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


In 1440, as with most counties of England, inquisitions were held in Warwickshire to gather the names of the aliens living within the county, and the details from these inquisitions were then copied onto a roll for the sheriff and his officials to use in the collection process. However, while the file of inquisitions survives, it is badly damaged, with only around a third of each document remaining, and only the final membrane of the collector’s roll is known to exist, containing the names of the non-householders resident in part of Kington and Knightlow hundreds. As a result, only some of the names of the taxpayers in 1440 can be pieced together from the fragmentary documents. However, the account roll entry records that 103 householders and 159 non-householders were assessed in total in Warwickshire and Leicestershire combined, and when those appearing in the Leicestershire inquests are subtracted, this leaves a total of 65 householders and 100 non-householders in Warwickshire, of which 57 householders paid but only 7 non-householders. These figures are confirmed by notes on the surviving membrane of the collector’s roll, and although the inquisitions are incomplete, the figures seem to correlate roughly with the numbers of names which would have been expected from the surviving membranes. Nationalities were not systematically recorded, but of those which do survive, the French and Irish appear in similar numbers, with a couple of Flemings and, perhaps less expectedly, an Icelander.

However, this leaves one big question about 1440: what happened to Coventry? In 1441, for the second year of this tax, a separate inquest was drawn up for Coventry, and lists 62 householders and 55 non-householders assessed to pay. These large numbers, even in 1441, confirm that they cannot have been included in the 1440 total for the two counties on the account roll, but no separate account is enrolled for Coventry, and no assessment documents survive. In 1441, the town’s figures were accounted with those for the rest of Warwickshire, but seemingly this did not happen in 1440. Was it accounted separately and the figures do not survive? Or was it omitted by mistake? The former seems most likely, but whatever the reason, this highlights another significant gap in our knowledge of the taxpayers of 1440, particularly given that, if the 137 people taxed in 1441 are multiplied by the standard difference between the figures for 1440 and 1441, Coventry could have been home to as many as 250 taxpayers in 1440.

Overall figures for the first three alien subsidies in Warwickshire are rather patchy, and document survival rates are poor. As noted, 211 people were assessed in 1441, the increase on 1440 evidently a result of the inclusion of Coventry, but this fell to only 97 in 1442, and for the first year of the 1442 subsidy only figures for Coventry survive. 40 people were assessed to pay there, but despite significant damage to the return, it nevertheless not only gives the names of the taxpayers but also, at least for the householders, the streets where they lived, a feature that would continue in most Coventry assessments across all the alien subsidy returns. Unfortunately no nationalities were noted, but many of the surnames were occupational, the numbers suggesting that they may have been actual occupations rather than true surnames. If so, these included a corviser, a scrivener, a turner, a chandler and others. Moreover, this assessment and others show that in Coventry, wives of householders were being taxed as well as their husbands, contrary to both usual practice and the terms of the grant. Unfortunately no data at all survives for the second year of the 1442 tax.

Only 13 people were accounted as having paid the first payment of the 1449 tax in the county. However, the assessment filed with the particulars of account shows that all of those taxpayers lived in the city of Coventry, and not a single person in the rest of the county was assessed. This was very different to the following year, when 37 people in the rest of the county were assessed alongside 16 Coventry residents. Given this huge discrepancy, it seems clear that the assessors of the first payment could not have assessed the aliens within the wider county, and simply took the Coventry assessment (which they might well have been sent by the civic authorities) and passed that off for the whole county. Why this should have occurred is unknown, but the shrieval appointments for Warwickshire and Leicestershire over this period occurred at strange times – rather than the usual November appointments, William Purefey was appointed in June 1448, and his successor, William Lucy, not until February 1450 – and this might possibly suggest some degree of administrative confusion.

As noted, 53 people paid the second year of the 1449 tax, but no figures are known for the third year, and by 1452 only 15 paid, 6 being Coventry residents. 10 of the 13 Coventry residents assessed in 1449 were French, the others being a Scot, a Fleming and another Icelander. It was similar the following year, with 11 Frenchmen, 3 Flemings and 2 Icelanders. In the rest of the county, the 37 taxpayers included 25 Frenchmen, 5 ‘Dutchmen’ and 6 Scots (one, Herman Beek, was given no nationality but was probably also ‘Dutch’). In 1452, 3 of the 6 Coventry residents were again Icelanders, the others being 2 Frenchmen and a Fleming, while in the rest of the county, there were 5 Frenchmen, 2 ‘Dutchmen’ and a Fleming.

The city of Coventry was granted county status in 1451, and from 1453 onwards the alien subsidies were administered by the civic authorities rather than the county sheriff, and were accounted separately. As was often the case with cities, the survival rate of Coventry documents and accounts is reasonably good, but unfortunately the conscientiousness of the officials was not. Across the whole of the life of the 1453 subsidy, the city officials never returned more than four taxpayers, and sometimes just a single individual, almost certainly a ridiculous situation in a city of the size and wealth of Coventry. Moreover, the names returned were usually the same people, returned in precisely the same wording year after year, suggesting that the assessment documents were simply recycled. For instance, the Icelander John Glassen of Cross Street appeared on every surviving return from the final payment of the 1449 subsidy, collected in 1452, until the final payment of the 1453 tax, gathered in 1471, and on almost every occasion described as the servant or former servant of Guy Wyston, a prominent Coventry resident and one of the sheriffs appointed in the city in 1454. Another Icelander, John Gunner of Gosford Street, also appeared in numerous assessments, as did the currier Giles Lynde, who was generally described as an ‘Easterling’ but who may well have been the same man as the Icelander ‘Giles Coreour, currier’, taxed in Coventry in 1452. The appearance of Icelanders in Coventry was a consistent feature of the assessments, but why Icelanders should have settled in the city is uncertain, given Coventry’s position in the heart of the English midlands, many miles from any maritime trade routes with the north. Their appearance may indicate a larger Icelandic population in the town, or they may simply have been isolated individuals, the ‘most alien’ residents of the city and hence their inclusion in the tax records when others must surely have been overlooked. Perhaps they migrated from places such as Hull, which had more obvious links with Iceland and larger Icelandic immigrant populations.

In the rest of Warwickshire, the picture is rather less clear, mainly due to an almost certain lack of rigour by the officials. 13 people paid the subsidy in 1455, for the first three years of the tax, but their names do not survive, while in the following year only 5 people paid, these being three Frenchmen and probably two Dutchmen, scattered across the rural county. 4 paid in 1457, and 5 in both 1458 and 1459, the accounts for those years almost certainly being compiled from the same inquisitions. No details survive for 1460, perhaps a reflection of the outbreak of war, but for the next eight years successive sheriffs could find no liable aliens in the county, the only sums in their accounts coming from the four Leicestershire people discovered in 1467. A single taxpayer was found in Alcester in 1469, and three people in 1470, probably Dutch from their surnames, but no return survives from 1471.

Unusually, documents exist for Warwickshire for both the 1483 and 1487 taxes. In 1483, seven people were assessed, six Scots and a Fleming, four of whom lived in Warwick. Meanwhile, the account for 1487 notes that 13 people were assessed to pay that tax, six householders and seven non-householders, but no details of their identity are known, and the account clearly records that not one of them actually paid. No details survive for these taxes from Coventry.

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/warwickshire