Medieval and Tudor sheep breeds

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Medieval and Tudor sheep breeds

Postby DanceswithCows » Tue Jun 11, 2013 12:07 pm

What were sheep like back then? I can't seem to find a definitive answer, things only seem to concrete up after Bakewell did his thing. I saw on the time traveller's guide to elizabethan england that sheep were 20kgs full grown - that puts them squarely in primitive territory - soay, hebridean etc but this doesn't ring true to me, that is extremely tiny, representing very little progress from the earliest domestic sheep and not great (or white) wool, certainly doesn't seem like the basis for a HUGE wool cloth industry. I find it hard to believe that we would jump from soay type animals to leicesters by bakewell from just Tudor times. Also, cotswold sheep are sposed to be roman, they ar emuch more 'like it' to my mind, but is the modern cotswold *anything* like it's roman counterpart? Not according to Ian Mortimer.

Anyway, if after chewing through all this ovine rambling you think you can help, that'd be great. I'm looking to expand my collection of period-correct livestock, and would be willing to breed a sheep to fit if a current breed doesn't.

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Re: Medieval and Tudor sheep breeds

Postby 40/- freeholder » Tue Jun 11, 2013 2:53 pm

You should have asked me the other week when you were looking at the mule! Think more of the Shetland, Gotland type of Northern Short Tail in white for wool quality. The Portland is a good comparandum too. I can confirm that there is no significant change in size from RB to C16th sheep in Leicester from the measurements of the bones. Michael Ryder has shown some of the Scottish lowland fleeces were still Soay like in C16th too.
There's still a zooarch mindset that says Romans must have big animals without considering whether there is any good economic reason for wanting them. I go into this in length in the thesis with regard to cattle. Until you have a mass urban market creating a demand not only for "mutton for the millions" but also tallow for lighting, there is no reason to have big sheep. Eating quality declines with size but as the horsemeat scandal shows, low income urban consumers aren't fussy.
Happy to chat off forum.

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Re: Medieval and Tudor sheep breeds

Postby Marcus Woodhouse » Tue Jun 11, 2013 3:24 pm

Medieval illustrations of shepherds carrying a sheep over each shoulder suggests either:
a) medieval sheep were pretty damn small, say dog sized.
b) medieval shepherds were muscle bound Olympians.
c) medieval artists had never seen a sheep or a shepherd in real life.


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Re: Medieval and Tudor sheep breeds

Postby davetmoneyer » Tue Jun 11, 2013 6:00 pm

Hi, my soays are approx. 25 kg when shorn ( or plucked) and give a large amount of fleece. It might be worthwhile checking on the consumption of mutton against pork and beef as the smaller breeds are more geared to wool production rather than as a food animal and if anyone tried to carry one mine over their shoulder the feral bleaters would chew their ears off!

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Re: Medieval and Tudor sheep breeds

Postby guthrie » Tue Jun 11, 2013 7:43 pm

"Sheep in the Cotswolds"! by Derek Hurst discusses this sort of thing, and yes, bone measurements suggest they weren't any bigger, but judging by period comments and examples, the fleece was being bred for to be long or short or whatever. Also the amount of wool per sheep doesn't seem to have been any more than from Soay sheep today, suggesting the size isn't much different.
There's also some evidence from parchments that some sheep were bigger, but in general the answer appears to be no, they weren't.

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Re: Medieval and Tudor sheep breeds

Postby DanceswithCows » Tue Jun 11, 2013 9:52 pm

We had plenty else to talk about at the time freeholder :wink:

Bit of a size difference between soay and shetland/portland though. Shetlands is what I was thinking - certainly nothing like a cotswold today!

I think they had the right idea back then: I certainly prefer clipping our shetlandX kerry hills to clipping the wensleydaleX kerry hills....

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Re: Medieval and Tudor sheep breeds

Postby Moment in Time » Sat Sep 21, 2013 10:14 pm

Try this chap, very knowledgeable,probably will be able to answer your question and if you want something a little different for an event your organising, I highly recommend him (not historical but can be hysterical)

Andy Hopwood

Executive Officer Moment In Time (Living History Association)

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