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


Relatively full sets of figures survive for the collection of the alien subsidies in Nottinghamshire, but unfortunately rather few details of the individual taxpayers. Enrolled accounts and other administrative documents survive in reasonably high numbers, but few inquisitions or other assessments, and of those which do survive, few contain more than a handful of names. The town of Nottingham was granted self-governing status in 1449, and thus provided its own returns after that date.

Fortunately, despite this patchy survival rate, full assessments do survive for the county for both of the first two years of the 1440 tax, listing 107 individuals in 1440  and 95 in 1441. The returns show that the alien population at this time was scattered across the county, with only around a fifth of the total living in the two major towns of Nottingham and Newark. Most of those for whom a nationality was recorded were French, Scots and Irish, but personal and surname evidence would also suggest that a number of other people came from the Low Countries or Germany. Surname evidence may also suggest that they pursued a wide variety of trades, such as a baker, a sawyer and a scrivener in Nottingham, and agricultural trades such as swineherd, ‘neatherd’ (cattle-herder) and shepherds in the rural areas. Many members of the local gentry also had alien servants, such as William Foljambe, John Zouche, John Leek and John Gateford, as did some members of the clergy. After 1441, no further details survive until the final payment of the 1442 tax, the accounts showing that by that time the numbers assessed had fallen dramatically to only 32. Similar numbers paid the first three collections of the 1449 tax, with 23, 31 and 25 people being assessed, but only for the second of these does a nominal list survive, and that gives no places of residence, just the names of the taxpayers. Surname evidence indicates a number of French people, and a few Scots, but a Thomas Yryssh was also taxed, and the Irish were explicitly exempt, suggesting that either this exemption was being ignored or that even the most obvious of surnames did not necessarily reflect national origins (the former is probably more likely). No further nominal lists survive for the county until 1457, when only 7 people were assessed, all being Scots, and this remained the case for the next few years, with the numbers assessed remaining in single figures and the taxpayers (where known) invariably being Scots. Only in 1468 did this change, when the assessors suddenly managed to find 15 liable aliens, and numbers remained in double figures for the next two years, although no details of the taxpayers survive. Yet despite this sudden conscientiousness in the late 1460s, by the time of the 1483 tax the assessors failed to find a single liable alien in the county.

In 1440, when the town of Nottingham was administered with the rest of the county, 16 people from the town were assessed, and 14 Nottingham people were included in 1441. Few details of those taxpayers were recorded beyond their names, although one was noted as a Frenchman and another as a Scot. As with the rest of the county, no detailed information survives for the 1442 tax, although the county totals undoubtedly included a number of people from the town, but unlike many urban areas, the granting of county status from 1449 did not result in an immediate improvement in the administration of the tax. No nominal lists survive from the 1449 subsidy, and only for the final payment do we even know how many people paid, with just 7 contributing. It is only with the 1453 subsidy that returns again appear, and while these survive in quite high numbers thereafter, unfortunately they contain relatively few people. Numbers remained between 6 and 9 throughout the 1450s, rose to 12 in 1463 before falling back again, and then increased again to 15 in 1468, 11 in 1469 and 13 in 1470. This relative stability, however, is not entirely surprising. Many of the same people appeared in the returns for a number of years, and some were clearly from the same family, such as the four members of the Leere family from Brabant, including Henry, a weaver, who was a permanent feature of the returns from 1458 onwards. The majority of the aliens assessed in the town were Scots, but perhaps the most notable feature was the appearance of a number of Icelanders in the town, at least 8 different people in total, including at least two women and possibly more (the gender indicated by the forename is often uncertain). Many of these appear across a number of years, and as in nearby Coventry, would indicate a settled community of Icelanders living and working in the town. A return does survive for 1483, but despite the continued appearance of the ubiquitous Henry Leere, only two other liable aliens were found by the assessors.

In many towns and counties, it would appear that the assessors, rather than holding new inquisitions each year, instead simply copied and re-used documents from previous years. This is mostly just an impression, but in Nottinghamshire (and neighbouring Derbyshire) this seems especially evident. In the return for 1465 (E 179/236/95), not only were exactly the same people assessed as had appeared two years previously (E 179/235/49), but the return also used exactly the same spellings for the names of those people, and precisely the same variant (and relatively unusual) spellings of the ‘surname’ Scott (‘Skotte’ and ‘Scotte’). Given the number of variant spellings used for this name, this can only mean that it was copied from the earlier document. However, the officials had clearly not done the same in the intervening year, and in fact managed to find 12 individuals compared to only 7 on the other two.

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/nottinghamshire