteenth century. It was the most intractable of the social problems which beset Europeans and offered a constant rebuke to monarchs and church leaders alike, proving almost as difficult to define as it was impossible to cure. This was an age before social science or social medicine, when there were still no agreed definitions of what constituted poverty, no clear sense of who was and was not poor; and there was little understanding of basic levels of subsistence in terms of protein or diet. Nor were there serious attempts before the eighteenth century to count the poor, or to assess the extent and pervasiveness of poverty. This is partly a question of social and religious attitudes. Poor relief was seen as a matter for the church and for clerical charity. The assumption that poverty was a problem for governments to legislate on still lay in the future, while the almost obsessive concern with statistics which characterizes modern government began only during the French revolutionary and Napoleonic period.

Keywords: poverty; monarch; church leaders; subsistence; economic condition; French revolution; modern government

Article.  8258 words. 

Subjects: History

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