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


Lincolnshire was, after Yorkshire the second largest county of medieval England, and thus posed similar problems to collectors and sheriffs charged with collecting a subsidy over such a vast region with its own internal administrative structures. The three parts of Lincolnshire (Holland, Kesteven and Lindsey) were sometimes administered separately, and initially separate inquests were generally held in each of the three parts. However, they were generally accounted together  by the county sheriff, and by the later years, when few people were assessed, a single inquest was seemingly held. The city of Lincoln was a separate administrative entity, and thus appointed its own collectors and was accounted entirely separately.

Unfortunately Lincolnshire is one of the few parts of England, and the only county, for which we have neither full nominal lists nor surviving accounts for the first payment of the 1440 subsidy, and hence the number of aliens paying that tax is not known. Inquests survive only for the parts of Holland, and these, seemingly complete, list 100 taxpayers living in the three wapentakes, the vast majority of which (80) lived in the port of Boston and its suburbs. No returns survive for the second year’s collections, although the accounts do survive (unusually, the three Parts were accounted separately), but extensive returns do survive for the remaining years of the 1440 and 1442 taxes, covering the whole county. Presumably due to administrative problems, the final year of the 1440 tax and the first year of the 1442 tax were collected together in the winter of 1442-3, and used the same set of inquests, while the ‘fair copy’ collector’s schedule survives for the final year of the 1442 tax. This suffered even greater delays, and was seemingly not collected until 1446. The former inquests contain around 170 names, while the latter only contains 102, both clearly only a portion of the names which would presumably have appeared in the lists from 1440, had they survived.

The surviving returns for these two taxes do nevertheless contain a variety of information. Unfortunately relatively few nationalities are listed, those given mainly being for Frenchmen, but the surnames would suggest that most of the county’s aliens were probably ‘Dutch’, along with a number of Scots. Occupations were much more commonly recorded, particularly in Boston, where the assessed aliens included a number of weavers, shoemakers, tailors and beerbrewers, often with their servants, and various people described as ‘shipmen’, presumably people employed in Boston’s maritime industries. There were also a number of relations, not just husbands and wives but a mother and daughter, two brothers, and a father and son. In the rest of the county, the most common occupation given was simply ‘servant’, but there were also a butcher and a barber, further weavers and shoemakers, agricultural workers (shepherds, cattle herders and husbandmen), and even a few chaplains.

One of the more interesting aspects of these returns is the appearance of various brickmakers and other construction workers in the South Riding of Lindsey, particularly in the return for the final year of the 1442 tax, probably drawn up in 1446. Most of these had ‘Dutch’ style names, and it seems clear that many if not all of these men were involved in the building of Lord Cromwell’s magnificent new castle at Tattershall. The taxpayers included one ‘Baldwin Brekemaker’ of Edlington, clearly the man of that name who was leading the brick-making exercise for Cromwell at the clay pits on Edlington Moor, and who may even have been the chief architect of the castle itself. Strangely he appears to have been called Baldwin Frenchman in the previous return, but he was usually called Baldwin Duchman, and his name appears throughout the building accounts for the castle, published by the Lincoln Record Society. Taxed with him were at least two other brickmakers from nearby villages, and various other men on the assessment may have been associated with the castle building, such as the tiler Jacobus Papilwyk, taxed in Coningsby (the neighbouring village to Tattershall), Michael Papelwyke, who also appeared in Coningsby in 1442-3, and various others.

In the 1440 assessment for Boston, perhaps the strangest aspect is the way the return dealt with women. Female residents being taxed in their own right were listed together, in a group at the end of each of the lists of householders and non-householders, rather than mixed in with the male taxpayers as was more common. Many of these women also had a variety of unusual names, possibly nicknames, such as ‘Gode for Eve’, ‘Long Grete’, ‘Blaak Margaret’ and ‘Flemish Lysbet’. An unusually high number of these were householders, and given this and their strange names, it is possible, in a port town like Boston, that they may have been inn or even brothel keepers.

