The medieval English wool trade was one of the most important factors in the medieval English economy. 'No form of manufacturing had a greater impact upon the economy and society of medieval Britain than did those industries producing cloths from various kinds of wool'.The trade's liveliest period, 1250–1350, was 'an era when trade in wool had been the backbone and driving force in the English medieval economy'.
The wool trade was a major driver of enclosure (the privatisation of common land) in English agriculture, which in turn had major social consequences, as part of the British Agricultural Revolution.
Among the lasting monuments to the success of the trade are the 'wool churches' of East Anglia and the Cotswolds; the London Worshipful Company of Clothworkers; and the fact that since the fourteenth century, the presiding officer of the House of Lords has sat on the Woolsack, a chair stuffed with wool.
During the early Anglo-Saxon period (c. 450–650), archaeological evidence for subsistence-level wool production using warp-weighted looms is extensive. Tools and technologies of spinning and weaving were similar to those of the Roman period; it is likely that fine, white wool continued to be produced from sheep introduced from the Mediterranean region alongside coarser local wools. Dyes included woad for blue and less frequently madder and lichens for reds and purples. Some high-status woollen cloth is found, including gold brocade.New textile types appeared around the tenth century, prominently including diamond twills whose use continued into the thirteenth century. There is little evidence for long-distance trade, but there seems to have been some, presumably of especially rare wools or cloths: the silence of the sources is punctuated by a famous mention of the slipping standards of English cloaks exported to Frankia in a letter from Charlemagne to Offa of Mercia.
Subsistence-level production of wool continued,but was overshadowed by the rise of wool as a commodity, which in turn encouraged demand for other raw materials such as dyestuffs; the rise of manufacturing; the financial sector; urbanisation; and (since wool and related raw materials had a high value-to-weight ratio and were easily transported) regional, international, and even intercontinental trade.
English wools, particularly from the Welsh Marches, the South West and Lincolnshire, were the most prized in medieval Europe.It was exported to the emergent urban centres of cloth production of the Low Countries, France, and Italy, where production was promoted by the adoption of the pedal-driven horizontal loom and spinning wheel, along with mechanised fulling and napping.
In 1280 about 25,000 sacks of wool were exported from England; trade in raw wool peaked around 40,000–45,000 sacks per year, falling to 33,000 in 1355 and 9,706 in 1476 as exports changed to finished cloth. As exports of raw wool fell, exports of cloths rose, from 10,000 cloths per year in 1349–50 to 60,000 in 1446–47, and c. 140,000 in 1539–40.'By the end of the thirteenth century, the heavily industrialised areas of Europe could not have existed without the export of English wool.'
England's wool-trade was volatile, however, affected by diverse factors such as war, taxation policy, export/import duties or even bans, disease and famine, and the degree of competition among European merchants for English wool. For example, since Continental industry relied on English wool, and export embargoes could 'bring whole areas to the brink of starvation and economic ruin', the wool trade was a powerful political tool. Likewise, taxes on the wool trade financed Edward I's wars and enabled England to conduct the Hundred Years' War with better resources than France. These instabilities led to a boom-bust cycle in prices and exports.
In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the English wool trade was primarily with Flanders (where wool was made into cloth, primarily for sale via the Champagne fairs into the Mediterranean basin), and was dominated by Flemish merchants. But in 1264, the strife in England of the Second Barons' War brought Anglo-Flemish trade almost to a halt and by 1275, when Edward I of England negotiated an agreement with the domestic merchant community (and secured a permanent duty on wool), Italian merchants had begun to gain dominance in the trade. Extending their activities to finance, the Riccardi, a group of bankers from Lucca in Italy, became particularly prominent in English taxation and finance.Among the most famous merchants participating in the English wool trade were Jean Boinebroke of Douai (d. 1286) on the Continental side, and William de la Pole (d. 1366) on the English.
Guild organisations seem to have emerged in the textile industry earlier in England than elsewhere in Europe, being attested already in the 1130s in London, Winchester, Lincoln, Oxford, Nottingham, and Huntingdon.
By the sixteenth century, the quality of English wools was in decline, perhaps partly due to a switch in focus to meat production for domestic urban markets, and European supremacy in the production of fine-wool passed to the Iberian peninsula and its merino sheep.
