The Paston Heritage

April 2017

This is Dr Rob Knee, our excellent speaker for April, in the guise of Sir William Paston (1528 to 1610). The costume is one of many created by his talented wife, Penelope, for presentations by the Paston Heritage Society, of which he is Chair. It also reminds us of the Paston that most of us know.

Yes, it was he who founded Paston Grammar School in North Walsham in 1606, now a Sixth Form College. William strikes me as an essentially good man. Whilst he built himself a very fine house, he also built alms houses at Paston. Perhaps it wasn’t Sir William’s fault that pupils were obliged to get up at dawn and kneel before the magnificent tomb he had built for himself in St Nicholas church.

Dr Rob bravely embarked on the huge task of telling the whole Paston story in 45 minutes - a journey from peasantry to gentry in two generations. In the late 1300s the son of a yeoman farmer was sent, with the help of an uncle, to grammar school and then to the Inns of Court. This was the first William Paston, a “right cunning man” in law, who used his large income to purchase extensive tracts of land and property in east and coastal Norfolk, then the most prosperous land in England.

This wealth was inherited by his son John, who made a favourable marriage to Margaret Mautby.  He then, some allege, proved himself also to be cunning when he managed to manipulate the will of her wealthy kinsman, Sir John Fastolf, in his own favour and added extensive property to the Paston estate.

There were bad times, too. Powerful challenges to “the will” came from the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, among others. Battles were fought, land and castles lost and regained. At times there were not enough sons to make cash-generating marriages and properties fell into disrepair, including Oxnead Hall, which had represented their peak of achievement.

It is this turbulent period that is recorded in the famous Paston Letters, written by Margaret to John in London. It seems that he was in charge of their legal and diplomatic defence whilst she was fighting the actual battles back at home. There are 1000 of Margaret’s letters, and another 1000 written by the Earl of Great Yarmouth, the last of the Pastons.

The Paston Heritage Society aims to spread this story more widely in the run-up to the 2019 600th Anniversary of the first Paston Letter. A remarkably successful application to the Heritage Lottery Fund is leading to the creation of well-resourced settlement “hubs”, each of which will have its own project, based on particular Pastons. There will be a website with 3D reconstructions of properties and various publications. A group of MA students is looking into branding, on the theme of History Beyond Kings and Queens. Game of Thrones beware!

A few weeks later a group of MLHG members attended a Paston Heritage Society presentation at Mautby Church. All were impressed, including by the excellent refreshments, and recommend that you should look out for the next opportunity.

From Margaret Paston to John Paston, 1441:

To my ryth reuerent and worscheful husbond John Paston.

Ryth reuerent and worscheful husbond, I recomavn [deleted in MS]de me to yow, desyryng hertyly to here of yowre wylfare, thankyng yow for þe tokyn þat ye sent me be Edmunde Perys, preyng yow to wete þat my modyr sent to my fadyr to London for a govne cloth of mvstyrddevyllers to make of a govne for me; and he tolde my modyr and me wanne he was comme hom þat he cargeyt yow to bey it aftyr þat he were come ovte of London. I pre yow, yf it be not bowt, þat ye wyl wechesaf to by it and send yt hom as sone as ye may, for I haue no govne to werre þis wyntyr but my blake and my grene a Lyere, and þat ys so comerus þat I ham wery to wer yt.Page  217As for þe gyrdyl þat my fadyr be-hestyt me, I spake to hym þer-of a lytyl be-fore he ȝede to London last, and he seyde to me þat þe favte was in yow þat ȝe wolde not thynke þer-vppe-on to do mak yt; but i sopose þat ys not so=he seyd yt but for a skevsacion. I pre yow, yf ye dor tak yt vppe-on yow, þat ye wyl weche-safe to do mak yt a-yens ye come hom; for I hadde neuer more nede þer-of þan I haue now, for I ham waxse so fetys þat I may not be gyrte in no barre of no gyrdyl þat I haue but of on. Elysabet Peverel hath leye seke xv or xvj wekys of þe seyetyka, but sche sent my modyr word be Kate þat sche xuld come hedyr wanne God sent tyme, þoov sche xuld be crod in a barwe. Jon of Dam was here, and my modyr dyskevwyrd me to hym, and he seyde be hys trovth þat he was not gladder of no thyng þat he harde thys towlmonyth þan he was þer-of. I may no len [deleted in MS]ger leve be my crafte, i am dysscevwyrd of alle men þat se me. Of alle odyr thyngys þat ye deseyreyd þat I xuld sende yow word of I haue sent yow word of in a letter þat I dede wryte on Ovwyr Ladyis Day laste was. þe Holy Trenyté haue yow in hese kepyng. Wretyn at Oxnede in ryth gret hast on þe Thrusday next be-fore Seynt Tomas Day. I pre yow þat ye wyl were þe reyng wyth þe emage of Seynt Margrete þat I sent yow for a rememravn [deleted in MS]se tyl ye come hom. Ye haue lefte me sweche a rememravn [deleted in MS]se þat makyth me to thynke vppe-on yow bothe day and nyth wanne I wold sclepe. Yowre ys, M. P.

For more glimpses into these remarkable letters click on this link: 

Paston link


Dr Rob Knee in the guise of Sir William Paston

(Above: Dr Rob Knee in the guise of Sir William Paston)
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