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


Over 300 people were assessed to pay the first year of the 1440 subsidy in Cumberland, a relatively high number for such a relatively sparsely populated county. Not surprisingly, the vast majority if not all of those assessed were Scots, and just as in neighbouring Northumberland and Westmorland, a large number were women, presumably migrant workers who had travelled south in search of employment. As usual, the majority of those assessed disappeared between the assessment and collection stages of the tax, with only 20 of the 96 householders and 33 of the 213 non-householders actually paying. A similar situation occurred the following year, with 22 of the 43 householders paying, and only 16 of the 46 non-householders, again most if not all of those assessed being Scots. Few occupations were noted in the documents, although the surname evidence amongst the householders might indicate a variety of trades in the leather-working, shoemaking and weaving industries. The non-householders were generally described as servants of specific named individuals, with most presumably being either agricultural labourers or domestic servants.

In 1443, 64 people paid the first payment of the 1442 grant, suggesting an increase in the number of contributors but a reduction in the numbers assessed (if any people were assessed but did not pay, then they were not recorded). After this, except for a high point in 1451 when 38 people were assessed towards the third payment of the 1449 tax, the numbers of taxpayers remained relatively constant, with between 10 and 15 people paying each of the collections for which information survives. However, the returns do suggest a certain inconsistency in the assessment procedures. For the first few payments, the assessed aliens were scattered across most parts of the county, yet in 1449 most of the people assessed were residents of Cumberland ward, in 1458 the majority were from Leath ward, while in 1466 almost all the people assessed lived in Eskdale ward. It seems unlikely that the residency pattern changed so markedly across just a few years, and suggests that the assessment procedures may have been more rigorous in some areas than others at different times, possibly reflecting the diligence or the home regions of the people conducting the assessment.

As with most of the northern counties, no documents or details survive for the subsidies of 1483 or 1487. However, whereas no details survive for Westmorland or Northumberland for any collections of the 1453 subsidy due after 1459, this is not the case in Cumberland, with documents or accounts surviving for four of the sets of payments due after the accession of Edward IV. Although a number are still missing, it clearly shows that the subsidy was being collected in the county, and may disprove the impression given from the other northern counties, that collection had been abandoned in the North. There is no obvious reason why the tax should have been collected in Cumberland and not in the other two northern counties, and clearly further investigation is needed into the administration of the alien subsidies in the North after 1460.

Jonathan Mackman

Citation: Jonathan Mackman, ‘Cumberland’, England’s Immigrants 1330-1550 website, January 2013 [https://www.englandsimmigrants.com/page/sources/alien-subsidies/the-north/cumberland]

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-north/cumberland