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


A reasonably good series of alien subsidy returns survives for both Norfolk and the city of Norwich, although the survival of nominal returns, and the quality of the information they contain, tends to become patchier in the later period. Where returns are lacking, the numbers of taxpayers can generally be calculated from the enrolled accounts, and indeed, for the city of Norwich (which was administered separately by the civic authorities), the numbers of taxpayers are known for every single collection of every alien subsidy granted across the period, a relatively unusual situation.

The county returns for the first two payments of the 1440 subsidy pose some interesting questions. The surviving inquisitions contain the names of 198 individuals, figures which match those given on the account roll, but these inquests only appear to cover around half of the hundreds of the county, and seem to miss out some of the larger towns. The reasons for this are unknown. Nelly Kerling, in her 1965 article, suggested that this may have been due to an over-worked sheriff simply following the hundreds where aliens were recorded for the 1436 oath of allegiance, to JPs not going to some areas, or to local privileges and power structures preventing assessment. On the whole these seem unlikely reasons, but it seems equally as unlikely that there simply were no aliens living in those areas, and even if that were true, why was that not recorded? It also seems unusual that everyone named in the assessment actually paid – this was certainly not the case in most parts of the country (see Northumberland, where only a fraction actually paid). Something unusual was clearly taking place in the administration of the tax in Norfolk, but precisely what is still unclear. The origins of most taxpayers were not recorded, but of those which were noted, most were ‘Dutch’ or French, although there were also a number of Scots, Irish, Flemings, and even an Icelander living in Mitford hundred, in the centre of the county. No other nominal returns survive for the 1440 tax, but the accounts show the usual dramatic reduction in the numbers of people assessed, with 127 people paying the tax in 1441, and only 80 in 1442.

As with the county, nominal returns for the 1440 subsidy survive for the city of Norwich for the first year only, when 84 people were assessed. However, the accounting documents show that only 27 paid, in 1441 36 of the 45 people assessed actually contributed, and by 1442 there were again only 27 people paying. Again, relatively few nationalities were recorded, with most of those noted again being the generic ‘Dutch’.

A good series of returns survive for the 1449 tax, with inquisitions for the county for all four payments, and for Norwich for three. A previously unidentified list of aliens resident in Norfolk has, through the work of this project, now been identified as relating to the first collection of the 1449 subsidy, adding details of a further 102 alien residents. However, the numbers assessed again fell rapidly, from 115 for the first payment, down to 42, 52 and 45 for the other three. The Norwich returns also show fluctuations, ranging from a high of 27 for the second payment, down to only 15 for the fourth. However, the Norwich returns also highlight an important issue in using these documents – the accuracy of the information supplied. The Norwich assessors regularly recorded the national origins of the taxpayers, but while the people concerned often remained the same, their given nationalities did not. For instance, John Piers, a Norwich glazier, was recorded as being French in 1449, a Fleming in 1450, given no nationality in 1451, and as Dutch in 1452. Similarly, Hans Hardwareman was described as a Brabanter in 1449, a Fleming in 1450, and as Dutch in 1451 and 1452. This obviously calls into question either the ability of the assessors to distinguish between the different nationalities living within their city, or their diligence in producing and returning accurate records. The latter seems the most likely – in 1451, for instance, all the assessed aliens for which a nationality was specified were described as ‘Dutch’, suggesting that the compilers were simply not interested in such technicalities.

Equally, the continual re-assessment process in Norfolk for the 1453 tax may not have been as thorough as it ought to have been, although the patchiness of the surviving nominal returns makes detailed analysis difficult. The county inquisition for the thirteenth and fourteenth collections, ostensibly made in September 1459, contained the same names, in the same order, as the inquisition for the ninth and tenth payments made two years previously, simply with the addition of three further householders. Although no equivalent inquest is known to survive, it also contained the same number of taxpayers as that for the eleventh and twelfth payments, suggesting it may well have simply been copied. Even more tellingly, exactly the same situation occurred in Suffolk, administered by the same sheriff, with the 1459 inquest repeating precisely the same details as the 1457 list, and again with the same numbers in 1458. The same occurred in 1464, when the account for the twenty-third and twenty-fourth collections show exactly the same numbers of taxpayers as that from the previous year, but while the Norwich accounts for 1459 and 1460 also show the same numbers of taxpayers contributing, the names recorded in the inquisitions were not all the same. The later inquests for the 1453 tax tend to give little more than the names of the taxpayers, with few nationalities, trades or places of residence. The overall numbers of people assessed in the county tended to remain consistently in the mid-30s, the only differences being a climb to 51 in both 1458 and 1459, and a drop into the 20s in 1469 and 1470. The numbers assessed in Norwich fluctuated between 10 and 20 for the life of the 1453 subsidy, dropping below that range only once, in 1466, when only 8 people were assessed.

A detailed set of documents survives for both city and county for the 1483 tax. As well as the names of the taxpayers, returns for both areas give occupations for many of the individuals listed, while that for the county also records the nationality, country and even occasionally the city of origin of many of the taxpayers. However, well over half the people assessed in the county (outside Norwich) came from King’s Lynn, where one of the two county inquests had been held. The vast majority of the people whose origins were noted were either from the Low Countries or Scotland, with many of the residents of King’s Lynn being specifically described as Zeelanders. However, there were exceptions, such as the two men from Cologne, living in Hingham and Wymondham, and John Longe, a merchant’s servant in King’s Lynn, described as being from Denmark. As with many counties, no returns are known to survive for the 1487 tax, the only extant document being an account noting that 11 householders, 18 non-householders and 2 brewhouse keepers were assessed in the city of Norwich.

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/norfolk