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Women (and Men) on the Move: Scots in the English North c. 1440

  • Judith M. Bennett


Alien subsidies suggest that many men and few women immigrated to England between 1440 and 1487. This article examines the one exception to this pattern: the large numbers of Scotswomen assessed as aliens in Cumberland, Westmorland, and Northumberland in 1440. It considers why so many women are found in these particular returns, what we can know about them, and how this knowledge might change our histories of women, labor, and mobility in both Scotland and England.

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1 My analysis draws extensively on the online database England's Immigrants 1330–1550: Resident Aliens in the Later Middle Ages (hereafter EIDB), In citing individual cases, I have used record numbers from the EIDB, which will send readers to case summaries and archival citations. To reach a specific case, use this link and replace xxx with the record number: (it is not possible to search the database by record number). I have silently modernized English quotations throughout. For population estimates, see the background section of the EIDB, but my figures also reflect Jonathan Mackman's latest estimates of an overall proportion of aliens (not including the Welsh) as high as 1.5 percent (Mackman, personal communication).

2 As Cynthia Neville concisely put it, the northern marches were “confined to—though not contiguous with—the northernmost shires of Northumberland, Cumberland and Westmorland.” Neville, Cynthia J., Violence, Custom and Law: The Anglo-Scottish Border Lands in the Later Middle Ages (Edinburgh, 1998), 185 . I hereafter adopt an English point of view by referring to these counties as “the borders” or “border counties.”

3 The historiography on aliens in medieval England is deep and rich. For recent work, see especially Lambert, Bart and Ormrod, W. Mark, “Friendly Foreigners: International Warfare, Resident Aliens and the Early History of Denization in England, c.1250–c.1400,” English Historical Review 130, no. ,542 (March 2015): 124 ; Kowaleski, Maryanne, “‘Alien’ Encounters in the Maritime World of Medieval England,” Medieval Encounters 13, no. 1 (2007): 96121 ; Dobson, R. B., “Aliens in the City of York during the Fifteenth Century,” in England and the Continent in the Middle Ages: Studies in Memory of Andrew Martindale, ed. Mitchell, John (Stamford, 2000), 249–66; Bolton, J. L., “Irish Migration to England in the Late Middle Ages: The Evidence of 1394 and 1440,” Irish Historical Studies 32, no. 125 (May 2000), 121 ; Bolton, J. L., ed., The Alien Communities of London in the Fifteenth Century: The Subsidy Rolls of 1440 and 1483–4 (Stamford, 1998); Kim, Keechang, Aliens in Medieval Law: The Origins of Modern Citizenship (Cambridge, 2000); Sponsler, Claire, “Alien Nation: London's Aliens and Lydgate's Mummings for the Mercers and Goldsmiths,” in The Postcolonial Middle Ages, ed. Jerome, Jeffrey Cohen (Basingstoke, 2000), 229–42. Among earlier studies, see especially Lloyd, T. H., Alien Merchants in England in the High Middle Ages (Brighton, 1982); Kerling, Nellie J., “Aliens in the County of Norfolk, 1436–85,” Norfolk Archaeology 33, no. 2 (1963): 200–15; Thrupp, Sylvia, “Aliens in and around London in the 15th Century,” in Studies in London History Presented to Philip Edmund Jones, ed. Hollaender, A. E. J. and Kellaway, William (London, 1969), 251–72, and Thrupp, Sylvia, “A Survey of the Alien Population of England in 1440,” Speculum 32, no. 2 (April 1957): 262–73; Ruddock, Alwyn A., “Alien Merchants in Southampton in the Later Middle Ages,” English Historical Review 61, no. 239 (January 1946): 117 ; Beardwood, Alice, Alien Merchants in England, 1350–1377: Their Legal and Economic Position (Cambridge, MA, 1931).

4 Bolton, Alien Communities of London, 35–40.

5 “Henry VI: November 1439,” in Parliament Rolls of Medieval England, ed. Given-Wilson, Chris et al. (Woodbridge, 2005), British History Online,, accessed 19 March 2016. For further background, see Griffiths, R. A., The Reign of King Henry VI (Stroud, 1998), 551–61.

