Unlike today, when the term ‘foreigner’ has a singular usage referring to status of an individual who originated outside of the country they reside in, its early modern usage embraced three groups. The first group, similar to today's ‘foreigner,’ was someone entering England from abroad. The second group can be defined as spiritual foreigners, people who through their faith were perceived to be biblically distanced from God and salvation. Perhaps least expected, the third — and most common — category referred to a domestic migrant, who, having moved from one parish or county to another, was considered a foreigner to the locality in which they settled. However, while terms such as ‘alien’ and ‘stranger’ almost always defined someone from overseas, ‘foreigner’ was often reserved for English men and women who migrated within England into new parishes, towns, and cities. This wave of domestic migration in early modern England was the result of rapid population growth and the saturation of the agricultural job market.[1] From parish to parish, county to county, English authorities became increasingly paranoid about the social effects of migration, and attempted to define and regulate those migrants. Those English men and women who migrated within England, leaving their rural homes for emerging towns and cities, were thus perceived to be foreigners by the authorities where they settled.

In the case of London, someone could be labelled a foreigner who had come ‘from somewhere within the country, but outside the city of London’ and was not a member of a guild, or a non-freeman of the city.[2] In London, authorities often treated foreigners and aliens similarly, seeing them as a challenge to the commercial and social stability of the city. However, as Ian Archer has pointed out, the ‘foreigner’ or ‘English non-free’ did not face the same level of resentment as aliens due to both ‘xenophobia and the ease with which [the aliens] could be identified’.[3] Similarly, Jacob Selwood has discussed both the shared legal status of foreigners and aliens and the apparent breakdown of regulation in favour of ‘English-born’ foreigners in the city’s livery companies.[4] Outside of London, authorities also used the term to distinguish individuals born in England but not from within their locality. For instance, in 1565 officials in Liverpool declared foreigners as being ‘men of Bolton, Blackburne or any other places’.[5] Likewise, Scots, Irish and Welshmen, although at times seen as aliens or strangers, were, like the men and women of Bolton and Blackburn, ‘subsumed within the larger category of foreigner’.[6] The identity of people from the three nations was further complicated during times of conflict, as the Scots in the years after the War of the Three Kingdoms were described as both ‘being forraigners and strangers’ who had invaded England.[7] This did not mean that ‘foreigner’ was not also used to refer to people from abroad. In an age of rapid commercial and territorial expansion, the English interacted with numerous peoples of varying faiths and cultures. To early modern English men and women, these people and the customs were not only ‘strange’ or ‘alien’, but also foreign. The English defined Asian, African, Native American and European peoples as foreigners by their distance from what they locally knew, which, like domestic migrants, categorised them more by their cultural differences than their similarities. The early modern foreigner was thus simply ‘not a local’, occasionally from abroad, but often domestic migrants who, in an era of paranoia surrounding rapid population growth and large scale internal migration, was treated with suspicion by local people and authorities.

As mentioned above, the English also conceptualised a foreigner in both temporal and spiritual terms, the former being an individual whose was either locally or nationally an outsider, whilst the later someone who through faith and religious practice was made foreign to God. The spiritual foreigner was a popular motif throughout the early modern period, distinguishing between Christians and non-Christians but also between Catholics and Protestants. The Protestant doctrine that sin made all foreign to God, particularly espoused by Calvinists, led to the articulation that a spiritual ‘foreigner’ could only be naturalised through redemption and conversion. Ephesians 2:19, ‘[n]ow ye are no more strangers and foreigners: but citizens with the Saints, and of the household of God’, became a popular verse to illustrate both the status of a spiritual foreigner and their transition through conversion into citizen of God.[8] The root of an individual’s foreignness in this instance was based on the concept of original sin, that man had in the ‘[s]eparation from the fellowship of God, as Adam was cast out of Paradise’ been ‘estranged from the life of God’ and as such were made ‘forainers … farre off from him’.[9] At its most simple this concept meant that sin ensured that ‘every man is a forreiner by birth, and a stranger by life’ to God, a problem only rectified through conversion.[10] Conversion operated much like denization or naturalization for a temporal foreigner. It allowed a spiritual foreigner to be naturalized into the ‘household’ or nation of God. Just as Francis Bacon would later point out that ‘[n]aturalization doth but take out the marks of a Forreiner’, conversion removed the mark of a spiritual foreigner.[11] Further, the lines between the spiritual and the temporal were not easily drawn. For many in England, a spiritual foreigner was akin to a temporal foreigner. If perceived to be outside of the Protestant faith, such as a Catholic, or atheist, or Turk — not only was their loyalty to God questioned. As head of both Church and state the spiritual foreigners allegiance to the government and monarch of England was also questioned.

