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there was a tangible sense of Englishness by which they could navigate such a tricky path. Nationality had different connotations in the Middle Ages from today, and was not by any means always the primary marker of social identity. Nevertheless, national attributes were clearly understood as a very important element of a shared culture. In recent generations, medieval historians have been increasingly preoccupied with the ‘idea of England’: that is, with the political-cultural concept that framed both the development of the English state and

in Immigrant England, 1300–1550

limited only to defending the rights of native-born ‘English’. Instead of developing a separate code for the Normans, then, the law simply adapted and expanded to take on certain of the northern French customs that the invaders regarded as important to their needs. 1 Nationality showed up most visibly in the period after the Norman Conquest of 1066 in the process known as presentment of Englishry. If it was proved that a murder victim was Norman, then the local community bore collective responsibility and had to pay a penalty (the murdrum fine) to the king. 2 In

in Immigrant England, 1300–1550

Immigrant England, 1300–1550 provides a comprehensive account of the identities, nationalities, occupations, families and experiences of first-generation immigrants to England during the later Middle Ages. It addresses both official policy and public responses to immigration in the age of the Black Death, the Hundred Years War and the early Tudor monarchy, revealing how dramatic changes in the English economy fundamentally affected the levels of tolerance and discrimination allowed to immigrants.

Drawing on data unique in Europe before the nineteenth century, the book provides both a quantitative analysis of immigrants and a qualitative assessment of the reception that these incomers received from English society at large. Accounting for 1 per cent or more of the population of England in the fifteenth century and coming from all parts of Europe and beyond, immigrants spread out over the kingdom, settling in the countryside as well as in towns, and in a multitude of occupations from agricultural labourers to skilled craftspeople and professionals. Often encouraged and welcomed, sometimes vilified and victimised, immigrants were always on the social and political agenda in late medieval England.

One of the most notable aspects of later medieval immigration is the sheer range of different nationalities entering England, and the differing patterns of their distribution across the various parts of the country. The alien subsidy returns are by far our most abundant and significant source in this respect. As noted in chapter 3 , the assessors of these taxes were not actually required to provide a nationality label for the people enumerated, but merely to vouch that they were indeed aliens. The recording of nationality was therefore an ‘optional extra’ for

in Immigrant England, 1300–1550

Whilst the arrival of people from the constituent parts of the British Isles was clearly a considerable feature of life across medieval and early modern England, it was only part of the wider process of migration into England across this period. Of the 5,106 aliens taxed in 1440 whose nationalities can be readily identified, some 38 per cent (1,936) came from elsewhere within the British Isles and the Channel Islands. However, this leaves almost two thirds of immigrants taxed in 1440 originating from further afield – and some considerably further. The

in Immigrant England, 1300–1550

here is very small and not indicative of the likely full extent of clerical migration. 34 The alien subsidy returns record twenty-four churchmen from France, the Low Countries and Germany, but this is clearly an under-representation: the data are drawn predominantly from one county, Wiltshire, where an unusually high proportion of aliens were listed with both their nationality and their occupation. A better sense is derived from the Westminster denization roll of the 1540s, where 129 Norman, fifty-three French and twenty-seven Breton priests

in Immigrant England, 1300–1550
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Nationalism, racism and xenophobia

The later medieval state created the alien as a social category in England. As we detailed in chapters 2 and 3 , it was the application of new laws concerning the rights of aliens and the development of special taxes on people born outside the realm that established, for the first time, a formal framework for the regulation of foreigners at a national level. In the process, as we saw in chapters 4 and 5 , the agents of local government applied labels to foreigners living in their midst in such a way as to define nationality more

in Immigrant England, 1300–1550

‘king of Inde’. In the end, it was decided that John was an imposter, and he was unceremoniously deported from the realm later that same year. 36 The general vagueness of the designation also makes it very difficult to construe what distinctive ethnicity the assessors of the alien subsidy thought they were ascribing to the three individuals whom they labelled as ‘of Inde’. In the case of James Black, however, it could be argued that a double designation was intended, with the surname conceivably referring to the perceived colour of the man’s skin and the ‘nationality

in Immigrant England, 1300–1550
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Immigrant England

between those who acquired civic freedom by birth and those who had to earn it in other ways. 31 The word ‘stranger’ originally had much the same sense as ‘foreigner’, but came more quickly to denote a different nationality, and with the development of Middle English as a language of record in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries it was often preferred over the more legalistic ‘alien’. 32 All three words, ‘alien’, ‘foreigner’ and ‘stranger’, are therefore somewhat problematic for a modern readership considering a medieval topic. For the

in Immigrant England, 1300–1550

direct tax employed in the later Middle Ages, the subsidy on moveable property (after 1332 called the ‘fifteenth and tenth’), was certainly no respecter of nationality, and every householder in England who had the appropriate value of goods was deemed liable. For this reason, ironically, the records of direct taxation are generally blind to questions of nationality, and even where we find extensive nominal lists of taxpayers, as with the poll taxes of 1377–81, it is difficult to do anything more than infer national status from surnames. 1 Sometimes context and

in Immigrant England, 1300–1550