The Beggars of Brittany

Beggars once exerted a ubiquitous and very noticeable presence in Breton society, particularly in the countryside, but their position was often ambivalent: they were feted as the most honoured guests at wedding feats but also feared for their purported ability to cast the evil eye that brought-on misfortune.

The author Gustave Flaubert toured Brittany with Maxime Du Camp in 1847 and, wrote in his account Par Les Champs et Par Les Grev̀es (1886): “As soon as you get somewhere, the beggars rush up to you and cling with the stubbornness of hunger. You give them, they stay; you give them more, their number increases, soon it is a crowd which besieges you. No matter how much you empty your pocket to the last farthing, they nevertheless remain fiercely on your side, busy reciting their prayers, which are unfortunately very long and fortunately unintelligible. If you park, they won’t move; if you go away, they follow you; nothing remedies it, neither speech nor pantomime. It looks like a bias to make you angry, their tenacity is irritating, implacable”.

Roussin_The Family - Beggars of Brittany

Belonging to the most disadvantaged section of a still largely illiterate society, the beggars and vagrants of 18th and 19th century Brittany, as elsewhere, produced very few documents themselves. Indeed, unless brought before the magistrates, beggars left little traces to history that lived beyond local memories. A wonderfully notable exception being Jean-Marie Déguignet’s account of his “long lifetime of poverty, slavery and persecution” published as The Memoirs of a Breton Peasant (2004).

It was in the 19th century that the French government began to take a serious look at begging and vagrancy; both regarded as significant social problems that might, ultimately, pose serious risks to the state.  However, the narrative surrounding the nature of the problem was predominantly framed by the state and solutions that might have seemed sagacious in the wealthy corridors of Paris were not necessarily practical or welcome in the remoter, rural parts of the country.

Souter_Vagrants - Beggars of Brittany

In order to pursue official measures designed to tackle beggars and begging, it was necessary to understand the nature and scope of the problem. To this end, the government organised national surveys and required local officials to submit regular reports for L’Extinction de la mendicite (The Eradication of Begging); we therefore have some good data to help us understand beggars and, by implication, poverty in the 19th century here. However, the strength of the information we might glean from this data is corrupted by the poor definitions of the three key terms: beggar, indigent and vagrant; classifications that are intricately linked and often confused by the various compilers due to the difficulties inherent in clearly differentiating between the three states.

The passage from poverty to indigence could be slight and the boundaries between this and begging was slender at best. Any difference in status was not necessarily linked to the degree of misery but to the fact that some desperate people reached out to ask for alms; begging being most often the last or the only means of survival. Indeed, begging was often the only way to stay alive for the families of poor peasants affected by some life-changing misfortune, such as a personal crisis, bad harvest or devastating fire.

Beggars Brittany

Even slight changes in circumstances had major repercussions for those who were already living in extreme poverty. A blog post such as this cannot hope to begin to examine the root causes of poverty in 19th century Brittany but I will highlight a few areas worth noting. Firstly, apart from the hinterland of the three or four largest cities, the benefits of industrialisation were largely unknown in the region; people lived very much as they had done under the pre-Revolutionary Ancien Régime.

Most of the rural population were reliant on agriculture and were thus very exposed to vagaries such as the success or failure of farms and their crops. Farms in the province were small with the average size in western Brittany not exceeding fourteen acres but some were as small as two or three acres; the margins of success were therefore extremely thin. The farmers were generally poor and lived miserably but their wants were mostly satisfied; squalor and poverty were tolerated because they were traditional and familiar.

Generally, the inhabitants of each farm, consisting of the farmer’s family and a few labourers and as many female servants who lived with the family, sufficed for the general work. During harvest time, additional hands were employed and these were often people who worked for two or three months of the year and begged during the remainder. The conditions of the poorer farmers, daily labourers and beggars, were so near alike, that the passage from one state to another was quite frequent.

Beggars of Brittany

In coastal regions, fishermen and cannery workers generally worked when they could and begged or sent their children to beg when they could not. Such practices were even noted in the relatively wealthy port of Audierne at the turn of the century; the town “swarms with children who pester the visitor with begging” wrote Sabine Baring-Gould in his book, Brittany (1902). The collapse of the Breton sardine fishing industry in 1880-86 and again in 1902-03 had a devastating impact on local prospects; the latter saw about 40,000 fishermen and cannery workers without jobs. Begging in such a harsh economic climate really was the difference between survival and starvation.

