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Sturdy beggar is a former English legal expression for someone who was fit and able to work, but begged or wandered for a living instead. The Statute of Cambridge 1388 was an early law which differentiated between sturdy beggars (those who were capable of working) and the infirm (handicapped or elderly) poor. Vagabonds and Beggars Act 1494 listed restrictions and punishments. In the 1530s and into the 1540s many English monasteries were closed, reducing resources available to the poor and in 1531 there was an order issued that justices of the peace could issue licences to those unable to work, making begging by persons able to work a crime. Sometimes men willing to work but unable to find work were lumped into the same category.
Types of sturdy beggar included the Tom o'Bedlam, who would pretend to be mad and follow people around. People would give him money to go away. The bristler used loaded dice that would land on any number he chose. This way, he could cheat at dice. The Counterfeit Crank would use soap to foam at the mouth, and pretend to have violent fits.
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