Medieval Immigrants 1330-1550

I just found a great new source of information about immigrants in Medieval England. Whether you’re working on genealogy or you’re an avid history buff, this vast collection is worth a visit. In collaboration, the National Archives, University of York, and others examined original documents to collect archival evidence of the people who came from other countries, their work, governmental rules and regulations concerning foreigners, and their culture. I’ve been perusing the site for the last few days and am excited but frustrated.

The endless research possibilities are thrilling to history lovers and family detectives, but the major stumbling block is finding particular surnames. The problem is that you must search using the spelling as it appears in original documents. Since spelling was not ‘normalized’ until the end of the 19th century, people were cavalier about their names. Most people were illiterate and relied on clerks who spelled things in documents the way they sounded. The clerks themselves were barely literate. Combine that issue with the haphazard writing styles and ongoing damage to these rare documents and you have a researcher’s nightmare.

Nevertheless, this site is worth a visit:

You can search by name, place, job title, place of origin, and key words. I attempted to search for my family’s name (Labin), knowing that the modern spelling would not yield results. I found that key word searches yielded more results and possibilities than surnames. I tinkered around and discovered:


1. John de Leybourne [14992] Orig from Gascony, now in Lincolnshire

Surname: Leybourne [Libourne]

Forename: John

Gender: Male

Place of Residence: Lincoln, Lincolnshire

Place of Origin: Libourne (Leybourne), Aquitaine [modern: France]

Origin: Nationality: [Gascon]

Original Document: CPR 1429-36, p. 585 (oath of fealty, 18 April 1436)


same as John Leybourne in tax assessment, 4 April 1440

same as John Layborne in tax assessment, 17 August 1441

same as John Layburne in tax assessment, 1 April 1443

same as John Layburn in tax assessment, 23 July 1444

Reference: Calendar of the Patent Rolls preserved in the Public Record Office, Henry VI, vol. ii, 1429-1436 (HMSO, 1907)

Sub-reference: p. 585

Document Type: oath of fealty

Document Date: 18 April 1436E 179/270/32 Part 1 [862]

Archive: The National Archives

Reference: E 179/270/32 Part 1

Document Type: tax assessment

Document Date: 4 April 1440

Tax Collections

1440 alien subsidy, 1st collection

1440 alien subsidy, 2nd collection

2. Sir John Laborne [61110]

Surname: Laborne

Forename: Sir John

Gender: Male

Place of Origin: Rouen (Rhone), Normandy [modern: France]

Origin: Nationality: [Norman]

Prior Residence in England: 35 years

Occupation(s): priest

Original Document: WAM 12261, m. 19 (letters of denization, 1 July 1544)

Notes: Described as a ‘dunchell priest’ with William Filoll, gentleman. the meaning of ‘dunchell’ is unclear.

Biographical Notes: No Notes


same as John Laborn in letters of denization, c. 1544 – c. 1545

WAM 12261 [2386]

Archive: Westminster Abbey Muniments

Reference: WAM 12261

Document Type: letters of denization

Document Date: 1 July 1544

3. John Laborn [42298]

Surname: Laborn

Forename: John

Gender: Male

Occupation(s): clerk

Original Document: C 67/73, m. 7 (letters of denization, c. 1544 – c. 1545)

Notes: Paid half a mark.

Biographical Notes: No Notes


same as Sir John Laborne in letters of denization, 1 July 1544

C 67/73 [1540]–same as John de Laborn

Archive: The National Archives

Reference: C 67/73

Document Type: letters of denization

Document Date: c. 1544 – c. 1545

Notes: According to a note on the dorse of the final membrane, this is a list of people receiving letters of denization during 36 Henry VIII (1544-5). The first letter, recited in full, was dated 11 July 1544, and the others were probably issued at other times during that regnal year, the precise dates not being recorded.

Now, I have no idea whether these men are related to me, even distantly. It was worth the effort, though, so that I could see how well searches work for these archives. Since we don’t know the country of origin of my father’s family, except for my great grandfather’s claim that they came from France, I continue to pore over any sources that might lead me to the answers I seek. The site also has maps showing countries of origin and other graphics. A fascinating peek into the age of the Black Death, the 100 years war, and the War of the Roses.