I solemnly swear
that this dead person was not wrapped in anything “made or
mingled with Flax Hempe Silke Haire Gold or Silver,” but rather in a shroud
“made of Sheeps Wooll onely …” This strange and specific oath was taken by
witnesses to English burials for more than a century, by order of Parliament.
As of March
25, 1667, everyone in the country had to be buried in woolen (rather than
linen) shrouds—on pain of a hefty £5 fine taken from the deceased’s estate or
his or her associates.
Here’s what Parliament saw in 1665: lots of sheep, lots
of imported linen, and lots of death.