The Medieval Review 10.12.01

Pedersen, Kathrine Vestergård and Marie-Louise B. Nosch. The Medieval Broadcloth: Changing trends in Fashions, Manufacturing and Consumption. Ancient Textiles, v. 6. Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2009. Pp. xi, 159. . $50 ISBN 978-1-84217-381-7.

Reviewed by:

Paula Mae Carns
University of Illinois Library

The eight essays in The Medieval Broadcloth: Changing Trends in Fashions, Manufacturing and Consumption grew out of an interdisciplinary seminar on the medieval broadcloth held at the Lödöse Museum in Sweden in 2006 that brought together archaeologists and historians. The study of medieval textiles is a well-established field with scholars falling roughly into two camps: historians who study the wealth of surviving archival documents pertaining directly and indirectly to textile production, consumption and use and archaeologists who study actual textile remains. A third category of source material are the many works of art from throughout Europe that depict the making, wearing and selling of clothes, which both historians and archaeologist might use in their analysis. A major contribution of the seminar and resulting essays is the bringing together of historians and archaeologists to engage in cross-disciplinary discussion and study of the medieval broadcloth. The term broadcloth is used in historical research to describe a general class of woven textiles that were mass-produced in various European centers, mainly Flanders, from the eleventh to the fifteenth centuries and exported throughout Europe. Identifying broadcloth in the archaeological evidence is not easy, "thus making the topic of medieval broadcloth very suitable as an interdisciplinary area of study", as quoted in the book's introduction.

John Munro, in the opening article, "Three Centuries of Luxury Textile Consumption in the Low Countries and England, 1330-1570: Trend and Comparisons of Real Values of Woolen Broadcloths (Then and Now)" begins by offering a definition of the medieval broadcloth and other types of medieval woolens and in so doing sets the stage for the ensuing articles. The production of medieval broadcloth was a time-consuming and costly process comprised of numerous stages. The first consisted of the actual weaving. According to Munro, both weft and warp were made from "greased" or "wet" yarns of fine English wool that were woven together either in a tabby (warp and weft form a simple criss-cross pattern) or twill (the weft passes over and under more than one warp thread to form a diagonal pattern) pattern. The second stage was two-fold: the cloth was soaked in hot, soapy water for three to five days and then journey men, known as fullers, vigorously trod on the fabric to remove the grease and bind together the short curly fibers. Fulled woolens are practically indestructible and last for generations, which made them highly prized during the medieval period. After fulling, broadcloth was then dyed. Munro defines worsteds and hybrid fabrics in order to compare them to broadcloth. Worsted are made from long hairs that were then bleached and dyed; the long hairs obviated the need for greasing and fulling, which made them much cheaper and affordable for the average person. A hybrid mixture of woolen and worsted was developed throughout the Low Countries. Munro provides a very useful table of the composition of select woolens and worsteds in sixteenth-century England and the southern Low Countries. The bulk of Munro's article is given to calculating the "real" value of Flemish broadcloth from the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries in order to determine its status over time as a luxury commodity. Determining an item's long term value requires not just knowing its price over a period of years but calculating its market worth. To estimate the value of medieval broadcloth, the author uses two methods for three fabric types: the Ghent dickedinnen and Mechelen rooslaken (both woolens) and the Hondschoote says (worsted). First, he compares the price of these fabrics to the Consumer Price Index based on a "basket of consumables" for industrial workers instead of using the standard and traditional method of the so-called "silver equivalents." Munro bases his "basket" on the Herman Van der Wee and Phelps Brown and Hopkin models. Next, he compares the price of fabric for a men's suit (based on medieval fabric requirements) to the purchasing power of a medieval building craftsmen's salary, for which good and consistent records survive. According to Munro's calculations, a medieval builder would have had to work between fourteen (for worsted) and ninety one (for broadcloth) days to get a suit of clothing. Hence, he argues that these cloths, particularly the two woolens, were luxury items whose principle purchasers were royalty, aristocracy and very wealthy burghers. Munro briefly turns to the value of other types of medieval broadcloths. Munro's article has several strengths: his application of the "basket of consumables" to textile history and comparison with actual wages; his description of the composition of various types of fabrics, the wealth of data that he provides for a wide range of textiles, the presentation of the data in easy-to-read tables; and his conclusions about the value of the medieval broadcloth. There are two main drawbacks. The author fails to mention previous theories on the medieval broadcloth. Thus the reader is left to assume that historians have tended to consider it a luxury item and that Munro's contribution is a fresh look at the data. Munro's discussion of economic theory might pose problems for the general reader.