County returns survive for only the first two years of the 1449 subsidy. In 1449 six inquests were produced, and although these clearly contain the names of all the 56 people eventually accounted, the thoroughness of the assessment procedures seems somewhat lacking. Only three people were found in the whole of the parts of Lindsey, all three living in Louth, while all the sixteen people assessed in Kesteven lived in the two southern wapentakes of Aveland and Ness, and (perhaps less surprisingly) all the 37 people assessed in Holland lived in Boston. This highly suspicious distribution suggests that the assessors made only a limited attempt to track down taxpayers in the county, especially in Lindsey. This did not improve the following year, when only 19 people were assessed, but those returns did at least include the nationalities of all the taxpayers, these comprising 16 Dutchmen, two Scots and a Brabanter. Nationalities were also given in Lindsey and Kesteven in the next surviving assessment, that for the fourth year of the 1453 tax. 111 people were taxed across the county, only 3 fewer than the previous year (for which only accounts survive), but of these almost three-quarters were Scots, very different from the relatively small percentage of Scots in earlier years. Of the rest, the largest group were the French, including two people specified as Normans, along with a number of ‘Dutch’ people, a few Flemings, two Zeelanders, two Brabanters, and, perhaps rather strangely, an Icelandic woman in Swinhope in the Lincolnshire Wolds – perhaps she had moved there from Grimsby, around 10 miles away? 87 people were taxed two years later, in 1458, and while the surviving inquisitions for that year are badly damaged, it is clear that relatively few people actually paid, and lots were noted as having either died or moved away. They also contain a surprisingly large number of people who had appeared in returns from the early years of the alien subsidies and in some cases never again since, perhaps suggesting that the inquests may have been compiled from earlier, out-of-date documents, rather than being taken anew. However, by the time of the next surviving figures in 1464, numbers had dramatically reduced, with only twelve or thirteen people assessed,  and only seven were assessed the following year. In 1466, thirty people were assessed, with an unusual number of those being from the northern part of Lindsey. Many of these people and places had never appeared in the alien subsidy returns before, and it cannot be a complete coincidence that the sheriff responsible for this collection, John Whichcotes, also came from that part of the county. Presumably he used his local knowledge and influence in a way not exercised by his contemporaries, and may be an indication of just how much the collection of this tax relied on the conscientiousness of the local officials, and especially the sheriff. The drop to only 10 people in the following year, and 15 the year after, appears to reinforce this. Unfortunately no further details survive for the county after 1468.

The City of Lincoln

The city of Lincoln had been raised to county status in 1409, and thus all the alien subsidies in the city were administered and accounted entirely separately by the civic authorities. Unlike much of the rest of the county, full details survive for the first year of the 1440 tax, and the numbers of taxpayers contributing survive in an unbroken sequence until 1467. The 1440 return is especially detailed, and although few occupations are given for householders, most non-householders were servants listed together with the names of their masters, and nationalities were consistently given. The 31 people taxed in Lincoln in 1440 were a very diverse group, comprising 6 French people, 6 Irish, 5 Hollanders, 4 Dutch, 4 Scots, 2 Gascons, a Fleming, a Zeelander, one person probably from Friesland and one from Bergen in Norway. As was often the case, the assessors of the following year were a little less concerned with geographical precision, and relied more on generic terms for nationalities. However, all the Scots had disappeared, as had the Norwegian, yet only one fewer person was assessed overall. Only 20 people were assessed the following year, and 17 in 1444, by which time the Irish were no longer taxed, and the taxpayers were almost exclusively from the Low Countries, with a few French and the same two Gascons. In fact, the main feature of the Lincoln returns is the remarkable continuity of the names, with the same people appearing year after year, such as the Hollanders John Chestre, John Danyell (a stainer) and Bartholomew Waterson, the Gascon John Layburn, and the Fleming John Wetter. Numbers continued to reduce over the years, with generally between four and nine people being taxed, but falling as low as two at times, but again, the names were relatively consistent, with many of the same people being assessed over many years. However, the national identities did vary, often presumably more due to the ignorance of the assessors than any real shifts in the national origins of the people taxed. For instance John Michell, one of the Gascons taxed in 1440, was almost certainly the same man described as a Norman in 1458, as Genoese in 1459 and 1460, and as French in 1464. Lincoln is the only part of the county for which a return survives for the later taxes. 5 people paid the 1483 tax, these being a Flemish hardwareman, Janyn Macy, and his Flemish servant, plus a Flemish basket-maker, a Scottish miller, and another Scot whose occupation was not recorded. It seems highly unlikely that these were indeed the only aliens in the city at this time, but as usual, why so few were recorded, and why these people were taxed when others must surely have escaped, is unknown.

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/lincolnshire