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

Bedfordshire & Buckinghamshire

General Observations:
While the initial numbers of resident aliens in Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire are quite high at over 200 per county, they soon fall to lower numbers, in the region of tens and twenties.  Both counties appear to have had similar numbers of resident aliens, and they were fairly evenly distributed through the two counties, but with some pockets of concentration.

The first point to note for Bedfordshire is that the place of residence of an alien was often omitted from the records, so the figures are not as complete as they are for Buckinghamshire.  However, from the information that is available, we can see that Barford, Manshead and Wixamtree were the most populated of the hundreds, while Stodden and Willey were the least populated with aliens.  It is of little surprise that the town of Bedford had the greatest concentration of alien residents, and other towns with a high number of aliens included Dunstable, Luton, Biggleswade and Leighton Buzzard.

Unlike Bedfordshire, the vast majority of Buckinghamshire’s resident aliens were recorded with their place of residence, so the figures are reasonably reliable.  The most populated hundreds were Stoke, Burnham and Desborough, while the least populated included Ixhill, Waddesdon and Yardley.  Of the towns, the most populated were Buckingham, High Wycombe and its suburbs, Burnham, Stony Stratford and Aylesbury.

In Buckinghamshire, women are visible in the records up until around 1453, when they are no longer recorded.  Before then, fourteen single-women are noted, mainly as servants, but some as householders.  Other alien women are also recorded, but are not included in the above statistics, as they were married to an alien, and the couple only paid for one (that is, for the male alien).  Twelve wives of aliens are noted in the records, and it is assumed that they were also aliens.

Women are also present in the early alien subsidy records for Bedfordshire, but again by 1453 no longer appear.  However, there are many more wives of aliens mentioned in this county, numbering thirty-one (although there may be some repetition of some names).  They are not included in the above statistics.  Thirteen single-women feature in the records, and they are invariably non-householders.

The majority of aliens with a given occupation in Buckinghamshire were weavers and husbandman (who were householders), or labourers and servants (who were non-householders).  Some other occupations were also noted, including John Laweles, vicar of Bierton, Nicholas Derham, chaplain, and Richard Keell, master of the scholars of Buckingham.

Very few occupations of aliens were recorded for those living in Bedfordshire, except for those who were servants.  However, in the few cases where occupation was given, it was either weaver or shoemaker.

In the majority of the assessments, the nationality of the alien was not given.  However, assumptions of nationality could be based on the surname, such as Frenchman and Irishman, which provides an overall impression of the origins of the aliens living in Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire.  The majority were Flemish, Irish, Dutch and French.  There were no Italians, and only four Scots (two in each county).

Case Study 1 – Thomas Fyssher:
An unusual entry can be seen in the 3&4 collection of the 1440 tax, assessed in 1441 (E 179/235/11, rot. 3).  Usually, the name, perhaps occupation, and location of the alien would be given, but in this case the alien is noted as ‘A certain tailor staying next to Thomas Fyssher’, noted as an Irishman and householder, living in Langley Marsh in the Stoke hundred of Buckinghamshire.  In the non-householder column of the document one Gelam (no surname given) is recorded as the servant of Thomas Fyssher, living in Langley Marsh.  Thomas Fyssher himself was one of the members of the jury who carried out the assessment.  So it appears that Fyssher, a resident of Langley Marsh, had an alien servant (origin uncertain), and an alien neighbour.  He did not know his neighbour’s name, but was sure that he was Irish.  This scenario is quite suggestive of the fact that there was perhaps a certain amount of hostility, at least from Fyssher, against at least his alien neighbour.  Although he did not have his name, he made certain that he was still listed in the assessment for paying the higher tax rate.

Case Study 2 – Isabel Barton:
It is often the case that an alien is identified as a servant of an English person, and this can reveal some fascinating information on the relationship between the English and alien residents.  One particularly revealing case is that of Isabel Barton of Thornton (Rowley hundred in Buckinghamshire) and her servants, shown in the first, third and fourth collections of the 1440 tax.  In 1440 (E 179/77/59, m. 2), it is recorded that she had two servants, Robert Alys and Philip Buktoft, and in 1441 (E 179/235/11, rot. 3) Philip Frenshman, Gerard Frenshman and Nicholas (without a surname) are recorded as her servants.  It is quite unusual to find one person with so many different alien servants, as they usually only have one or two at most.  This case study does highlight the fact that it was not unusual to find alien servants in English households.

Isabel Barton was, by 1440, the widow of John Barton (d. 1434) of Thornton.  He was a successful lawyer and MP for Buckinghamshire, and his clients included several members of the nobility, such as Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick.  However, it is not entirely clear how they came to employ five aliens, as during his career, Barton did not spend that much time abroad.  He did cross over to Calais as Thomas Mowbray’s attorney in 1403 or 1404, but his work there was cut short by the earl’s execution for treason in 1405.  One possible explanation is that they came to his household from another household, such as one that he had worked for during his career.

Jessica Lutkin

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-south-east/bedfordshire-buckinghamshire