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The Vagabonds and Beggars Act 1494 (11 Henry VII c. 2) was an Act of Parliament passed during the reign of Henry VII. The Act determined that:

Vagabonds, idle and suspected persons shall be set in the stocksDevice used to publicly humiliate those found guilty of minor offences. for three days and three nights and have none other sustenance but bread and water and then shall be put out of Town. Every beggar suitable to work shall resort to the HundredAdministrative subdivision of a shire. where he last dwelled, is best known, or was born and there remain upon the pain aforesaid.[1]

Vagabond is an Old French word used to describe those who wandered from place to place, especially those without regular occupation or other obvious means of support.[2]


The Black Death of 1348–1349, during which an estimated 40−60 per cent of the population of England died,[a]Estimates vary from about 20 per cent up to more than 60 per cent. A 2016 paper by the archaeologist Carenza Lewis suggests that, in rural settlements in eastern England, the population declined by 45 per cent to 65 per cent.[3] had led to a severe shortage of labour, encouraging many workers to roam the country in search of the highest wages.[4] That posed a problem for landowners, who were no longer able to reply on the ready availability of a cheap and tractable workforce.[5] So, beginning with the 1349 Ordinance of LabourersLargely ineffective royal proclamation intended to address the acute labour shortage in the wake of the Black Death., a series of laws was introduced to re-establish the social order by suppressing the movement of workers and restricting the level of their wages, which can be seen as the earliest laws dealing with the poor.[4]




Higginbotham, Peter. The Workhouse Encyclopedia. Ebook, The History Press, 2012.
Lewis, Carenza. “Disaster Recovery: New Archaeological Evidence for the Long-Term-Impact of the ‘Calamitous Fourteenth Century.’” Antiquity, vol. 90, no. 351, 2016.
OED. “Vagabond, Adj. and n.” Oxford English Dictionary, Online, Oxford  University Press, 2023,
Poos, L. R. “The Social Context of Statute of Labourers Enforcement.” Law and History Review, vol. 1, Spring 1983, pp. 27–52,