British wool was prized for its quality throughout Europe, providing the raw material of choice for Flemish weavers and inspiring a flourishing medieval export trade. Edward III’s formation of the Merchants of the Staple trade monopoly to finance the Hundred Years’ War inadvertently produced a domestic cloth industry by rendering wool export unprofitable. The cloth industry rapidly grew to satisfy both domestic demand and an export market reaching 80,000 broadcloths per annum by 1500. Correspondingly, exports of wool fell from a peak of around 40,000 sacks per annum in the early 1300s to around 8,000 by 1500. There were different regional specialisms: the West Country, with swift-flowing rivers necessary for ‘fulling’ the cloth, produced the finest grades, for export via Bristol. ‘Worsted’ cloth had its centre around Norwich, while Yorkshire produced coarser grades. The Company of the Merchant Adventurers (1505) was awarded a new monopoly by Henry VII to tighten his grip on revenues.
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