The London lay subsidy of 1332: II, Size, wealth and occupations of population

Pages 43-50

Finance and Trade Under Edward III the London Lay Subsidy of 1332. Originally published by Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1918.

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II The Size, Wealth and Occupations of the Population of London in 1332

The question of the size and wealth of the population of London naturally arises, when the amount which London contributed to the exchequer is under discussion It is certain that London, like other mediæval cities, (fn. 1) was much smaller than has generally been supposed, it is not yet possible, unfortunately, to estimate the exact size of the population There is no record of the population of London till the poll tax of 1377, (fn. 2) and it is difficult to reconcile the numbers given there with the 1,636 names contained in the subsidy roll of 1332 In 1377 there appear to have been 23,314 lay persons over 14 in London, which suggests a total lay population of about 30,000 (fn. 3)

In normal times London might double her population in a generation But in the forty-five years between 1332 and 1377 there were three visitations of the pestilence The excessive number of deaths might be regarded as counteracting any increase of population, but the flow of outsiders into London was no doubt accelerated in these years It is well known that many villeins left the homes of their predecessors at this time Great numbers of them would doubtless be attracted to the capital On the other hand, artisans from other towns and younger sons of yeomen who would usually account for much of the increase of London's population, would probably have little incentive to leave their homes, now that the scarcity of labour brought them higher wages This suggests that the population in 1332 cannot have been much smaller than the 30,000 of 1377, but the numbers given in the roll would seem to preclude the possibility of so large a population It must be remembered, however, that some evaded taxation, and that many were exempt from payment, by the limit of ten shillings In 1301, when there was no exemption, 33 per cent of those who paid the tax in Colchester (fn. 4) possessed goods of less value than ten shillings The number would be larger in London, and may perhaps be reckoned as 50 per cent This would raise the number of householders to 3,272 The number of women, children and servants who were not taxed is problematic Authorities on the subject usually reckon about five to a household, which brings the total lay population of London in 1332, up to 16,360 This is the largest computation that can be made on the basis of the subsidy roll, and if correct, it would follow that London must have doubled its population between the years 1332 and 1377

The roll affords a means of judging how the wealth of the city was distributed among those who possessed goods of greater value than ten shillings The taxpayers may conveniently be divided into six classes according to the amount of their assessments

A statement in tabular form giving the numbers of each class as found in the roll will indicate the social stratification of the city (fn. 5)

A 16 with possessions of value of £60 or more, paying £4 and over
B 172 with possessions of value of £15-£60, paying between £1 and £4
C 141 with possessions of value of £7 10s-£15, paying between 10s and £1
D 253 with possessions of value of £3 15s-£7 10s, paying between 5s and 10s
E 502 with possessions of value of £1-£3 15s, paying between 16d and 5s
F 543 with possessions of value of 10s-£1, paying between 8d and 16d

To interpret this list we need to know the callings of those who composed the various classes The roll itself does not help much, as the trades are only given in two of the smallest wards, Candlewick and Portsoken, and occasionally in a few other wards

The information about individuals contained in the London records makes it possible however to discover the occupation of more than a quarter of the people, whose names are contained in the roll

The members of the top classes, A, B and C, are naturally those whose names frequently found their way into the records, and consequently the trades of more than half of them are known The amount of information decreases as the men become poorer In the classes D and E it has been possible to discover the craft of about a third of their members, but in F the proportion falls as low as one-seventh

The material is therefore insufficient to give statistics of the relative numbers of the different crafts, but it allows generalizations to be made as to the composition of the various classes

The mercantile element of the population, as might naturally be expected, is shown to be the wealthiest In class A there were four pepperers (later known as grocers), but the highest amount, £8, was paid by a mercer and vintner (fn. 6) The other members of this class were another mercer, two woolmongers, a draper, a vintner, a blader, and a butcher It is rare to find a butcher in the highest rank, the butchers are much more numerous in the lower classes But Nicholas Crane evidently resembled the other men of class A rather than a shop-keeping butcher of class E He is spoken of as a "merchant of England" (fn. 8)