The table charts English woolsack and broadcloth exports, in five-year means, 1281–1545.
|Years Michaelmas||Woolsack exports (5-yr means)||Broadcloth exports||Total as equivalent broadcloth|
Key studies of the topic include:
Wool is the textile fibre obtained from sheep and other animals, including cashmere and mohair from goats, qiviut from muskoxen, hide and fur clothing from bison, angora from rabbits, and other types of wool from camelids.
Weaving is a method of textile production in which two distinct sets of yarns or threads are interlaced at right angles to form a fabric or cloth. Other methods are knitting, crocheting, felting, and braiding or plaiting. The longitudinal threads are called the warp and the lateral threads are the weft, woof, or filling. The method in which these threads are inter-woven affects the characteristics of the cloth. Cloth is usually woven on a loom, a device that holds the warp threads in place while filling threads are woven through them. A fabric band that meets this definition of cloth can also be made using other methods, including tablet weaving, back strap loom, or other techniques that can be done without looms.
This timeline of clothing and textiles technology covers the events of fiber and flexible woven material worn on the body; including making, modification, usage, and knowledge of tools, machines, techniques, crafts, and manufacturing systems (technology).
Worsted is a high-quality type of wool yarn, the fabric made from this yarn, and a yarn weight category. The name derives from Worstead, a village in the English county of Norfolk. That village, together with North Walsham and Aylsham, formed a manufacturing centre for yarn and cloth in the 12th century, when pasture enclosure and liming rendered the East Anglian soil too rich for the older agrarian sheep breeds. In the same period, many weavers from the County of Flanders moved to Norfolk. "Worsted" yarns/fabrics are distinct from woollens : the former is considered stronger, finer, smoother, and harder than the latter.
The Merino is a breed or group of breeds of domestic sheep, characterised by very fine soft wool. It was established in Spain near the end of the Middle Ages, and was for several centuries kept as a strict Spanish monopoly; exports of the breed were not allowed, and those who tried risked the death penalty. During the eighteenth century, flocks were sent to the courts of a number of European countries, including France, Hungary, the Netherlands, Prussia, Saxony and Sweden. The Merino subsequently spread to many parts of the world, including Australia and New Zealand. Numerous recognised breeds, strains and variants have developed from the original type; these include, among others, the American Merino and Delaine Merino in the Americas, the Australian Merino, Booroola Merino and Peppin Merino in Oceania, the Gentile di Puglia, Merinolandschaf and Rambouillet in Europe.
Kermes is a red dye derived from the dried bodies of the females of a scale insect in the genus Kermes, primarily Kermes vermilio. The Kermes insects are native in the Mediterranean region and are parasites living on the sap of the host plant, the Kermes oak and the Palestine oak. These insects were used as a red dye since antiquity by the ancient Egyptians, Mesopotamians, Indians, Greeks, Romans, and Iranians. The kermes dye is a rich red, a crimson. It has good colour fastness in silk and wool. It was much esteemed in the medieval era for dyeing silk and wool, particularly scarlet cloth. Post-medievally it was replaced by other red dyes, starting with cochineal.
Broadcloth is a dense, plain woven cloth, historically made of wool. The defining characteristic of broadcloth is not its finished width but the fact that it was woven much wider and then heavily milled in order to shrink it to the required width. The effect of the milling process is to draw the yarns much closer together than could be achieved in the loom and allow the individual fibres of the wool to bind together in a felting process, which results in a dense, blind face cloth with a stiff drape which is highly weather-resistant, hard wearing and capable of taking a cut edge without the need for being hemmed.
The study of the history of clothing and textiles traces the development, use, and availability of clothing and textiles over human history. Clothing and textiles reflect the materials and technologies available in different civilizations at different times. The variety and distribution of clothing and textiles within a society reveal social customs and culture.
The Champagne fairs were an annual cycle of trade fairs which flourished in different towns of the County of Champagne in Northeastern France in the 12th and 13th centuries, originating in local agricultural and stock fairs. Each fair lasted about 2 to 3 weeks. The Champagne fairs, sited on ancient land routes and largely self-regulated through the development of the Lex mercatoria, became an important engine in the reviving economic history of medieval Europe, "veritable nerve centers" serving as a premier market for textiles, leather, fur, and spices. At their height, in the late 12th and the 13th century, the fairs linked the cloth-producing cities of the Low Countries with the Italian dyeing and exporting centers, with Genoa in the lead, dominating the commercial and banking relations operating at the frontier region between the north and the Mediterranean. The Champagne fairs were one of the earliest manifestations of a linked European economy, a characteristic of the High Middle Ages.
