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


Although figures survive for Derbyshire for many collections of the alien subsidies, the county has relatively few surviving nominal returns, just 8 in total. Unfortunately no return survives for the first year of the 1440 subsidy, but thankfully the numbers of taxpayers are known from the enrolled accounts, with 16 of the 19 householders paying and 44 of the 49 assessed non-householders. This represented a reasonably good payment rate, given that the national average was only just above 50%. The numbers had not reduced too significantly by the time of the second year’s payments, for which a nominal return does survive, with 18 householders and 45 non-householders being assessed. Although nationalities were not specifically recorded, many of the people listed were given the surname ‘Frenchman’, suggesting both a predominance of French immigrants in the county and a lack of conscientiousness from the assessors, who did not trouble themselves to find out their actual surnames. Many of the others listed had occupational surnames, such as Mason or Taillour, while others had no surname, again suggesting a lack of concern for such details. Furthermore, when compared to the next surviving nominal list, that for the first year of the 1442 subsidy, it is clear that a lot of the same people appeared in both. However, despite clearly being the same people, many had slightly or even significantly different names or descriptions. For instance, the first man taxed in 1441, Reginald Braban, is presumably the same as the first man taxed there in 1443, despite his forename having changed to Roger. The sheer number of such discrepancies suggest that, while far from being copies, either details from the 1441 return had been taken (albeit quite badly) for use in the later collections, or both were compiled from another source, thus making it unclear which is the more accurate. Also, of the 30 non-householders listed, rather annoyingly 15 are described simply as ‘Jenyn Frensshmon’ (i.e. John Frenchman)!

The surviving documents for the 1449 tax again highlight the vagaries of the administrative process in the rural counties. For the first payment, the assessors sent back a nil return, stating clearly that no liable aliens were found in the county, while just one householder paid the third payment, and two paid the fourth. However, for the second payment, no fewer than 19 people were discovered. Luckily, this is the only payment for which a nominal return survives, though it too contains some unusual entries, such as Davyth Organmaker, taxed together with his servant, who sounds decidedly Welsh and should therefore have been exempt. It may also be asked quite how much work Peter Shipwright would have found in landlocked Derbyshire? Again the return contains a number of occupational ‘surnames’, not just Shipwright and Organmaker, but also a Ledebeter and even a Fydeler, yet only three national surnames were given, these being two Frenchmen and a Scot, though unfortunately no places of residence.

Numbers taxed for the 1453 subsidy remained remarkably consistent, but again this may have been due to the copying of returns year on year. Only three people paid each year during the 1450s, but whether these were the same three individuals is unknown. 7 were taxed in 1463, and in 1465 exactly the same 7 appeared on the inquest, complete with the same statement that both householders were Scots born in Scotland, rather unlikely given that one of them was named Geoffrey Ducheman. The 1465 return had clearly been copied from that for 1463, yet while the return for 1466 also contained 7 names, oddly these were all entirely different. The information on the 1465 return may have been two years old, but the money was seemingly paid; had they really all left the county twelve months later? By the time of the last payment of this tax in 1471, all 7 had again disappeared, replaced by five further, apparently different individuals. Either the turnover of the alien population was exceptionally high, or the record keeping was exceptionally poor, and the latter would seem the most likely explanation.

In 1483, while neighbouring Nottinghamshire claimed to contain no liable aliens, the Derbyshire assessors discovered 19 individuals, eight of whom were householders. Although nationalities were not always recorded, seven people were named as Scots, the others being two Flemings, two Frenchmen and one who was probably a Picard. All the non-householders were described as servants, while four of the householders were described as a baker, a miller, a cardmaker and a yeoman, and the other four given the ‘surnames’ Waterleder, Sklater, Brikmaker and Fevere, all presumably their occupations rather than true surnames (a watercarrier, a slater, a brickmaker and a smith). No details are currently known for the 1487 tax.

Jonathan Mackman

Cite this page:

England’s Immigrants 1330 – 1550 (www.englandsimmigrants.com, version 1.0, 25 February 2017), https://www.englandsimmigrants.com/page/sources/alien-subsidies/the-east-midlands/derbyshire