For many English authors in this period, fuelled by contemporary political, religious discourse and anti-Catholic rhetoric, the merging of temporal and spiritual foreignness in categorizing Catholics was commonplace. While relatively tolerant to Catholics after ascending the English throne in 1603, King James invoked the dangerous multiple allegiances of Catholics in his Oath of Allegiance of 1606, written after the Gunpowder Treason. All subjects were to renounce the authority of the pope and renounce the power of ‘any foreign prince to invade or annoy’ the king.[12] Their supposed allegiance to non-English leaders meant that many Catholics were treated with suspicion, frequently perceived as a threat to social stability and national security.[13] The evangelical polemicist, Thomas Bale, described the threats as the ‘ravenous desires’ of ‘unnaturall forainers’ which had originally been brought into the country by ‘the sleights enticements or traiterous conspiracie, of popish prestes and their adherents.’[14] Similarly, whilst preaching before a group of Jesuits in the Tower of London, the clergyman John Keltridge not only reiterated fears that Catholics had attempted to commit ‘conspiracies and Treasons’, but highlighted how they ‘have béene revealed from time to time’ and ‘suppressed immediately’.[15] However, Keltridge also sought to convert Catholics from ’their errors’ by highlighting the failures of ‘[f]orrainers and straungers’ to successfully achieve ‘any thing against us’.[16] Catholics themselves, like William Allen, described their position in the country as one of ‘forreiners’ who had ‘passed their long banishement in honest povertie; and some in worshipful calling and roomes in universities’.[17] Their status as temporal and spiritual foreigners meant that the allegiance of Catholics was often questioned. Increasingly they government sought to legislate against Catholics, so that the ‘Romish hydra’ would be ‘by Gods mightie & mercifull hand bee cut off’, protecting themselves against an ‘invasion of forreiners’ that they thought to be instigated by English Catholics at home and abroad.[18]

Authorities in English commercial towns and cities legislated to protect their trade not only from foreigners from abroad, but also domestic foreigners. Forced by a saturated agricultural job market, these individuals migrated to obtain work in the emerging industries in commercial areas. Migrants, merchants, or artisans from within England, who settled in cities like London and Norfolk, were classified as foreigners by urban authorities. Popular culture often conflated the threats posed by ‘strangers and foreigners’. In Robert Wilson’s play, The Three Lords and Three Ladies of London (printed 1590), a sequel to the popular Three Ladies of London printed in 1584, for instance, the Lords, Policy, Pomp, and Pleasure, have to claim their rights to the hands of the ladies of London in competition with two rival groups. The three Spanish ‘Lords’ — Pride, Ambition, and Tyranny — and the three Lords of Lincoln — Desire, Delight, and Devotion — are shown to be equally unsuccessful competitors, with the reigning judge Nemo deciding that London’s ladies are best matched by ‘Their countrimen, in London bred as they’.[19] As numbers increased, the governing bodies in commercial cities, paranoid at the presence of ‘foreigners’ but equally conscious of the wealth they generated through their industrial labour, sought to heavily regulate their lives, keeping them in check whilst benefiting from their skill. In 1604, the Lord Mayor of London ordered that Blackwell hall in the City be ‘appointed Market place and places, for all forreiners’, both domestic and international, ‘to sell every of the said severall cloth, clothes, wares and commodities’.[20] In 1605, Thomas Heywood’s play, If you know not me, you know nobody (Part 2), would transpose such regulations abroad when it has one of its characters warn his runaway apprentice in France, ‘thou canst not keepe open shop here, because thou art a forrainer, by the lawes of the Realme,’ and is reassured, ‘Not within the libertie: but I hope the suburbs tollerates any man or woman to occupie for themselves, they may doo't in the Citie too, and they be naturaliz'd once.’[21]

