In Social Policy, I made a general claim about accountability in the public services: that constitutional governance has been part of the practice of the third sector for centuries, and the that ‘the public sector often learned how to operate from the voluntary sector’. When I wrote this, I was thinking of some of the work I’d done on sixteenth century welfare following the Reformation: there are references to governance in accordance with the specifications of the founders in material from the sixteenth century. Following a general discussion about the point with a colleague, I thought I ought to tie down the origin of these approaches a little more firmly.
I’ve just read a splendid account of the development of ideas of charity by J Brodman, Charity and religion in medieval Europe (Catholic University of America Press, 2009). Quite apart from the fascinating snippets (such as the bridge-building orders that weren’t really religious enough to be taken seriously, or the hospital founded in Arras by the confraternity of jugglers), I’ve learned that the kinds of governance arrangements I was interested in were established rather earlier than the sixteenth century – and indeed even earlier than the 12th century, when many religious institutions were founded. Two Carolingian councils of the ninth century, at Aachen (816-18) and Meaux-Paris (845-46), identified the grounds for church authorities to intervene in established charities, and ruled that this should only happen when the charities were failing to act consistently with the wishes of the founders. That seems to imply that the principle of governing charity in accordance with the wishes of the founders was well established even at that early date.