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William Shakespeare’s father, John Shakespeare, spent a great deal of time in trouble with the government over his illegal sale of wool. Several court documents show that John Shakespeare was investing in wool then selling it on to others. He didn’t have a license to sell the wool, which is why he was so regularly in trouble. What the records of his dealings demonstrate is that the wool was valuable enough a commodity in England that John Shakespeare that he felt it was worth both the risk and the fines he had to pay, in order to deal in wool. Wool was one of England, and later the UK’s, major exports, and Stratford Upon Avon, Shakespeare’s hometown. was home to sheep farmers who produced the wool that could be sold internationally. In fact, some finished wool products like Monmouth caps, for example, were so well known for their quality, that they are even referenced by name in Shakespeare’s play, Henry V, when Fluellen talks about wearing leeks in your Monmouth cap. Here today to tell us more about the wool industry, the farmers who were raising the sheep, products made of wool in the 16-17th century, and exactly why one should wear a leek inside your Monmouth cap, is our guest, Jane Malcolm-Davies.  

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Dr Jane Malcolm-Davies is associate professor of textile analysis at the University of Copenhagen in the interdisciplinary parchment project Beasts2Craft. Jane leads Knitting in Early Modern Europe, an initiative begun during her Marie Skłodowska Curie Fellowship at the Centre for Textile Research. Jane is the co-author of The Typical Tudor that looks at the history of ordinary dress from the Tudor period and she is co-director of The Tudor Tailor, a team of researchers which publishes resources to promote the accurate reconstruction of historic dress. Jane and Ninya Mikhaila recently examined a farthingale artifacts from the Tudor period, on which they performed forensic analysis including x-rays that revealed existing new discoveries about this type of clothing and how it was used.

More About Jane Malcolm-Davies

I’ll be asking Jane Malcolm-Davies about:

  •  John Shakespeare was fined several times for selling wool without a license in Stratford Upon Avon. Was wool that lucrative of an item that it was profitable beyond the penalty fines and even potential jail time, to try and sell wool anyway? 
  • In an article for Piecework magazine, Jane writes about 5 different categories of knitted caps that were popular in the 16th century. Jane, can you tell us what the uses or function were for each kind of cap? 
  • I know the Monmouth cap was particularly popular for Shakespeare’s lifetime, even mentioned specifically in the play, Henry V. Why was this particular cap so important, and why does Shakespeare talk about wearing leeks in your Monmouth cap?  
  • …and more!

Michael Ryder, Sheep and Man. 📚  

The Typical Tudor by Jane Malcolm Davies and Ninya Mikhailia

The Tudor Tailor by Jane Malcolm Davies and Ninya Mikhailia

Other resources Cassidy thought you might like to know about:

Medieval Sheep (Shows maps of sheep distribution c. 1800)


This post expands! Here’s what’s inside the Detailed Show Notes This Week:

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  • Image of the only surviving Monmouth Cap at the Monmouth Museum, Wales
  • Image diagram of the different kinds of wool caps from the 16th century, given for use in this episode by Jane Malcolm Davies
  • Period paintings depicting the kind of caps we talk about in this episode
  • Gallery of 16th century sheep illustrations from period bestiaries, demonstrating different wool types on various sheep breeds from Shakespeare’s lifetime
  • Photos of some of the sheep breeds mentioned in this episode
  • Period illustration of a brimless hat
  • Thomas More painting Jane talks about in today’s episode
  • Brughel paintings of men in the snow that Jane mentions in today’s show, demonstrating period wool hats
  • Map of geographical locations of specific sheep breeds and wool types for the medieval period
  • Quotes from Shakespeare’s plays about wool and sheep
  • Video of the carding wool process as it would have been done in Shakespeare’s lifetime
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Shakespeare’s Poofy Shorts

Ninya Mikhaila, sought after 17th century costumer, known for her intricate and accurate custom made designs, joins us to discuss Shakespeare’s dress and specifically to talk about the legend of Shakespeare’s poofy shorts and that iconic gold earring in his left ear.

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That’s it for this week! Thank you for listening. I’m Cassidy Cash, and I hope you learn something new about the bard. I’ll see you next time!