6 Thrupp, “A Survey of the Alien Population.”

7 For a review of the EIDB, see Justin Colson, “Review of Web Databases for Late Medieval Social and Economic History: England's Immigrants and the Overland Trade Project,”, accessed 12 April 2016.

8 Sarah Rees Jones, “Scots in the North of England: The First Alien Subsidy, 1440–43,” in Resident Aliens in Later Medieval England, ed. W. Mark Ormrod, Nicola McDonald, and Craig Taylor (Turnhout, forthcoming).

9 Jonathan Mackman, personal communication.

10 Jonathan Mackman, “Was It Really Worth the Effort? The Administration of the Alien Subsidies, 1440–87,” paper presented at Medieval Merchants and Money conference, University of London, London, 7 November 2013 (typescript provided by author).

11 The EIDB reports 709 named aliens in the county but overlooked John Watson in The National Archives (hereafter TNA), E 179/158/74, m. 2d. I added him to all the calculations that follow.

12 Others agree that almost all aliens in the northern returns were Scottish (whether explicitly identified as such or not). See Ditchburn, David, “Anglo-Scottish Relations in the Later Middle Ages: The Other Side of the Coin,” in The Plantagenet Empire, 1259–1453, ed. Crooks, Peter, Green, David, and Mark, W. Ormrod (Donington, 2016), 310–34; and Rees Jones, “Scots in the North.” Differences in identification of immigrant Scots were jurisdictional, not substantial: some officers identified Scots by national origin; some used the surname “Scot”; and some merely provided names, noting national origin only for the few non-Scots who “were exceptions among an alien community that was again overwhelmingly Scottish” (Ditchburn, “Anglo-Scottish Relations,” 322).

13 Neville, Violence, Custom and Law.

14 Mackman reports that some later alien subsidies include successful appeals of Englishness made by persons assessed as Scots (personal communication). See also discussion in Ditchburn, “Anglo-Scottish Relations,” 333.

15 As always, there are exceptions; two wives of non-householding males in Cumberland were assessed for the tax: EIDB#29702/29703 and 29733/29734.

16 For more on aliens who married English spouses, see Andrea Ruddick's forthcoming “Immigrants and Inter-Marriage in Late Medieval England,” in Ormord, McDonald, and Taylor, eds., Resident Aliens in Later Medieval England (Turnhout, forthcoming).

17 For general introductions, see Pollard, A. J., North-Eastern England during the Wars of the Roses: Lay Society, War and Politics, 1450–1500 (Oxford, 1990); Winchester, Angus J. L., Landscape and Society in Medieval Cumbria (Edinburgh, 1987); and Winchester, Angus J. L., The Harvest of the Hills: Rural Life in Northern England and the Scottish Borders, 1400–1700 (Edinburgh, 2000).

18 See especially Hindle, Brian Paul, “Medieval Roads in the Diocese of Carlisle,” Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, 2nd. ser., 77 (1977): 8395 , and Hindle, Brian Paul, “Roads and Tracks,” in The Medieval English Landscape, ed. Cantor, Leonard (Philadelphia, 1982), 193217 . G. W. S. Barrow comments on military routes in his Scotland and Its Neighbours (London, 1992), 204 .

19 For the rural economy, see especially Tuck, J. A., “The Northern Borders,” in The Agrarian History of England and Wales, vol. 3, 1348–1500, ed. Miller, Edward (Cambridge, 1991), 175–82 and 587–95. For the effects of war, see Tuck, J. A., “War and Society in the Medieval North,” Northern History 21, no. 1 (November 1985): 3352 .

20 Pollard, A. J., “The North-Eastern Economy and the Agrarian Crisis of 1438–40,” Northern History 25, no. 1 (June 1989): 88105 ; Hatcher, John, “The Great Slump of the Mid-Fifteenth Century,” in Progress and Problems in Medieval England: Essays in Honour of Edward Miller, ed. Britnell, Richard and Hatcher, John (Cambridge, 1996), 237–72. Recent research particularly stresses the role of climate in this crisis: see Camenisch, C. et al. , “The 1430s: A Cold Period of Extraordinary Climate Variability during the Early Spörer Minimum with Social and Economic Impacts in North-Western and Central Europe,” Climate of the Past 12, no. 11 (December 2016): 2107–26,, accessed 15 December 2016.