While restricting where certain ‘foreigners’ could buy and sell their products, authorities also attempted to prevent others foreign artisans in other trades from doing so. Two years after foreign cloth merchants were given the right to trade in Blackwell Hall, ‘[b]asketmakers, Gold-wyerdrawers, and other forraines’ were banned from ‘using mysteries [trades] within the said Citie’.[22] Men like Francis Bacon expressed an awareness that commercial growth rested on encouraging foreign input, for it was ‘to be remembred, that for as much as the increase of any Estate, must be upon the Forrainer’.[23] Nonetheless, Bacon’s views were not shared by all, and City and national authorities continued to have a conflicted relationship with foreign merchants throughout the seventeenth century. In 1615, legislation against ‘many Forreiners’ targeted bakers, whilst in 1628 a clause in the freeman’s oath prescribed that they were to ‘know no Forraigner to buy or sell any Merchandize, with any other forraigner within this City or franchise thereof’, ordering individuals to warn City officials if they did.[24] At the same time as City legislation acted against foreign merchants and artisans, parliament declared it was ‘very willing’ to have ‘[f]oreigners, and Strangers...receive all encouragement for Trade, and commerce with the City of London and other ports’, offering foreigners protection to trade and sell goods across England.[25]

England’s commercial and industrial growth forced authorities increasingly to move to protect English merchants in the emerging global markets that were being created through English and European territorial expansion. From the late sixteenth century, the English Crown and government began to compete beyond the British Isles and Europe, in the Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Indian oceans, obtaining new commodities that had previously been ‘fetcht from hence by forrainers’.[26] This continued the uneasy relationship between City authorities and ‘foreigners’ or foreign commodities. To ensure commercial success, English authorities aggressively sought to protect their merchants and commercial outposts by regulating foreign involvement. This occasionally involved diplomacy and engaging in commercial treaties with foreign powers. In 1630, Charles I negotiated with Philip IV of Spain, ordaining that Spanish merchants, though ‘forreiners’, were to be treated ‘equall and like herein unto naturall Subjects’.[27] The same agreement concerning merchants was reached twelve years later in a treaty negotiated between Charles and John IV of Portugal.[28] Yet more often than not, English protection against foreign merchants was obtained through protectionism and mercantilist policies, epitomised by passing of the first Navigation Act in 1651.

In line with parliament, English overseas companies implemented strict rules against foreign merchants from both outside London and further afield. Merchants in the Muscovy Company were prevented from freeing and selling ‘[f]orraigners goods’ Policies such as those adopted by the Muscovy Company were replicated on a national and international level through the Navigation Acts, which prevented England’s developing colonies from trading with nations other than England.[29] This, according to one contemporary, was a ‘Forreign Trade driven with Forreign Navigation’, where the nation and ‘Commodities’ remained ‘at Home to such Forreigners as come thither to Buy and Export them.’[30] By ensuring that the English commodities remained within English jurisdictions, it would thereby enrich the ‘Nation with Treasure more or less, as the Commodities so sold are of greater or lesser quantity and value’.[31] Although popular amongst those who sought to keep trade out of ‘the Forreigners Hands’ both at home and abroad, it also had its detractors.[32] The Navigation Acts were not always popular amongst English colonists in Virginia and Maryland. According to John Bland the Navigations Act and its supporters threatened to ‘destroy so many thousands of Your Majesties Subjects’ unless ‘it be convenient to debar Foreiners from trading thither’.[33] Likewise, a contemporary of Bland bemoaned the imposition of the Navigation Act in Barbados, declaring that the English settlers there were ‘poor English Forrainers’ who were ‘compell'd to bring all Hither’.[34] Bland further argued that despite people leaving from ‘all parts of England, to inhabit and cultivate this New Country’, they were now looked upon through the imposition of the Navigation Act as ‘[f]orrainers and Aliens’.[35] Securing England’s commercial aims went hand in hand with regulating the involvement of foreigners in overseas trade. However, in doing so, English authorities increasingly alienated many people across the globe from its own commerce, including English people themselves, who felt that they had become as foreign as those the acts were designed to keep at a distance.

