Find your ancestors in Britain & Ireland, Naturalisations 1603-1700

Source of the records

The records within this collection are taken from the volume “Letters of Denization and Acts of Naturalization for Aliens in England and Ireland, 1603-1700”, edited by William A Shaw and published by The Huguenot Society of London in 1911.

Shaw’s records come from Patent Rolls and State Papers and span the period from the reign of James I, through the Interregnum and Restoration, up to around 1700.

Denization and naturalisation

The processes of denization and naturalisation essentially serve to treat aliens (foreigners, or strangers in the language of the time) as if they were English subjects. They would acquire all the rights enjoyed by a native-born English subject, including the right to acquire, own, sell and bequeath real estate, plus of course the duties incumbent upon a natural-born English subject; and at the same time lose the inconveniences of being an alien.

Denizations were granted by the sovereign, as an act of the prerogative. The grant of denization was termed a letter patent, and entered into a patent roll. Denizations were the precursor of naturalisations. Naturalisations were granted by parliament, as an act of the legislative. Both denization and naturalisation required the alien to take the sacrament (according to the uses of the Anglican faith) and the oaths of allegiance (to the monarch as head of state) and supremacy (to the monarch as head of the Anglican Church).

A person who has undergone denization is described as having been endenized. A person who has been through the process of naturalisation is, of course, referred to as having become naturalised.

From 1681 to 1688 there were two parallel series of denizations, the ordinary ones made to aliens according to earlier precedents upon payment of a fee, and a new sequence made under an Order in Council dated 28th July 1681, which gave refuge to Protestants (Huguenots) fleeing persecution in France, without payment of a fee (i.e. on humanitarian grounds).

Huguenot refugees

Shaw purposely covered the period of the great migrations during which thousands of French and other continental Protestants fled to England and Ireland (among other destinations) to escape religious persecution.

The exact numbers involved are unclear. It is thought that between 5,000 and 10,000 Huguenots may have settled in Ireland, and up to 80,000 in England (differences in figures being due to, for instance, to the differing estimations of the average family size of the principals, usually male heads of household).

Those Huguenots going to Ireland did so following the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, with most after 1692, in which year the Parliament of Ireland passed an Act for the Encouragement of Protestant Strangers to Settle in this Kingdom of Ireland. Earlier Huguenot settlers in Ireland had been concentrated in Dublin and a few ports, but from 1692 there was a concerted effort to establish a proper settled community in Portarlington, Queen’s County (now Co Laois).

The structure of the records

The basic order of the book is chronological, starting in 1603 and working on to 1700. Denizations and naturalisations in England are interspersed throughout the volume from its pages 1 to 317.

Irish denizations follow from page 319 to 346, with those under the 1692 Act to be found from pages 347 to 356.

There are many Scots and other settlers in Ulster in the earlier years. Note that spelling of names is often phonetic, or at least non-standard and unsettled, so researchers should exercise care and discretion when using these records. French place names often appear to have been recorded in the local language or dialect rather than today's standardised official French.

It should also be said that, like any other transcriber, Shaw interpreted what he saw in the handwritten original papers and accordingly his work contains transcription errors. For example, it is clear that he struggled sometimes to decipher correctly the handwritten original; one of the most frequent and understandable errors is in French place names where there is minim confusion between lower-case u and n in his work.