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


The survival rate of documents for Hertfordshire is rather patchy. A good return survives for the first year of the 1440 tax, and another for the second year, but nothing for the third. Only an incomplete return survives for 1442, for the first year, and although a complete list of names extracted from the original return was also made, the level of detail in that is less than in the original. A nominal return survives for only the second of the four payments of the 1449 tax, and for only four groups of payments of the 1453 subsidy (1-6, 15 & 16, 31 & 32 and 35 & 36). An inquisition has recently been discovered for the 7th & 8th payments, but that is fragmentary, and most of the details are lost. No nominal returns survive for either 1483 or 1487. However, the sum total of aliens assessed for many other payments, including that of 1487, can be extracted from the account rolls, and from other surviving accounting documents produced at the Exchequer, although the occasional tendency to give only the sum totals for both Hertfordshire and Essex (the two counties being accounted together) is not particularly helpful.

Over 300 aliens were assessed in Hertfordshire in 1440, the greatest concentrations being in St Albans, Barnet and Ware, all three places lying on major roads running northwards from London. The concentration in St Albans may reflect servants of the abbey, while Barnet, a major staging post on the road to York, was also an abbey manor. Indeed, a large number of assessed aliens lived in Cashio hundred (effectively the abbey’s estates), but this included many of the places with the highest general population. The numbers in Ware are less easily explained, although it was a large parish with multiple manors, the main one being held by the earls of Salisbury.

The predominant nationalities for aliens in the county were French and ‘Dutch’, with some Irish and a few Flemings, but there was no systematic attempt to note the origins of individual taxpayers in the returns, and most can only be deduced from descriptive ‘surnames’. The names in the returns are extremely ‘Anglicized’, with lots of occupational surnames, a large number being described simply as ‘Frenchman’ or ‘Dutchman’, and many of the servants being given no surname at all – relatively few appear to be described by anything even approaching their original ‘surname’. However, the masters of many of the people described as servants are generally named, although very few women are recorded, either as wives or as taxpayers in their own right. Notable groupings include the household servants in Harpenden of Sir John Cressy (one of the MPs for Hertfordshire in the 1439-40 parliament which granted the tax, and a prominent soldier in the French wars), and those of the bishop of London (Robert Gilbert) at his manor at Much Hadham. Curiously, both groups had disappeared by the time of the following year’s assessment, although it is possible that they had simply moved elsewhere with their masters. One man noted as having moved away on the return for 1440 seems to have re-appeared in the same place in 1441, while Simon Scarlet of St Albans, assessed in 1440, was still appearing in 1455. There were also a number of servants of parish clergy.

As usual, after 1440 the numbers of people being assessed decreased markedly, falling from 319 in 1440 to 110 in 1441, 108 in 1443, and 37 in 1451 and 1452. Only 18 were assessed in 1450, but the total lack of non-householders in the assessment for that payment may well have been due to administrative failings rather than the reality on the ground, since 23 had re-appeared by the following year. Numbers continued to decrease during the life of the 1453 tax, until, in 1470, only a single unfortunate individual was assessed. 39 people paid the 1487 subsidy, but unfortunately their names do not survive. Except for those people named as servants, occupations do not seem to have been recorded systematically, apart from in 1450, when 16 of the 18 people assessed were either cordwainers or weavers (the others being a tailor and a labourer).

Jonathan Mackman

Cite this page:

England’s Immigrants 1330 – 1550 (www.englandsimmigrants.com, version 1.0, 27 February 2017), https://www.englandsimmigrants.com/page/sources/alien-subsidies/east-anglia/hertfordshire