About one out of every hundred people in late medieval England was an immigrant, according to researchers at the universities of York and Sheffield. They have also launched a new database that offers details about 65,000 immigrants who lived in England between 1330 and 1550.
The England’s Immigrants project was created by these universities with support from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). It is led by Mark Ormrod, of the University of York’s Centre for Medieval Studies.
The database offers information on the names, origins, occupations and households of a significant number of foreigners who chose to live and work in England during the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries. Using tax records from 1440, the researchers discovered the names of 14,500 men and women who came from other countries. Considering that at this time the population of England was approximately 2 million, and that there are gaps in the records, the researchers estimated that one person in every hundred was a foreigner. These included people who came from other parts of the British Isles, such as Scots and Irish and others who came from other parts of Europe, including Portugal, Greece and Iceland.
Mark Ormrod finds that during the later Middle Ages England would have been an attractive destination for potential immmigrants. In an interview with the BBC, he explains “that for a century or more after the Black Death the population of England was very low and there was plenty of work available. So people were coming from all across north-west Europe and also from further a field as well in search of that work. England was a magnet for immigrants in this period because the conditions and the wages were relatively good in comparison with back home.”
The jobs these people held ranged from goldsmiths to agricultural labourers. For example, Peter Fauconer, who was from Flanders, was living in Fotheringhay, Northamptonshire in 1440, where he probably worked as a falconer for the Duke of York. Meanwhile, Angelus de Brando was a merchant from Florence, but had to pay 20 shillings in taxes while he was living in London in 1468. Scottish people, such as John Symson, who ran an inn in Oxford, were among the largest group of immigrants, as were French and Normans. Many of these individuals had originally lived in English-occupied France during the Hundred Years War, and moved to England in the fifteenth century.
The Medieval Studies at York blog also notes that “one of the surprises revealed by the research is the number of resident immigrants who lived and worked in rural areas, rather than in towns and cities. The research reveals how such people integrated – and sometimes clashed – with English people, suggesting much about how our ancestors used language, dress and behaviour as symbols of national identity.”
Professor Ormrod adds, “The England’s Immigrants project transforms our understanding of the way that English people and foreigners, of all levels of society, lived and worked together in the era of the Plantagenets and early Tudors. The research provides a deep historical context for modern debates about the movement of peoples and the state’s responsibilities to regulate immigration.”
Today, about 12% of the United Kingdom’s population is foreign-born, a figure that has risen from about five percent fifty years earlier.
Click here to visit the England’s Immigrants 1330-1550. The database is free to search, and users can learn more about the project, the sources the used, and read several individual case studies.
You can also follow the project on Twitter @EngImm13301550