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


The remote county of Cornwall was home to its fair share of resident immigrants, but the records are somewhat sporadic and unreliable. The highest number of residents recorded in the alien subsidy returns was for the first and second collection of the 1440 subsidy, numbering 318 individuals. Fowey was the most densely populated with immigrants, numbering 60, with a further 20 in Lanteglos-by-Fowey. It is not surprising that this major medieval port was home to the largest immigrant population, as not only was it a point of entry, it was also a thriving area with plenty of opportunities for trade and employment. Other towns with relatively large populations included Truro, Saltash, East and West Looe, Landulph and Bodmin. A large portion of the individuals were recorded as servants, while only a handful had sea-faring occupations.

In the following collections of the 1440 subsidy, the assessed individuals fell dramatically, to only 40 per year. There then seems to have been problems with the Exchequer getting any information from the Cornish JPs, as nothing is recorded for the 1442 subsidy. When records seem to resume for the 1449 subsidy, only zero returns are given. It is highly unlikely that all the resident immigrants of Cornwall disappeared, and even though many in the first collections were recorded as Irish and Channel Islanders, they barely made up a third of the recorded residents in 1440. What happened to the numerous French residents, who made up another third of the population?

The returns for the 1453 subsidy were a bit more fruitful, but only occasionally did the returns reach double figures, and the only contain very limited information. Unfortunately the return for the 1483 subsidy, which promises much information, is severely damaged, and only thirty-six individuals can be discerned, although the figure was probably much higher. This is probably the case because by the time of the second collection of the 1523 Tudor subsidy, the number of resident aliens in Cornwall returned to the numbers seen in 1440.

The assessed individuals for the period are predominantly male, with only sixteen women recorded. All of these women are to be found in the first and second collections of the 1440 subsidy, living in Truro, Fowey, Bodmin, Landrake, Saltash and St Germans. Seven were wives of aliens, so were not charged the tax, and six were servants to aliens and were charged the tax as non-householders.

The dominant occupation, when identified, among the aliens in Cornwall was servant. However, other occupations included mariner, fisherman and shipman, all of whom were to be found in coastal towns including Polruan and Fowey. While manual labour occupations feature, many craft occupations are also represented, including four tailors, two hatmakers, two goldsmiths, a weaver, a saddler, a cordwainer and a carpenter.

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-west/cornwall