21 Neville, Violence, Custom and Law.

22 For these examples, see Poos, L. R., “Sex, Lies, and the Church Courts of Pre-Reformation England,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 25, no. 4 (Spring 1995): 585607 , at 591 (emphasis mine). Animosity towards Scots was firmly fixed in northern English culture. See especially Neville, Cynthia, “Local Sentiment and the ‘National’ Enemy in Northern England in the Later Middle Ages,” Journal of British Studies 35, no. 4 (October 1996): 419–37; King, A., “Englishmen, Scots and Marchers: National and Local Identities in Thomas Gray's Scalacronica ,” Northern History 36, no. 2 (September 2000): 217–31; MacDonald, Alastair, “John Hardyng, Northumbrian Identity and the Scots,” in North-East England in the Later Middle Ages, ed. Liddy, Christian D. and Britnell, R. H. (Woodbridge, 2005), 2943 . Yet English animosity can be over-stressed, and as Ditchburn has emphasized, many English demonstrated a “wary acceptance of the migrant Scot” (“Anglo-Scottish Relations,” 334).

23 Galloway, James A. and Murray, Ian, “Scottish Migration to England, 1400–1560,” Scottish Geographical Magazine 112, no. 1 (March 1996): 2938 ; Thomson, J. A. F., “Scots in England in the Fifteenth Century,” Scottish Historical Review 79, no. 207 (April 2000): 116 ; Ditchburn, David, Scotland and Europe: The Medieval Kingdom and its Contacts with Christendom, c. 1215–1545 (East Linton, 2001), esp. 197265 , at 216; David Ditchburn, “Anglo-Scottish Relations”; Rees Jones, “Scots in the North.”

24 Ditchburn, “Anglo-Scottish Relations,” 324; he comments on motives for migration at 330–31.

25 Ibid.; Rees Jones, “Scots in the North.”

26 Rees Jones, “Scots in the North.”

27 See, for example, Ditchburn, “Anglo-Scottish Relations,” 329.

28 These non-householding males in Northumberland had wives who were named but not taxed: EIDB#7654/7655; 7054/7055; 6458/6459; 7335/7336; and 6969/6972. Also, two married couples in Cumberland worked as servants (and both husband and wife were taxed): EIDB#29702/29704 and 29733/29734. The two unmarried female householders—Alice Atkynson of Newcastle, EIDB#8713, and Margaret Kapnytter of Ponteland, EIDB#6713—are considered more fully below.

29 A few dozen individuals in tables 1 and 2 are not included in the maps as their locations could not be determined.

30 For Melrose Abbey's continued authority over the monks of Holm Cultram, see Stringer, Keith, “Identities in Thirteenth-Century England: Frontier Society in the Far North,” in Social and Political Identities in Western History, ed. Bjorn, Claus, Grant, Alexander, and Stringer, Keith (Copenhagen, 1994), 2866 , at 58.

31 Rees Jones, “Scots in the North,” traces how maritime trading and fishing influenced Scots migration as far south as Yorkshire.

32 TNA, E179/90/27 and E179/158/41.

33 For the employment of male hinds with attached female laborers (wives, daughters, or bondagers) in northern Britain, see Devine, T. M., Farm Servants and Labour in Lowland Scotland, 1770–1914 (Edinburgh, 1984), esp. 8183 and 156–63, and Hall, Valerie G., Women at Work, 1860–1939: How Different Industries Shaped Women's Experiences (Woodbridge, 2013), 124–30. I am grateful to Keith Wrightson for alerting me to these distinctive practices of rural service in northern Britain. See also Iredale, Dinah, Bondagers (Wooler, 2008). In the 1440 returns, I have found only one case of a servant with a servant, and it does not conform to the hind/bondager model: George Collier, servant of Robert of Mitford) (EIDB#6468) and his servant William (EIDB#6473). TNA, E179/158/41, m. 4. This relationship is not noted in the EIDB.

