Introduction chapter V: the subsidies and the London population, 2, tax-rolls and population

Pages 71-81

Two Early London Subsidy Rolls. Originally published by [s.n.], [s.l.], 1951.

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II. Tax-rolls and Population.

A comparison between the two subsidies shows that, so far as can be judged from the fragmentary rolls, the number of taxpayers was somewhat higher in 1319 than in 1292. The total number for the wards represented in the roll of 1292 is 801, or 808 if partners are counted separately. The corresponding total for the same wards in 1319, with the exclusion of Vintry, for which the return is missing, is 825, persons exempted not being counted. If we assume that the taxpayers of Vintry were about equal in number in 1319 and 1292, about 60 should be added to the total of 825, and the figure for the wards in question in 1319 would be about 885, or about 80 in excess of that for 1292.

The total number of taxpayers in 1319 was 1,820. The remaining wards thus had 995 taxpayers or rather more than the other group. Among the wards missing in 1292 are the very large ones of Cheap and Farringdon, which together had no less than 449 taxpayers in 1319, and large wards such as Bread Street and Tower. If we assume that the taxpayers of the missing wards were numerically in the same relation to those in 1319 as in the other group of wards, or about 10 percent fewer than in 1319, we should get some 900 taxpayers to add to the number of 808 and get a sum total of about 1,700 taxpayers for the subsidy of 1292. It is not certain that this calculation is correct, but it is not probable that the total number of taxpayers in 1292 can have been fewer than about 1,600, especially if the aldermen are added. In 1292 four wards had a higher number of taxpayers than in 1319, while the remainder had a lower number, and it is conceivable that some of the wards missing in 1292 had higher numbers than in 1319.

The figures given may seem to indicate a smaller population in London in 1292 than in 1319. But in 1332 the total number of taxpayers was 1,636 (fn. 1) according to Miss Curtis, or about the number conjectured for the taxpayers of 1292. The obvious reason why the number of taxpayers was smaller in 1332 than in 1319 is that the minimum value of taxable property in 1332 was higher than in 1319 (10s. as against 6s. 8d. in 1319). The lowest taxpayers of 1319 would have been exempted in 1332. It may be noted that 156 taxpayers in 1319 paid between 8d. and 6½d., and 172 a tax of 10d. There were 224 more taxpayers in 1319 than in 1332, the 40 in Vintry being deducted. The balance is largely covered by the 156 lowest taxpayers in 1319.

The minimum value of taxable property in 1292 cannot have been so low as 6s. 8d. It was pretty certainly 10s. It is then clear that the smaller number of taxpayers in 1292, as compared with those of 1319, may be due chiefly to the higher minimum. This is borne out by an analysis of the relative numbers of taxpayers in the wards represented in both subsidies. In wards where the number of taxpayers in 1319 considerably exceeds that in 1292, there are numerous low assessments in the Subsidy of 1319. The excess in 1319 is no less than 36 or 37 in Cripplegate Extra, 29 in Bishopsgate, 25 in Cripplegate Infra, 23 in Bassishaw, 19 in Portsoken. In Cripplegate Extra 21 taxpayers were assessed at 6¾d., 7 at 10d., in Bishopsgate 18 at 6¾d., 11 at 10d., in Cripplegate Infra 20 at 6¾d., 9 at 10d., in Portsoken 14 at 6¾d., 3 at 10d. The small assessments in these wards account for the greater part of the balance. Bassishaw is more difficult to judge of; here low assessments alone cannot explain the rise from 13 in 1292 to 36 in 1319, but it may be noted that in 1332 the number of taxpayers in Bas was 18 or only 5 more than in 1292. Incidentally it may be pointed out that the figures for the various wards in 1332 often show remarkable agreement with those of 1292. CripE in 1332 had 43 taxpayers, in 1292 44 (two with a joint assessment). Portsoken and Dowgate had the same figures in both subsidies (23 and 84). The figure for Dowgate in 1319 was only 57.

