Bloody Legislation Against the Dispossessed

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Bloody Legislation Against the Dispossessed


the name given by K. Marx (Kapital, vol. 1, ch. 24) to laws against vagabonds and paupers promulgated in Tudor England in the late 15th and 16th centuries.

The laws prescribed cruel punishment for persons accused of vagrancy and collecting alms without the permission of the authorities. They were whipped, branded, and committed to temporary slavery; if they escaped and were caught, they were condemned to perpetual slavery, and if they were caught for the third time, they were executed. The main victims of this repression were peasants driven from their land by enclosures. The first bloody law was Henry VII’s statute of 1495, and the statutes of 1536 and 1547 were especially cruel. A law was enacted in 1576 establishing workhouses for the poor. The Act on the Punishment of Vagabonds and Sturdy Paupers, passed by Parliament in 1597, definitively established the law on paupers and vaga-bonds and remained in force unchanged until 1814.

Similar laws were also enacted in other countries embarking on the path of capitalist development in the 16th through the 18th centuries, for instance, the Netherlands and France. Although the bloody laws could not prevent the growth of vagrancy and pauperism, they broke the resistance of the dispossessed and made peasants driven from their land willing to accept hired work under the worst conditions.


Semenov, V. F. “Pauperizm v Anglii XV v. i zakonodatel’stvo Tiudorov po voprosu o pauperakh.” In the collection Srednie veka, issue 4. Moscow, 1953.
Shtokmar, V. V. “Krovavoe zakonodatel’stvo Tiudorov protiv obezzemelenhykh narodnykh mass Anglii.” Uch. zap. LGU, 1951, no. 130. Series Istoricheskie nauki, issue 18.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.