34 For the general use of the term, see s.v., “vagabundus,” Dictionary of Medieval Latin from English Sources,, accessed 10 April 2017; for associations with violence, especially the violence of unemployed soldiers, see Kaeuper, Richard W., War, Justice, and Public Order: England and France in the Later Middle Ages (Oxford, 1988), 172–73; for associations with poverty and begging, see McIntosh, Marjorie, Controlling Misbehavior in England, 1370–1600 (Cambridge, 1998), 8993 . In the Middle Ages, wandering had positive as well as negative connotations; it was associated with saints, friars, students, and pilgrims, as well as beggars and thieves.

35 Ditchburn, “Anglo-Scottish Relations,” 329, gives a particularly telling instance of the merging of laborers, servants, and vagabonds. Chris Given-Wilson has noted that in 1446 justices of the peace were empowered to reassign idle servants, “treating them in every respect just as they treated vagabonds”: Given-Wilson, Chris, “Service, Serfdom and English Labour Legislation, 1350–1500,” in Concepts and Patterns of Service in the Later Middle Ages, ed. Curry, Anne and Matthew, Elizabeth (Woodbridge, 2000), 2137 , at 29. For the later convergence of vagrant and migrant, see Hitchcock, David, “A Typology of Travellers: Migration, Justice, and Vagrancy in Warwickshire, 1670–1730,” Rural History 23, no. 1 (March 2012): 2139 .

36 The total here is 308 instead of 310 because two male singletons were reported as dead by the time of collection.

37 For Scots as soldiers in English armies, see Bell, Adrian R. et al. , The Soldier in Later Medieval England (Oxford, 2013), 242–43.

38 Kermode, Jennifer, “Northern Towns,” in The Cambridge Urban History of Britain, vol. 1, 600–1540, ed. Palliser, D. M. (Cambridge, 2000), 657–80, and in the same volume, Alan Dyer, “Appendix: Ranking Lists of English Medieval Towns,” 747–70. For a summation of Newcastle's medieval economy, see Fraser, Constance M., “The Economic Growth of Newcastle, 1150–1536,” in Newcastle and Gateshead before 1700, ed. Newton, Diana and Pollard, A. J. (Chichester, 2009), 4165 .

39 As quoted in Whittle, Jane, “Housewives and Servants in Rural England, 1440–1650: Evidence of Women's Work from Probate Documents,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, no. 15 (December 2005): 5174 , at 62. Whittle's excellent work on female servants is the best guide; see also her Servants in Rural England c. 1450–1650: Hired Work as a Means of Accumulating Wealth and Skills before Marriage,” in The Marital Economy in Scandinavia and Britain, 1400–1900, ed. Ågren, Maria and Erickson, Amy Louise (Aldershot, 2005), 89110 . For medieval servants in particular, see Hettinger, Madonna J., “Defining the Servant: Legal and Extra-Legal Terms of Employment in Fifteenth-Century England,” in The Work of Work: Servitude, Slavery, and Labor in Medieval England, ed. Frantzen, Allen J. and Moffat, Douglas (Glasgow, 1994), 206–28; Kettle, Ann J., “Ruined Maids: Prostitutes and Servant Girls in Later Medieval England,” in Matrons and Marginal Women in Medieval Society, ed. Edwards, Robert R. and Ziegler, Vickie (Woodbridge, 1995), 1935 ; P. J. P. Goldberg, “What Was a Servant?,” in Curry and Matthew, eds., Concepts and Patterns of Service in the Later Middle Ages, 1–20; Given-Wilson, , “Service, Serfdom”; Deborah Youngs, “Servants and Labourers on a Late Medieval Demesne: The Case of Newton, Cheshire, 1498–1520,” in Agricultural History Review 47, no. 2 (1999): 145–60; Phillips, Kim, Medieval Maidens: Young Women and Gender in England, 1270–1540 (Manchester, 2003), 120–35; Bennett, Judith M., “Compulsory Service in Late Medieval England,” Past and Present, no. 209 (November 2010): 751 . For Scotland, medieval archives reveal little about servants, but see Ewan, Elizabeth, “Mistresses of Themselves? Female Domestic Servants and By-Employments in Sixteenth-Century Scottish Towns,” in Domestic Service and the Formation of European Identity: Understanding the Globalization of Domestic Work, 16th–21st Centuries, ed. Fauve-Chamoux, Antoinette (Bern, 2004), 411–33.

