This study analyses poor relief in preindustrial Europe. It offers a simple model of poor relief as a survival strategy of the poor and as a control strategy of the elites. Thus it not only deals with poverty and the problems of the poor but also with wealth and the concerns of the elites and the middle classes. A simple model of poor relief is presented, based on insights gained from numerous studies by historians, sociologists and welfare economists. This model is tested against the historical records for Amsterdam from 1800 to 1850. Use has been made of many types of source, both literary - such as poems - and quantitative. The exceptionally rich Amsterdam archives allow a subtle, penetrating, tantalizing and compassionate analysis of poor relief in the preindustrial past. The study brings out some of the perennial problems of social policy, past and present, as well as some aspects of old regime charity, now vanished.