A Medieval Family: The Pastons of Fifteenth-Century England

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9780060930554: A Medieval Family: The Pastons of Fifteenth-Century England

The Paston family of Norfolk, England, has long been known to medieval scholars for its large collection of personal correspondence, which has survived five centuries. Until now, however, they have remained virtually unknown to the general reading public. Revealing a wealth of information about the manners, morals, lifestyles, and attitudes of the late Middle Ages, the letters also tell a story of three generations of the fifteenth-century Paston family that reads like a historical novel full of memorable characters:

  • Margaret Paston, the indomitable wife and mother who fought the family's battles;

  • her husband, John Paston I, tough, hardheaded, and thrice confined to Fleet Prison but never yielding to his enemies;

  • daughter Margery, who scandalized family and friends by falling in love with the Paston bailiff, Richard Calle;

  • lighthearted, chivalric Sir John; and

  • cheerful, sensible John Ill, who against all odds succeeded in marrying for love.

A Medieval Family traces the family history from 1420, through the stormy Wars of the Roses, to the early 1500s. The family's story, extracted from their letters and papers and told largely in their own words, shows a side of history rarely revealed: the lives and fortunes not of kings and queens but of ordinary people with problems, tragedies, and moments of happiness.

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Review:

In the early 1400s, a lawyer and judge named William Paston expanded his family's holdings by imprisoning a neighbor and seizing her property. This afforded his children a handsome inheritance, which they used to advantage, some becoming courtiers in the service of the king. During the bloody Wars of the Roses, the Pastons were fortunate to pick the winning side--not an easy task, given the constantly changing fortunes of the Lancastrians and Yorkists--and their power and influence grew. Had they sided with their long-time ally, the Earl of Oxford, at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, the Pastons would have been ruined.

But glory is transitory, and ruin eventually did come. Succeeding generations of Pastons spent their fortune more quickly than they could replenish it. In 1736, facing bankruptcy, middle-aged merchant Edward Paston sold off the family home outside London, including furniture, works of art, and a trove of documents that chronicled his family's rise to influence hundreds of years earlier. Those documents--letters, wills, and household inventories among them--inform this imaginative and well-written reconstruction by the popular medieval historians Frances and Joseph Gies, whose biography of the Paston family is also an absorbing history of English society as it emerged from the Middle Ages into the early-modern period. --Gregory McNamee

About the Author:

Frances (1915–2013) and Joseph (1916–2006) Gies were the world’s bestselling historians of medieval Europe. Together and separately, they wrote more than twenty books, which col-lectively have sold more than a million copies. They lived in Michigan.



Frances (1915–2013) and Joseph (1916–2006) Gies were the world’s bestselling historians of medieval Europe. Together and separately, they wrote more than twenty books, which col-lectively have sold more than a million copies. They lived in Michigan.

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