The Pastons were a Norfolk family, who thrived in the medieval period. They are best known for their surviving letters, which are a unique and fascinating record of the time as expressed in family communications.
Many histories of the Wars of the Roses include references to the Paston Letters in their bibliographies. A King was at Walsingham, a Duke was at Caistor. A draft was requested for the Battle of Bosworth.
It’s often said that history is written by the winners, but there is no bias in a family letter never intended for wider circulation.
The earliest letter dates to 1418, so it is the 600th anniversary is next year. The British Library is celebrating with a digital release of many of the letters which can thus be read in full online.
Other celebrations will take place tracking Paston sites in Norfolk.
What relevance does the Paston archive have for Longthorpe Tower volunteers, other than the medieval timeframe?
The answer is found on the BBC History website. Here’s a quote: “The Paston family rose from the peasantry to the aristocracy within just two generations. This is the story of how they did it.” The full page can be found here.
Just like the Thorpe family, although a bit later in the period, the Pastons rose from the peasantry, largely via education, to senior positions in the legal field, and aquired land and titles as they advanced.
Visitors to the Tower sometimes ask how the Thorpe family rose from its humble background to the gentry in a period when social mobility was virtually non-existent. Indeed, it was actually illegal to pass yourself off as gentry if you were from a humble background.
Clearly education was key. The themes of education in our Tower wall-paintings are usually cited.
Less well-known is the significance of having a private chapel. We know that what is now Longthorpe Parish Church was moved, in its entirety, from a location about a mile away, in approximately 1263.
The Paston family had to defend themselves against the charge of being”base villeins” passing themselves off as gentry.
Here’s part of the court record of how they defended themselves:
…….. Also they shewed divers deeds and grants before time of mind, how that their ancetors had licence to have a chaplen and have divine service within them. And that divers of their ancetors had given lyvelyhood to houses of religion to be prayed for, and confirmacions under the Great Seale of our noble ancestor Kinge Henry the Third, son of Kinge John, confirming the same grants.
Letter 643, Project Gutenberg
The key link is “licence to have a chaplen” – a private means of worship.
It would appear that the moving of the chapel to a location next door to the Thorpe family residence may have had more significance than mere convenience.