Protecting native industry in medieval and early modern England

Between 1336 and 1562, England passed dozens of sumptuary laws. Some scholars have remarked that such frequent reiterations indicate that these laws were not well enforced.

The earliest known English sumptuary laws were passed about 1336 during the reign of Edward III. While one law restricts the use of fur—the most significant luxury material before the creation of gold and silver lace—to the royal family, aristocracy, and clergy, other laws passed with it concern foreign trade. The export of native wools and the import and use of foreign cloth is forbidden—except, of course, for the king and his family. Notably, hostility between England and France during this period would eventually be recognized as the start of the Hundred Years’ War.

Sumptuary law in HLS MS 21 p. 13r

This reproduction of a page from one of our manuscript copies of Statuta Nova reproduces the text of England’s earliest sumptuary laws.

Portrait of Edward III in HLS MS 21 p. 1

A royal portrait from earlier in the same manuscript depicts Edward III, appropriately wearing purple robes and a hat trimmed in ermine.