Women: Margaret Paston
Women in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries had greatly varied lives not only because of class differences but also because of geographical location, marital status, religious involvement, and individual experience. Even within the smaller group of aristocratic and middle-class women, one needs to remain aware of differences, especially given the nature of writings about women from clerical, literary, legal, and historical sources. Many women of the nobility and the middle strata legally held land, were admitted to guilds and city franchises to make crafts or sell goods (see “Guilds,” p. 156), and ran estates and households. However, options for these women tended to be limited, their existence centering around one or more marriages and subordinating their lives in many ways to their husbands. The first records of the Paston family concern Clement Paston, a plowman who owned some hundred acres of land in the immediate vicinity of Paston on the northeastern coast of Norfolk. His son, William, was educated at the Inner Temple and eventually became a judge, purchasing many lands and buildings.
William’s son, John, also bought and administered lands, some of which he acquired through his marriage to Margaret Mautby, the daughter of an esquire, in 1440. The majority of the collection of Paston letters survives because John was away on business so frequently, and John and Margaret’s children maintained their own collections. These letters, which begin in 1425 and end soon after 1500, are remarkable for their quantity and depth in comparison to the few other collections of letters that have survived from the period even though certain details are undiscoverable. Margaret Paston is similar to many women of her status but, because of the Pastons’ substantial local properties and her husband’s business in London and elsewhere for the bulk of the time they were married, she confidently and boldly handled their affairs in eastern England. Her letters reveal various concerns. In the first she is pregnant with John Paston II, who was born some time before April 15, 1442. The second, about a number of relations, is while her husband John is sick in London. The third concerns her flight from Robert Hungerford, Lord Moleyns, and his men. The issue concerned a disputed manor at Gresham, which John Paston I inherited from his father William. However, Moleyns claimed it and on February 17, 1448, occupied it, eventually completely evicting Margaret on January 29, 1449, and sacking the place.
Margaret fled to the neighboring town of Sustead but then moved on at the beginning of February to Norwich because of threats that she would be kidnapped. Late that year John took possession of another manor owned by Moleyns and again Margaret occupied it until in January, 1450, Moleyns sent what is claimed to be a thousand armed men, forcibly turning her out with her twelve companions. To my ryth reverent and worscheful husbond John Paston: Ryth reverent and worscheful husbond, I recomau[n]de me to yow, desyryng hertyly to here of yowre wylfare, thankyng yow for the tokyn that ye sent me be Edmunde Perys, preyng yow to wete that my modyr sent to my fadyr1 to London for a goune cloth of mustyrddevyllers2 to make of a goune for me, and he tolde my modyr and me wanne he was comme hom that he cargeyt3 yow to bey4 it aftyr that he were come oute of London. I pre yow, yf it be not bowt, that ye wyl wechesaf to by it and send yt hom as sone as ye may, for I have no goune to werre this wyntyr but my blake and my grene a Lyere,5 and that ys so comerus that I ham wery to wer yt. As for the gyrdyl that my fadyr be-hestyt6 me, I spake to hym ther-of a lytyl be-fore he yede to London last, and he seyde to me that the faute was in yow that ye wolde not thynke ther-uppe-on to do mak yt, but I sopose that ys not so.
He seyd yt but for a skeusacion. I pre yow, yf ye dor tak yt uppe-on yow, that ye wyl weche-safe to do mak yt a-yens7 ye come hom, for I hadde never more nede ther-of than I have now, for I ham waxse so fetys8 that I may not be gyrte in no barre9 of no gyrdyl that I have but of on. Elysabet Peverel hath leye seke fifteen or sixteen wekys of the seyetyka,10 but sche sent my modyr word be Kate that sche xuld come hedyr wanne God sent tyme, thoou sche xuld be crod11 in a barwe. Jon of Dam was here, and my modyr dyskevwyrd me12 to hym, and he seyde be hys trouth that he was not gladder of no thyng that he harde thys towlmonyth than he was ther-of.13 I may no le[n]ger leve be my crafte; I am dysscevwyrd of alle men that se me. Of alle odyr thyngys that ye deseyreyd that I xuld sende yow word of, I have sent yow word of in a letter that I dede wryte on Ouwyr Ladyis Day laste was.14 The Holy Trenyté have yow in hese kepyng. Wretyn at Oxnede in ryth gret hast on the Thrusday next be-fore Seynt Tomas Day.15 I pre yow that ye wyl were the reyng wyth the emage of Seynt Margrete that I sent yow for a rememrau[n]se tyl ye come hom. Ye have lefte me sweche a rememrau[n]se that makyth me to thynke uppe-on yow bothe day and nyth wanne I wold sclepe. Yowre ys, M. P.16 To my rygth worchepful husbond Jhon Paston, dwellyng in the Innere Temple at London, in hast: Ryth worchipful hosbon, I recomande me to yow, desyryng hertely to here of your wilfare, thanckyng God of your a-mendyng of the grete dysese that ye have hade, and I thancke yow for the letter that ye sent me, for be my trowthe my moder17 and I were nowth18 in hertys es fro the tyme that we woste of your sekenesse tyl we woste verely of your a-mendyng. My moder hat be-hestyd a-nodyr ymmage of wax of the weytte19 of yow to Oyur Lady of Walsyngham, and sche sent four nobelys to the four orderys of frerys at Norweche to pray for yow, and I have be-hestyd to gon on pylgreymmays to Walsyngham and to Sent Levenardys for yow.20 Be my trowth, I had never so hevy a sesyn as I had fro the tyme that I woste of your sekenesse tyl I woste of your a-mendyng, and yth21 myn hert is in no grete esse, ne nowth xal be tyl I wott that ye ben very hol.
Your fader and myn22 was dys day sevenyth at Bekelys23 for a matyr of the Pryor of Bromholme, and he lay at Gerlyston that nyth and was ther tyl it was nine of the cloke and the toder day. And I sentte thedyr for a gounne, and my moder seyde that I xulde non have dens tyl I had be ther a-gen, and so thei cowde non gete. My fader Garneyss sentte me worde that he xulde ben here the nexth weke, and myn emme24 also, and pleyn hem here wyth herre hawkys, and thei xulde have me hom wyth hem. And, so God help me, I xal exscusse me of myn goyng dedyr yf I may, for I sopose that I xal redelyer have tydyngys from yow herre dan I xulde have ther. I xal sende my moder25 a tokyn that sche toke me, for I sopose the tyme is cum that I xulde sendeth here yf I kepe the be-hest that I have made. I sopose I have tolde yow wat it was. I pray yow hertely that [ye] wol wochesaf to sende me a letter as hastely as ye may, yf wrytyn be non dysesse to yow, and that ye wollen wochesaf to sende me worde quowe your sor dott.26 Yf I mythe have hade my wylle, I xulde a seyne yow er dys tyme. I wolde ye wern at hom, yf it were your ese, and your sor myth ben as wyl lokyth to here as it tys ther ye ben now, lever 27 dan a new gounne, thow it were of scarlette. I pray yow, yf your sor be hol and so that ye may indure to ryde, wan my fader com to London, that ye wol askyn leve and com hom wan the hors xul be sentte hom a-geyn, for I hope ye xulde be kepte as tenderly herre as ye ben at London. I may non leyser have to do wrytyn half a quarter so meche as I xulde seyn to yow yf I myth speke wyth yow. I xal sende yow a-nothyr letter as hastely as I may. I thanke yow that ye wolde wochesaffe to remember my gyrdyl, and that ye wolde wryte to me at this tyme, for I sopose the wrytyng was non esse to yow. All-myth God have yow in hys kepyn and sende yow helth. Wretyn at Oxenede in ryth grete hast on Sent Mihyllys Evyn.28 Yourrys, M. Paston My modyr gretit yow wel and sendyt yow Goddys blyssyng and here, and sche prayith yow, and I pray yow also, that ye be wel dyetyd of mete and dryngke, for that is the grettest helpe that ye may have now to your helthe ward. Your sone29 faryth wel, blyssyd be God. litere pertinentes manerio de Gresh:30 Ryt wurchypful hosbond, I recommawnd me to you, desyryng hertyly to heryn of yowr wele-fare, be-seching you that ye be not displesyd thow I be com fro that place that ye left me in for, be my trowth, ther were browth me seche tydyngys be dyverys personys qhiche ben yowre wele-willerys and myn that I durst no lengere abyd there, of qhyche personys I xall late you have wetyng qhan ye com hom. It was done me to wete that dyverys of the Lord Moleynys men saydyn if thei myt gete me, they xuld stele me and kepe me wyth-inne the kastell, and than they seyd thei wold that ye xuld feche me owth.