With the exception of the butchers, and vintners, who supplied a small number to each class, the occupations found in class A formed the majority in class B They were present in decreasing numbers in the other classes The only considerable element in B were the fishmongers, who formed a large proportion of all the classes below B

The goldsmiths, skinners, and different types of leatherworkers (cordwainers, saddlers, girdlers, a tanner and a whittawyer) were the other members of B These men were shop-owners, and possibly did not engage in the industry themselves but acted as middlemen to the poorer members of the same craft

All these types occur again in C, but in D there is a change The number of butchers increases, and the craft element appears more strongly In addition to the handicrafts already mentioned, there are ironmongers, plumbers, an armourer and a shipwright

The change becomes more pronounced in E and F The number of victuallers is much increased There are fourteen butchers and eleven brewers The skinners and leather workers are also far more numerous

The information that can be gathered about class F suggests that they were not the poorest class of people in London Richard de Swanlond, fishmonger, who paid twelve pence in 1332, leased a house and shop only two years before, at three shillings a year, and also a tenement with houses and shops over it at a rent of twenty shillings (fn. 9) The girdler, Thomas West, who was assessed at sixteen pence, leased a tenement with shops, a postern and a garden in 1339 (fn. 10) There is evidence, also, that only the better class of victuallers were in class F

John Scot, who is known to have been a poulterer from the roll paid the smallest amount of taxation, but in 1328, he had with another man, supplied the city with bitterns, herons and capons for a present to the King, and with pheasants and swans for the Queen (fn. 12)

The craftsmen of the lowest class in the roll were also of sufficient status to be appointed wardens of such crafts as the saddlers, (fn. 13) cordwainers and armourers

It is certain, therefore, that there was a large number of people (perhaps 50 per cent, as already suggested), poorer than the lowest class enrolled for the payment of the tax (fn. 14)

It has already been indicated in this brief analysis that some crafts had a membership representing the different classes to a fairly equal extent The various ranks in such trades were filled by men who were occupied in different functions of the trade The fishmongers provide the best illustration, as they formed the most numerous body of craftsmen in London, and consequently the most information can be collected about them

The richest of them were called "merchants of the city of London," and evidently did the wholesale buying for the trade In 1318 a number of them received safe-conduct for a journey to Lincoln, Norfolk and Suffolk "to buy stockfish, salt-fish, herrings and oil to take it to London" (fn. 15)

Some of them, like John de Mokkyng, owned a house in Great Yarmouth, (fn. 16) and would obtain supplies of red-herring there, which they would land on their own wharf in London (fn. 17)

These wealthy merchants often owned shops near to their wharves John de Mokkyng, (fn. 18) John Lambyn, (fn. 19) and John Leche, (fn. 20) for example, had shops in Bridge Street In some cases the shop might be the chief source of their wealth, but all the richest shopkeepers, like Geoffrey Aleyn in Langbourne, would have their own wharf at the river side (fn. 21)

The fishmongers who paid below £1 included the various ranks of shopkeepers (fn. 22)

Some of the poorer fishmongers seem to have purchased their supplies from local fishermen They were occasionally summoned to give evidence if fishing-nets were false (fn. 23) Some like Richard de Lambeth (fn. 24) and Henry Graspays, (fn. 25) owned fishing-ships and "batells," while others combined in the possession of a boat

There was no sharp distinction between the different classes The highest class stood somewhat apart, but the members of the classes B to F, performed the same kind of duties They are found together policing the city, or in attendance at the Gildhall, or in the government of the misteries Classes B and C, however, provided the majority of those engaged in this way

There is not much information of general application that can be found about the lower classes The greater part of it is not very creditable to the persons concerned, since it tells of the infringement of the rules which it was the business of the mediæval gild to draw up and enforce The fishmongers and butchers were frequently punished for refusing to bring their goods to be sold at the regulated market The favourite offence of the shoemakers was to mix good and inferior leather (bazen and cordwain), and the butchers continually attempted to sell putrid meat

