What Did Margaret See?

  • Joel T. Rosenthal
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


The Pastons are dead and gone. Though they eventually would rise well beyond the gentry-fueled aspirations of John I, the sands of time that were to grind down Mowbray and Bohun and Plantagenet would get to them as well. Their later eminence as earls of Yarmouth was but fleeting, even with their share of the Fastolf inheritance; when Charles Paston, II Earl of Yarmouth, died in 1732, having already out-lived his son and heir Charles (who had died without surviving progeny in 1718) the line was at an end.1 Little was left beyond memories, some heavily mortgaged property now destined for the local market at knock-down prices, and a lot of old family letters and papers that, by good fortune, would eventually come into the hands of James Fenn and then Francis Blomefield and finally into those of the British people in the form of the British Museum/British Library (excepting the items that have gone elsewhere).2 The manor house at Paston has disappeared, the great barn at Paston dates only from the 1580s, and the family’s sites in Norwich were eventually abandoned for more appropriate houses out-side of town as the family moved up in the world, and what is left at Oxnead postdates the Pastons who have been of interest here.3 Were it not for the fortuitous preservation of their letters the Pastons of the fifteenth century would be just another of those gentry families we would note in passing—perhaps as a footnote to the tale of the Fastolf estate and the creation of Magdalen College, Oxford, and of minor interest were we concerned to trace the roots of a family that rose to a minor peerage in the seventeenth century.4


Burial Site Wall Painting Fifteenth Century Good Fortune Family Letter 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 2.
    The letters directly relating to the Pastons (rather than to Fastolf) are now collected in the first part of Beadle and Richmond, Part III, including letters that wound up in such places as The Morgan Library in New York and the Houghton Library of Harvard. On the letters, Davis, I, xxiv– xxxv; David A. Stoker, “‘Innumerable Letters of Good Consequence in History’: The Discovery and First Publication of the Paston Letters,” The Library, sixth series, 17 (1995), pp. 107–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 3.
    John III bought “Paston house” in St Etheldred parish from William Yelverton in 1474, and in 1487 he moved to The Music House in King Street or perhaps to the Elm Hill home that burned in 1507. The site of the Music House was occupied by the Strangers Club at one time; Ernest A Kent, “Isaac’s House or the Music House,” NA 29 (1945), pp. 31–38Google Scholar
  3. K. N. Marshall, The Pastons, 1378–1732 (Norwich: Jarold, 1957)Google Scholar
  4. R. W. Ketton-Cremer, Catalogue of a Loan Exhibition: The Pastons, May—August 1953 (Norwich: Norwich Castle Museum, 1953)Google Scholar
  5. Introduction. In 1599 Erasmus Paston moved the family from Caister to Oxnead and Caister had to be sold in 1659 to pay a debt of L6500 that Sir William Paston owed to William Crowe, a London moneylender: Colin Tooke, Caister: 2000 Years of a Village (Caister, 2000). When Sir Edward Coke married Lady Paston he bought what had been one of the Paston houses in Hungate, Norwich: Kent, p. 36.Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    On the guild of St George: Ken Farnhill, Guilds and the Parish Community in Late Medieval East Anglia, c. 1470–1550 (Woodbridge: York Medieval Press, 2001)Google Scholar
  7. Ben R. McRee, “After 1452: The Evolution of the Gild of St George in the Wake of Yelverton’s Mediation,” NA 45/1 (2006), pp. 26–40Google Scholar
  8. Mary Grace, ed., Records of the Gild of St George in Norwich, 1389–1547: A Transcript with an Introduction, Norfolk Record Society 9 (1937). Grace alludes to Paston membership in the guild but offers no documentation in support of this statement.Google Scholar
  9. 6.
    Anthony Goodman, Margery Kempe and her World (London: Longman, 2002) pursues a similar line of thinking; what did Margery Kempe see when entering churches and other sites still standing?Google Scholar
  10. 7.
