England’s Immigrants 1330 – 1550 Resident Aliens in the Late Middle Ages


General Observations:

The survival rate of documents for Essex across the period is rather patchy, but those which do survive include some very full and extremely interesting returns.

A good set of inquisitions survives for the first payment of the 1440 subsidy, five in total, each covering a separate part of the county, with over 400 individuals listed (E 179/108/113). The main centres of alien population were the towns of Colchester, Harwich and Brentwood, with smaller concentrations in other towns. The assessment also appears to include a large number of servants and other people linked to members of the local gentry and nobility. Five people are listed from the household of Lewis John of West Horndon, MP for Essex in the 1439-40 Parliament and a prominent figure in English administration in France, along with six members of the household of Edward Tyrell of Downham (d.1442), a JP for Essex, former sheriff of the county and brother of John Tyrell, Speaker of the Commons. One of Tyrell’s servants was William Baker, presumably the man to whom Tyrell left an interest in lands in South Hanningfield in a codicil to his will added in December 1442. Servants are also listed for the earl of Oxford and Lord Bourchier, but unfortunately the return relating to the de Vere household at Castle Hedingham is damaged and partially illegible. Amongst the eight householders recorded at Castle Hedingham, many of whom presumably had links with the earl, was one man described simply as ‘the king’s tailor’. Five other people were seemingly members of the household of Sir John Montgomery of Faulkbourne, another prominent soldier and Lancastrian administrator in France, and these included a schoolmaster, presumably for Montgomery’s three sons, two of whom would later serve as MPs. Another man, a priest named John Jegon of Brentwood, may have been an ancestor of a later John Jegon (d.1618), an Essex man who became master of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge in 1590 and bishop of Norwich in 1603.

Curiously, the assessment for Rochford hundred (E 179/108/113, m 4) includes three householders explicitly noted as having been born in England of alien parents, and also the two sons of one of those same householders (themselves non-householders), all assessed despite being only the children and grand-children of immigrants and not alien-born. Presumably the assessors in Rochford hundred misunderstood the terms of the grant, and while there is no record of whether or not they paid, given that only 212 of the 422 people assessed in Essex actually did so, it seems unlikely.

The number of assessed aliens quickly fell after 1440. Only 70 people were assessed in 1441, and although this was back up to 102 in 1443, only 60 actually paid. Around 50 people contributed to each payment of the 1449 tax (no returns survive, but figures can be gathered from the enrolled accounts), and similar numbers paid the 1453 tax until 1465, when the total fell to 34. With the exception of 1469, when the figure rose back to 45, numbers remained below 30 for the remainder of that subsidy.

However, for the 1483 subsidy, not only were 211 people assessed, but an extremely detailed and informative return also survives, containing not only the taxpayers’ names, but also their places of residence and (in many cases) their occupations, and whether or not they paid. As with 1440, the return again includes large numbers of people in the major towns, particularly Colchester and the areas to the north-east of London. It also lists servants together with the names of their masters, and contains a variety of other interesting and unusual information, such as the Harwich tailor, listed by the evocative name of ‘John Dutchman with the red face’. Presumably this was noted to differentiate him from others of the same name, but unfortunately the standard colour of the face of a Dutchman in fifteenth-century Essex is not recorded . . . !?

Around 174 people were assessed to pay the 1487 tax, but it would seem that at the time the collectors rendered their account (E 179/285/27), nothing whatsoever had been collected.

Jonathan Mackman

Cite this page:

England’s Immigrants 1330 – 1550 (www.englandsimmigrants.com, version 1.0, 9 December 2022), http://www.englandsimmigrants.com/page/sources/alien-subsidies/east-anglia/essex