Wool and cloth production in late medieval and early Tudor England


  • This article has been significantly revised as a result of referee comments. I appreciate their detailed and incisive comments which have produced a far better article.


Estimates of wool production based on the exports of wool and cloth, and an assumption that domestic cloth consumption was, optimistically, constant, suggest that wool production fell by almost a third from the early fourteenth to the mid-fifteenth century, and had not fully recovered even by the mid-sixteenth century. However, after the Black Death, much of England's arable was converted to pasture, mainly for sheep, and this process accelerated after 1470. These two observations are contradictory. This article provides new numbers of adult sheep based on estimates of domestic cloth consumption, cloth exports, the changing weight of cloth, and fleece yields. The conclusion is that the adult sheep population only declined by around 13 per cent from 1310 to 1440, and had risen dramatically by the mid-sixteenth century.