Davenant Funds Research Trip on English Reformation Poor Relief

In December 2015, the Davenant Trust provided a small grant to fund Mr. Brian Hanson, a Ph.D candidate at St. Andrews University, for a five-day research trip in London, involving archival research at The National Archives, British Library, London Metropolitan Archives, Lambeth Palace Library, and Kent History Centre. Mr. Hanson’s research concerns the English evangelical reformer Thomas Becon, and his writings on piety and charity. His dissertation, being carried out under the supervision of Prof. Andrew Pettegree, is entitled “‘The worde of our soules health’: Evangelical piety in sixteenth-century England with particular reference to the writings of Thomas Becon’.”

Mr. Hanson had this to say about his valuable time in the London archives:

“I would like to formally thank the Davenant Trust for it’s funding of my recent research trip to London. I’m very grateful for the generosity and support for the archival research I conducted December 18-22. Without it’s backing, the research would not have been a reality. It was a highly productive trip and the data I uncovered greatly adds to my doctoral thesis and ultimately to the broader scholarship of evangelical piety and devotion in Reformation England. . . .

Given that Thomas Becon and his evangelical contemporaries wrote much on poor relief and how individuals should give to the poor of London, my primary objective was to survey a sample of poor relief records in London’s churches in between 1550 and 1553, and 1558 to 1575. After 1552 due to the influence of Becon and other evangelicals, churches were required by Parliament to give to the poor. However, not all church record books from this period contain financial records. Those churches that did record their poor relief activity tended to be very specific, regimented, and generous in the way they gave. . . .

While the data I discovered in the church record books and letters will further advance scholarship in the areas of poor relief and piety in early modern England, it also specifically benefits the evangelical church today by providing a healthy model for it to follow. In the past 50 years, many evangelical churches have reacted to the social agenda of liberal churches by almost entirely abandoning social concerns such as poor relief. Thomas Becon and other evangelicals saw no difference between the gospel and poor relief. Poor relief was an extension of the gospel. Evangelical churches across London freely and indiscriminately gave to the poor. The regular, organized, and systematic poor relief of these churches is a helpful example for churches today. It is possible to be evangelical and generous to the poor without abandoning the pure gospel. Biblical poor relief is ultimately giving to Jesus Himself (Matthew 25:31–46).”