Carsten Jahnke in "Some Aspects of Medieval Cloth trade in the Baltic Area" offers a very useful overview of Flemish broadcloth trade in the Baltic region, from the selection of fabrics in the cloth-halls at Bruges to the selling of them at trade centers such as Lübeck, Danzig and Estonia. In constructing this history the author uses previous studies, which deal with only a single aspect of the topic. The author details the selecting, packaging, shipping and selling of cloths. In a nutshell, Hanseatic traders working with Flemish intermediaries (as they could not directly transact deals with producers) in Bruges ordered luxury textiles such as Flemish broadcloth for transport by sea, either via Hamburg and Lübeck (more expensive) or Cape Skagen and Kattegat (more dangerous and cheaper) to be sold at local markets to wealthy residents. Success depended on knowing what would sell and a bit of luck that the goods arrive safely. The value of Jahnke's essay is that it provides a comprehensive picture of cloth trading in the region, pulls together studies on the subject, and shows in tabular form the different types of cloth imported to the region from the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries including the original name, city of origin, color, length, year of transaction of each cloth along the source of the information. A map of the region with pertinent cities plus an overall description of the Hanseatic League would strengthen an otherwise very useful essay.

Heini Kirjavianen's article, "A Finnish Archaeological Perspective on Medieval Broadcloth" blends an archaeological and historical approach. Using written sources and archaeological evidence the author attempts to determine if Flemish and English textiles were imported into Finland in the medieval period. While eleventh and twelfth century Finnish graves contain what might have been locally-produced cloth, perhaps what is often called in Finnish sources as Verka (although this term could simply describe fine fabric), later sites contain textiles whose fineness suggests that they were produced elsewhere. Historical documents list Flemish and English textiles in Finland in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Thus it seems that the absence of cloth production in Finland propelled Hanseatic merchants to import textiles from European centers, such as Flanders and England. The archaeological samples appear to support this theory of imports, though, in the author's opinion, more analysis needs to be done to verify this conclusion. A major contribution of the essay is a table listing the mention of textiles in Finnish historical sources that includes cloth name, town of origin, date of the document and bibliographic citation.

Raiina Rammo in "Searching for Broadcloth in Tartu (14th -15th centuries)" blends archaeological and historical approaches to identify textile fragments from three medieval cesspools in Tartu, a Hanseatic town formerly part of medieval Livonia. The author's aim is to determine if the fragments in the cesspool are broadcloths imported from Flanders, as mentioned in medieval written sources. She first defines the medieval broadcloth using John Munro's description. To get a more precise idea about the criteria for medieval broadcloth she turns to three samples attached to an early fifteenth-century letter to a cloth merchant who had business contacts in Livonia; the fragments were fulled, teaseled and sheared on both sides and woven in a tabby pattern with selvedge ends marked with blue yarns, all characteristics of medieval broadcloth. Armed with a description of medieval broadcloth and actual samples of it, the author searched through the cesspool finds to discover that most samples are the high quality and luxurious woolens known as medieval broadcloth and thus would have been worn by wealthy residents of Tartu. The blending of archaeological and historical source materials along with the map of the cesspools, a table of the cesspool finds, and a color photo of the samples attached to the letter make this very solid contribution to the history of trade in medieval Livonia.