Although disease did not discriminate between different social classes, it impacted on the poor most strongly. The consequences of poverty, such as a poor diet and miserable living conditions, increased susceptibility to infection and the onslaught of illness could rapidly propel an industrious and independent family into a life of dependency and even destitution. Diseases such as dysentery, smallpox, typhoid and cholera were endemic in 19th century Brittany, claiming tens of thousands of lives; smallpox claimed some 20,000 lives in 1871 alone. Unfortunately, the region was also no stranger to famine with those of 1814-15 and 1846-47, when over 20,000 people died, noted as being particularly severe. 

Breton Beggar

Another factor worth noting is the increase in life expectancy that took place here throughout the 19th century. While life expectancy averaged around forty-two years in the middle of the century, the percentage of older people in the population increased markedly. Thus, more people reached the age of sixty with an expectation of living another ten years but with neither pension nor adequate welfare support; the poor elderly were ultimately doomed to poverty and to eke out their twilight years in begging. “The peasants were a hard, harsh race and pitiless in their dealings toward one another. Their treatment of their old people was terrible. If an old mother, past work, had no money, she was ruthlessly turned out to beg,” noted Anne Douglas Sedgwick in A Childhood in Brittany Eighty Years Ago (1919).

Over 40,000 beggars were recorded in the far western Départment of Finistère in 1830 – a staggering eight per cent of the population – and as many in neighbouring Côtes-du-Nord some ten years later. A report of 1840 noted that the latter Départment contained a commune of 8,000 people, of which 6,000 were classed as beggars. The problems appear to have been so acute that a third of the activity of the police and the gendarmerie were reputedly devoted to vagrants. However, official measures to eradicate the problem of beggars and begging in France, such as dedicated hospitals, charitable offices and public assistance programmes, met with some resistance in Brittany; mainly due to the repressive measures that also formed part of the policy.

The Penal Code of 1810 effectively conflates vagrancy and begging, noting that: “Every person found begging, in a place for which there shall exist a public institution organized for the purpose of obviating mendicity, shall be punished with an imprisonment of from three to six months”. Another article states that: “In places where any such institution does not yet exist, habitual beggars shall be punished with an imprisonment of one to three months”.

Beggars Mendicants Brittany

Repression was therefore inseparable from assistance since the absence of public assistance arrangements prevented complete repression. In practice, vagrants here often obtained a little relief from the local mayor out of parish funds, generally a loaf of bread and a “Passeport d’Indigent” to some distant town. This passport entitled the bearer to a relief of 15 centimes per league, payable at each commune passed-through. Beggars arriving in towns were tolerated to beg for two or three days, during which they were supposed to collect sufficient money to enable them to go elsewhere; they were then required to leave the town. The only beggars allowed to stay in town were paupers belonging to the parish, who had to identify themselves by wearing a tin badge; all others were treated as vagrants.

What the Penal Code called an offence did not appear to Bretons as aberrant behaviour. Government policy was completely at odds with local attitudes and community leaders found themselves in the difficult position of trying to balance demands from the centre against deeply-held beliefs that considered beggars as the “poor of God”. Some argued that to accept the measures of assistance was to allow for the measures of repression that made the beggar an outcast from society and that if the beggar was to remain in society then it was necessary to oppose repression and thus oppose the assistance which necessarily promoted it.

Beggars in Brittany

The key difference between the lawmakers in Paris and those who administered it in Brittany was their attitude to the relationship between the beggar and the rest of society. Here, begging was not considered disgraceful; farmers and fishermen allowed their children to beg along the roads or among the neighbourhood farms. Charity and hospitality were considered solemn religious duties and even those with the least to spare happily gave alms. Far from being rejected and persecuted, beggars played an important role at the heart of Breton society where they were regarded as privileged intercessors between the less deprived and God.

