« EdellinenJatka »
was in need of money. In this strait he applied to the old knight in Southwark, and accordingly, in one of the additional documents which Mr. Gairdner has incorporated in this edition, under No. 182, we find the original indenture under which the money was borrowed. By it it appears that Richard, Duke of York, for the sum of 4371., to be repaid before the Feast of St. John Baptist next ensuing, 'pledged to Sir John • Fastolf certain jewels, to wit, a nouch (brooch) of gold, with • a great pointed diamond set up on a rose enamelled white; a nouch of gold in fashion of a ragged staff, with two images of a man and woman garnished with a ruby, a diamond, and a great pearl; and a flower of gold garnished with two rubys, a diamond, and three hanging pearls.' As this indenture was signed at Fotheringay, the duke's strong castle, shortly after a royal visit to Ludlow, we may well imagine that the money was needed to defray the cost of the entertainments on that occasion.
We have heard that it is part of the creed of a London pawnbroker that jewels once pledged are seldom or never redeemed, and it is curious to see that these jewels, one of them evidently the badge of the White Rose, was forfeited and remained with the others in Fastolf's hands till his death, when, with an immense quantity of jewels and plate, thy fell into the custody of his executors. That the House of York thought them of great value is proved by the fact that in the year 1461, shortly after Edward IV., the Duke of York's son, had been proclaimed King, he redeemed those family jewels from John Paston, as one of Fastolf's executors, for the sum of 700 marks, to be repaid in three annual instalments of 200 and one of 100 marks. All this was promised on the word of a king;' and all we can say is, that we hope Fastolf's executors got the money, for Edward was anything but firmly seated on the
throne, and had many a hard fight still before the White Rose finally triumphed over the Red. Had he not been a great soldier, Sir John would have made a first-rate attorney, and one who, in our time, would rather be found about the Old Bailey than in Lincoln's Inn. His correspondence is full of writs and distresses, and altogether, what with his lawsuits and processes, his agent, Sir Thomas Howes, must have had a hard time of it. Mr. Gairdner thinks that the familiarity with the law shown by the old knight was due to the fact that all classes were then more versed in the law and its technicalities than we are in this generation. Even when Shakspeare makes Justice Shallow ridiculous with his coram and custalorum and ratolorum, he sees in that jargon a fresh proof of his position. He
thinks, therefore, that as Sir John Fastolf had more property to protect than most people, he would make more use of legal phraseology than others. Be that as it may, there, about the year 1450, was the old knight, with his mails filled with mortgages and obligations, his strong-room full of plate and jewels, his ships continually passing between Yarmouth and London, in every respect a money-making accumulative man. We have already said that while he lingered in London he had one great object in life. As early as the reign of his master Henry V., he obtained leave to fortify: a dwelling on his paternal manor of Caister as strong as he himself could de- vise.' For years this had been his desire, and now, when more than seventy, it was about to be fulfilled. * Masons and brick• layers,' says Mr. Gairdner, 'were building up for him a magnificent edifice, the ruins of which are still the most interesting features of the neighbourhood,' while the walls compassed more than six acres of ground. This strong castle had been many years in building, but at last, in 1454, it was finished, and Sir John removed from London and took up his abode at Caister, where he seems, with one short interval, to have spent the remainder of his days. If we are asked what all this has to do with the Pastons, the answer is ready. The old knight was related in blood to John Paston's wife, and even to the Pastons themselves, for in his last will he calls John Paston his cousin.' But he had other ties to him; he was not at all likely to cultivate his cousins unless they had been of use to him. For some reason, no doubt a good one, Sir John had a high opinion of John Paston's capacity for business, and was often asking his advice. When Caister Castle was on the eve of completion, John Paston was allowed to have some control over the edifice, and probably acted as clerk of the works. At last, when the great man came down, it was regarded as an event not only in the neighbouring town of Yarmouth, but in Norwich itself. On this occasion John Paston's brother wrote to him from London: Sir John saith ye are the heartiest • kinsman and friend that he knoweth. He would have you at
Mauteby dwelling,'— Mauteby being Margaret Paston's manor close by his Caister. There at Caister he lived for five more years, meditating over unsettled accounts that he had with the Crown, and, contrary to the divine precept that it is more blessed to give than to receive, generally appearing in his dealings with his fellow-men in the unpleasant shape of a creditor. • Cruel and vengeable he hath been ever,' says his own servant Henry Windsor,' and for the most part without pity and mercy.' So also his secretary Worcester served him for years without
a rise in his salary of one farthing,' and when he asked for more, all the satisfaction he got from the testy old knight was the expression of a wish that he had been a priest, for then he could have given him a living.
