The Pastons – how do they connect with Longthorpe Tower?

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.

Letter 1470.png

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.

Letter 1440.png

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.


The Three Living and the Three dead (post number three)

Our timeline tells us that Longthorpe Tower was built in 1309/10.  This was during the reign of Edward II.  It was a time of national unrest and upheaval,  largely caused by the total unsuitability of his personality and the divisiveness of his actions as King.  He was followed by his son, Edward III, who reigned from 1327 to 1377.  During this reign the paintings were added by Robert Thorpe, steward to Peterborough Abbey.

In Canterbury Cathedral the tomb of Edward III’s son may be found.  He was known at the time of his life and death as Edward of Woodstock, Prince of Wales.  The awe-inspiring title “The Black Prince” came much later.

Tomb and effigy of the Black Prince

The Prince died just one year before his father, of a lingering infection picked up on campaign in Spain, thought to be dysentery.  His will requested that the epitaph inscribed on his tomb should be these words:

Such as thou art, sometime was I.
Such as I am, such shalt thou be.
I thought little on th’our of Death
So long as I enjoyed breath.
On earth I had great riches
Land, houses, great treasure, horses, money and gold.
But now a wretched captive am I,
Deep in the ground, lo here I lie.
My beauty great, is all quite gone,
My flesh is wasted to the bone

As Tower volunteers we are very familiar with the first two lines – the words of a French poem which explain the motif of The Three Living and the Three Dead.

The Three Living and the Three Dead (post number two)

The wall painting at St Mary’s Church, Lutterworth is huge.  The church guide tells us that Victorian church restorers removed a gallery and found the top part of the painting preserved behind it.  The Victorians then repainted the three kings.  Later, in the 1980’s parts of the painting of the three skeletons were found to the right. These have not been retouched so are barely visible.  Impressive jawbones and grinning rows of teeth can just be seen.

Two of the kings are holding falcons.  The falcon was one of the favourite symbols of Edward III, (reigned 1327 to 1377).  It was during his reign that, (our timeline tells us), Robert Thorpe added the paintings to the tower.


Queen Philippa gave Edward a depiction of himself holding a falcon as a wedding present.  The symbol became a traditional badge of the Plantaganet family.