Indeed, it was not unusual for beggars to offer prayers for the living or the dead in exchange for alms or to take-on the role of surrogate pilgrim for those too ill or occupied to travel to receive a particular’s saint’s pardon. Attended by thousands of worshippers, the Pardons of the 19th century also attracted beggars seeking alms in large numbers. Thomas Adolphus Trollope in his A Summer in Brittany (1840) attended the Pardon at Saint-Jean-du-Doigt and provides a most colourful description of the beggars there:

Breton_Pardon Procession - Beggars of Brittany

“Just outside the moving circle thus formed, and constituting a sort of division between it and the rest of the crowd, were a row of mendicants, whose united appearance was something far more horrible than I have any hope of conveying any idea of to the reader. Let him combine every image that his imagination can conceive of hideous deformity and frightful mutilation; of loathsome filth and squalid, vermin-breeding corruption; of festering wounds and leprous, putrefying sores; and let him suppose all this exposed in the broad light of day, and arranged carefully and skilfully by the wretched creatures whose stock in trade this mass of horrors constitutes, so as to produce the utmost possible amount of loathsomeness and sickening disgust; and when he has done this to the extent of his imagination, I feel convinced that he will have but an imperfect idea of what met my eyes.”

The situation seemed little changed over 65 years later when Francis Miltoun noted in her Rambles in Brittany (1905): “beggars, deformed or ill with incurable disease, crippled or what not, all expectant of reaping a thriving harvest from the simple-minded frequenters of the shrine. Whether deserving or not, all of them appear to receive liberal alms, for the custom of giving alms is as much a component part of the event as any of the other observances, nor is it ever frowned upon or curtailed by the religious or civic authorities.”

Beggars in Brittany

Other community celebrations like weddings also attracted large numbers of beggars who often travelled considerable distances to attend. In western Brittany, beggars were treated as honoured guests and the third day of the wedding celebration was often set-aside specifically for feeding the beggars, after which the bride and groom danced with the doyen of the beggars present.

Beggars often travelled far afield; a report from the Pays de la Loire in 1865 complained that most of the region’s beggars were from “the depths of Brittany”. Whether they travelled outside the province or simply around the neighbouring communes, beggars were important carriers of news and gossip to, sometimes, very isolated communities.

Beggars Brittany

In the 19th century, attitudes towards beggars here were also widely influenced by superstition and superstitions pervaded the daily life of most rural Bretons. Beggars were among the characters that were frequently associated with the supernatural; they were thought able to cast the evil eye and to throw curses on cattle and crops, even to stop butter churning. In eastern Brittany, it was said that beggars possessed the power to attract or repel rats, at will, to and from wherever they pleased. Some beggars likely nourished such superstitions and many households no doubt gave alms to prevent some disaster befalling them as much as out of charity.

Court records show that intimidation and fraud were sometimes used by beggars to solicit alms or against those who refused them; crop damage and arson seemingly having been the resort of most spite. Perhaps a more sinister aspect to begging is hinted at in the sketchy records relating to a brotherhood of beggars known as the Truands. The origins of this mysterious Breton gang are unclear but it was said that in the middle of the 19th century bands of beggars would meet annually under a single leader known as Le Grand Coesre. In 1858, Bonaparte’s niece, Princess Elisa Napoléone Baciocchi, is reported to have driven them away from her estate near Colpo in southern Brittany but little is really known of them after that.

Beggar Brittany

While many French accounts depicted the beggar as a deviant figure, in Brittany beggars were regarded as unremarkable. They were simply an ever-present part of daily life, as much a part of the local community as the butcher or baker and as beloved by God as the most innocent child; objects of neither denigration nor romanticisation who slowly faded from the scene in the 20th century.

Published by Bon Repos Gites

Enjoying life in Kalon Breizh - the Heart of Brittany.