    Ffiona Swabey, Medieval Gentlewoman, pp. 97–132, for table attendance at meals. Marian Dale and V. Redstone, Household Book of Alice de Bryene (Suffolk: Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and Natural History, 1931); Woolgar, The Great Household, pp. 87–89.Google Scholar
  11. 9.
    Richard Marks and Paul Williamson, ed., Gothic Art for England, 1400–1547 (London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 2003). This being the catalogue of a major exhibition; particularly relevant are chapters by Geoff Egan, Marian Campbell, Susan Foster, Paul Williamson, and Paul Binski.Google Scholar
  12. For items likely to have been found in a household like that of the Pastons, Peter Lasko and N. J. Morgan, Medieval Art in East Anglia, 1300–1520 (Norwich: Jarold, 1973); the catalogue of a 1973 exhibition at Norwich Castle Museum.Google Scholar
  13. 11.
    We know of 43 depictions of St Christopher in Norfolk churches, out of 186 for all of England. Ernest W. Tristram. English Wall Painting of the Fourteenth Century (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1955), pp. 62–63 and 233–34 for Paston, p. 174 for FrittonGoogle Scholar
  14. John Salmon, “St Christopher in English Medieval Art and Life,” JBAA n.s. 41 (1936), pp. 76–115, noting that Christopher’s popularity as a subject of wall painting did not translate into many church dedications;Google Scholar
  15. N. H. Brindley, “Notes on the Mural Painting of St Christopher in English Churches,” Antiquaries Journal 4 (1924), pp. 227–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 12.
    Monica Bardswell, “Recent Discoveries at Paston,” NA 22 (1926), pp. 190–93; the Christopher figure is 12 feet in height, and there also is a badly faded three living-three dead, plus what might have been a last judgment: E. Carleton Williams, “Mural Painting of the 3 Living and 3 Dead,” JBAA, third series, 7 (1942), pp. 31–39, with about 30 English examples. VCH Norfolk II, pp. 529–53 for a general survey of religious painting, pp. 530–35 for the cathedral, pp. 539–40 on St Michael at Plea in Norwich.Google Scholar
  17. 14.
    A. E. Nichols, The Early Art of Norfolk: A Subject List of Extant and Lost Art (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University, 2004), p. 114, where the only material listed for Mautby is the statue of the Virgin before which Margaret asked to be buried (on the assumption that it is the same statue).Google Scholar
  18. Samuel R. Howard, Mautby Remembrance (Hemsby, Norfolk: Desne Publishing, 1996), p. 116: “The chapel at Mautby Hall was demolished in 1979, although it had been disused for that purpose for three centuries (at least). It was formerly opened and consecrated for worship for Margaret Paston’s use in her old age...For the past hundred years it has been used in connection with the farm as a cow house. It had no repairs carried out.” Though this is local lore, it is hard to imagine that Pevsner, among others, would have failed to notice an historical cow barn with fifteenth-century connections.Google Scholar
  19. 15.
    Claude J. W. Messent, The Round Towers to English Parish Churches (Norfolk: Fletcher & Son, 1958)Google Scholar
  20. Jack Sterry, Round Tower Churches: Hidden Treasures of North Norfolk (Norwich: Crown, 2003).Google Scholar
  21. On the temptation to assign improbably early dates to the round towers, Stephen Heywood, “Architecture in Norfolk,” in A Festival of Norfolk Archaeology, ed. Sue Margeson (Norfolk: Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological Society, 1996), pp. 72–85.Google Scholar
  22. Also, Dorothy Shreeve and Lyn Stilgoe, The Round Tower Churches of Norfolk (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2001).Google Scholar
  23. 16.
