A Letter From Margaret Paston

To contrast with the prose texts of Caxton and Malory, both of which were at least in intention designed for widespread circulation, a late fifteenth-century letter concludes this Section. This letter dates from 1448, and is one of the Paston Letters, the largest surviving archive of private correspondence in English from the ME period.  The Pastons were a Norfolk family of considerable importance and power.  Although their origins were humble -- at one time they were charls (ie. churls, servile tenants) at Gimmingham in Norfolk -- they accrued considerable lands and wealth during the fifteenth century and, when the male line died out in 1732, the head of the family was the second Earl of Yarmouth.  “Paston” is a settlement name, near the coast in the north-east corner of Norfolk.

In some ways the most energetic of the Pastons was John Paston I (so-called to distinguish him from John Paston II and III, both of whom - confusingly - were his sons).  John I was born in 1421, and was educated at the local university of Cambridge and at the Inns of Court in London.  At various times an MP and a JP, he was involved in various local controversies and died in 1466 while in dispute with various local dignitaries -- disputes so heated that he had been briefly in prison in 1465. In 1443, John I had married Margaret Mautby, a Norfolk heiress.  Whenever John I was absent from home, Margaret managed their (considerable) property with some skill.  John and Margaret seem to have been a formidable pair, tough in adversity and mutually supportive in asserting the Paston family’s position at every possible opportunity.

The following letter describes a dispute which took place in 1448.  The letter is from Margaret to John.  Margaret dictated the body of this letter to one amanuensis, James Graham, and a postscript to another not identified; she herself only rarely wrote letters in her own hand.

The references in the letter need a little explication.  James Gloys is a Paston servant, being the family chaplain and clerk.  “Wymondham” is John Wyndham or Wymondham, a family rival and sometime enemy; like the Pastons, his family was one recently risen, which makes the accusation that þe Pastons and alle her kyn were charls of Gymyngham especially cheeky.  There was no doubt more of the same, which Margaret was plainly loath to dictate -- And he had meche large langage, as ye shall knowe herafter by mowthe.  In Wymondham’s defence, it is worth remembering that, when John I was imprisoned in 1465, Wymondham was generous enough not only to offer Margaret hospitality but also to write John I a letter with the encouraging postscript And how euer ye do, hold vp your manship.

It will be observed that there is a marked difference in spelling between the body of the letter and the postscript.  Whereas the body of the letter is written in a fairly colourless variety of late-fifteenth-century English, the postscript is written in markedly Norfolk dialect (cf. such forms as xuld SHOULD, qwhan WHEN, ryth RIGHT etc.).

The letter is no 129 in N.Davis ed., Paston Letters and Papers of the Fifteenth Century (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971), which is the standard edition.  The text is also printed, with useful annotation, in Burnley (1992: 177-180).  The main difference between the text as presented here and that in Davis and in Burnley is the reading charls of Gymyngham for [...] myngham for which, plus a fascinating discussion of the context of this letter, see C.Richmond, “What a difference a manuscript makes: John Wyndham of Felbrigg, Norfolk (d.1475)”, in F.Riddy ed., Regionalism in Late Medieval Manuscripts and Texts (Cambridge: Brewer, 1991).

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(1)  Ryght worshipfull husbond, I recomaund me to yow, and prey yow to wete þat on Friday last passed before noon, þe parson of Oxened beyng at messe in our parossh chirche, euyn atte leuacion of þe sakeryng, Jamys Gloys hadde ben in þe tovne and come homward by Wymondhams gate.  (2)  And Wymondam stod in his gate and John Norwode his man stod by hym, and Thomas Hawys his othir man stod in þe strete by þe canell side.  (3)  And Jamys Gloys come with his hatte on his hede betwen bothe his men, as he was wont of custome to do.  (4)  And whanne Gloys was ayenst Wyondham he seid þus, “Couere thy heed!”  (5)  And Gloys seid ageyn, “So I shall for the.”  (6)  And whanne Gloys was forther passed by þe space of iij or iiij strede, Wymondham drew owt his dagger and seid, “Shalt þow so, knave?”  (7)  And þerwith Gloys turned hym and drewe owt his dagger and defendet hym, fleyng into my moderis place; and Wymondham and his man Hawys kest stonys and dreve Gloys into my moderis place. (8)  And Hawys folwyd into my moderis place and kest a ston as meche as a forthyng lof into þe halle after Gloys; and þan ran owt of þe place ageyn.  (9)  And Gloys folwyd owt and stod witowt þe gate, and þanne Wymonham called Gloys thef and seid he shuld dye, and Gloys seid he lyed and called hym charl, and bad hym come hymself or ell þe best man he hadde, and Gloys wold answere hym on and on.  (10)  And þanne Haweys ran into Wymondhams place and feched a spere and a swerd, and toke his maister his swerd.  (11)  And with þe noise of þis asaut and affray my modir and I come owt of þe chirche from þe sakeryng; and I bad Gloys go in to my moderis place ageyn and so he dede.  (12)  And thanne Wymondham called my moder and me strong hores, and seid þe Pastons and alle her kyn were charls of Gymyngham and we seid he lyed, knave and charl as he was.  (13)  And he had meche large langage, as ye shall knowe herafter by mowthe.

