Living in 15th Century England: The Paston Family

The Paston letters are a unique collection of family correspondence from the early 1400’s to around 1520. They cover the lives of a minor noble family rising from a yeoman farmer in the late 1300’s to nobility in the early 16th century. The course looks at village and city life and the Pastons involvement in it. This includes everyday living such as customs, clothing, food, plague, but also changes in education with schools and Universities, the birth of printing, advances in music, the loss of religious faith and the emergence of Lollardry, fundamental economic changes in England, the beginnings of westward exploration, all against the background of the Hundred Years War and the later War of the Roses.


  • Face-to-Face


  • Francis Pryor, Britain in the Middle Ages (UK 2006)
  • Helen Castor, Blood and Roses (Harper Collins 2004)
  • Norman Davis, Paston letters in Modern Spelling (Oxford University Press USA 2009)
  • Deborah Young, _ Humphrey Newton an Early Tudor Gentleman 1466-1536_ (Boydell Press 2008)
  • Norman Cantor, _ In the Wake of the Plague_ (New York 2001)


  • Climate Change: Black Death and permanent drop in total population, Wool to Cloth economy, Lollardry, Schools, Universities
  • Village and City Life: Housing, cycle of the seasons, health, clothing, food, social structure, church, industry, trade, guilds, hospitals, church. The first Paston, Clement Paston (1360?-1419), a yeoman farmer from Norfolk, Norfolk who owned land,two plows and a water mill.
  • Education, Trade and Industry, Printing, Exploration, Music: Schools, universities, high place of English music, cloth trade, export trade and new industries, printing, overseas discoveries and new resources
  • Church, Monasteries, Friaries, Chantry Chapels, Alms Houses, Pilgrimages: Loss of faith, decline of monastic life, rise of Friaries, endowments trend towards schools, convents, alms houses, chantry chapels and away from Monasteries and the church, decline in Pilgrimage,
  • Wars, Civil Unrest, the Law: The Hundred Years War, The Wars of the Roses, wars and rise of Nation State, the law in practice.
  • The Paston Family: Clement Paston’s son William Paston (1379-1444) studied law and rose to high office and at 42 married Agnes Berry in 1420 of the minor nobility. William and Agnes produced 5 surviving children. William develops a close working relationship with Sir John Falstoff and the Caister castle inheritance. William’s son John (1421-1466) is married to Margaret Mautby (1422-1484) and they settle at Gresham Manor. Margaret put under siege at Gresham and evicted by covetous neigbour. Search for powerful allies and recovery of Gresham. War of the Roses breaks out 1453. Family allegiance tied to the Yorkist cause due to feudal dues. Lancastrians in ascendant in 1458, Yorkist ascendant in 1460 and loss of son in law in the fighting at the Battle of Towton 1461 and a Yorkist victory and some stability returns to southern England. Pastons fight for possession of Caister Castle and other lands and John narrowly escapes being murdered. John imprisoned by powerful opponents who then move to take all his properties. John dies in London 1466. Margaret his wife and their 2 sons, both named John take over. The 2 Paston sons in favour at the court of Edward 4th. John the younger and brother Edmund father illegitimate children. Caister Castle put under siege and surrenders after 5 weeks. Family turmoil as daughter Marjery intends to marry beneath her station and marries in secret. Caister Castle returned after 5 years, but both sons fight on the losing Lancastrian side in 1471 and one son is wounded by an arrow at the battle of Barnett. Caister Castle seized once again by the Duke of Norfolk. The two sons pardoned in 1471/72 but both sons relations with their mother remained strained. Plague breaks out in 1479 and grandmother Agnes, son John and grandson Walter all die from it. Margaret dies in 1484. Elizabeth Paston’s second husband is executed for opposition to Richards the 3rd. Richard 3rd defeated at Bosworth and John is appointed Sheriff of Norfolk in 1485, and serves under Henry 7th at the battle of Stoke Field in 1487 where he is knighted. Sadly his wife Marjery dies in 1495. In 1500 John receives Catherine of Aragon on her arrival in England. John dies in 1504.
  • England at the end of the 1400’s: The changes wrought in the 16th century


By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  1. Recognise the key factors and developments in the late Middle Ages in England
  2. Identify and evaluate the key factors and rationale at play over this period
  3. Critically analyse the key aspects of developments that took place over the period
  4. Evaluate and discuss the key aspects of the Paston letters and life in the 15th century.
$113 Limited / $102

<p>The Paston letters are a unique collection of family correspondence from the early 1400’s to around 1520. They cover the lives of a minor noble family rising from a yeoman farmer in the late 1300’s

18 Feb

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