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then everything has been done to render Norfolk socially attractive; but we doubt whether even the residence of the Prince of Wales at Sandringham has been so successful as might have been expected in this respect. Norfolk still remains to the million rather a dreary county, famed for dull houses and large battues ; its chief productions being barley, fat cattle, yeast dumplings, pheasants, and turkeys. A little farther back it was famed for horrid murders and for the litigiousness of its population; but we rather question whether in these doubtful honours it has not had to bow to other counties in England. But the Norfolk of the fifteenth century and of the Pastons was very different. It was then by far the wealthiest of England's counties, and Middlesex had to yield to it in this respect, even though in Middlesex was reckoned London, the heart of the kingdom. If we turn to Mr. Rogers' book on · Prices and Labour in Medieval
England,' we shall see at once the position of Norfolk in respect of wealth, compared with other English counties, and the reason of its affluence. So far from leading to nowhere, by the great ports of Lynn and Yarmouth it was the direct road by which the wool of East Anglia and the bordering counties found its way to the Low Countries. Those ports owned half the shipping of the nation, and as to Norfolk being unvisited by travellers, the great shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham vied in its crowds of pilgrims with those who streamed to that of Becket at Canterbury. Norwich, the capital of the county, was in those days really a capital, thronged with a busy and thriving population, mostly of weavers, which made it an English Ghent, and even to this day attests its ancient wealth by the number of churches within the circuit of the medieval walls. In it was the palace of one of the few dukes not of the actual blood-royal to be found in the realm, a provincial prince of whose power for ill or good we find ample evidence in these very letters. Everything was to be settled when the Duke came down to Norfolk, and if he stretched out his hand to do wrong it was hard to get redress. The Pastons, then, might well boast that they belonged to the landed gentry of no mean county, and we may be sure that when they rode to London it was rather an honour than otherwise to be able to call themselves Norfolk men.
We have said that the family rose from small beginnings, but this does not at all mean that they were ever proved to have been of low or servile birth ; though when they grew to be powerful even this charge was laid at their door by those who envied them for their rise in position and possessions. Their
home when we first hear of them was the little village of Paston, not far from the sea, near Cromer, about twenty miles north of Norwich, a district still thoroughly rural, and almost unvisited by strangers, for it is intersected by no railways to bring down herds of tourists. Bloomfield, not the most accurate of county historians, claims for them a Norman descent on the
evidence of certain documents,' which Mr. Gairdner tells us • have been since dispersed.' But whether Norman or Saxon, or, as is more likely, Dane, there they had been at Paston for a long time when we first hear of them at the beginning of the fifteenth century, in the position of small gentry. To our mind what a man is is much more worth knowing than what he was, or what his ancestors were. We begin our account, therefore, of the Pastons with William, the son of Clement, who, having been sent to school by his father and well taught, practised the law and rose to be a Justice of the Common Pleas in the reign of Henry VI.--a man whose uprightness caused him to be commonly called the good judge. Of the date of his birth we are ignorant; but as he died well stricken in years in 1444, it is probable that he was born about 1380. Besides being a good judge, he was a prudent thrifty man and acquired much property in land, besides the original inheritance of the family at Paston. Thus he acquired part of the adjacent manor of Bacton and the manor of Oxnead, which in later times became the principal seat of the family. Besides these, he bought the manor of Gresham from Thomas Chaucer, the son of the poet, all of which descended to his son John. So far all seems fair enough with the fortunes of the family ; • the good judge' had much increased the family estates, and his son enjoyed them after his death. In all probability the reader already knows it, but if not we must tell him, that law, which we so much abuse in these days, was very different in the fifteenth century, and as for estates, though they might be held by law, they were often lost by the lawlessness of neighbours and the insecure state of society. No doubt as a good lawyer, William Paston took care that the titles to the estates which he had purchased were perfectly good; but this precaution, as we shall see, was often of little avail to himself and still less to his descendants. In his lifetime, in spite of his legal powers, he was much tormented by suits about rights of way, by threatenings against his life from adversaries of the clients whom he had defended, and by the machinations of Sir Thomas Erpingham, whom we are sorry to find so prominent as a persecutor, but who deprived the Judge of the favour of the Duke of Norfolk, got bills introduced in Parliament to
his prejudice, and made it unsafe for him to stir abroad. A state of things quite incredible to our modern minds that a counsel and a judge should be persecuted for doing their duty to clients and for administering equal justice between man and man! But that was a lawless age; quarrels were rife even in the Council of the infant king, who as he grew older became weak and imbecile, between the Duke of Gloucester and Bishop Beaufort, and afterwards between Suffolk, Somerset, York, and Warwick. Nothing,' as Mr. Gairdner well says, 'was so
firmly established by authority but that hopes might be en* tertained of setting it aside by favour.'
