The Poor in England, 1700-1850: An Economy of Makeshifts

By Steven King; Alannah Tomkins | Go to book overview

2

'Not by bread only'?
Common right, parish relief
and endowed charity in
a forest economy,
c. 1600–1800

Steve Hindle


Overview

On 21 June 1607, Robert Wilkinson preached a sermon before commissioners assembled at Northampton to try the participants in the Midland Rising, a series of anti-enclosure protests involving as many as one thousand participants, which had spread throughout Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Warwickshire during the spring and summer of that year. The rising had culminated on 8 June in a bloody pitched battle at the village of Newton in Geddington Woods, part of Rockingham Forest in Northamptonshire, in which some forty or fifty rebels were massacred by a gentry force under Sir Edward Montagu.1 For Wilkinson, the rising was symptomatic of 'tempestuous and troublesome times' during which the 'excessive covetousnesse of some' had 'caused extreme want to other, and that want, not well digested, hath riotted to the hazard of all'. Depopulating enclosure had deprived the poor of their living, Wilkinson noted, and 'in case of extreme hunger men will not be perswaded but they will have bread'.2

As might be expected of a court preacher speaking in the presence of judges and law-officers of the crown, Wilkinson emphasised his horror that 'mechanicall men are come to beard magistrates'. 'It is horrible indeed', he argued, that 'even the vile

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