40 Werner, Janelle, “Living in Suspicion: Priests and Female Servants in Late Medieval England,” Journal of British Studies 55, no. 4 (October 2016): 658–79.

41 Goldberg, P. J. P., “Marriage, Migration and Servanthood: The York Cause Paper Evidence,” in Woman Is a Worthy Wight: Women in English Society, 1200–1500, ed. Goldberg, P. J. P. (Stroud, 1992), 115 ; and Goldberg, P. J. P., “Migration, Youth and Gender in Later Medieval England,” in Youth in the Middle Ages, ed. Goldberg, P. J. P. and Riddy, Felicity (York, 2005), 8599 . For the historiography of late medieval adolescence generally, see Youngs, Deborah, The Life Cycle in Western Europe, c. 1300–c. 1500 (Manchester, 2006), 96125 .

42 For wage differentials, see Jane Humphries and Weisdorf, Jacob, “The Wages of Women in England, 1260–1850,” Journal of Economic History 75, no. 2 (June 2015): 405–44; for sexual abuse, see Kettle, “Ruined Maids”; for shorter contracts, see Goldberg “What Was a Servant?,” 12; Youngs, Deborah, “The Townswomen of Wales: Singlewomen, Work and Service, c. 1300–c. 1550,” in Urban Culture in Medieval Wales, ed. Fulton, Helen (Cardiff, 2012), 163–82, at 168–69; Deborah Youngs, “Servants and Labourers on a Late Medieval Demesne,” 149. For difficulties collecting wages, see Summerson, Henry, Medieval Carlisle: The City and the Borders from the Late Eleventh to the Mid-Sixteenth Century, vol. 2 (Kendal, 1993), 684 .

43 EIDB#29876; 29877; 29878; 29565; 29566.

44 Goldberg argues that the term evokes youth, devotion, innocence, virginity, and even personal service to a mistress. Goldberg, “What Is a Servant?,” 1–7.

45 Susan Mosher Stuard, “Ancillary Evidence on the Decline of Medieval Slavery,” Past and Present, no. 49 (November 1995): 3–32.

46 Hettinger, “Defining the Servant,” 218–19.

47 EIDB#29564-6; Seymour, M. C., ed., On the Properties of Things, John Trevisa's Translation of Bartholomaeus Anglicus, De Proprietatibus Rerum, vol. 1 (Oxford, 1975), 305–6, book 6, capt 11: De Ancilla. The entry is long and revealing.

48 I found the EIDB maps difficult to maneuver, and because coordinates were not provided for place names, it was not possible to move the data into other mapping formats. I remapped locations on my own (using postcodes and Google Maps). Even so, the EIDB saved me the labor of matching medieval place names to modern places.

49 Hitchcock, Tim, “Confronting the Digital: Or How Academic History Writing Lost the Plot,” Cultural and Social History 10, no. 1 (March 2013): 923 .

50 These corrections might eventually be incorporated into the EIDB, but in the meantime: EIDB#5937 (John Story is a non-householder); EIDB#7668 (Joan, not John Scot); EIDB#7575 (Essewynus is a male forename); EIDB#8730 (Joan, not John Tomson); TNA, E179/158/74, m. 2, John Watson has been missed between John Wright (EIDB#7840) and Maria Scot (EIDB#7842). Because corrections improve accuracy but create new versions, they raise new challenges for digital records like the EIDB.

51 In the EIDB,, accessed 18 September 2016.

52 For an introduction to digital humanities more generally, see Gardiner, Eileen and Musto, Ronald G., The Digital Humanities: A Primer for Students and Scholars (Cambridge, 2015).