106 thoughts on “The Beggars of Brittany

  1. Very interesting — it made me think of Jonathon Swift’s essay, “A Modest Proposal” and all the impoverished people who “immigrated” were picked up off the streets and put in ships. It also made me think of the alms boxes by the Lazar houses and salvation helped along by helping the poor — really fascinating essay, thank you.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Fascinating. We have had an increase in beggars in the United States since the 1980s. Variety of reasons and worse in some areas than others. Hope they are no longer as prevalent in Brittany.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Thank you! Agreed, the reasons behind begging are more complex today. We have some beggars here today (begging was legalised in the ’90s) but we also have welfare support and unfilled jobs; so, again, a more complex issue.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. Thank you very much!! I am pleased that you enjoyed the read and that it brought so many things to mind! Writing it, I was struck by the differences and similarities with the situation today. You are right, this was a time when whole communities were united in the conviction that it was their duty to help those who were worse off!
      Haha, well, no children were sold or roasted 😉 but women here once regularly sold their hair for cash or linen 😦

      Liked by 3 people

  2. As a child I do not recall seeing beggars in Europe and I wonder how homeless people were so well hidden, or maybe after WW2 there were not so many. In Asia begging was a way of life, such as you describe. I wasn’t very old but I was disturbed to see children my own age forced to beg and I hated that my own people regarded them with disdain. It still bothers me and now everywhere there are increasing numbers of homeless. I don’t know what solution there can be especially when so many other matters are viewed as more important. You have a lot of information here that I was not aware of. Sad, but one ought to know these things.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. As you said, it is a very complicated issue and one that carries so many threads within. I appreciate that the root causes are several but it does seem that nowadays we have come to accept the situation as ‘just one of those things’. Hopefully not!
      You make an interesting point about the visibility of homelessness and I wonder why that is? Is it due to massively increased numbers or has there been a reduction in hostels or is it just so much more acceptable today? Hmm

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for all your meticulous research, your eye for the perfect paintings that illustrate this very important post.
    i live in a country where large-scale homelessness is not very apparent, where begging is erratic and in many towns non-existent. but the final conclusion ,
    ” in Brittany beggars were regarded as unremarkable. They were simply an ever-present part of daily life, as much a part of the local community as the butcher or baker and as beloved by God as the most innocent child; objects of neither denigration nor romanticism who slowly faded from the scene in the 20th century. Live and let live!”

    I hope is not taken up by the great cities of the USA where the homeless, remain without homes or futures or real lives for that matter, beyond surviving one day after the other. I find it so hard to accept that in a super power, like the USA. this is going on..nonstop today. How history is repeated!!

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I am so pleased that you found this of interest and thank you for reading it! I agree with you. It is difficult to comprehend how rich, industrialised nations have seemingly allowed the situation to escalate as much as it has. I am not naive enough to expect total employment or affordable housing for all but it does seem that we have allowed things to get worse than they need be.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank YOU, Susan for taking the trouble to read it! They certainly once enjoyed a special place in society here and their prominence seems to fade away during the massive societal changes that took place here after the First World War.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Fascinating story. I live in Los Angeles, currently experiencing the worst homeless crisis ever. The more that is proposed – with much higher taxes to go with it – the worse the problem is. There are many reasons for the crisis and there are solutions, and it is a different issue that what you are describing here…that said, begging here has become accepted to a a degree never thought possible.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Many thanks, I am glad that you found it so. 🙂 You raise a very interesting point about the acceptability of begging in rich nations nowadays. I wonder when that happened and what the sociologists have to say on it! Some digging required methinks!

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Well researched and written. On our trip to Hong Kong in 1982, we saw an elderly beggar lady in a sampan. Our tour guide told us she was well looked after and was in fact quite rich. Begging was her profession and she lived in a mansion. In Japan, the down and outers live in tents alongside the rivers and while not looked after by the state seem to be cared for by the populace. Right now in Vancouver, hundreds of homeless live in makeshift shelters in front of businesses along a main road. No donation will help them, as they lose it, spend it on addictions, etc. Not sure what the answer is, likely different on a case by case basis. Hope all is well. Allan

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you Allan! Yes, you are right, it is such a complex issue and unlikely that there will be a ‘one size fits all’ solution. The issue of professional beggars and particularly successful ones is quite fascinating.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Yes, I agree, the numbers are quite staggering but, I guess, more understandable when you put them into the context of reliance on only one form of sustenance; agriculture. The numbers of folks that emigrated to other parts of France, Jersey or Canada in search of work are similarly large!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Yes, it would be hard to delve into all the causes of poverty and indigence in one blog post. Still, you do a good job. I have to wonder how much mental illness – and the fact that it was only recognized in the worst circumstances – played into poverty in the 19th century. Thanks for the post.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. That is a very interesting point! In fact, I realise that I know little about how such folk were treated back then, so, will have to do some digging. I know that people that were medically defined as idiots were very well treated but that would not cover sufferers of psychosis etc.

