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

Kent and the Cinque Ports

Kent and Canterbury

The 1440 alien subsidy return for Kent is one of the largest such documents produced outside the city of London, and one of the most detailed returns produced for anywhere in the country. Both the original inquests and the collectors’ roll survive, and while some of the inquests are damaged, the roll is complete and in excellent condition. It contains the names of almost 1200 individuals, 1129 of whom were actual taxpayers, together with their place of residence, occasionally their nationality or occupation, sometimes, where relevant, their master’s name, and notes as to whether or not they paid. The equivalent roll for the second year also survives, this document containing the names of 624 taxpayers and 31 others, showing the usual large decrease in numbers. However, taken together, they provide a detailed picture of the distribution of the alien population, showing concentrations in most of the expected places – the cities of Canterbury and Rochester, and the western part of the county, the hinterland of the city of London and the areas around the Thames, particularly Greenwich. The vast majority of the people listed are given no national origins, but of those that were, the largest group were undoubtedly the French (including Picards and Normans, who were specified separately), followed by the Flemings and the generic ‘Dutch’. There were also a relatively large number of Irish, almost exclusively living in the western parts of the county near London, but only two specified as Scots, a female servant in Deptford and John Broun, a householder in Cliffe. With the exception of the large number of servants, comprising over a third of the total numbers, relatively few occupations were specified in 1440, the most common ones being labourers, and tailors. However, people connected with the church featured more strongly than in most counties, with vicars, rectors and other parish clergy appearing, as well as chantry and other chaplains, and various lay servants of religious institutions. These also include a number of interesting stories. For instance, the return for Felborough hundred contains the names of four chantry chaplains, three of whom (one in Molash and two in Godmersham) were listed not only with their occupation but also with the names of the people for whose soul they were performing their services. However, unfortunately for the soul of William Pole, the two chaplains employed to pray for him in Godmersham church, James and John, had both abandoned their duties by the time the collectors came knocking on their door!

Comparison of the 1440 and 1441 assessments also highlights some common issues with the alien subsidy returns. Firstly, a number of the people noted as dead on the 1440 roll were clearly very much alive in 1441, and were being taxed. For instance, Solomon Hendith, a tailor from Brookland in Aloesbridge hundred, was described as dead in 1440, but appears alive and well as Solomon Taillour in 1441. Clearly the notes on the assessments stating that individual taxpayers had not paid because they were dead or had moved cannot be taken as accurate, and this probably holds true for all parts of the country. Also, in these returns, people assessed in one place or hundred in one year often appear in a different place or hundred the following year. However, rather than indicating that the population was moving, in this case much of this is probably a consequence of the extremely complicated historical geography of Kent, with lots of small and often disparate hundreds, and parishes with parts in a number of different hundreds.

Unfortunately, after 1441, the survival of the records is relatively poor, and although the basic numbers of taxpayers are known from the accounts, it is not until the third year of the 1449 subsidy that another nominal return survives, and even that contains nothing more than a list of names, with no other details. The numbers continued to almost halve each year, with the 624 taxpayers of 1441 becoming only 382 in 1442, 197 and 214 for the two years of the 1442 subsidy, 94 in 1449 and only 56 by 1450. The figure rose back up to 81 in 1451 before falling back to 61 in 1452.

Only five sets of returns survive from the long period of the 1453 subsidy. The first, listing 89 individuals, is remarkable for the appearance of a Welshman, who should not have been assessed but clearly was, and seemingly paid. However, the numbers then fell back again, with 74 people assessed in 1456 and between 33 and 45 across the rest of the tax. Yet even the returns which do survive cannot always be trusted, and at least one may have simply been made up by the officials. In 1467, the return for the 29th and 30th payments includes (in this exact order) Thomas Roke, John Byrde, William Heryng, John Salmon, Nicholas Sturgyon and John a Water, a group that seems somewhat suspicious amongst a list of otherwise unremarkable names, and unless the Kent aliens had an unusual affinity for choosing surnames relating to the water, it gives an impression of a scribe compiling the return from his imagination while looking out over a river estuary! The suspiciousness of the returns is compounded by the fact that, while the 1467 return contains 41 names, and the 1468 contains 45 names, not a single individual can be positively identified as appearing in both. It seems highly unlikely that all the assessed aliens in 1467 should move away, to be replaced by an almost equal number of new people. The tendency to use patronymic or occupational surnames may mask some continuity, but this total lack of consistency adds to the suspicion that the returns are partially or perhaps totally fictitious. Unfortunately too few returns survive for the 1453 subsidy to make any detailed comparison.

The relative continuity in the overall numbers of aliens on the Kent county returns from around 1457 onwards is even more remarkable given that, from the accession of Edward IV onwards, the city of Canterbury was assessed and accounted entirely separately, following its elevation to county status in 1461. Separate sets of assessments were therefore produced for the city, and as was often the case, the survival rate for the city’s documents was far better than for the rest of the county, with a complete series of assessments surviving until 1468, and accounts until 1471. The numbers of taxpayers assessed remained between around 25 and 35 across this decade, with many of the same individuals being taxed throughout, such as Eligius Payntour and John Pyle. In many assessments, taxpayers were generally listed with occupational surnames, suggesting that these were indeed their true occupations, and would indicate that Canterbury had a large number of alien (generally Flemish) shoemakers, and a variety of other tradesmen such as skinners, coopers, cappers and even a goldsmith (named ‘Christian Goldsmyth’ in most returns but seemingly as Christian Radloff in 1466). Nationalities were relatively scarce beyond the occasional ‘John Ducheman’ or ‘John Frencheman’, but the relative continuity of the names does allow pictures to emerge of some of the more prominent individuals, including some who were even present in the city as far back as the oath of allegiance sworn by the ‘Dutch’ population in 1436.

