The Turbulent Fifteenth Century
The development of English clothmaking was obscured by economic and political events for much of the century. There was recession in the first two decades, a long depression at mid-century and a currency shortage. This forced countries to conserve bullion. Credit restrictions were placed on wool exports, and Burgundy responded with cloth bans. The Hanse restricted trade with the Baltic. Alien merchants now accounted for 40 per cent of the cloth trade, with the Italians buying a broad range of broadcloth and bringing in oil, dyes and mordants from southern Europe. By mid-century Antwerp had emerged as the prime destination for English cloth and the Merchant Adventurers, controlled by London merchants, enjoyed a monopoly of Low Countries trade. It became clear to the Adventurers that they should concentrate on quality broadcloth comparable in quality to all but the finest Flemish cloth, finished and dyed in Antwerp to meet merchant demands, and which would undercut cloth sold at Bruges. The domestic market revived in the fifteenth century as living standards improved, quality cloth made inroads on homespun, and rural specialisation and London’s merchant wholesalers made more types of cloth available to more markets. Somewhat surprisingly, Norwich became the most successful cloth town based on the export of a fine worsted, the ‘double’ or ‘10 yard’ worsted.