Fluctuations in the number of taxpayers were thus common, and the numerical discrepancies between the subsidies of 1292 and 1319 need not point to a marked difference in the population in the two years when the subsidies were taken. On the whole one gets the impression that there was no important numerical change in the population of London in the period from 1292 to 1332. It is difficult to explain the fluctuation in the number of taxpayers, apart from that which can be accounted for by the different minimum value of taxable property. The figures for Dowgate are particularly remarkable. One would have thought, for instance, that even if a number of corders and drapers for some reason had little merchandize to be taxed in 1319, they would at any rate have had household property on which a moderate tax was to be paid. The royal writ for the Subsidy of 1319 expressly prescribes that all property, except for certain specified articles, was to be taxed.

It is not possible to draw definite conclusions from the tax-rolls as regards the population of London about 1300. The taxpayers, in 1319 not quite 1,900, were heads of households, and the number of taxpayers must be multiplied by the number of the members of the household as a whole, wife, children, servants, apprentices, and so on. In many cases the household would include one or both parents of the taxpayer, one or more wards and so on. Orphans are very frequently referred to; they were generally taken care of by a guardian, a near relative or some other person. But there is not sufficient evidence for us to be able to estimate the average number of children or servants and apprentices (and journeymen) of London citizens in the period under discussion.

However, there seems to have been a tendency of late years to underestimate the population of London in the early fourteenth century.

Miss Thrupp, in her interesting book The Merchant Class of Medieval London (1948), p. 199 f., dealing with the number of children in the merchant class of London, states that in the period 1288-1317 the average number of male heirs that a merchant left behind him was 1.3. In this period 99 testators left 130 sons; 36 had no heir in the male line. The figures for the period 1318-47 are 109 testators and 146 sons, 23 leaving no heir in the male line. These figures are founded mainly on an examination of the wills enrolled in the Husting Court. The figures can hardly be accepted.

It would be a mistake to believe that wills regularly enumerate all the sons and daughters of the testator. In many cases it can be proved that testators had more children than are referred to in their wills. Much property in London was entailed and passed automatically to the eldest son, whom there was no reason to mention in a will, unless there was a special bequest. Younger sons may have been set up in business by the father or provided for in other ways. Many sons of London merchants entered the church or a monastery. Married daughters had doubtless often got a marriage portion in the father's lifetime. The following examples do not refer to testators of the merchant class only; they are collected to show how little trust can be placed in wills.

Walter Hauteyn (1292-3 Will) omits his son John, the later alderman. Adam [de] Blakene (1295 Will) omits his son Stephen (cf. LBC 168). Robert de Rokesle (1298 Will) mentions only three daughters, but a son of his was evidently Robert de Rokesle junior, a sheriff in 1293-4. Robert de Basingges, woolmonger and alderman, in his will of 1298 leaves legacies to Gregory and Robert his sons, but omits Reginald, who was living in 1310 (LBD 57). Reginald de Frowyk (1300 Will) omits his son Henry. Salamon Borouhard, fishmonger (1304 Will), mentions his son John, but not Ralph [cf. 1319 S, Bill 55]. Fulk de St. Edmund, bureller (1306-7 Will), omits Agnes and Juliana his daughters. The former was executor of the will of her brother James. Walter de Finchingfeld, goldsmith and alderman (1307 Will), omits his son Albric, whose will was enrolled in 1310. John de Halgeford, goldsmith (1308 Will), refers to his wife and children. From other sources we know that he had 3 sons and 2 daughters, living in 1318 (LBE 8 f.). Henry de Gloucestre, goldsmith and alderman (1332 Will), omits his son Thomas, referred to 1335 Pat and elsewhere. Ralph de Blithe, saddler (1341 Will), mentions his sons Robert and Henry, but not William (1351 Will). Thomas de Porklee, goldsmith (1348 Will) mentions no heirs, but Thomas his son is referred to 1348 LBF 181.

Miss Thrupp does not give the names of the testators, and her figures cannot be verified. In Appendix A (Aldermanic Families) only 21 out of the 99 testators who left wills in the period 1288- 1317, so far as can be seen, are included. But these testators between them are known to have left 40 sons and 34 daughters, on an average nearly 4 children and two sons each. It would be remarkable if the figures for the remainder of testators should have been so much lower.

