Beginning in the late-fifteenth century, hospitals across Europe experienced financial crises that resulted in decreased incomes and increased expenses. In response, their administrators adopted practices, designed to cut costs and raise revenues. They sold or leased their landed estates, preferring to purchase rather than produce necessary goods and services. ... (Show more)
Beginning in the late-fifteenth century, hospitals across Europe experienced financial crises that resulted in decreased incomes and increased expenses. In response, their administrators adopted practices, designed to cut costs and raise revenues. They sold or leased their landed estates, preferring to purchase rather than produce necessary goods and services. They invested in financial instruments to produce revenues streams to support their operations. And, they charged for services that had once been free. Rather than extend shelter and care at no cost to the indigent and elderly, they exacted fees that varied according to the quality of room and board to be given. The sale of corrodies, which endures to the present, represents a commercialization of charity, what one scholar called a “pure monetary transaction, detached from every form of benevolence that was not profitable“.
Traditionally, studies of poor relief have adopted what might be called a micro-historical approach to these developments, taking single institutions or communities as their focus, and attending less to the macro-historical context. More recently, scholars have expanded the conversation to include demographic factors, such as changes in family size or household composition, that affected the availability of resources to care for the aged. Cultural change has also come into consideration with studies of the ways in which religious change altered both the institutional landscape and the moral “imperative” of charity. Yet, relatively few have considered the ways in which financial developments that become visible in the late medieval and extend into the early modern period created new opportunities and constraints for ‘financing eldercare’.
This paper will attempt to address this lack by examining eldercare in the city of Augsburg. One of the leading industrial, commercial and financial centers of Europe in the late medieval and early modern periods, it was also a leading center of charitable activities with an unusually large number of public and private foundations devoted to the support of the needy. Throughout the same period, shifting political and economic circumstances radically altered the city’s financial institutions and markets. These changes had direct consequences both for the institutions that provided care and for those who sought it. By examining the financial records of various charities in Augsburg and comparing them to studies in other cities, this paper will demonstrate the range of possibilities available to the aged, their families and their communities. (Show less)