...top of page

Working paper MUNRO-98-04

John H. Munro, "Textiles as Articles of Consumption in Flemish Towns, 1330 - 1575", 1998-06-18
MainText (application/pdf) (66,684 bytes)

Abstract: The precocious economic development, extensive urbanisation, and wealth of medieval Flanders was based largely upon producing and exporting a wide range of essentially wool-based textiles, from cheap mass consumption products (the coarse and light says, biffes, etc.) to extremely expensive and also very heavy woollen broadcloths, the most luxurious of which rivalled the better Italian silks in elegance, quality, and price. During the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries, and again in the 16th century, the Flemish manufacture and export of cheap, light says and other similar products of the draperies leg,eSres were probably the more important in terms of employment and export revenues; but during the intervening 14th and 15th centuries radical changes in European market structures, transport routes, and distribution networks made it more profitable for the Flemish to concentrate upon exporting very costly luxury woollen broadcloths [for reasons explored in my other publications and working pers]. But how cheap was cheap; and how costly indeed were the luxury woollen broadcloths? I measured their relative values, i.e. costs to an urban Flemish craftsman consumer, by using various sets of urban wage and commodity price data that I have collected from archival sources in the Low Countries. In particular, for the period 1350-1500, I have constructed a Flemish Basket of Consumables Price Index, modelled on the well known English index of Phelps Brown & Hopkins, splicing this Flemish commodity-price index to a similar index for Brabant constructed by Herman Van der Wee, for the 16th century. I have thus computed how many days' wages a master mason or carpenter would require to buy one of these broadcloths from the 1330s to the 1560s; similarly to buy says in the 16th century; and I have also computed the value of each broadcloth or say in terms of the value of these commodity baskets (i.e. how many baskets equalled in value one cloth). The data show a marked rise in the relative value of luxury broadcloths from the 1360s and again from the 1430s, as measured both in terms of wages (purchasing power) and of the commodity baskets, for reasons explored in other publications.

JEL Classification: N3;N6;N7;L1;J3