The editor has picked out 20 testators in the same period who mention a fair number of children and who must have belonged to the merchant class. Only the names and the date of the will are given. They are: John Fitz Peter (1290), Walter le Blund (1291), Peter Cosin and Luke le Garlecmongger (1291-2), Philip le Taillour (1292), Richard le Fethermongere (1297), William de Hereford (1297-8), Peter de Brauhinge (1300), Richard Hardel (1301), William de Lewes (1302), Richard de Wyrhale (1302-3), Richard de Hockelee (1305), Peter de Bosenho (1306), Walter Gubbe (1309), John de Brynkele and Henry le Blound (1311), Thomas Perceval and Michael de Tholosan (1312), Richard de Welleford (1312-13), James de St. Edmund (1313).

These 20 testators mention altogether 94 children, 61 sons and 33 daughters, or on an average nearly 5 children and over 3 sons each. The 41 testators adduced together mention 101 sons and 67 daughters. This would imply that the 58 remaining testators out of Miss Thrupp's 99 only had 29 sons between them. This does not seem probable. In fact, many testators not included in the above lists, who doubtless belonged to the merchant class, mention a number of children (in several cases 3 to 5). Miss Thrupp's figure for the period 1288-1317 is probably too low. We have then not reckoned with the probability that many testators omitted children of theirs in their wills.

There is also a tendency to minimise the number of apprentices of London citizens. It is impossible to find definite information about the number of apprentices employed by London merchants and handicraftsmen in the early fourteenth century, but the lists of enrolment of apprentices and admission of apprentices who had served their time, found in LBD, pp. 96-179, tell us something. The period covered is quite short, from Sept. 1309 till Dec. 1312, that is little more than three years. The number of apprentices enrolled is 293, that of apprentices admitted to the freedom being 225. These apprentices were people of non-London origin. Sons of London citizens were freemen by birth, and there is nothing to show that they were enrolled at the Husting.

What is of importance here, however, is the fact that in many cases two or more apprentices articled to the same master were enrolled in the period in question. In one case the number was four. Some of the masters were people who in the subsidy rolls have quite small assessments. Even some small handicraftsmen are thus shown to have had at least two or more apprentices. A few instances will be worth giving.

John the Chandler of Colmanstrete had 4 apprentices enrolled on the same day in 1310 (LBD 119). The master was assessed at 10d. in 1319. John de Benstede, wax-chandler, was admitted in 1310-11 and had three apprentices enrolled in 1311 and 1312; his tax in 1319 was 5s. John le Chaundeler of Dowgate (not in the subsidy rolls) had two apprentices enrolled in 1311 f. Three apprentices of Ralph de Storteford, glover (tax in 1319 40d.), were admitted in 1310. John de Sabrichesworth, glover (not in the subsidy rolls) had two apprentices enrolled in 1310-12. Robert de Borham (tax in 1319 40d.) and Walter atte More (tax 8s. 4d.), both pursers, had 3 apprentices each enrolled in 1312. Geoffrey de Hestone, currier (tax in 1319 2s.) had two apprentices enrolled in 1309-10. John de Porkle, painter (tax in 1319 12d.) had 2 apprentices enrolled in 1310, and William Gauteron, plumber, 2 enrolled in 1309-10. Thomas de Westminster (tax in 1319 20d.) and John de Brigeford, both goldsmiths, had 2 apprentices each enrolled in 1309-10.

A few instances of people of the merchant class may be added.

Thomas de Caumpes, ironmonger (not in the subsidy rolls), had 3 apprentices enrolled in 1311, and Richard Horn, ironmonger (not in the rolls) had one enrolled and 3 admitted in the years 1309-11. Two apprentices of John de Wynchester, bureller (tax in 1292 40d.) were admitted in 1309-10. Richard de Welleford, hosier, had 3 apprentices enrolled in 1310 f., and Stephen de Prestone, corder, 2 enrolled in 1312 and one admitted in 1310.

Several mercers had two apprentices each enrolled in the period 1309-12, as Geoffrey de Brandone, Elias le Callere, John de Cherleton. Two apprentices of Adam de Forsham and Richard de Paris were admitted in 1309-12, while Andrew Curteys had 2 enrolled in 1310 f. and one admitted in 1311.

William le Reve, fishmonger, had 2 apprentices enrolled in 1310 f.