Mockado is a woollen pile fabric made in imitation of silk velvet from the mid-sixteenth century. Mockado was usually constructed with a woollen pile on a linen or worsted wool warp and woollen weft, although the ground fabric could be any combination of wool, linen, and silk. Mockado was used for furnishings and carpeting, and also for clothing such as doublets, farthingales, and kirtles.
The medieval English saw their economy as comprising three groups – the clergy, who prayed; the knights, who fought; and the peasants, who worked the landtowns involved in international trade. Over the next five centuries the economy would at first grow and then suffer an acute crisis, resulting in significant political and economic change. Despite economic dislocation in urban and extraction economies, including shifts in the holders of wealth and the location of these economies, the economic output of towns and mines developed and intensified over the period. By the end of the period, England had a weak government, by later standards, overseeing an economy dominated by rented farms controlled by gentry, and a thriving community of indigenous English merchants and corporations.
The economics of English towns and trade in the Middle Ages is the economic history of English towns and trade from the Norman invasion in 1066, to the death of Henry VII in 1509. Although England's economy was fundamentally agricultural throughout the period, even before the invasion the market economy was important to producers. Norman institutions, including serfdom, were superimposed on a mature network of well established towns involved in international trade. Over the next five centuries the English economy would at first grow and then suffer an acute crisis, resulting in significant political and economic change. Despite economic dislocation in urban areas, including shifts in the holders of wealth and the location of these economies, the economic output of towns developed and intensified over the period. By the end of the period, England would have a weak early modern government overseeing an economy involving a thriving community of indigenous English merchants and corporations.
Byzantine silk is silk woven in the Byzantine Empire (Byzantium) from about the fourth century until the Fall of Constantinople in 1453.
Natural dyes are dyes or colorants derived from plants, invertebrates, or minerals. The majority of natural dyes are vegetable dyes from plant sources—roots, berries, bark, leaves, and wood—and other biological sources such as fungi.
Dyeing is the craft of imparting colors to textiles in loose fiber, yarn, cloth or garment form by treatment with a dye. Archaeologists have found evidence of textile dyeing with natural dyes dating back to the Neolithic period. In China, dyeing with plants, barks and insects has been traced back more than 5,000 years. Natural insect dyes such as Tyrian purple and kermes and plant-based dyes such as woad, indigo and madder were important elements of the economies of Asia and Europe until the discovery of man-made synthetic dyes in the mid-19th century. Synthetic dyes quickly superseded natural dyes for the large-scale commercial textile production enabled by the industrial revolution, but natural dyes remained in use by traditional cultures around the world.
The history of cotton can be traced to domestication. Cotton played an important role in the history of India, the British Empire, and the United States, and continues to be an important crop and commodity.
The economy of Scotland in the Middle Ages covers all forms of economic activity in the modern boundaries of Scotland, between the End of Roman rule in Britain in the early fifth century, until the advent of the Renaissance in the early sixteenth century, including agriculture, crafts and trade. Having between a fifth or sixth (15-20 %) of the arable or good pastoral land and roughly the same amount of coastline as England and Wales, marginal pastoral agriculture and fishing were two of the most important aspects of the Medieval Scottish economy. With poor communications, in the early Middle Ages most settlements needed to achieve a degree of self-sufficiency in agriculture. Most farms were operated by a family unit and used an infield and outfield system.
Scottish trade in the Middle Ages includes all forms of economic exchange in the modern boundaries of Scotland and between that region with outside locations, between the departure of the Romans from Britain in the fifth century and the establishment of the Renaissance in the early sixteenth century. There are not the detailed custom accounts for most of the period that exist for England, that can provide an understanding of foreign trade. In the early Middle Ages the rise of Christianity meant that wine and precious metals were imported for use in religious rites. Imported goods found in archaeological sites of the period include ceramics and glass, while many sites indicate iron and precious metal working. The slave trade was also important and in the Irish Sea it may have been stimulated by the arrival of the Vikings from the late eighth century.
Jehan Boinebroke was a French merchant from Douai.
A Wool town is a name given to towns and villages, particularly in Suffolk and north Essex, that were the centre of the woven cloth industry in the Middle Ages.