Last week we saw that Cornwall was the temporary home for many hundreds of young Bretons in the period from the 1460s to the 1540s. But Brittany was not the only country of origin for those who flocked to Cornwall in this period in search of work and a better life. While well over 95% of the ‘aliens’ given a nationality in the tax lists of the 1520s and 1540s were Breton, there were others who came from the regions and nations of France.
A scattering of men classed as alien were named Franck – John Francke at Gerrans, another John at Gulval, a third John at Helston, with Michael and Raw Franck at Gwennap. These were presumably French-speakers. Another two were explicitly described as ‘Frenchman’ in 1543, Martin Frenchman at Veryan and Perys Frenchman at nearby Philleigh.
We also find men from Gascony in south-west France, in William Gaskyn at Redruth and Pers John Gascon at St Gluvias. Burgundy in eastern France was also represented in Peter Burgonyan at Helston. Also at Helston was Creme Flemyng, while at Bodmin Peter Lokyer was also ‘born in Flandre’ (Flanders). These last were not, of course, French-speakers. Among the latter more specific origins were suggested in the names of Peter Roen, an alien born in France (no doubt at Rouen in Normandy) who was living at Bodmin. At St Keverne we find George Arras, from Arras on the borderlands between France and Flanders.
There were also a number of men in these records with the surname French. However, they are not classed as aliens. Moreover, as the map below shows, most of them were found in the far north of Cornwall. Anyone with the surname French in the 1500s had been named earlier, after a medieval ancestor who was either a French-speaker or came from France or who behaved in a way that accorded with the contemporary stereotype of being a Frenchman. They had got their names probably earlier than 1380, well before a new sprinkling of French-speakers arrived in the late 1400s and 1500s.