It is only in classes A and B that the men are found who made any mark on the history of their times The high officials of the city, mayors, sheriffs and aldermen, were drawn from these two classes, as were also men of national importance They were frequently members of Parliament, and there was a possibility under Edward III, as there had been under Edward I, of the merchants forming a new estate Edward III more than once summoned them to a separate council, (fn. 26) and negotiated with them to increase the revenue from wool The London merchants were naturally prominent in these councils They also acted frequently as agents for the King, in his pre-emption of wool, or as his financiers, recouping themselves out of the customs Two London merchants, who were pre-eminent in such transactions, John Pulteney and Richard de la Pole, were aldermen in 1332, although their names are not to be found in the roll, but Reginald de Conduit, paying only 35s 6¾d, was partner in many of their undertakings

The London merchants were a useful source from which the King could draw loans to carry on his wars In 1339, for example, he borrowed several sums ranging from £100 to £30 (fn. 27)

They were enabled to meet the demands of the King owing to the extent of their business concerns They did not confine themselves to trade in one class of goods Doubtless many of the wealthier merchants shared in the export of England's staple product-wool The pepperers seem to have used it as an outgoing cargo, John de Grantham was exporting wool in 1324 (fn. 28) and Andrew Aubrey was buying wool in Wales in 1350 (fn. 29)

The import of wheat also attracted merchants John de Causton, a mercer, bought corn in Dublin (fn. 30) Richard de Hakeneye, a woolmonger, procured "protection for himself and servants who were buying corn, wares and other things in divers parts of the realm and bringing them to London to make profit thereon" (fn. 31)

John Lovekyn, a fishmonger, was one of the early importers of sea-coal from Newcastle into London (fn. 32) The extent of the business of some of these wealthy merchants may be discovered from the notices of debts due to them in the Close Rolls Their debtors were in all parts of England, and owed them such large sums as £400 John de Oxenford, a vintner, and one of the richest men in London, seems to have supplied a great many of the monasteries in the country with large quantities of wine

These wealthy merchants were able to maintain a considerable social status At the same ceremony at which seven earls were created in 1337, the London mayor, John Pulteney, was made a knight (fn. 33) Many others probably possessed the required conditions for knighthood Some like Henry Darcy obtained special pardon from the King for not having taken the burdensome honour, and received a respite therefrom, which would be renewed on its expiration (fn. 34) The faltering tone in which the reply was made in 1344, that none had £40 a year in lands or rents for certain, the plea that was made, that tenements often stood empty or were burnt, seems to prove that many had the stated possessions (fn. 35) and shirked the attendant duty

The wealthy citizens not only possessed tenements in all parts of the city, (fn. 36) but owned and rented manors in the country, where they appear to have resided, (fn. 37) at least in their old age

Like the knightly class, many of them had the leisure and means to make the shorter pilgrimage to St James of Compostella, (fn. 38) and Edward III did not consider it beneath his dignity to entertain the wives of the wealthy London burghers to supper and assign them their places at table (fn. 39)

It is evident, therefore, that the rulers of the city in the fourteenth century were almost as aristocratic as the feudal nobles they had replaced (fn. 40) The great difference was that they had a close bond of union with the poorer classes of the city through their common membership in a craft-gild

The line of cleavage in the city was no longer between rich and poor, at least not as such, but between craft and craft The causes of the disputes between them in Edward's reign are as yet little understood, but their comparative wealth, as revealed in the roll, combined with other facts, may help eventually to provide an explanation