Japanese painting depicting a group of Portuguese foreigners[36]
1. Peter Clark and Paul Slack, English Towns in Transitions, 1500—1700 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976), p. 83; Keith Wrightson and David Levine, Poverty and Piety in an English Village: Terling, 1525—1700 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 4.
2. ‘London Aliens’, Map of Early Modern London [accessed 4 July 2017].
3. Ian W. Archer, The Pursuit of Stability: Social Relations in Elizabethan London (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), p. 131.
4. Jacob Selwood, Diversity and Difference in Early Modern London (Abingdon; Routledge, 2010), p. 91.
5. James Allanson Picton, City of Liverpool: Selections from the Municipal Archives and Records, From the 13th to the 17th Century Inclusive, Vol. I (Liverpool: Walmsley, 1883), p. 75.
6. Selwood, Diversity and Difference, p. 20.
7. Christopher Love, The whole triall of Mr. Christopher Love (London, 1660; Wing W2065), p. 1.
8. Thomas Paynall, The piththy [sic] and moost notable sayinges of al scripture, gathered by Thomas Paynell (London, 1550; STC 19494.3), sig. Liv; Robert Bartholomew, A blow for the pope (London, 1625; STC 7148.3), p. 517.
9. John Downame, The summe of sacred divinitie briefly & methodically propounded (1625, STC 7148.3), p. 246.
10. William Ford, A sermon preached at Constantinople in the Vines of Perah, at the funerall of the vertuous and admired Lady Anne Glover, sometime wife to the honourable Knight Sir Thomas Glover (London, 1616; STC 11176), p. 57.
11. Francis Bacon, A speech delivered by Sir Francis Bacon, in the lower House of Parliament quinto Iacobi, concerning the article of naturalization of the Scottish nation (London, 1641; Wing B326), p. 13.
12. ‘An act for the better discovering and repressing of Popish recusants, 1606', 3 & 4 James I c. 4.
13. Francis Bacon, Certaine miscellany works of the Right Honourable Francis Lo. Verulam, Viscount St Alban (London, 1629; STC 1124), p. 28.
14. John Bale, An excellent and a right learned meditacion, compiled in two prayers most frutefull and necessary to be used and said of al ttue [sic] English men, in these daungerous daies of affliction (London, 1554; STC 17773), sig. Biv.
15. John Keltridge, Two godlie and learned sermons appointed, and preached, before the Jesuites (London, 1581; STC 14921), sig. iiiv.
16. Ibid.
17. William Allen, A true, sincere and modest defence, of English Catholiques that suffer for their faith both at home and abrode (Rouen, 1584; STC 373), p. 46.
18. Laurence Humphrey, A view of the Romish hydra and monster, traison, against the Lords anointed (London, 1588; STC 13966).
19. Robert Wilson, The Three lordes and three ladies of London (London, 1590: STC 25783), sig. D4v.
20. City of London, By the Mayor Orders set downe for Blackewelhall (London, 1604; STC 16719).
21. Thomas Heywood, The second part of, If you know not me, you know no bodie (London, 1605: STC 13336) sig. G3v.
22. By the Mayor An act of Common Councell, prohibiting all strangers borne, and forrainers, to use any trades, or keepe any maner of shops in any sort within this citty, liberties and freedome thereof (London, 1606; STC 16722), [single sheet].
23. Francis Bacon, The essayes or counsels, civill and morall (London, 1625; STC 1148), p. 84.
24. By the Major Whereas divers good acts and ordinances have heeretofore bene made, aswell by publique proclamations, as other waies: for the restraning the great abuses daily committed and used in brewing and uttering of extraordinary strong ale and beere (London, 1615; STC 16725.7), [single sheet]; The Oath of every free-man of the citie of London (London, 1628; STC 16764.5), [single sheet]..
25. An ordinance of the Lords and Commons assembled in Parliament declaring that it shall and may be lawfull for all foreigners and strangers in amity with this kingdome to have free trade and commerce to and from the city of London and all other ports and places within any of His Majesties dominions (London, 1644; E1833), pp. 3-5.
26. Samuel Purchas, Purchas his pilgrimes (London, 1625; STC 20509), p. 896.
27. England and Wales, Articles of peace, entercourse, and commerce concluded in the names of the most high and mighty kings, Charles by the grace of God King of Great Britaine, France and Ireland, defender of the faith (London, 1630; STC 9251.3), sig. D3r.
28. Articles of peace and commerce, between the high and mighty kings, Charles (London, 1642; Wing C2147).
29. Thomas Johnson, A plea for free-mens liberties (London, 1646; Wing J850), sig. A2.
30. William Petyt, Britannia languens: or, A discourse of trade (London, 1689; Wing P1947), p. 19.
31. Ibid., p 19.
32. East India Company, Reasons humbly offered by the Governour, Assistants fellowship of Eastland-Merchants against the giving of a general liberty to all persons whatsoever to export the English woollen-manufacture whither they please (London, 1689; Wing R532), p. 6.
33. John Bland, To the Kings Most Excellent Majesty the humble remonstrance of John Blande of London, merchant, on the behalf of the inhabitants and planters in Virginia and Mariland (London, 1661; Wing B3157).
34. Edward Littleton, The groans of the plantations (London, 1689; Wing L2577), p. 8.
35. Ibid., p. 24.
36. Japanese painting depicting a group of Portuguese foreigners, Unknown Artist (17th century)
Usage Examples
'Besides, thou canst not keepe open shop here, because thou art a forrainer, by the lawes of the Realme.'