Of Longwools - A Brief History

Whether longwool sheep originated in Britain or were brought there centuries ago has been debated. Some sources say the Flemish weavers who were invited to England by King Edward III in the 14th century brought longwool sheep with them. Other historians cite evidence that sheep with long curly fleece arrived with the Roman conquerors around AD 60.


Longwool sheep being tended by Medieval shepherds.
Detail from
 the "Luttrell Psalter,"
circa AD 1325.

Perhaps the latter is true, for a marvelous illuminated manuscript from the early 14th century shows longwool sheep being tended by Medieval shepherds, so the animals were well-established by the Middle ages. Also by that time, English woolen cloaks woven from their long, lustrous fleece were famous worldwide.

Longwools are considered "dual-purpose" sheep, which means they produce valuable wool as well as excellent quality meat. In Medieval times (and in many countries today) they could accurately be called "multi-purpose" sheep, yielding  milk, meat, wool, pelts and leather. "Vellum," the paper-like sheets that many early historical documents are written on, is made from tanned lambskin. It's easy to imagine how valuable to early societies sheep flocks must have been.


© Double J 2015 · updated 12 dec 15