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

Shropshire

Only 72 people in Shropshire were assessed to pay the first payment of the 1440 grant, one of the smallest totals of any English county. Precisely why there were so few is uncertain, but similarly low figures were recorded in many counties in this region, such as Staffordshire and Worcestershire. It may simply be that very few aliens lived in this part of England, but Shropshire, like other Marcher counties, was home to many Welsh people, and since the Welsh were not required to pay and thus were not assessed, other resident aliens may have claimed to be Welsh in order to escape payment. Alternatively the assessors may simply have been less than diligent at finding resident aliens, faced with what was probably a relatively large but exempt non-English speaking minority already within the county. Of those who were assessed, the only person specified with their nationality was a single Irishman, but the surnames indicate further Irishmen, various French people and probably two Brabanters. A large proportion of the people assessed lived in Shrewsbury, comprising at least 13 of the 30 householders and 16 of the 42 non-householders. Of these, many of the householders were listed with their occupations, and most of the non-householders were servants of craftsmen, while others had occupational surnames which quite probably reflected their trades. While these included the usual shoemakers, skinners, butchers, thatchers and carpenters, they also included trades related to arms and armour, suggesting a thriving weapons industry in the town – the taxpayers themselves included two saddlers, a ‘stringer’ (probably a maker of bowstrings), a bowyer, and possibly a fletcher, as well as the servant to a ‘sheather’ (a maker of sheaths, presumably for weapons). Outside the town the remaining taxpayers were scattered across the county, mainly as labourers and servants, the most notable perhaps being Colin, a French servant to Thomas Hopton, esquire, of Hopton Castle.

As usual, after 1440 the numbers assessed fell dramatically. Just 14 people paid the second year of the 1440 tax, and 13 in the third year. The surviving assessment for that year lists 8 householders, 6 of whom were also assessed in 1440, and 5 non-householders, none of whom seem to have appeared previously. All thirteen taxpayers were described as originating from France. The accounts for the first year of the 1442 subsidy show the same numbers as the last year of the 1440 subsidy, and it is perfectly possible that the officials simply re-used the same assessment – no documents are known to survive, but this duplication certainly appeared elsewhere (e.g. Lincolnshire). No documents survive for the second year of that tax, and while documents do survive for the first year of the 1449 subsidy, the inquest simply states that no liable aliens lived in the county. There are no details for the other three payments of that tax, suggesting that no further taxpayers were found.

The same was the case when collection of the 1453 subsidy began in 1455. No liable taxpayers were found by the inquest held in October 1455, and nil returns continued to be accounted until 1458, when the assessors for the eleventh and twelfth payments finally found an alien in the county, one Peter Waghter. How long he remained within the collectors’ sights is unclear, but by the time of the next collections for which accounts survive, those of 1464, the assessors again found no taxpayers in the county, and none are known to have been assessed throughout the remainder of that subsidy. No details are known concerning the 1483 or 1487 taxes.

Jonathan Mackman

Cite this page:

England’s Immigrants 1330 – 1550 (www.englandsimmigrants.com, version 1.0, 29 April 2017), http://www.englandsimmigrants.com/page/sources/alien-subsidies/the-west-midlands/shropshire