    For lugubrious details of nineteenth-century restoration, J. Charles Cox, Norfolk (London: G. Allen & Co, 1911). The parish church at Matlask was restored in 1878, its tower in 1903; Gresham was “badly restored” in 1856 and its much-vaunted round tower in 1886; Sparham in 1889.Google Scholar
  24. Also, H. Munro Cautley, Norfolk Churches (Ipswich: N. Adlard, 1949).Google Scholar
  25. For more sad tales of this sort: Montague Rhodes James, Norfolk and Suffolk (London: J. M. Dent, 1930), p. 10, treating the “many sins” of res- toration, the three most heinous being the addition of organ chambers, the introduction of varnished pitch pine, and the use of “cathedral glass” to fill in windows in place of the old “clear glazing.” Kathleen Kameric, Popular Piety and Art in the Late Middle Ages: Image Worship and Idolatry in England, 1350–1500 (New York: Palgrave, 2002), pp. 70–84 on what has been lost because of zealous restoration.Google Scholar
  26. 20.
    Ann E. Nichols, Seeable Signs: The Iconography of the Seven Sacraments, 1350–1544 (Woodbridge: Boydell, 1994); the Gresham font (#126) is thought to be c. 1500, a “golden age” for such pieces. It probably owes its preservation to having been plastered over, and its eighth side shows the baptism of Christ.Google Scholar
  27. H. S. Squirrel, “The Seven Sacrament Fonts of Norfolk,” NA 25 (1934), pp. 83–94; there are 23 such fonts in Norfolk, 14 in Suffolk. Squirrel talks of the near “perfect preservation” of the Gresham font, and of an artist who must have been a “sensitive and very human personality.” Duffy, Stripping of the Altars, Plate 123 for the Gresham font.Google Scholar
  28. 22.
    Philip Nelson, Ancient Painted Glass in England, 1170–1500 (London: Methuen, 1913), p. 154, for a depiction of St Anthony with a bell and one of St Leonard, from the church of St Mary, Sparham. Blomefield, VII, 255–62; Peter Mautby asked for buried at Sparham in 1438 (or 1428, according to the church’s guidebook).Google Scholar
  29. 28.
    Atherton, Norwich Cathedral, passim. So much building was being carried out through the entire course of the century that I will not try to pinpoint each project. Virtually every aspect of the cathedral was undergoing changes, additions, or restorations. For more on what Margaret might have seen, Arthur B. Whittingham, The Stalls of Norwich Cathedral (Norwich: Norwich Cathedral Chapter, 1961)Google Scholar
  30. Whittingham, “The Erpingham Retable or Reredos in Norwich Cathedral,” NA 39 (1985), pp. 202–6, dating it around 1475, or just in time to catch Margaret’s gaze, assuming she came back to Norwich after moving to MautbyGoogle Scholar
  31. Veronica Sekules, “Religious Politics and the Cloister Bosses of Norwich Cathedral,” JBAA 159 (2006), pp. 284–306CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Martial Rose and Julie Hedgecoe, Stories in Stone: The Medieval Roof Carvings of Norwich (London: Herbert Press, 1997).Google Scholar
  33. 29.
    J. Philip McAlear, “The Façade of Norwich Cathedral: The Nineteenth Century Restoration,” NA 41 (1993), pp. 381–409.Google Scholar
  34. 32.
    David King has prepared a detailed treatment of these, though as yet his notes are unpublished. King discusses the bits of heraldic glass with the arms of John II and John III, though probably these date from the early sixteenth century. For an earlier survey of the interior, George King, “Ancient Stained Glass in the Church of St Peter Hungate, Norwich,” NA 16 (1907), pp. 205–18Google Scholar
  35. G. V. Barnard, “St Peter Hungate,” Archaeological Journal 106 (1949), pp. 79–111.Google Scholar
  36. 38.
    C. L. Kingsford, English Historical Literature (Oxford: Clarendon, 1913), p. 206.Google Scholar
  37. Other voices, other views: Laurie A. Fink, Women’s Writing in English: Medieval England (London: Longmans, 1999), p. 194: “Margaret would hardly be anyone’s candidate for mother of the year,” as a coun-terbalance to the more poetic “Delightful Dame Margaret! Her gentle wraith seems to haunt the meads of Mautby and the ruins of her Caister Home,”Google Scholar
  38. William A. Dutt, The Norfolk Broads, fourth ed. (London: Methuen, 1931), p. 190.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Joel T. Rosenthal 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joel T. Rosenthal

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations