Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Men [And Women] Of Letters

The Paston family were an amazing crowd who went from ‘ordinary family in Norfolk’ to ‘friends of the King in London’ in a relatively short space of time during the 15th century. More than that, they were enthusiastic letter writers, and much of their correspondence survives, nearly six hundred years later. You can read all about the ‘Paston Letters’ here and here. This is the largest collection of ‘private correspondence’ from this period in British history

Earlier this year, the Norwich Records Office acquired another one of the letters – from Sir John Falstoff to John Paston, written in 1455. Falstoff was a famous Norfolk landowner- and he is the chap on who the Bard based his “Falstaff” character. Here is the letter, and a copy written in Modern English [click on the image to see larger]



During half term, Christine and I pootled off to the NRO to have a look at the [free] exhibition [Bob said he ‘had other things to do’ so we left him at Cornerstones!]. It is on till the end of January and well worth a visit.

IMG_0929All the letters which are on display have corresponding modern translations.

All the family seem to have written – wives, husbands, sons, lovers – with comments on the battles, requests for fabric from London, complaints about weather

Not all the requests were carried out, as this note showsIMG_0940

The family gained enough wealth [usually through careful marriage of women with substantial dowries] to live in luxury – they inherited Caister Castle [now a ruin] from Falstoffe


The second John Paston in the dynasty served under William , Lord Hastings [the fellow who built Kirby Muxloe Castle, and then was executed by Richard III]

The exhibition is extremely informative about the comings and goings of the family. At one point, when they were very wealthy, they commissioned this painting


“The Paston Treasures” shows their wealth – musical instruments, exotic animals, a black manservant, fine tableware…but within a few years, they had lost it all, and sunk back into insignificance.


Another thing I learned at the exhibition… on the battlefield,the knights in armour were indistinguishable – so they put richly decorated coats over the top, so their supporters could pick them out – hence a “Coat Of Arms”

This tabard – a modern replica – bears the Paston-Bedingfield Coat Of Arms [they married into the Bedingfield lot, of Oxburgh Hall, a few hundred years later]

The letters in the collection were written between 1422 and 1509 – a period of history I feel I need to study in more detail. I don’t feel this post does full justice to the exhibition. There is so much to read and discover – if you are in Norwich over the next couple of months and have an interest in history, please do check it out. [More info here] The NRO is next to County Hall, with entrance and parking both free. It isn’t a huge show – allow 45 minutes or so to look at everything. I was certainly fascinated, and glad I went.


  1. What an interesting post Angela, thank you!. I am going to be dropping the fact about coats of arms into all my conversations today. Pity Norwich is a bit of a trek from Dorset. Love Penny

  2. Ooo - this is just up my street. I love an old letter and an old diary whilst we're at it. How very interesting indeed. We have had some great times visiting some wonderful old places in the land of ours - how fantastic that someone had the foresight to save these things. I go to our local records office to ferret around to see who lived our house and it is even very old!
    Very interesting about the Coat of Arms - I love the origins of phrases and sayings....Are you watching the Tudor farm series?
    Best wishes

    1. Yes, really enjoying Tudor Farm - but miss Alex [Tom's OK though]

  3. Looking at the painting to see what made a rich family,my eyes were drawn to what looks like a lobster.Some things haven't changed in 500 years!
    Jane x

  4. I knew I knew this name and then you mention Oxburgh and that is where I know them from! We go there quite often....one of our favourite NT haunts, and not too far away.

  5. I saw this post linked to on facebook from the States. International letters! (Ignore awful prepositions and don't show them to Bob. It's very late!)

    1. someone in the states linked to this post? who?


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