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  7. A fascinating essay on The Beggars of Brittany.

    Charlie Chaplin’s portrayal of the Little Tramp and the way he was treated in the films he made did much to change American and British attitudes towards beggars and homeless people.

    Liked by 4 people

  8. Such a hard scrabble existence is difficult to truly process. As much as I complain about my situation, I live like a king compared to most people in history. Still find time to complain though lol.

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    1. I know what you mean!! I guess it is human nature to quickly forget but today we moan if we do not have satellite TV and yet just a few generations ago our folk were scrabbling about for bits of pork fat once a week!

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  9. I think life became harder in the 20th century – for many… there was wars and in America we had a stock market crash and economy took dive and jobs also lost…

    I do not think was ever a good thing here. We used to have institutions for the mentally ill or people who had any kind of difference from current society.

    Those were shut due to poor funding and horrible tales of abuse of system and of those inside. The ones still standing are condemned and some say they haunted by spirits who’s souls are stuck there because of the horrors that went on inside

    Now a days … alcohol and drugs have severely entered the picture. It’s hard … because think – they struggle and mentally you do not know that struggle unless you live it … and that’s a hard life. So I guess drugs take that away for them… so that they may relax from life in order to live and it grabs them. And they don’t really care to live or die… So that is hard … and you can’t stop those things sadly. It’s heart breaking 💔

    Some are truly mentally ill- need help… when you mentally ill …you need someone … it’s hard because everyone struggles – and those things can make life harder or take it all away.

    Some just simply can not afford life because of their education or physical disabilities? It is hard to live paycheck to pay check – and look as I write my blog … I work so hard … but life still pounds me sometimes … so if someone already on edge of surviving and life pounds – sometimes it’s too much. You have to be very careful!

    While I struggled, life pounded me… I just stay away from everything but it pounded me hard with all the events. If a person is not of strong spirit or has not learned skills of survival… then sometimes they give up …

    People become tired to fight for life always.

    Although government has created a system where people just don’t want to work or take advantage

    The government did not mean bad… but they created bad… they meant to help humanity stand up

    Everyone needs a hand sometimes and they do say “it takes a village” … I think of that saying so much!! That saying swirls in my head all the time!

    The problem that also differs from back then is level of violence caused by the drugs and alcohol, and whatever else influence.

    And if you do offer any money, they will constantly ask for money – yes – that still happens. They can be manipulative.

    Just society was a lot simpler and not as built up as we are now… but they still had these things

    Some prefer that lifestyle 😮

    I do not like to ask for help for personal self… I have – but I hate it… only in absolute extreme will I ask for help, when I know I can’t … but I am lucky to have amazing village 😘❤️✌️ I would not survive without my village

    Some people don’t want a village but people need people… cause obviously humanity can’t get it right

    At least in Brittany’s past there is compassion 😊❤️ … here too, they were compassionate here too… it is more rare now. I don’t believe Americans have ever invited them to weddings? Lol …unless they crash it

    Sometimes I think, omg how crazy has this world gone?!! Everything so crazy.

    But then … ya know when you look back in time – kinda same? Just different influences

    Humanity is humanity … there are some who just down on luck – life is not easy in any era you born to ✌️

    Great glimpse back in time… gives you a grip that our world is ever changing – but some things stay the same

    I always used to be shocked when I did genealogy… because they presented their worlds … only the best parts though – is these parts we need education on ✌️

    I uncover so much ummm drama??? And things that I sometimes think – oh ok … it’s always been crazy then lol

    ✌️❤️ great post for past but still relates today

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you!! I agree with your thoughts here. Yes, you are right – there has never been an ‘easy’ or easier time. Each has its own challenges and what may be better in one time is counterbalanced by something that is worse! As you said, humanity is humanity and we seem often condemned to repeat the mistakes of the past, sadly.

