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


The assessment roll for Northamptonshire for the first year of the 1440 tax is extremely detailed, and contains a huge amount of information. 349 people were assessed to pay the tax, and although less than a third of those actually paid, the assessment contains not only the national origins and often the occupation for most of those people, it also gives the names of the masters of servants, familial relationships and other incidental details, such as the two people described as ill at the time of the assessment and later noted as being dead by the collectors. Overall, the alien population of the main body of the county differs markedly from the only major urban centre, the town of Northampton. 40 of the 179 householders came from Northampton, with the largest national groupings being the Irish and the ‘Dutch’, the only others being people from various parts of France. A wide variety of occupations were also represented, the ‘Dutch’ residents including no fewer than 6 weavers, together with a tinker and a cooper, while the Irish included at least 6 sawyers, a chandler, a glover and a pavier, amongst others. The town also possessed a shearman from Aquitaine, a French shoemaker and a fuller and a barber from Normandy. The 23 non-householders were more evenly divided between French, Irish and Dutch, together with one Gascon and a few whose nationalities were not recorded or are now lost. Most were servants, but seemingly to people, both native and alien, from an equally varied range of trades, including (assuming occupational surnames are indicative) a goldsmith, a barber, a butcher, a pattenmaker, a chandler, a saddler, a dyer, and a glover. Some interesting groups also appear, such as Lando Creter, a Dutch weaver assessed as a householder, and his three Dutch servants, assessed as non-householders. However, Creter is noted as having died before the collection was made, and, not surprisingly, all three servants had moved away. Also, William Othemole and his wife Margaret appear in the householder list, while in the non-householders appears Margaret’s mother, Isabella Jacob, specifically described as an old woman, the mother of William’s wife, and noted in the margin as a pauper unable to pay. Women are better represented than in many assessment rolls, not only as wives but as taxpayers themselves. Three women were taxed as non-householders and five as householders, including, rather unusually, one taxed with her son. The fact that the son was named would suggest that he was over 14 years old, but perhaps he was not much older and living with his (presumably widowed) mother.

Across the rest of the county the proportions were rather different. Of the householders, only a handful were described as ‘Dutch’, along with a few Flemings and Brabanters, a single Scotsman and a Portuguese sawyer living in Ashton Keynes. There was a much higher proportion of French, but the largest single group were undoubtedly the Irish, who made up well over a third of the taxable alien population. Few occupations were explicitly stated, but surname evidence again suggests a range of trades, as well as a large number of people described as servants, even amongst the householders. The French were the largest group amongst the non-householders, but the vast majority were either French or Irish, the only others being a handful of Flemings, an Icelandic servant in Rockingham, and an Aragonese servant in Harringworth, the latter being in the service of John Zouche.

Perhaps not surprisingly given the large number of Irish residents (who were soon to become exempt), the numbers of assessed aliens in the county soon fell dramatically. Only 116 were assessed in 1441, of whom just 51 paid, while only 22 appear in the accounts for the third year. Curiously, these same numbers also appear in the inquests for both years of the 1442 subsidy, not surprising given that the two surviving inquisitions for that tax are effectively identical and clearly copies, despite bearing different dates. No inquest survives for the final year of the 1440 tax, but it seems likely that that too would have contained the same information, and that all three were probably produced at or around the same time, presumably as part of an attempt to clear a backlog of administration. Certainly, the accounts for both the final year of the 1440 tax and the first year of the 1442 tax were both enrolled at the same time, and rather late, in Michaelmas term 1445 (the second year of the 1442 subsidy was seemingly never enrolled). Of the 22 people listed in these inquests, 19 were French, the only others being 2 ‘Dutch’ men and one whose nationality was not given.

The administration of the rest of the alien subsidies in Northamptonshire continued to leave a lot to be desired, and provides an all-too-typical picture of the way in which these taxes were mis-managed across the country. 20 people were assessed to pay the first collection of the 1449 subsidy, comprising six Frenchmen and the rest from various parts of Germany and the Low Countries – 5 Flemings, 6 ‘Dutch’, two Brabanters and one man from Cologne. Only three occupations were noted, a weaver, a pattenmaker and a mercer. However, no documents survive for any of the remaining three years of this tax, and no accounts were enrolled. The pattern continued with the 1453 subsidy, with fewer and fewer people paying and the administration seemingly extremely haphazard, though quite unusually for a rural county figures do survive for all payments with the exception of the first three years of Edward IV’s reign, administered together in 1463. Numbers were initially reasonably high, with between 22 and 46 people assessed throughout the 1450s, but the advent of war changed that. Only 9 people paid in 1460, and just 3 were found in 1464 and 1465, a scarcely credible but all too common situation. In 1466 these three had been joined by two more, but while the overall number rose to 6 in 1467, these 6 were entirely different people from those assessed in the previous two years, even though four if not five of these seemingly new arrivals can clearly be associated with people who had paid the subsidy in the years before 1465, and one had probably been paying on and off since 1440. Moreover, although no places of residence are noted in any of these documents, those taxed in 1467 were almost certainly all residents of the town of Northampton, while those assessed in 1465 and 1466 probably were not. Had the tax been administered properly, most of these people should probably have paid in all these years, and certainly those who were quite clearly long-term residents of the county. Either the assessors were being especially generous to their immigrant neighbours and were deliberately not charging them every year, or there was persistent but only partially successful evasion (probably unlikely given the small numbers involved), or the officials simply did not go to the trouble of properly assessing a tax which raised only a few shillings a year. The latter appears by far the most likely. In keeping with this trend, in 1483 the assessors returned their writ stating that not a single alien was resident in their county. No figures survive for the 1487 tax.

Jonathan Mackman

Cite this page:

England’s Immigrants 1330 – 1550 (www.englandsimmigrants.com, version 1.0, 27 February 2017), https://www.englandsimmigrants.com/page/sources/alien-subsidies/the-east-midlands/northamptonshire