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


General Observations:

The survival of alien subsidy documents for Suffolk is rather patchy, but fortunately those which do survive are of good, if not remarkable quality. A series of documents exist for the county for the most informative payment, the first year of the 1440 tax, comprising a file of original inquisitions; a county roll drawn up from those inquests and annotated to record those taxpayers who had moved or died; and a partial schedule of householders who had defaulted, presumably drawn up from the county roll and newly identified through the work of this project. Comparison between the various documents not only gives a good indication of the level of defaulting across the county, but also shows the differences in the spelling of individual names, the gradual Anglicisation of names as they were copied from document to document (for instance ‘Jonesson’ in the inquisition would often become ‘Johnson’ in the county roll), and the capacity for scribal errors and inaccuracies in documents produced later in the process. The survival of individual inquests for each county supplies a level of detail for assessment and defaulting not available for many counties. For instance, while the account roll shows that 122 of the 248 householders and 118 of the 249 non-householders assessed actually paid (a collection rate of just under 50% for both categories), in Ipswich 14 of the 26 householders paid (just over 50%) but only 12 of the 37 non-householders (less than a third). Similarly in Dunwich, only 7 of the 19 non-householders were still resident when the collectors came knocking. They also show that all areas of the county were assessed – both the so-called ‘geldable’ area under the administration of the sheriff, and the two vast liberties of St Edmund and St Etheldreda, which together comprised around 2/3 of the county – and that numbers were, on the whole, relatively even across most of the county. However, the huge exception to this was the hundreds of the northern coastline: the large hundred of Blything, around Dunwich, which comprised around 9.5% of the county’s land mass, but (even excluding the borough of Dunwich itself) contained over 20% of all the assessed aliens in the county; and the two half-hundreds of Mutford and Lothingland, the latter (which included the towns of Lowestoft and Gorleston) accounting for only 2.5% of the area of the county but containing over 12% of all the assessed aliens. The urban areas were, as usual, the main centres of alien population, with 63 people assessed to pay in Ipswich, 26 in Dunwich, and 32 in Lowestoft (plus another 14 in neighbouring Gorleston). The majority of those people ascribed a nationality or place of origin were described simply as ‘Dutch’, but there were also a number of Scots (very few of whom paid!!), and a few French, but there was no systematic recording of national origins. However, the geographical origins of the so-called ‘Dutch’ may be wider than originally thought, since Jacobus Denmark, assessed in Elmswell in Blackbourn hundred, was firmly described as a ‘Dutch’, suggesting that in this county at least, the assessors (probably not overly concerned with the accuracy of such information) might possibly have included Danes and perhaps other Scandinavians within the generic ‘Dutch’ description?

No further returns survive for the 1440 subsidy, but the accounts show a steep decline in the numbers assessed, from almost 500 in 1440, to 108 in 1441 and only 77 in 1442. For the first payment of the 1442 subsidy, collected in 1443, 75 people were assessed, but the surviving return, again newly-identified by this project, suggests an obvious change in the assessment. The return lists the taxpayers in three sections, under groups of hundreds, but many of the Suffolk hundreds are not included. Some were clearly simply missed out of the headings – some inhabitants of places in Wilford and Plomesgate hundreds were listed, despite those hundreds not being named. However, there is no sign of any taxpayers from the various hundreds of the liberty of St Edmund, suggesting that either the abbey secured an exemption for the inhabitants of its liberty (or at least managed to prevent royal officials from entering the liberty), or the officials simply failed or refused to go to that area. Further investigation is clearly needed, but if this was also the case with the final two years of the 1440 grant, it would help to explain the dramatic reduction in the numbers assessed from the high point of 1440, when the entire county clearly was assessed.

The 1449 subsidy again shows a similar dramatic fall. For the first payment, 75 people were assessed; unfortunately the surviving return does not record places of residence, but comparison with other sources may allow future analysis. However, the following year, only 23 were assessed, and by the final year the officials found only 9 people liable to pay. The 1450 inquisitions clearly indicate that the Liberty of St Edmund was again not being assessed, and nor seemingly were most of the hundreds of the Liberty of St Etheldreda in the west. Moreover, while the northern coastal hundreds were included, not a single resident of Lowestoft was now being taxed, and only 1 in Gorleston, compared to the 46 people taxed in the two towns only ten years earlier. However, by the time of the 1453 subsidy, while numbers were still low, the entire county does at least seem to have been taxed, since the return for the seventh and eighth payments, made in 1456, include two householders from the town of Bury St Edmunds itself. Yet, like in so many counties, the assessment process was clearly not especially rigorous, and the numbers taxed remained relatively low, ranging from a high point of 34 in 1456 to only 15 by 1471.

However, the most informative document for Suffolk is undoubtedly the return for the 1483 subsidy, assessed in August of that year although explicitly stating that it was recording the situation as at the date of the opening of the parliament which made the grant, 20 January 1483. A series of inquisitions survive, these giving extensive details of the taxpayers, including names, occupations, places of residence, nationalities and/or countries or cities of origin, the names of their masters or employers, and for most whether or not they paid. No enrolled accounts have yet been found, but the returns contain details of around 350 people (mainly taxpayers, but including some relatives), in all parts of the county. Amongst the more enigmatic sections is the return for the village of Easton Bavents, then home to 9 alien householders and 6 servants, originating from Scotland, Zeeland, Flanders and Brabant. Obviously then a thriving and cosmopolitan small town, the entire settlement disappeared into the North Sea, mainly during the seventeenth century, with no more than a few isolated houses now remaining. The returns also include interesting information on the county’s economy. While the coastal areas may have dominated the 1440 return, far more people appear from the western part of the county in 1483, including an entry for 11 servants employed as clothmakers in Bildeston by John Stansby, a Londoner who evidently employed alien labourers in what was probably a ‘factory’ in Bildeston. However, the assessors clearly stated that these people were born in Italy, perhaps swayed by Stansby’s strong Italian connections, but the names clearly suggest Dutch or Flemish origins (Johst de Man, Simon Fandele, Peter Fanhobard, etc).  Further west, Long Melford was home to two Aragonese doctors, perhaps drawn there by the high immigrant workforce in this and neighbouring towns and villages such as Lavenham, Sudbury and Hadleigh. More representative however were the numerous tradesmen assessed across the county, particularly Flemish brewers, many of whom were taxed alongside a number of their employees, most of whom hailed from the same place as their master. Elsewhere, the list for Stoke by Nayland was headed by a servant of John Howard, the duke of Norfolk who would die two years later at Bosworth, and a number of other people whose connections with the duke can be traced in the surviving Howard household books.  These include a French doctor, Master Charles, whose ministrations to a man named Diago in 1481, noted in the household books, were perhaps less than successful, given that Diago himself does not appear in the 1483 assessment! In Long Melford, the assessment included two Flemings, described as a painter and a sculptor, the latter living with John Clopton, esquire, a local gentleman. It seems highly likely that the two were involved in the final stages of the re-building of the magnificent church in Long Melford, which was just coming to an end, and in which Clopton in particular had a deep interest. The people of fifteenth-century Suffolk may also have had rather exotic tastes in food, if the appearance of two French chefs in the villages of Denham and Haverhill is any indication?

Jonathan Mackman

See also: Aliens and Religion in Suffolk, c. 1330-1550

Cite this page:

England’s Immigrants 1330 – 1550 (www.englandsimmigrants.com, version 1.0, 2 October 2022), http://www.englandsimmigrants.com/page/sources/alien-subsidies/east-anglia/suffolk