53 Houston, R., “Geographical Mobility in Scotland, 1652–1811: The Evidence of Testimonials,” Journal of Historical Geography 11, no. 4 (October 1985): 379–94; Whyte, Ian D. and Whyte, Kathleen A., “The Geographical Mobility of Women in Early Modern Scotland,” in Perspectives in Scottish Social History: Essays in Honour of Rosalind Mitchison, ed. Leneman, Leah (Aberdeen, 1988), 83106 .

54 For similarities in migration within the two realms after 1500, see Whyte, Ian D., “Migration in Early-Modern Scotland and England: A Comparative Perspective,” in Migrants, Emigrants and Immigrants: A Social History of Migration, ed. Pooley, Colin G. and Whyte, Ian D. (London, 1991), 87105 .

55 Bennett, Judith M., “Women and Poverty: Girls on Their Own in England before 1348,” in Peasants and Lords in the Medieval English Economy: Essays in Honour of Bruce M. S. Campbell, ed. Kowaleski, Maryanne, Langdon, John, and Schofield, Phillip R. (Turnhout, 2015), 299323 .

56 Ravenstein, E. G., “The Laws of Migration,” Journal of the Statistical Society of London 48, no. 2 (June 1885): 167235 ; and Ravenstein, E. G., “The Laws of Migration,” second paper, Journal of the Statistical Society of London 52, no. 2 (June 1889): 241305 , at 169. Using the 1881 census, Ravenstein noted that although men moved more frequently between the countries of the United Kingdom, women moved more frequently within each country.

57 Bridget Hill made this point in 1994 in her Rural-Urban Migration of Women and Their Employment in Towns,” Rural History 5, no. 2 (October 1994): 185–94. The problem of male focus applies to migration studies in general, not just migration history: Monica Boyd and Elizabeth Grieco, “Women and Migration: Incorporating Gender into International Migration Theory” (Washington, DC, 2003) available online at, accessed 18 April 2017. For a recent survey of the benefits of attending to gendered aspects of the history of migration, see Hammerton, A. James, “Gender and Migration,” in Gender and Empire, ed. Levine, Philippa (Oxford, 2007), 156–80. For studies that focus on female migrants in the Middle Ages, see Jacobsen, Grethe, “Female Migration and the Late Medieval Town,” in Migration in der Feudalgesellschaft, ed. Jaritz, Gerhard and Müller, Albert (Krems, 1988), 4355 ; Farmer, Sharon, “Down and Out and Female in Thirteenth-Century Paris,” American Historical Review 103, no. 2 (April 1998): 345–72; Farmer, Sharon, The Silk Industries of Medieval Paris: Artisanal Migration, Technological Innovation, and Gendered Experience (Philadelphia, 2016); Goldberg, “Marriage, Migration and Servanthood”; Goldberg, “Migration, Youth and Gender”; DeWindt, Anne Reiber, “Leaving Warboys: Emigration from a Fifteenth-Century English Village,” in Writing Medieval Women's Lives, ed. Newman, Charlotte Goldy and Amy Livingstone (New York, 2012), 85111 .

58 Bennett, “Compulsory Service.”

59 For a rural example, see Wales, Tim, “‘Living at Their Own Hands’: Policing Poor Households and the Young in Early Modern Rural England,” Agricultural History Review 61, no. 1 (June 2013): 1939 . For an urban example, see Adam Crymble, Adam Dennett, and Tim Hitchcock, “Modelling Regional Imbalances in English Plebeian Migration to Late Eighteenth-Century London,” Economic History Review,, esp. table 1. Earlier studies found fewer women: Beier, A. L., Masterless Men: The Vagrancy Problem in England, 1560–1640 (London, 1985); Slack, Paul A., “Vagrants and Vagrancy in England, 1598–1664,” in Migration and Society in Early Modern England, ed. Clark, Peter and Souden, David (London, 1987), 4976 . Gender ratios depend heavily on sources; see, for example, Griffiths, Paul, “Masterless Young People in Norwich, 1560–1645,” in The Experience of Authority in Early Modern England, ed. Griffiths, Paul, Fox, Adam, and Hindle, Steve (Houndmills, 1996), 146–86.

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