 (14)  After non my modir and I yede to þe Priour of Norwich and told hym al þis cas, and þe Priour sent for Wymondham and þerwhyle we yede hom ageyn and Pagraue come with vs hom.  (15)  And whil Wymondham was with þe Priour, and we were at hom in our places, Gloys stod in þe strete at my moderis gate and Hawys aspyed hym þere as he stod on þe Lady Hastyngis chambre.  (16)  Anon he come doun with a tohand swerd and assauted ageyn þe seid Gloys and Thomas my moderis man, and lete flye a strok at Thomas with þe sword and rippled his hand with his sword.  (17)  And as for the latter assaut þe parson of Oxened sygh it and wole avowe it.  (18)  And moche more thyng was do, as Gloys can tell yow by mouth.  (19)  And for þe perilx of þat myght happe by þese premysses and þe circumstances þerof to be eschewed, by þaduyse of my modir and oþer I send yow Gloys to attend  upon yow for a seson, for ease of myn owen hert; for in good feyth I wolde not for xl li. haue suyche anoþer trouble.

(20)  As touchyng my Lady Morlé, she seith þat she atte hire will wole haue þe benyfyce of hire obligacion, for hir counseyll telleth hir, as she seith, þat it is forfayt.  (21)  And she wole mot haue the relif until she hath your homage, &c.

(22)  The Lord Moleyns man gaderyth up þe rent at gresham a gret pace, and Jamys Gresham shall telle yow more pleynly þerof at his comyng.

(23)  Nomore at þis tyme, but Almyghty God haue yow in his kepyng.  (24)  Wreten in hast on Trynyté, Yours MARGARETE PASTON

(25)  As touchyng Roger Foke, Gloys shall telle yow all, & c.

(26)  Qwhan Wymdam seyd þat Jamys xuld dy I seyd to hym þat I soposyd þat he xuld repent hym jf he scholw hym or dede to hym any bodyly harm; and he seyd nay, he xuld never repent hym ner have a ferdyng wurth of harm þow he kelyd w and hym bothe.  (27)  And I seyd ys, and he sclow þe lest chylde þat longyth to wr kechyn, and jf he dede he were lyke, I sopose, to dy for hym.  (28)  It js told me þat he xall kom to London jn hast.  (29)  I pray w be ware hw e walkyn jf he be þere, for he js ful cursyd-hertyd and lwmysch.  (30)  I wot wel he wyl not set vpon w manly, but I beleve he wyl styrt vpn w or on sum of wr men leke a thef.  (31)  I pray w hertyly þat e late not Jamys kom hom aen in non wyse tyl e kom home, for myn hertys ese; for be my trwth I wold not þat he were hurt, ner non man þat longyth to w jn wr absens for xx pwnd.  (32)  And in gode feyth he js sore hatyd both of Wymdam and sum of hys men, and of oþer þat Wymdam tellyth to his tale as hym lyst, for þer as Wymdam tellyth hys tale he makyth hem beleuyn þat Jamys js gylty and he no þyng gylty.

 (33)  I pray w hertyly here masse and oþer servys þat arn bwn to here wyth a devwt hert, and I hope veryly that e xal spede ryth wele in all wr materys, be the grase of God.  (34)  Trust veryly in God and leve hym and serve hym, and he wyl not desevew.  (35)  Of all oþer materys I xall sent w wurd jn hast.


(1)  wete - KNOW
messe - MASS
atte leuacion of þe sakeryng - AT THE ELEVATION OF THE SACRAMENT 

(8)  forthyng lof - FARTHING LOAF

(12)  hores - WHORES

(15)  Lady Hastyngis - Wymondham’s wife

(16)  tohand - TWO-HANDED

(17)  sygh - SAW

(26) Qwhan - WHEN
xuld - SHOULD

scholw - SLEW

ferdyng - FARTHING

kelyd - KILLED

sclow - SLEW
kechyn - KITCHEN

xall - SHALL
lwmysch - MALICIOUS

(33) bwn - BOUND
devwt - DEVOUT

spede - SUCCEED

ryth - RIGHT

(34)  deseve - DECEIVE




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