  • 1. Cf Pirenne, Les Anciennes Démocraties des Pays Bas, pp 129-135
  • 2. Topham, Archoologia, XLIV, 237, shows that the roll is not accurate 1,376,442 are stated to have paid the tax in the whole country, but the sum paid, £22,607 2s 8d, contains only 1,356,428 groats The clergy were entered on a separate roll
  • 3. This number is obtained by reckoning the children as 30 per cent of the total, the most moderate estimate that can be allowed for the period Joseph Cuvelier, Les Denombrements des Foyers en Brabant, pp xci-xcii, points out that a higher percentage is probably more correct for the middle ages, when births and deaths were of more frequent occurrence than in modern times
  • 4. Rot Parl, I, 243 seq
  • 5. See also the analysis of the payments in the wards, p 57
  • 6. Three others paid £8, but their occupations have not been found
  • 7. Cf Paris "Au-dessus s'elevait une sorte d'aristocratie bourgeoise Certaines familles etaient arrivees a une grande fortune dans les industries de luxe ou dans le commerce en gros Les changeurs, orfevres, huchiers pelletiers, drapiers, merciers, epiciers, etaient les corporations ou l'on trouvait le plus de richesses" Lavisse, Histoire de France, IV, pt 1, p 25
  • 8. C C R, 1337-9, p 124
  • 9. Bk E, p 251
  • 10. Bk F, p 35
  • 11. See Cheap Ward
  • 12. Riley, Mem, p 170
  • 13. John de Hereford and William de Blithe, paying 16d, and Maurice de Herlawe, 12d Bk E, p 232
  • 14. Contrast Professor Unwin's conclusions from the 1319 roll, Gilds of London, p 75 He seems to suggest that all the poor craftsmen were assessed It is true that the limit in 1310 was lower than in 1332, 6/8 instead of 10/ (Bk E, p 122), so about 300 more people were assessed
  • 15. C P R, 1317-21, p 215
  • 16. Cal Wills, I, 499
  • 17. Stephen Lucas leased a wharf in St Magnus, Bk E, p 252 Walter Turk leased several wharves, Bk E, p 246
  • 18. Cal Wills, I, 499
  • 19. Ib, I 582
  • 20. Ib, I, 584
  • 21. Ib, I, 461
  • 22. William Turk, 6s 8d, shop in Bridge Street, Ib, II, 56 Hugh de Mokkynge, 5s 4d, cellar and shop in Croked Lane, St Margaret de Bridge Street, Bk E, p 253 Nicholas Madefrey, 16d, shop in Eldefish Street, Cal Wills, I, 552 Richard de Swanlond, Bk E, p 25
  • 23. Bk F, p 111
  • 24. Cal Wills, I, 549
  • 25. Ib, I, 627
  • 26. For example, twice in 1336 (Stubbs, II, 398) and twice in 1337 (C P R 1337-9, pp 615 and 621)
  • 27. C P R 1338-40, p 405 There are numerous other cases, e g Aubrey, C P R 1341-3, p 495, Causton, C P R 1338-40, p 313
  • 28. C C R 1323-7, p 115
  • 29. Calendar of Letters to the City of London, pp 3, 7-8
  • 30. C C R 1330-3, p 94
  • 31. C P R 1334-8, pp 384 and 572
  • 32. Calendar of Letters to City of London, p 94
  • 33. Annales Paulini, p 366
  • 34. C P R 1334-8, p 253 Ib 1338-40, p 254
  • 35. Bk F, p 105
  • 36. This is shewn by the wills, e g John de Grantham, Cal Wills, I 475 Richard le Lacer, Ib, II, 59
  • 37. Simon Dolseley and Richard le Lacer dated their wills from their manors, Ib, II, 59, 75
  • 38. Andrew Aubrey, C P R 1348-50, p 561, Richard Hakeneye, Ib 1330-4, p 259, John Oxenford, Ib 1348-50, p 560
  • 39. Murimuth, p 155
  • 40. C f Paris "Cette aristocratie nouvelle cherchait a imiter les nobles et un chroniquer parisien nous a laisse le curieux recit de grande joutes organisees par les Parisiens en 1330," etc Lavisse, Hist de France, Vol IV, pt I, p 24