The Paston Family and their East Anglia
with Dr Elizabeth McDonald (University of East Anglia).
at the School of Music, Woodbridge School, Burkitt Road, Woodbridge IP12 4JH,
on Saturday 23rd March 2019.

The Pastons left one of the largest collections of private letters of fifteenth-century England. We will use this rich archive to follow the Pastons as they climbed the social ladder from freemen to prominent members of the gentry during the turbulence of the Wars of the Roses.

Provisional Programme

10.00 – 10.30:  Coffee on arrival

10.30 – 11.30:    Meet the Pastons (Part One)

In this session we follow the lives of the first two generations of the Paston family, exploring William Paston I’s ambitious journey from being the son of a farmer to one of the most well-thought-of legal professionals in Norfolk.

11.30 – 12.00:   Coffee break

12.00 – 13.00:    Meet the Pastons (Part Two)

If the first two generations of the Paston family embody all of the human drama of a tale of rags-to-riches, local-boy-done-good, the lives of the following two generations demonstrate the difficulties and dangers that came with this story.

13.00 – 14.00:   Lunch break

14.00 – 14.45:   The Pastons and their Local Community

The Pastons wrote more than 1000 letters during the fifteenth century, most of which were prompted by their numerous complicated land-disputes. Here we look at three such disputes (and actual battles!) to investigate to what extent the family were indicative of a peculiarly East Anglian experience of the power-struggles that underpinned the Wars of the Roses.

14.45 – 15.15:  Tea break

15.15 – 16.00:    The Pastons and Love

The most famous letter in the Paston collections of documents is written by Margery Brews to John Paston III and is the oldest surviving Valentine’s letter in the English language. For all that it is celebrated every February 14th, the contexts surrounding this letter bring the personalities of this fourth generation of the family into even sharper focus, leading us to question whether this Valentine’s letter is as romantic as it first appears.

16.00:              Thanks and Close

About Elizabeth McDonald

Elizabeth McDonald has studied the Paston family for the past decade and has recently completed her PhD on the family’s engagement with fifteenth-century East Anglian literary culture. Elizabeth is a tutor at both the University of East Anglia and the Workers’ Educational Association, lecturing on the Paston family to a wide range of students and delivering numerous packed-out public talks and lecture series. She is currently working on her first full-length book, based on the findings of her thesis.

Some Suggestions for Optional Background Reading

Castor, Helen. Blood and Roses: The Paston Family and the Wars of

the Roses. London: Faber and Faber, 2004.

Davis, Norman, editor. The Paston Letters. Oxford World Classics.

Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983.

Gies, Frances & Joseph Gies. A Medieval Family: The Pastons of Fifteenth-Century England. New York: HarperCollins, 1998.

Richmond, Colin. The Paston Family in the Fifteenth Century, 3 volumes Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Virgoe, Roger, editor. Illustrated Letters of the Paston Family. London: Macmillan, 1989.

Watt, Diane, editor. The Paston Women: Selected Letters. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2004.