Economic Development in the Reign of Henry VIII

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Despite occasional downturns, there was an increase in the volume of English trade in the first half of the sixteenth century. There was a continued rise in cloth exports, while the market for raw wool declined. Woollen cloth exports also almost doubled during the reign of Henry VIII and this was accompanied by large increases in exports of tin and hides. There were also increases in the import of wine, which counterbalanced the rise in exports and also serves as an indicator that the spending power of the prosperous classes was increasing.

The leading route for the cloth trade was from London to Antwerp, where it would be sent to customers in Central Europe and the Baltic. An increasing amount of exported cloth was routed through London, having negative impacts on other ports: for example - Bristol was especially hit as well as other east-coast ports like Hull and Boston, provincial traders struggling to compete with their London rivals. Southampton experienced a boom, especially in trade with Venice but this was short lived and was over by the middle of the century. Broadcloth continued to be exported, but the cloth industry faced a serious challenge when there was an increase in the sale of cheaper fabrics like kersey (this was a coarse woollen cloth which was lighter than broadcloth and took its name from the village of Kersey in Suffolk, a centre of the cloth trade; its lightness broadened its popular appeal).

The profits of the English trade before the 1550s mostly went to foreign traders as they were the ones transporting the goods (it wasn`t until the 1550s that 70% of cloth exports were being transported by English merchants). Despite this there was still profit to be made from the cloth industry, and the woollen industry grew in the first half of the sixteenth century in order to keep up with the increasing demand.

the ability of the cloth trade to supply its markets depended on the effectiveness of the woollen industry. this industry experienced a growth in the first half of the century and it operated largly on a domestic basis - children carding the wool, women spinning and men weaving it. from here, it was passed from the domestic sphere for a more specialist treatment such as fulling and dyeing. these processes exisited as small-scale industries throughout most of the country. the three areas that saw the most growth in the cloth industry were the West Riding of Yorkshire, East Anglia (especially south Suffolk) and parts of the West Country (especially Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Devon). the work was not always secure, occasionally leading to poverty.

on the other hand, there were serious profits to be made, especially by the rich and entrepaneural clothiers who were able to build on their wealth as well as increase their social status. the best example of this is William Stumpe of Malmesbury (Wiltshire) who became MP for Malmesbury, high sherriff of the country, welathy landowner and beneficiary from the dissolution…


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