An thei seydyn it xuld ben but a lytyll hert-brenny[n]g to you. And after that I herd these tydyngys, I kowd no rest have in myn hert tyl I was here, nere I durst nowt owt of the place that I was in tyll that I was redy to ryden; nere ther was non in the place wist that I xul com thens save the godewyf not an owre be-fore that I kam thens. And I told here that I xuld com hedder to don maken seche gere as I wold have made for me and for the childer and seyd I sopposyd that I xuld be here a fowrtennythe or three wekys. I pray you that the caws of my komyng away may ben kownsell tyl I speke wyth you, for thei that lete me have warnyng ther-of wold not for no good that it were diskuryd.31 I spac wyth yowr modyr as I kam hidderwardys, and sche profyrd me, if ye wold, that I xuld abydyn in this town. Sche wold wyth rytgh a good will that we xul abyde in here place and delyveryn me seche gere as sche myt for-bere to kepen wyth hwsold tyl ye mytgh ben purvayd of a place and stuff of yowr owyn to kepe wyth howsold. I pray you send me word be the brynger of this how ye wil that I be demenyd.32 I wol ben rytgh sory to dwel so nere Gressam as I dede tyl the mater were fully determynyd be-twix the Lord Moleynis and you. Barow33 told me that ther ware no better evydens in I[n]glond than the Lord Moleynys hathe of the maner of Gressam. I told hym I sopposyd that thei were seche evydens as Willyam Hasard34 seyd that yowr were. He seyd the sellys35 of hem were not yett kold. I seyd I sopposyd his lordys evydens were seche. I seyd I wost wele, as for yowr evydens, ther mytgh no man have non better than ye have, and I seyd the selys of hem were to hundred yere elder than he is. The seyd Barow sayd to me if he com to London qhil ye were there, he wold drynk wyth you for any angyr that was be-twyx yow. He seyd he dede but as a servaw[n]t and as he was commawndyd to don. Purry36 xall tell you qhat langage was be-twyx Barow and me qhan I kam fro Walsy[n]gham. I pray you hertyly, at the reverens of God, be ware of the Lord Moleynys and his men; thow thei speke never so fayr to you, trost hem not, ne ete not, nere drynk wyth hem, for thei ben so fals it is not for to trost in hem. And also I pray you be ware qhat ye eten ar drynk wyth any othere felaschep, for the pepyll is ful on-trosty. I pray you hertylye that ye wil vowche-save to send me word how ye don and how ye speden in yowr materis be the brynger of this.
I merveyl meche that ye send me nomore tydyngys than ye have sent. Rogere Foke of Sparham37 sent to me and seythe that he dare nott gon owt of his hows for be kawse of the sewte that Heydon38 and Wymdam39 have agens hem, for he is thrett that if he may be gette, he xal be ladde to preson. Heydon sent Spendlove and other to wayte qhere he were and to arest hym to the kastell, and the forseyd Roger is so aferd that his drede makyth hym so seke that but if he have sokowr sone, it is lyke to ben his dethe. Qhere-for I pray you, and he bothyn, that ye wil purvay a remedy for hym that he may gon at large, for it hurtit bothen yowr katel and hym. Yowr closys and yowr pastowr lythe all opyn be-kawse he may not gon abrodde to don hem amendyn, and yowr schep ar not lokyd at as they xuld ben for ther is no schepeherd but Hodgis sonys, for other schepherd dare non abyd ther ner com up-on the comown be-kause that Wichyngham men thretyn hem to bete if thei comen on here komon. And but if yowr bestys mown comown ther, it xall ben grette hurt to hem but if the have more pasture than thei have be-syd thatt. Watkyn Schipdam recommawndyth hym to you and prayt you that ye woll speke to Sere Jon Fastolf for the harneys that ye hadden of hym and tellyn hym how it is that som ther-of is gon and speke to hym that thei that arn bownd ther-for nere thei that delyveryd it ben no hurt.40 I have yove Purry a gown. I pray you take heed qhat it is and send me word if ye wil that I purway all yowr leverés41 of the same. The pris of a yerd ther-of is thirteen and a half pence, and so me semyt it is wele worth. The parson of Sparrammys dowter and other talkedyn largely and seydyn that ye have hadde on schote and, but if ye ben ware, ye xall have more or Estern. Ye xall for-bere42 Sporyl and Sweynysthorp43 also but if ye bere you wele er ye have do wyth the mater of Gressam.
It is told me as for Gressam, the Lord Moleynys xuld not cleym it now nother be tayl44 nere be evydens but be infefment of on of his anseteris, qhiche dyid sesynnyd,45 and in the same wise it is seyd that Sweynysthorp xul be cleymyd. In qhat wyse Sporyl xuld ben cleymyd I wote not but, if ther be any seche thing to-ward, I send you wor[d] here-of that ye may taken hede the . . .46 Thomas Skipping seyd qhan he kam fro London to a man that he wend xuld not a dis[kuryd] it that th . . . yke to for-gon the maner of Sporyll wyth-in rytgh schort tym. As for the pleyntys in the hundred . . . Purry xall tell . . . you qhat is don and of other thingys more. The Holy Trynyté have you in his keping. W[retyn at] Norwyche on the Fryday nexst after Puver Weddenysday