In such an age we wish we could say that the character of the good judge' comes out quite pure; but we are sorry to remark that No. 19 in this correspondence contains a petition to the House of Commons in 1433 complaining that William Paston, one of the Justices of our Sovereign Lord the King, takyth diverse fees and rewardes of diverse persones in the shir of Norfolk and Suffolk, ayeins (against] the King for to be of hir [i.e. their] councell to destroy the right of the King.' This, which is endorsed falsa billa, contains
, the names of certain corporate bodies, beginning with the town of Yarmouth, and looks at first ugly; but while fully agreeing with Mr. Gairdner in his assertion that it proves the good * judge' had enemies as well as friends, we further excuse him by supposing that the charge which is endorsed · falsa billa, was trumped up out of the old annual retainers, which those corporate bodies had been in the habit of paying him before bis elevation to the Bench. That William Paston was much worried by his enemies, appears from the following extracts from one of his letters: 'I pray the Holy Trinity to deliver 'me of my three adversaries, this cursed Bishop for Brom· holm, Aslak for Sprouston, and Julian Herberd for Thorn
ham.' Of the last nothing is known, though his conduct, to judge by that of the others, no doubt deserved the curse. Aslak was the adversary who had already threatened Paston's life for defending his client, while this cursed bishop' was a monk of Bromholm Priory, famous for its Rood, against whom William Paston had been counsel in an action brought by the Prior for apostasy. It is a curious illustration of the conflict of laws in that age that the apostate, though found guilty, escaped beyond the seas to Rome, where he brought an action in the Papal Court against Paston and the Prior, getting the former condemned in a penalty of 2051., a large sum in those days. Paston's friends at Rome advised him to compromise the matter, but he contested the validity of the sentence,
and got excommunicated for his pains. As for his adversary, he had interest enough to get himself appointed and consecrated Bishop of Cork. This Priory of Bromholm, for which he was counsel against this apestate brother, was an object of special interest to William Paston, who exerted himself on its behalf on several occasions both before and after his elevation to the Bench. It was within a mile, as he tells us himself, of the place of his birth. After his death it became the burialplace of the family, and in it John Paston his son was sumptuously interred in the reign of Edward IV. It was a monastery of some celebrity, as its ruins still attest, standing by the sad seashore, and conspicuous from a distance both by land and sea. After Walsingham no religious house in Norfolk attracted more pilgrims, for it could show a very special treasure in its Holy Rood, mentioned by Chaucer in the Canterbury Tales,' which contained a bit of the True Cross, brought from Constantinople two hundred years before the period of which we are writing.
At last, as we have said, in 1444 ' the good judge' died, but not before he and his wife had chosen a suitable wife for his eldest son John. We forgot to mention that the judge himself was married to Agnes, daughter and heiress of Sir Edmund Berry of Harlingbury Hall in Hertfordshire. And now let none of our readers, old or young, suppose that marriages in those days were like marriages in these, when the feelings of the young people are more consulted than the will and prudence of their parents. Then fathers and mothers, or worse still, guardians, had the sole arrangement of the matter, and in the best of cases, all that was considered was whether the union were equal on either side in position and property. With regard to parents, we do not remember that they sold their children in marriage any more than they do now, but in the case of guardians it was notorious that wards were constantly sold without regard to their own will or consent, and all the redress that a ward had against his guardian was that he might sue him if he had been matched with a woman unequal in fortune or in rank. Marriages, in fact, in those days were matters of business and not of sentiment; and it does not appear that the wedding of John Paston, the judge's son, was any exception to the rule. His father and mother picked out for him a gentlewoman of good family and fortune, and John was handed over to her and she to John, as if they had been mere bundles of goods. Her name was Margaret, daughter and heiress of John Mauteby of Mauteby, near Caister in Norfolk, and in a letter from Agnes Paston to the judge, she sends him 'good * tidings of the coming and bringing home of the gentlewoman
from Reedham,' when we are expressly told that this was the ' first acquaintance' between John Paston and the said 'gentle
woman,' who had made him such gentle cheer,' that her future mother-in-law, at the advice of a “parson’ who knew the young lady's taste in colours, begged her husband, who was then in London, to buy her a gown, which must be a goodly blue, or else ' a bright sanguin.' If her daughter-in-law could only get that there was hope that there would be no need of any great treaty « between them.'
We are bound to say that the 'gentlewoman' thus brought into the family proved a most devoted and affectionate wife to John Paston for about twenty-six years. After his death she was the mainstay of the family in perilous times, and without her advice her children could scarcely have weathered the constant storms to which the Pastons were exposed. Her letters form a great part of this whole correspondence, and certainly are the most interesting of any that we find in it, as introducing us to a woman of great force of character and resolute will, but yet truly humble, gentle, and loving. Very early in these volumes, we find in No. 36 a letter which, as Mr. Gairdner observes, is pretty sufficient evidence that women,
at least, were human in the fifteenth century.' She was left with her first child in Norfolk while her husband was laid up in London, by an illness seemingly occasioned by some wound or injury. It was a case of urgency, and Agnes his mother had vowed to give to our Lady of Walsingham an image of wax of the weight of her son, while Margaret was to go on a pilgrimage to Walsingham and also to St. Leonard's at Norwich. If I might have had my will,' she writes, “I * should have seen you ere this time. I would you were at · home if it were for your ease—and your sore might be as
well looked to here as there ye be-even liever than a gown ' though it were of scarlet;' where, in midst of all her distress and love for her husband, we see the gentlewoman's' old love of bright colours peeping out.
Before leaving this part of the subject, we must say that the treatment of children by their parents in the fifteenth century was different from ours. Fifty years ago
young were certainly not petted and spoilt as they too often are now, so that we sympathise heartily with the feelings of the father who declared that he had never eaten the wing of a chicken in his life, for when he was young it was always given to his parents, while now that he was old it was given to the little
dears. But this wholesome severity of sixty years ago was altogether different in kind from the cruelty with which chil