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


While the original inquisitions are not known to survive, the transcribed lists made at the Exchequer and sent back to the sheriff to make his collection survive for Huntingdonshire for both of the first two years of the 1440 subsidy. These indicate that 77 people were assessed towards the first payment of the tax, with 65 contributing to at least one payment, and 67 assessed towards the second year, of whom 46 actually paid. Given the small size and rural nature of the county, this represents a reasonably considerable alien presence, and the marked continuity in the two assessments – a large proportion of the same people appear in both, though often with slightly differing names – suggests that the assessment and administration was reasonably efficient. The level of detail varies between the two assessments, but the fact that many people appear twice helps build a picture of some of the individual residents, and a number can also be traced back to the oath of fealty sworn by people from the Low Countries in 1436. For instance, Herman Blak, assessed with no further details in Huntingdon in 1441, is clearly the same Herman Blake assessed there with his wife in 1440, described simply as ‘Dutch’, and the Herman Blakke who swore his oath in 1436, described as from Munster in Westphalia. Furthermore, in 1440 his servant, Adrian, also a ‘Dutch’ man, appears in the assessment, and in 1441, both Adrian and another servant, John, were assessed. However, by far the largest national grouping in the county was the French, with the only others recorded being a number of ‘Dutch’, a few Irishmen and a single Scotsman. In 1440, all but two of the non-householders were described as servants, usually of named individuals, both native and alien. Of the other two, one was a labourer and the other had no occupation given. Very few occupations were noted for householders – two tailors, a painter, a smith, a weaver and an Irishman named Philip, chaplain of Barham. However, surname evidence (if it can be taken as any indication) might suggest a variety of trades, including a bowyer, a poulterer, an osteler and a cooper, although, perhaps quite tellingly, Benedict Cowper of Yaxley appears to have become Benedict Joynour of Yaxley by the time of the second assessment. Unusually, apart from two wives assessed with their husbands, not a single woman was assessed in Huntingdonshire in either year.

No assessments survive for the final year of the 1440 tax, or either year of the 1442 subsidy, and while the accounts survive, only for the last payment of the 1442 subsidy can the numbers be separated from those for Cambridgeshire, with which it was accounted. However, these totals indicate a rapid decline in the numbers of people assessed, and by 1444 only 4 householders paid the subsidy, a far cry from the numbers assessed only four years earlier. This was to set the tone for the rest of the period. It is not until the second payment of the 1449 subsidy that another nominal list survives, and that listed only 9 individuals, none of whom can be matched with any of the earlier taxpayers. The following year this had fallen to only 8, but two of those were clearly men who, though not present the previous year, had paid the subsidy a decade earlier. These comprised four men described as Flemings, seemingly used here as a catch-all title for people from Germany and the Low Countries, three Frenchmen and a single Scot, a man named Gilbert connected in some way with Sawtry Abbey.

The inquest for the final payment of the 1449 tax is especially interesting, since it appears to be a complete forgery. The equivalent inquisition for Cambridgeshire is also highly suspicious, as it is effectively a re-dated copy of that for the second payment, but the Huntingdonshire inquest seems to be either entirely fictitious, or is an inquest for another place altered to refer to Huntingdonshire – further analysis in other counties may indicate which. The surviving document (which was clearly accepted by the Exchequer and used for the subsequent accounts) is explicitly dated 28 August 31 Henry VI (1453), but this must at the very least be an error for 30 Henry VI (1452). Such errors were not uncommon, but all information associating the document with Huntingdonshire (the place it was written, the county concerned, the date, the sheriff’s name and all references to ‘the aforesaid county’) were clearly inserted over deletions, in a different ink and probably by a different scribe. Perhaps even more tellingly, the names of the jurors are entirely non-descript (Thomas Glover, John Reed, Robert Richardson, etc), while the names of the assessed aliens are also similarly generic (John Richardson, John Mason, John Hardyng, John Patenson, etc), and are given in a simple list, with no nationalities, occupations or places of residence. They also bear no resemblance to the names given in the inquisitions for the previous two payments, and include two women, the only female taxpayers to appear in any of the surviving Huntingdonshire alien subsidy returns. Taken together, and coupled with the issues over the Cambridgeshire return, it can only be assumed that the inquests for this payment in the two counties either did not take place at all and returns were simply made up or copied from other documents, or the inquests were held but the documents were lost and substituted later, or some other incident occurred to make this deception necessary. The reasons are as yet unknown, but the man responsible (in name, if not personally) was the sheriff, Thomas Tresham, a prominent and notorious member of the regional gentry, Speaker in the parliament of 1449 and a Lancastrian partisan who would be beheaded by the victorious Yorkists after the battle of Tewkesbury in 1471. The most likely explanation is probably that he or his officials simply neglected their duties, and used fraudulent documents to cover up their negligence – the tiny sums involved would certainly make fraud for personal gain an unlikely motive, and Tresham’s political connections, both locally and at the centre of government, would undoubtedly have prevented any action against them by the Exchequer. However, further investigation is clearly needed.

Nineteen people paid the first three years’ payments towards the 1453 subsidy, assessed and collected in 1455, but numbers soon fell, to seven the following year, five in 1457 and seven in 1458, the first payments for which nominal lists survive. No nationalities were recorded, but the five householders comprised two shoemakers, two weavers and a tailor, while the two non-householders were another tailor and a labourer. None seem to have appeared in earlier surviving assessments, although one, a Flemish shoemaker in St Neots, does appear again eight years later. Survival of documents thereafter is patchy; details are missing for many collections, and the accounts were often combined with those for Cambridgeshire and cannot be separated. Surviving numbers ranged between 3 and 5 taxpayers per year, the 5 paying in 1469 being two Huntingdon shoemakers, two servants from Huntingdon and Godmanchester, and a fuller from Yaxley. Indeed, most of the recorded taxpayers in this period, where known, were from Huntingdon and various places in Toseland hundred. No nationalities are given, but the names would suggest Flemish or ‘Dutch’ origins. Nil returns were submitted in 1467, 1468 and 1471, and no details survive for the 1483 and 1487 subsidies.

Jonathan Mackman

Cite this page:

England’s Immigrants 1330 – 1550 (www.englandsimmigrants.com, version 1.0, 20 February 2017), https://www.englandsimmigrants.com/page/sources/alien-subsidies/east-anglia/huntingdonshire