No conclusions can be drawn from these figures as regards the actual number of apprentices of London citizens in the early fourteenth century. All we learn is that in the period 1309-12 certain people had one or more apprentices articled and enrolled and that a number of apprentices of theirs were admitted freemen after service. The citizens mentioned may of course have had other apprentices beyond those articled in the period covered by the lists. And we cannot be certain that all apprentices articled in this period were actually enrolled; deferment of enrolment was common. The general impression left by the material is that it was common for London merchants and handicraftsmen to employ several apprentices, and the lists tell us that a considerable number of apprentices were not London born, but had come from the provinces.

The section of the London population made up of the taxpayers and their households must have been numerically considerable. The average number of people dependent on each taxpayer should not be estimated at a low figure. The households of wealthy people would include not a few household servants and the wealthiest often had a domestic chaplain. Merchants with large businesses would have at least one clerk besides apprentices. The average figure for the members of each household may not have been so high as ten, a number suggested for country districts, but it would hardly have been much below it.

To this nucleus of inhabitants considerable groups must be added.

There are first the clerics. Only one cleric can be identified among the taxpayers of 1319. London had a cathedral with numerous canons and other officials, about 110 parish churches with a parson and in many cases chaplains, also some collegiate churches, as St. Martin le Grand and St. Thomas Acon. The clergy in this period were unmarried, but they must generally have had at least a housekeeper and in many cases servants. There were some monastic foundations and not a few charitable institutions. The number of persons in this group is difficult to determine, but they will at least have been some hundreds, probably a good many more.

A number of people were exempted from taxation owing to some privilege. A group of such people was formed by the moneyers. But this group was probably small in 1319, perhaps more numerous in 1292.

There are next the paupers. We must here make a distinction between what may be called technical paupers, that is people with movables of a value below the taxable minimum, and real paupers. There must have been a large number of people in London who earned their own living and supported families as handicraftsmen or small dealers, and may even have had apprentices, but did not possess movables of taxable value. There are, for instance, in LBE 156 ff. long lists of fripperers and other small dealers indicted with illegal trade on Cornhill in 1321, very few among whom are in the Subsidy of 1319. Two circumstances may be adduced in favour of this supposition.

It was pointed out a few pages back that the numbers of taxpayers in the various subsidies show remarkable fluctuation. But there is also a remarkable difference between the names met with in the subsidies. We might have expected to find a great number of the taxpayers of 1319 also in the list of 1332, which is only 13 years later, but this is not the case. It is remarkable how comparatively few of the taxpayers of 1319 recur in 1332, and, conversely, how few among those of 1332 are found in the earlier list. It is hardly possible that the majority of those who paid a tax in 1319 should have died before 1332, or that the majority of the taxpayers of 1332 should have established themselves in business after 1319. Indeed we know that many taxpayers of 1319 missing in the subsidy of 1332 were still living in that year. In some wards, those with many high or medium taxpayers, there is comparatively good agreement between the two lists, but even in Tower only 25 taxpayers out of 72 in 1319 are found also in 1332, and in Cordwainer out of 73, only 21 are to be traced in 1332. The number of taxpayers in these wards was almost exactly the same in both subsidies. Almost 50 among the taxpayers of these two wards in the list of 1332 are absent in 1319. On the other hand, in Queenhithe only 14 or 15 among the 76 or 77 taxpayers of 1319 can be traced in the roll of 1332. In Aldersgate (40 taxpayers in 1319, 43 in 1332) only 7 are with certainty common to both rolls, and over 30 taxpayers of 1319 are missing in 1332 and as many taxpayers of 1332 missing in the earlier list. There must have been in London a considerable number of people who economically held a position just on the line of the taxable minimum and who in one year may have had sufficient property to be taxed, in another year have sunk below the minimum and been exempted. To this group or to those permanently exempted probably belonged numerous widows, many no doubt with families. The subsidy of 1319 only lists 98 women taxpayers, most of them no doubt widows, but the number of widows must have been far larger. Over 60 testators whose wills were enrolled between 1315 and the middle of 1319 left widows, out of whom only 8 are among taxpayers in 1319. One would suppose that the majority of these widows were still living and unmarried when the assessment was made in 1319. Only a minority of citizens left wills, and besides the 60 odd widows referred to there will have been many of whom we hear nothing.

