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“sun of York’ or of Lancaster. Her second son, also John, who is called John of Gelston, a curious specimen of the gallant of those days, who wears his new hat and looks out for a new love with equal indifference, cannot keep out of trouble when swords are flashing all around him. The story of the daughter Margery is a rare exception to the ordinary passages of gentle damsels in those times. It is a tale of true love. There is a younger son at Eton; and through him we learn a little of the school-life of the fifteenth century; and another at Oxford, who is destined for the church, but dies young. But whether we see the lady mother and her sons in the Norwich of friars and worsted
spinners, with now and then a noble or even a
king glittering amongst the citizens—or at their castle of Caister, a moated fortress some two miles from Yarmouth, where there is a rude garrison ever looking out—we always see them under some aspect of danger and difficulty, and yet putting a brave face upon their perils, and keeping a great calm amidst their hopes. These poor Pastons had an unquiet time of it; and this gives a more than common interest to their annals—for their Letters are Annals—as trustworthy and as interesting as any records that have aspired to the dignity of History. When Dame Margaret Paston was a fair young maiden, and John Paston came a-wooing, “she made him gentle cheer in gentle wise.” To the grave Sir William Paston, judge of the Common
Pleas, his wife Agnes writes thus of the “gentlewoman” whom John made “treaty” with, being in high good-humour at the coming alliance:— “The parson of Stockton told me if ye would buy her a gown, her mother would give thereto a goodly fur; the gown needeth for to be had, and of colour it would be a goodly blue, or else a bright sanguine.” Silk gowns were not come at so cheaply in those days as now ; and the judge of the Common Pleas might have taken time to pause before he committed himself to the Howell and James of Cheapside for fifteen yards of damask at seven shillings a yard. But surely Margaret Mauteby got her silk gown. It was, we have no doubt, the “bright sanguine.” In 1443 she is a wife and mother; and her husband has been sick in the Inner Temple while she is in the country; and her heart is overflowing with tenderness; and she has sent four nobles to the four orders of friars at Norwich to pray for him; and she has vowed to go on pilgrimage to Walsingham ; and she would rather have him at home “than a new gown, though it were of scarlet.” Dear young Margaret ! But Margaret, when a wife of twelve years, has a loving request to prefer to her husband: “I pray you that ye will do your cost on me against Whitsuntide, that I may have something for my neck. When the Queen was here I borrowed my cousin Elizabeth's Clere's device, for I durst not for shame go with my beads amongst so many fresh gentlewomen as here were at that time.” Margaret of Anjou was at Norwich in 1452, saying gracious things to the gentry—for Richard of York was in arms, and she sent for Elizabeth Clere, and “made right much of her, and desired her to have an husband.” Yet Margaret Paston thinks of more substantial matters than neck-devices:— “Right worshipful husband,-I commend me to you ; I pray you that ye will buy two dozen trenchers, for I can none get in this town” (Norwich). Yet with all her care the anxious wife cannot wholly please her absent husband, and she writes, “I recommend me to you, beseeching you that ye be not displeased with me, though my simpleness caused you to be displeased with me.” A few years onward and Margaret is imbued with the unquiet spirit of the times; and though she begs her husband to buy her a pound of sugar and a pound of almonds, and “some frieze to make of your children's gowns,” she also desires he would get some cross-bows and windlasses and quarrels, “for your houses here be so low that there may none man shoot out with no long-bow, though we had never so much need.” At one time Margaret held the Manor-house of Heylesden against my Lord of Suffolk, with guns and ordnance. Just before that bold march upon London which gave the throne to Edward, and sent Henry to the Tower, there is a letter from Margaret Paston to her husband, “Written in haste, the second Sunday in Lent, by candlelight at even ;” and she warns him to be “more wary of your guiding for your person's safeguard, and also that ye be not too hasty to come into this country till ye hear the world is more sure.” What a world to live in The poor “Bezonian” had to “speak or die” for a weak Henry or a profligate Edward. He had to fight for a doubtful inheritance, with cross-bow and quarrel; to make forcible entries, or hold possession, by writ and sword. His agent writes to him about a cause that “hath been called on as diligently and hastily this term as it might be, and alway days given them by the court to answer; and then they took small exceptions and trifled forth the courts; and alway excused them because the bill is long, and his counsel had no leisure to see it; and then prayed hearing of the testament of my master your father, and thereof made another matter, and argued it to put them from it, because they had emparled to it before; and then Hillingworth, to drive it over this term, alleged variance betwixt the bill and the testament, that John Damme was named in the testament Joh Damme.” This was written in 1461, and we are even now, three hundred and ninety-two years later, only upon the threshold of law-reform. What millions have been spent by the people of England in paying, not for justice, but to “drive it over this term,” since the variance between “John ” and “Joh” was found out by the cunning lawyers in April, 1461. What jargon has been talked, from that day to this, about tenures, remainders, perpetuities, fines and recoveries, settlements, wills, uses, trusts,
leases, mortgages, possession, and all the infinite subtleties that have been given to us, as an especial blessing of Providence, to make the owners of property miserable, and to preserve something like an equality between the rich and the poor
And so, what with writs of trespass, and suits of ejectment, John Paston became impoverished, and died suspected and heart broken, after confinement in the Fleet, in May, 1466. The aspects of the family in the third year of Margaret's widowhood may be shown in a slight Imaginary Scene, founded upon the letters.
It is the Wednesday before the feast of Easter, in the year 1469, in which year the great festival of the Church fell on the 2nd of April. In the dark twilight that preceded the rising of the paschal moon, a small cavalcade of jaded riders pass the little church of Caister Holy Trinity, of which there is nothing now remaining but a ruined tower. They had left Norwich at an early hour of the morning; but although the distance they had to travel was less than twenty miles, the highway was then so rotten from the rains of the season, that the progress of these riders was painfully slow. Indeed the two footmen who walk by the side of the horse which bears their mistress, and carefully attend upon her bridle-rein, scarcely make so much exertion to maintain their speed as the weary beasts who constantly stumble amongst the deep