Gypsies: The Pursuit of a Nomadic Lifestyle
Records of the presence of gypsies in England date back to at least the beginning of the sixteenth century. 1 Their ancestors had left northern India around five hundred years earlier and had spread out across Europe. The first arrivals here claimed to be Christian pilgrims from Egypt, but had in reality left the Balkans in the wake of Turkish occupation. 2 Initially, perhaps, the prospect of helping indigent Christian pilgrims who were begging for alms may have evoked a sympathetic response from those here who believed their story and were familiar with the idealization of poverty promoted three centuries earlier by Saint Francis of Assisi. 3 However, by the middle of the sixteenth century the status of pilgrims was in steep decline and begging was increasingly frowned upon. Severe sanctions were being imposed upon gypsies by authorities throughout Europe, 4 and England was to prove no exception.
Hence, within a very short time of the gypsies' advent to this country they were faced with a steady stream of repressive legislation directed at outlawing altogether both them and their way of life. An Act passed in 1530 during the reign of Henry VIII decreed that 'outlandish people calling themselves Egyptians' should quit the realm within sixteen days of the Act's proclamation, upon pain of imprisonment and forfeiture of all their goods and chattels. 5 Similarly, any gypsies entering the country after the Act's promulgation were to suffer the same penalties if they remained for longer than fifteen days after being ordered out. In 1554 a further Act was felt to be necessary, since gypsies were again entering the country 'using their old-accustomed devilish and naughty practices and devices, with such abominable living as is not in any Christian Realm to be permitted, named or known ....' 6 This time the punishment was for any gypsy to be automatically deemed and judged a felon and to suffer pain of death and loss of lands and goods, without benefit and privilege of sanctuary or clergy. An exception was____________________