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

Gloucestershire & Bristol

Unfortunately no assessment documents survive Gloucestershire for the first year of the 1440 tax, only a single membrane containing the names of some of the people who failed to pay. The accounts show that 135 householders and 175 non-householders were assessed to pay these collections, of which only around 200 actually paid (the two collections were evidently made separately, and some paid one collection but not the other). The list of defaulters is incomplete, bearing around 100 names, but does contain some interesting details, such as various stable workers of the abbot of Winchcombe, a servant of the countess of Warwick at Tewkesbury, and two servants of James, Lord Berkeley. Little else is known about this first year of the tax, but an assessment does survive for the second year of the tax, by which point the numbers had roughly halved, to only 81 householders (the accounts say 82, but the clerk miscounted) and 88 non-householders, of whom 75 and 69 paid respectively. Of these, a large proportion (38) were from Gloucester itself, with the others being scattered across the remainder of the county (Bristol was administered separately and is discussed below). Nationalities were not routinely recorded, but those which were given were either Irish or French.

As usual, numbers continued to fall. 158 people were assessed to pay the third year of the tax, but only 56 actually paid, though there was a reasonable degree of continuity from the previous year, and many individuals given no place of residence in the previous year’s assessment had that information recorded this time. Gloucester again dominated, but this time a number of people were described as being from Cirencester, and various other monastic settlements also appeared, such as Winchcombe and Hailes; although the people taxed were not necessarily described as being connected with those abbeys, it seems likely that they were. Nationalities were also more regularly recorded, the vast majority again being French and Irish, the only exceptions being two Gascons, two Scots and a single Dutch man.  Only 33 of the 108 people assessed for the first year of the 1442 tax actually paid, again a large proportion being from Gloucester and Cirencester and again almost entirely people who had also been taxed the previous year. Administration of the second year was clearly poor. The surviving documents were administered late, and the remaining inquests may only cover part of the county. However, hundred headings in other Gloucestershire documents do not necessarily match the places of residence of the people listed, so it is possible that the 17 people listed really were the only people assessed. 27 people paid the first collection of the 1449 tax, but this fell to 4 for the second year, 8 for the third and 5 for the fourth payment, due in 1452. Unfortunately the only surviving names are those of the 4 taxpayers assessed for the second payment in 1450, all of whom had no recorded nationality and occupational surnames, suggesting that they were indeed a tanner and cobbler from Gloucester, a baker from Cirencester and a turner from Colesbourne.

Rather unbelievably, when the assessors sent in the returns for the first three years of the 1453 tax in 1455, they noted that 24 people were liable to pay the third year’s payments, but claimed that no aliens whatsoever had been resident during the previous two years. This was highly unlikely, particularly given that the first name was the same Gloucester tanner taxed in 1450. However, numbers then fell dramatically, with no more than 7 people paying any of the remaining collections of this tax, and only 2 in 1457, although one of these, Thomas Carter of Hailes, was, rather unusually, clearly described as a Dane. Nothing is known of the two taxes of the 1480s.


The town of Bristol had long been a separate administrative unit, and thus the alien subsidies were assessed and collected by the civic authorities. Unlike in Gloucestershire, an assessment roll does survive for the first year of the 1440 tax, for which 221 householders and 427 non-householders were assessed to pay, making it one of the largest urban areas outside London. However, the roll is in poor condition, with large parts faded, stained and illegible, and hence the information it provides is patchy. However, it is divided between the various city parishes, and would allow, at least for some parishes, a detailed picture of the town’s alien population to be reconstructed. Some work has already been undertaken on this by historians such as Peter Fleming, but more remains to be done. Very few nationalities are recorded beyond the occasional person given the ‘surname’ ‘Frenchman’ or ‘Irishman’, but women are quite well represented, suggesting a large urban female alien population. Many taxpayers were given occupational surnames, and given that these do seem to cluster in groups in specific parishes, it not only suggests that these were actual occupations, it also indicates that certain parts of the town were popular with alien inhabitants in particular trades. Much more work is needed to examine this phenomenon. A far better assessment roll survives for the second year of the tax, but contains far fewer names, since only 131 householders and 250 non-householders were assessed, with all seemingly paying. Again, very few nationalities were recorded,  but many had occupational surnames, and again the list was divided between the various parishes of the town. Large numbers of the non-householders were servants, both of alien and native masters, and many small industries can be identified, comprising artisan masters, native and alien, with a number of alien servants, perhaps working alongside unrecorded native employees. The returns certainly give an image of a vibrant industrial community of aliens within the town.

As ever, numbers continued to fall. Only 123 people paid the third year of the 1440 tax, and only 36 and 16 paid the two years of the 1442 subsidy respectively (no assessments survive for any). Details survive for the first, second and fourth payments of the 1449 tax, with 29, 32 and 26 people paying respectively. Names survive for the first year only, mainly comprising individual aliens and their servants, but again no nationalities are given beyond a few men named ‘Ducheman’, and this time no parish of residence. Numbers remained in the 20s throughout the 1450s, but when the 1453 subsidy was revived by Edward IV in 1463, only 14 people were taxed, and from that point numbers remained in single figures. The recording of nationalities became much more common during the collection of this tax, but these give a rather different picture to that given in earlier years, when the French and Irish dominated. Obviously the Irish were by now exempt, but in 1455, the 21 taxpayers comprised 7 Flemings, 5 Picards, 3 Bretons, a Brabanter and four people from Iceland (one person had no recorded nationality). In 1458, the 22 people assessed were a similar mix, including three Bretons, a Picard, a Fleming and three Icelanders, and the latter were to become a prominent feature of the remaining assessments. Presumably they may have been present before but simply were not recorded, but they were to become a significant part of all subsequent assessments, so much so that, in the assessment of 1483, 48 of the 51 taxpayers were explicitly described as Icelanders, and the other three might well have been, since they were given no nationality. Most were not named, the list simply giving the name of their master and that they were paying for an Icelandic servant, some being described as their ‘servant’ and others simply as their ‘boy’. It has been suggested that some of these may have been slaves, although there is nothing within the documents themselves to indicate this. Nevertheless, it is very strange that the 1483 assessment should be almost exclusively Icelandic, when those from earlier years contained few if any, and people from all other countries were seemingly ignored. As was common in the administration of the alien subsidies, local factors or attitudes must have played some part in this.

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-west/gloucestershire-bristol