Definitions for abraham-men
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The Abraham-men were a class of beggars claiming to be lunatics allowed out of restraint, in the Tudor and Stuart periods in England. The phrase normally refers to the practice of beggars pretending that they were patients discharged from the Abraham ward at Bedlam. The phrase can be traced back as far as 1561, when it was given as one of The Fraternity of Vagabonds, by John Awdeley. It also appears in the taxonomy of rogues given by Thomas Harman, which was copied by later writers of rogue literature. The author of O Per Se O reported that Abram-men made marks on their arms with 'burnt paper, piss and gunpowder' to show they had been in Bedlam Hospital: "some dance, but keep no measure; others leap up and down". The phrase Abraham-men also appears as a disguise for Edgar in King Lear and John Fletcher's Beggar's Bush. They were called anticks or God's minstrels, and later Poor Toms, from the popular song "Tom of Bedlam". John Aubrey, the antiquary, said they were common before the English Civil War, and wore a badge of tin on their left arms, an ox horn around their necks, a long staff and fantastical clothing. However, the badge seems to have been in myth. It may have been convenient theatrical property. Richard Head wrote in The Canting Academy, or Devils Cabinet opened that they
The Nuttall Encyclopedia
a class of lunatics allowed out of restraint, at one time, to roam about and beg; a set of impostors who wandered about the country affecting lunacy.
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