      I do love your village concept!!! 🙂

      Thank you for taking the time to read it and share your thoughts – both are much appreciated!! 🙂 🙂 Enjoy what is left of your weekend!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yeah, humanity needs to set future humans up for success… life skills, education things that will help them survive, I also believe in nature vs nurture – so like I said we should set up better for success – they do it wrong ✌️

        Yes – I love my village concept also ❤️ you just have to find your peeps, build your village

        Haha always, still wordy 🙌✌️ some things stay same lol – glad you come back

        Totally enjoying Sunday ❤️ thank you – you too ✌️😘

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Yes, education was and remains so important! Perhaps I shall look into that if I do another social-history type post! 😉
        Haha, yes, build your village and when the circus comes to town – as it surely will from time-to-time, make sure you are the ringmaster!! 😉
        Stay well and good luck with the week ahead! 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

  10. Colin, thank for your insightful and informative post on such a difficult issue. Sad to say, poverty remains a challenge for our times. I found your comments on beggars being “regarded as privileged intercessors between the less deprived and God” of special interest. Was this attitude the collusion of church and state in treating poverty as a natural state of being condoned by God?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You are most welcome and I thank YOU for taking the time to read it! 🙂 You raise an interesting point and I am not certain that I have enough, dated, written evidence to respond effectively but here goes! 😉 The waters are a little clouded due to the Revolution that severed the link between Church and state and saw the removal of most of the religious institutions that had operated asylums and charitable centres designed to help the desperate.
      That the Bretons were genuine in their piety is attested by the many instances recorded of churches being filled to capacity and congregants being forced to follow the service while kneeling in the mud outside the building. Helping those less fortunate was a religious as well as a social duty in such small communities where one could well be the next person needing alms. Many old Breton legends tell of the good fortune that goes to those who help the weary traveller and the bad that luck that befalls those that turn the needy away. Indeed, the Virgin Mary descends to earth in the form of a beggar in several Breton tales.
      I do not know whether the notion that poverty as a natural state was pushed by the Church here but there was a long-attested stoicism whereby the Breton peasant accepted his lot; a fatalistic: “My parents were wretched, and I am like them – it is our condition to be poor.” Poverty was accepted as it was the way generations of their families had lived. Thus begging as a means to survive in the darkest moments was also accepted.
      The state’s efforts to alleviate poverty took some time to kick-in but it was not necessarily the fact that beggars and vagrants were necessarily poor that prompted action; the need to be able to gain some control over the vast armies of the needy roaming the land prompted many to fear the possibility of serious social unrest if these people were to be marshalled and led!

      Liked by 3 people

  11. Thanks for this post. It is a complex problem, one that has not gone away or is likely to do so anytime soon. There are dangers primarily to the “beggars,” the homeless, but there are also some threats of intimidation and violence from the beggars.

    It was complex in the 19th century and hasn’t gotten any simpler with time.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Unfortunately, you are right, as a race, we never seem to grasp the lessons from the past or even from other nations. We constantly re-invent the wheel and seem surprised that we never really move on in any fundamental sense. Here’s hoping for the future!!

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  12. A difficult topic handled with merit. And here we are in 2022 and poverty as a social and moral issue remains unresolved. The weak get weaker and the strong get stronger. It appears the past has taught humankind nothing with regard to this issue. It was complex in the 19th. century and still remains so today.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That is very kind of you to say Goff, thank you. It was delicate subject as I did not want to sensationalise it but felt it was a story worth telling given the important role they often played in rural communities. Sadly, you are right – a complex issue then and maybe more so now 😦

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  13. My dear friend.. am astonished at your research on this topic.. and I applaud to the variety of topics that you write.. this brought tears to my eyes.. we die leaving a name and legacy behind us but beggars are the unknown souls that walked this earth and dissappear without any trace.

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    1. Thank you for such generous feedback! Sometimes, I wonder whether predominantly historical posts would be read, so, I appreciate you reading this one very much! Yes, it is such a sad truth that, unless arrested, a whole strata of society passes leaving virtually no trace of their time on this Earth. Hopefully, this will change one day!! Keep well!