No details survive for either of the 1483 or 1487 taxes in the main part of Kent, but returns do survive for both for the city of Canterbury. 57 people were taxed in 1483, and 80 in 1487, and while some of the same individuals appeared in both, the tendency to use toponymic or occupational surnames makes it difficult to link people together with any great certainty. The 1483 return generally just gave the taxpayers names, but in 1487 nationalities were always recorded, the largest group being the 54 Flemings, followed by 20 Scots, two Picards, two Bretons, a Frenchman and an Italian. Only 25 were householders, one being the holder of a brewhouse assessed at the higher rate, and the list included a number of aliens with alien servants, such as the Fleming Gerard Johnson, listed with his six Flemish servants. Interestingly for a city like Canterbury, only one cleric appears, a Breton chaplain simply named as Master Laurence, and all the taxpayers were male.

The Cinque Ports

As well as the assessments for the county of Kent and, after 1461, the city of Canterbury, there was another group of alien residents of Kent assessed towards these taxes: those people resident in the Cinque Ports. These ports, lying in both Kent and Sussex and forming separate jurisdictional entities for centuries, were assessed entirely separately from the rest of the two counties, and were home to a large number of alien residents. However, the assessments have often proven problematic. Many assessments bear no details of where individuals were resident, and thus they could have lived anywhere from Dover in the northeast of Kent, around to Hastings and Pevensey in Sussex. Others, particularly the large assessment for 1440, were arranged almost solely by the head port, and thus often give no clear indication of whether an individual lived in that head port or in any of their various limbs or associated towns. Some may even have lived in a totally different county from that head port, since Hastings and Rye had members in Kent, and one limb of Sandwich, Brightlingsea, actually lay in Essex (although there is no evidence of any Brightlingsea residents being taxed in the Cinque Ports).

648 people were assessed in the various Cinque Ports towards the first payment of the 1440 tax. However, the level of detail is relatively poor, giving only the name and port of residence, a few wives and notes on whether or not they paid. However, a number of people can be traced in later documents, and many can be linked with the more detailed lists of those who swore the oath of allegiance in 1436. Indeed, little useful information remains for the Cinque Ports for the rest of the 1440, 1442 and 1449 taxes. Only a damaged and largely illegible fragment of the 1441 return survives, listing only 142 non-householders from the 385 people accounted as being assessed, and no returns survive at all survive from the 1449 tax, only the account for the first year, which shows 168 people paying. 162 people were assessed to pay the final instalments of the 1440 subsidy, but while 72 and 65 people were assessed to pay the two years of the 1442 tax, the surviving assessment shows that the assessment procedures were clearly flawed. Despite claiming to represent the two years of the tax, the two lists on the assessment contain totally different names, and comparison with the earlier assessments indicates that (of those who can be identified with any certainty) most of the people listed in the assessment ostensibly for the first year were from Dover, New Romney and Hythe, while those in the second part were predominantly from Sandwich, Rye and Winchelsea. For some reason, probably laziness or incompetence given that it was accounted two years late, the officials seem to have produced a single assessment, and then, rather than collecting four payments worth of money from everyone assessed, collected only two, divided the assessment list into rough halves, and successfully tricked the Exchequer into accepting this for both years of the tax. Alternatively, they may have collected all the money and simply defrauded the Exchequer of half of it, but the sums involved would probably not have made this worthwhile. However, it was far from the only example of such administrative problems connected with the alien subsidies, with similar issues clearly taking place in Yorkshire and Cambridgeshire, and probably elsewhere.

Relatively little information survives for the Cinque Ports for the 1453 tax, but a pair of assessments do survive for the three collections due between Easter 1455 and Easter 1456 inclusive (the collection groupings employed in the Cinque Ports seem to have been different from those used elsewhere, though quite why is unknown). These contain only a small amount of information about the origins of the assessed aliens (102 in total), but do specify the ports in which they lived, and one also contains interesting details of a community of Genoese living in Sandwich as this time. Five Genoese alien merchants were named, assessed to pay the highest rate of tax of 40s per person, followed by nine Genoese factors, described as non-householders and assessed to pay 20s each. Many of these people had the same surnames as the merchants, suggesting a number of familial groupings within the town, though by the time of the next surviving assessments, made in 1467 and 1468, only two Genoese were found by the assessors. It seems that these particular Genoese families may well have sent their members to Sandwich in the same way that many other Italian merchant and banking families sent members to London or Southampton, or to various other northern European cities.

A number of documents survive for the Cinque Ports for the 1483 subsidy, not only providing the names of the 116 individuals who paid the tax (often with details such as their occupations or master’s name) but also showing the various stages of the collection process on the ground. One particular file contains not only the original writ issued by the king (Richard III) to the warden of the Cinque Ports (at this time William, earl of Arundel), but also includes most of the warrants issued in the earl’s name to the officials of the seven main ports of the confederation, ordering them to assess the tax, and also the resultant inquests held by those officials. The names of the individual taxpayers (without any other information which may have been recorded) were then copied, with varying degrees of accuracy, onto the combined particulars of account, detailing the sums due from each port and the total to be collected.

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-south-east/kent-and-the-cinque-ports