Downey Bekke: Mariner and Alien

In the name of God Amen the viith day of the monyth of September in the yere of oure Lord God anno MCCCCC xxviiith. I Downy Bekke of Easton Bavent mariner beyng hoole of mynde and in good remembrance make my testament and last will in maner and forme following…’

So begins the will of Downey Bekke of 1528 (IC/AA2/10/41), much like any will and testament made in the first half of the sixteenth century. He made arrangements for his burial in the church at Easton Bavents and for his executor to pay his ‘tithes and oblaciones negligently forgotten’. He bequeathed £22 from the sale of his half of a ship, the Mary and John, to the local church for a silver an gilt cross, 40s to the church of St Edmund in Southwold for reparations, and money for a trentall to be said by the friars in Dunwich after his death.  He also leaves another boat, the Blythe, to Joan Thomas, and much else besides to his son, Davy Bekke. The picture that the will paints is of a relatively wealthy mariner and fisher, with strong devotion to both religious and civic piety. Recent research in the alien and Tudor subsidies of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries by the University of York has also revealed that Downey Bekke, among thousands of others throughout England and Wales, was a resident alien.

There are over a thousand records of aliens living in late medieval and Tudor Suffolk, with some some interesting and exotic examples; there were two Aragonese doctors living in Long Melford in 1483, and an Icelandic shearman, Elgat Thorbor, in Nayland in 1524. In 1483, two Flemish craftsmen, Anthony Lammoson and Henry Phelypp, a painter and a sculptor respectively, were also living in Long Melford, almost certainly working for Sir John Clopton who had financed the building of the new church there. There were eleven Dutch clothmakers living in Bildeston. Though the survival of the subsidy returns is sporadic, Suffolk reports a higher number of returns overall than its surrounding counties of Cambridgeshire, Essex and Norfolk, widely asserted to have been the home of many more immigrants, given their advanced status.

To find out more about the project and to search the database, go to the England’s Immigrants website and to read the Suffolk county study.

Dispersal of Immigrants in Suffolk from information on the England’s Immigrants website