If we assume that the vast majority of London people consisted of the taxpayers and their families, some remarkable consequences ensue. Lime St ward had only 11 taxpayers in 1319. But the ward had two parishes, St. Augustine Papey and St. Mary Axe, and it included parts of St. Peter Cornhill and St. Andrew Undershaft. This gives 2 or 3 families to each parish. Aldersgate ward had 40 taxpayers in 1319, besides 3 without assessment. It was divided into 5 parishes, and St. Michael le Querne and St. Olave Silver St were partly in this ward. The largest parish was St. Botolph Aldersgate (without the Wall), and 15 taxpayers can be shown to have been certainly or probably of that parish. Only a few can be assigned with certainty to other parishes, one to St. Olave, two to St. John Zachary, two perhaps to St. Mary Staining, one perhaps to St. Agnes. Very likely some of the taxpayers whose parish is in no way indicated lived in St. Botolph, so that about half the number were of that parish. This leaves some 20 taxpayers to the remaining parishes, which would then have had four or five families each. It is difficult to believe that the inhabitants of the parishes in Lime St and Aldersgate can really have been so few. There must have been a good many other parishioners to each parish and church than the taxpayers with families. There may have been many technical paupers in such parishes, who might contribute to the expenses of the church or the like, even if they did not possess sufficient movables to be taxed for the subsidy. (fn. 2)

There are further the real poor, those who lived on charity, and the criminal classes, both doubtless large groups. Two instances may be adduced to illustrate the large number of poor. A certain Robert de Lincoln by his will of 1318 left a sum of £10 to be distributed among 2,000 poor people, so that each got one penny. When in 1322 a distribution of alms was made at the gate of the Preaching Friars in Farringdon ward, there was such a crowd that 52 (or according to one source 55) men, women and children were trampled to death (Cor 61 with reference). The poor may not have been freemen of the City, but many were doubtless London born, and anyway they belonged to its population.

At the other end of the scale are members of the upper classes, judges and other high officials, many among whom had houses in London and will have been resident there without being freemen and being taxed there. A probable case of a knight who was actually taxed in London is Nicholas de Segraue (1319 S). Many wills executed by people of such descriptions were enrolled at the Husting. There were finally alien colonies in London, Hansards, Italians, Flemings and others. Merchant houses in various countries had their representatives in London or even branch establishments, which are often referred to in records. Some such aliens became freemen of the City, but many lived in London without being freemen.

It is difficult to believe that the population of London about 1300 can have been so small as about 30,000 or less, as has sometimes been suggested, if all categories of inhabitants are included. A figure of 40,000 is frequently given for the time about 1400. It seems probable that a figure not much below that may be assumed for the beginning of the fourteenth century.


  • 1. The taxpayers in the 12 wards represented in 1292 S were 779 in 1332.
  • 2. Highly important and interesting information on the question of the technically poor and their relative numbers is given by Professor Willard in Parliamentary Taxes, pp. 174 ff. He adduces examples both from country districts and from urban communities. A few instances may be quoted from his rich material. In the fifteenth of movables of 1332, when the taxable minimum was 10s., the taxpayers in three Lancashire villages were as follows: Scarisbrick with Hurlton 14, Bickerstaff 9, Skelmersdale 12. In 1366, "with two visitations of the plague intervening to keep down population", a list was made up of people who promised to subscribe to the stipend for the altar of Our Lady at Ormskirk. Here the subscribers in Scarisbrick and Hurlton number 84, in Bickerstaff 54, in Skelmersdale 35. - A tallage on movables and rents was imposed on the men of Bristol in 1312, the people taxed being at least 1,131. In the twentieth of movables laid upon the men of Bristol who owned personal property in 1327 the taxpayers numbered 347. There was no taxable minimum stated in 1312, whereas it was 10s. in 1327. - A view of arms of the tenants of the King in Bridport was held in 1319; they numbered about 180. In the twelfth of 1319 only 67 persons were taxed. Examples of this kind suggest that we have a right to count with a very considerable number of technically poor people in London.