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  14. It is so distressing to see beggars in many parts of the world. Historically Brittany had a different way to manage it in places such as weddings but overall they were still feared and persecuted it sounds like. Social assistance is part of the solution but as Allan said above help with addiction also needs to be addressed. Here in Peru we’ve seen fewer beggars than 15 years ago but there are still quite a few. Great post! Maggie

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    1. Thank you Maggie!! Yes, they occupied a unique position here once and perhaps that was because they were people well-known in the community and even former neighbours? That would help focus one’s attitude I am sure .. there but for the grace of God etc?

      Hmm, less beggars now than 15 years ago? Is that a major increase in effective social programmes or are they now kept out of certain areas and out of sight more I wonder? I wonder if the Peruvians have a solution that the rest of the world might look at – assuming the former scenario rather than the latter!

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  15. How sad that life was so precarious for the poor in Brittany. It very much reminded me of Cairo were begging is part of life. Most Caireans were generous to the poor. I went out of my way to give to those with disabilities. I wonder if the government still gives out subsidized Baladi bread?

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    1. Agreed; a harsh existence in even such harsh times 😦
      Yes and I suppose you could say that like Brittany back then, the religious obligation to give alms thankfully saved many a destitute soul. I’m not sure about baladi but it was always ridiculously cheap wasn’t it? I guess the wheat situation in Ukraine is bound to have an impact sooner or later! 😦

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  16. An informative and necessary subject that you’ve delivered so well Colin. It’s so sad to imagine the harsh treatment of the the homeless that still persists and is no less prevalent ( more so) than in these times that you’ve brought to life with your brilliant narrative and paintings. An absolutely wonderful essay. 🥲

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Many thanks Holly! Yes, it is a difficult topic to understand fully – both then and perhaps more so now. Thank you for taking the time to read it and for your encouragement – both are much appreciated! 🙂 Stay well! 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  17. Brilliant post. I suppose begging has been around for centuries and here in the UK it’s just getting worse year on year. And where I am(Hull) it used to be just in the city centre but now go on any big street and you’ll see someone begging. It’s a sad sight to be honest

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    1. Thank you! Yes, sadly, it has always been amongst us but what seems to be happening today is that the gulf between the beggar and those giving alms is typically much greater than in the past but I appreciate that it is too dangerous to generalise!! It is, as you say, a sad sight that we, as a society, need to tackle.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Incredible how the more things change, the more they stay the same! I mean, SO many people here in the US are living hand to mouth. One stroke of bad luck with a job loss, medical bills, any unexpected costs–not even catastrophic ones–the next step could easily be homelessness.
    Also interesting in many societies how those who have nothing are considered or made to be outcasts… when the exact opposite should happen. They should be taken in, aided, pulled up from their depths. Apart from society usually not having sufficient resources to make that happen…it sadly also doesn’t seem to possess that frame of thought its conscience.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Agreed, some of the parallels from centuries ago bear scrutiny today, sadly! A key difference perhaps is that there was once no “safety net” at all? You hit the nail squarely on the head though – what does it tell you about ourselves if we allow the most vulnerable in our society to become the most marginalized!!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, the safety net is definitely something. Thanks for making me look at the silver lining, lol, which I tend not to do! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  19. Another wonderful post. It would seem that treatment of beggars in Brittany was far better than elsewhere. Fascinating to compare their treatment then compared to now when so many social services are available to help them, as opposed to simply letting them fend for themselves. I do think the concept of them giving the “evil eye” is very interesting and makes me wonder if perhaps that came from some of the beggars being of Romany descent? The reason I ask is because I had read awhile back about tinkers/gypsies/beggars casting the evil eye on people who did not give them money and they always seemed to be of the Rom background, perhaps tying in with the perception of gypsies as being fortune tellers, etc. Anyway, just a thought. As usual, you put such a wonderful perspective on an aspect of culture that has been around since time immemorial and that we often don’t think that much about. Thank you for sharing this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Many thanks! I am happy that you enjoyed the read! 🙂 Yes, beggars here once held an important position in society and one that was not filled or replaced. I suppose society changed dramatically after the upheavals of WW1.
      I am not sure about the Romany link; there were certainly Romanies here in the 19thC but not as many as recorded elsewhere. The evil eye connection is interesting as beggars shared that particular trait with, of all people, tailors! One idea is that these folks were regarded with suspicion by some as they would call at the house while the men were out working in the field.


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