From Reformation to Improvement: Public Welfare in Early Modern England

Synopsis

Between the early sixteenth and the early eighteenth centuries, the character of English social policy and social welfare changed fundamentally. Aspirations for wholesale reformation were replaced by more specific schemes for improvement. Paul Slack's analysis of this decisive shift of focus, derived from his 1995 Ford Lectures, examines its intellectual and political roots. He describes the policies and rhetoric of the commonwealthsmen, godly magistrates, Stuart monarchs, Interregnum projectors, and early Hanoverian philanthropists, and the institutions -- notably hospitals and workhouses - which they created or reformed. In a series of thematic chapters, each linked to a chronological period, he brings together what might seem to have been disparate notions and activities, and shows that they expressed a sequence of coherent approaches towards public welfare. The result is a strikingly original study, which throws fresh light on the formation of civic consciousness and the emergence of a civil society in early modern England.