The eighteenth century witnessed a renewed interest in debating the classification of the poor. What principles did the Enlightenment employ to distinguish the poor from the vagrant? The present study focuses on the debate that throughout the eighteenth century elaborated on the dichotomy between the deserving poor and the idle vagrant, paying particular attention to how the intellectual elite, the Crown, and the populace negotiated the contours of the vagrant. Economic and normative discourses as well as judicial practices regarding the policing of vagrancy are subject to examination. The monarchy primarily focused on its economic goals promulgating royal decrees, which punished unproductivity, but the identification of the idle vagrant was problematic. Tensions between the law and its application, between individuals and civil servants, and the resistance of the so-called vagrant to such classification highlight the ambiguity of the concept. This essay studies the archive where the uneven power between administrators and common people negotiated the idea of vagrancy and its corresponding discipline. Claims in court delineated the limits of royal power but, ultimately, difficulties agreeing on the meaning of vagrancy increased the number of men over whom the Crown exercised its right to impose forced labor.


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 509-531
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.