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Index to Stow's original Survey of London written in 1598

OF CHARITABLE ALMS IN OLD TIMES GIVEN

These, as all other of their times, gave great relief to the poor. I myself, in that declining time of charity, have oft seen at the Lord Cromwell’s gate in London more than two hundred persons served twice every day with bread, meat, and drink sufficient; for he observed that ancient and charitable custom, as all prelates, noblemen, or men of honour and worship, his predecessors, had done before him; whereof somewhat to note for example, Venerable Bede writeth, that prelates of his time having peradventure but wooden churches, had notwithstanding on their board at their meals one alms dish, into the which was carved some good portion of meat out of every other dish brought to their table; all which was given to the poor, besides the fragments left, in so much as in a hard time, a poor prelate wanting victuals, hath caused his alms dish, being silver, to be divided among the poor, therewith to shift as they could, till God should send them better store.

Such a prelate was Ethelwald, Bishop of Winchester, in the reign of King Edgar, about the year of Christ 963: he in a great famine sold away all the sacred vessels of his church for to relieve the almost starved people, saying that there was no reason that the senseless temples of God should abound in riches, and lively temples of the Holy Ghost to lack it.

[83]

Walter de Suffilde, Bishop of Norwich, was of the like mind; about the year 1245, in a time of great dearth, he sold all his plate, and distributed it to the poor every pennyworth.

Robert Winchelsey, Archbishop of Canterbury, about the year 1293, besides the daily fragments of his house, gave every Friday and Sunday, unto every beggar that came to his gate, a loaf of bread sufficient for that day, and there more usually, every such alms day, in time of dearth, to the number of five thousand, and otherwise four thousand, at the least; more, he used every great festival day to give one hundred and fifty pence to so many poor people, to send daily meat, bread, and drink, to such as by age or sickness were not able to fetch his alms, and to send meat, money, and apparel to such as he thought needed it.

I read,[107] in 1171, that Henry II., after his return into England, did penance for the slaughter of Thomas Becket, of whom (a sore dearth increasing) ten thousand persons, from the first of April, till new corn was inned, were daily fed and sustained.

More, I find recorded,[108] that in the year 1236, the 20th of Henry III., William de Haverhull, the king’s treasurer, was commanded, that upon the day of the Circumcision of our Lord, six thousand poor people should be fed at Westminster, for the state of the king, queen, and their children. The like commandment the said King Henry gave to Hugh Gifford and William Browne, that upon Friday next after the Epiphany, they should cause to be fed in the great hall at Windsore, at a good fire, all the poor and needy children that could be found, and the king’s children being weighed and measured, their weight and measure to be distributed for their good estates. These few examples for charity of kings may suffice.

I read, in the reign of Edward III., that Richard de Berie, Bishop of Durham, did weekly bestow for the relief of the poor eight quarters of wheat made into bread, besides his alms dish, fragments of his house, and great sums of money given to the poor when he journeyed. And that these alms dishes were as well used at the tables of noblemen as of the prelates, one note may suffice in this place.

I read, in the year 1452, that Richard, Duke of York, then claiming the crown, the Lord Rivers should have passed the sea about the king’s business, but staying at Plimmoth till his money was spent, and then sending for more, the Duke of Sommerset sent him the image of St. George in silver and gold, to be sold,[84] with the alms dish of the Duke of Glocester, which was also of great price, for coin had they none.

To end of orders and customs in this city, also of great families kept by honourable persons thither repairing, and of charitable alms of old times given, I say, for conclusion, that all noble persons, and other of honour and worship, in former times lodging in this city, or liberties thereof, did without grudging bear their parts in charges with the citizens, according to their estimated estates, as I have before said, and could prove by examples; but let men call to mind Sir Thomas Cromwel, then lord privy seal and vicar-general, lying in the city of London; he bare his charges to the great muster there in A.D. 1539; he sent his men in great number to the Miles end, and after them their armour in cars, with their coats of white cloth, the arms of this city; to wit, a red cross, and a sword, on the breast and back; which armour and coats they ware amongst the citizens, without any difference, and marched through the city to Westminster.