The Paston family of Norfolk

The Paston family of Norfolk emerged from historical obscurity at the start of the fifteenth century, when William Paston rose to be a judge. He made a fortune, and married an heiress. He also started a tradition which continued for several generations of preserving the family’s personal letters and business papers. The Paston letters are now an unique resource for historians, providing a remarkable insight into the life of a family in the tumultuous times of the Hundred Years’ War and the Wars of the Roses.

Margery Paston, the eponymous heroine of The Marriage of Margery Paston, was a granddaughter of Judge William, born around 1450. Much of her life was dominated by her father John Paston’s claim to have inherited the land and possessions of the well-known soldier Sir John Fastolf, which included Caister Castle in south-east Norfolk (pictured). The family’s other possessions in this era included land and houses in Norwich, Gresham, Paston and Oxnead in Norfolk; Mautby, her mother Margaret’s family home near Caister; and estates in Yorkshire, Hertfordshire and elsewhere.

Margery was not an heiress like her mother and grandmother: she had four surviving brothers and a sister, and no great dowry was likely to be provided for her. So when she announced her wish to marry the family’s land agent, Richard Calle, she might reasonably have expected her family to be glad to see her comfortably settled. Instead her mother and her elder brothers (who were both, like her father, called John) chose to do everything they could to prevent the marriage.

Richard Calle, Margery’s lover (and later her husband) had worked for her family since probably the early 1450s. He wrote a number of letters in the Paston collection, and also acted on occasion as scribe for Margaret Paston and other family members. Richard’s elder brother ran a grocer’s shop in Framlingham in Suffolk, and though less affluent than the Pastons, his family was respectable and well regarded.

The Marriage of Margery Paston draws on a number of editions of the letters, including the definitive edition edited in the 1970s by Norman Davis, on a history of the Calle family, and on chronicles and other sources.