The influence of Hanseatic trade on local textile production is the subject of Jerzy Maik's "The Influence of Hanseatic Trade on Textile Production in Medieval Poland." Archaeological excavations carried out in Poland in the 1940s and 1950s contain a good number of textiles. Fragments dating from the seventh to the twelfth centuries were presumably produced locally, as there is no evidence that they were imported, though the construction of some eleventh and twelfth-century samples points to a Scandinavian provenance. The author offers brief descriptions of these early examples of Polish weaving along with photographs, both of which provide valuable data on medieval Polish weaving. The origin of the fourteenth and fifteenth-century fragments is less clear, however. Written sources tell of an active trade between Poland and Western European through the Hanseatic League at this time. The author poses the question: "What influence, if any, did foreign cloths have on local textile production?" To distinguish between local and foreign cloths the author uses fiber measurements. In previous archaeological studies he found that Polish textiles employed wool of a certain weight. Based on analysis of the fiber measurements of a number of samples dating to the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the author concludes that the majority, particularly those found in rural areas, were produced locally and not imported. On the other hand, he found a higher percentage of imported textiles in urban areas and thus concludes that "the introduction of luxurious Flemish cloth by the Hanseatic merchants was not of major importance to Polish cloth production."

Two articles treat the topic of multi-colored weaving, which was popular in Europe in thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The aim of Camilla Luise Dahl's article "Mengiađ klœthe and tweskifte klœthe. Marbled, Patterned and Parti-coloured Clothing in Medieval Scandinavia" is twofold: to give a brief survey of terms for multi-colored cloth and clothing in Scandinavian written sources dating from the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries and to trace the appearance of such items in contemporary wall painting. In the author's opinion, texts and images together can provide a rich source of information as well as corroborate evidence. The author's use of written and visual sources along with her detailed descriptions of both is a strength of the essay. To determine the vocabulary under discussion the author turns to archival sources, mainly wills and sumptuary laws. She includes references to related terms in other languages. In medieval Scandinavia most of the textiles were of Flemish origin and thus had names in several languages. The author provides a useful table of a small selection of garment types along with their sources for easy reference. In addition, she includes a transcription of the trousseau of Ingebjørg Ivarsdatter, a Norwegian noblewoman, dated to 1335 that lists various articles of marbled cloth made of multi-colored yarns. In the second half of the essay the author addresses the topic of the role of multi-colored dress in Scandinavian art, which, starting in the thirteenth century, is filled with figures wearing striped, patterned and bi-colored clothing. Together, the written sources and paintings tell us that such garments were growing in popularity at this time. Building on art historical studies the author relates the possible connotations that such garments might have had for contemporary viewers: as signs of luxury, pride and immodesty. Brightly colored garments seem to disappear in fifteenth-century Scandinavia and to be replaced by darker, more somber ones.

Textiles with more than one color have been discovered in archaeological excavations throughout Europe and offer another source of information on this fashion trend. Katherine Vestergård Pedersen's article, "Archeological Evidence of Multi-coloured Cloth and Clothing" describes the technical aspects of multi-colored fragments found at the medieval port of Lödöse and relates them to descriptions in contemporary written sources. First she turns to the difficulties of linking fragments to descriptions in Scandinavian written sources: the terms in them tend to refer to finished garments and/or describe general categories of cloth. There are problems with the archaeological remains: most pieces are brownish-black in color with at best some hints of color and are very small in size. Thus we have no way of knowing a sample's original color or if it were part of a garment of different colored pieces. Of the roughly two thousand remaining fragments from the excavation at Lödöse the author identifies eleven fabrics with more than one color. These samples are multi-colored clothing constructed of fabrics in different colors or multi-colored cloth constructed of different colors in warp and weft. She gives a brief description of each sample's colors, weaving techniques and whether or not it made from a single cloth or from more than one piece; she also organizes her findings in a table in the appendix. The author was not able to determine the origin of the samples, but notes than some could have been imported from Flanders, as there was a lively trade in Flemish textiles in medieval Lödöse.

The final essay describes a project begun in 2006 at the Open-air Museum in Eindhoven, Holland to recreate medieval broadcloth using textual and visual sources of fifteenth-century Laken made in Leiden. The essay describes the materials and processes needed to manufacture this medieval luxury cloth accompanied by numerous color photographs. The resulting fabric differed greatly from surviving samples and accounts and demonstrates the high-level of skill needed by a medieval craftsmen to manufacture broadcloth.