Along with Sir John came to Caister his stepson Stephen Scrope, who was the child of lady Millicent, Fastolf's wife, by her first husband. He was of good family, and heir to a considerable property, of which his stepfather had the management during his minority, a trust which was not well discharged. To make matters worse Fastolf sold the wardship of the boy to Chief Justice Gascoigne for 500 marks;
through the which sale,' wrote Scrope, • I took sickness that • kept me a thirteen or fourteen years ensuing ; whereby I am
disfigured in person and shall be while I live.' Gascoigne meant to have married Scrope to one of his own daughters, but as this was not thought by the youth's relations an equal match, Sir John bought Scrope back again, for which his stepson was not very grateful. *He bought me and sold me as a • beast, against all right and law, to mine hurt more than * 1,000 marks.' The stinginess of his stepfather caused Scrope afterwards to sell a manor which was part of his inheritance, and when he served with him in France he brought him in a long bill for his meat and drink. As this claim was pressed Scrope was driven to contract a disadvantageous marriage to find the means to pay it, and then his stepfather brought an action against him, by which he was deprived of the little property that his wife had brought him.
But even usurers and iniquitous hard-hearted stepfathers have souls, and Sir John Fastolf began to think of his when he settled down in his castle. Besides that outstanding account with the Crown, he had another open with Heaven, and he prepared to close it after the fashion of the day by founding a college or religious house at Caister, in which seven poor folk were to be maintained, and seven priests were to pray for his • soul and the souls of his wife, father, and mother, and others « that he was beholden to.'
It does not appear that John Paston, who in the meantime had been elected member for the county, was more about the old knight than usual during the last years of his life. On the contrary Friar Brackley, a fine specimen of the medieval clergy, and a stanch friend of the Paston family, was obliged to write to him to come down, as Sir John could not live much longer.
It is high time, he draweth fast homeward, and • is right low brought, and sore weakened and feebled. The old knight was eager to see him, and when Paston came he was to be sure to bring with him a draught petition to the king about the foundation of the college, and an arrangement with the monks of St. Benet's for his satisfaction. Every day these ' five days he saith, “ God send me soon my good cousin Pas'ton, for I hold him a faithful man, and ever one man; ” and when the friar said, “ That is sooth," and pressed him to take meat, the sick man rejoined, “ show me not the meat, show me the man.”Of this affection for Paston the explanation is that of all his kinsmen John Paston was the only one he trusted, and this was shown when, on Nov. 5, 1459, Sir John Fastolf breathed his last, and it was found that, subject to the conditions for founding the college in question, and of paying 4,000 marks to the other executors, he had bequeathed to John Paston all his lands in the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk. We are tempted here to compare the deathbed of this vindictive, usurious old man with that imaginary one in which Shakspeare has described the end of his fat and dissolute knight, whose character was perhaps suggested by that story of cowardice at Patay against the real Fastolf. We wonder if the Sir John Fastolf in his castle, with twenty-seven chambers crammed with costly furniture and plate, and surrounded by his mortgages and pledges, made as fine an end' as he who went away an it had been any christom child,' or whether he saw something which reminded him of a black soul burning
in hell-fire.' Anyhow he was gone, and his wealth remained behind, John Paston coming in for a large share of it.
Nowadays, of course after waiting a certain time, a notice would appear in the newspapers that Sir John Fastolf, Knight, had died, and made such and such a disposal of his property ; the will would be proved by the executors, and the bequests, supposing the testator capable, and the document in proper form, would be handed over to the legatees. This might take & year in ordinary cases; but though wills were proved in those days, they did not go quite so fast or so smoothly. In the first place under the Feudal system-we are afraid this is not so generally known as Mr. Gairdner supposes—land did not pass by will, but when a tenant in Capite died, his landed estates were seized in the king's name by an officer called an Escheator, who held them till a jury of the country had ascertained who the lawful heir was and whether he were under age. The estates of Sir John were not all exactly in this condition, for he had handed some of them over to trustees, of whom John Paston was one, declaring his intention with regard to them just before his death by the will, to which John Paston and Sir Thomas Howes were the sole acting executors. These escheators acted under the writs of diem clausit extremum appointing them ; but before they were issued there had been a general scramble in the counties where Sir John's immense estates lay, several great lords striving to seize and hold them by force. Thus the Duke of Exeter set up a claim to Fastolf's house in Southwark, while others offered to prove the Crown's right to the whole of the personalty. Under such circumstances it was something for the heirs to stand well with the escheators, and that they should act with them, that they might be put, with as little delay as possible, in possession of their rights. It is with the Norfolk and Suffolk properties that we are concerned, as these were to belong to the Pastons; and here it, fortunately for them, happened that the escheator, Richard Southwell, was a friend of John Paston's, so that, but not until after a delay of five months, the Norfolk and Suffolk inquisitions were held at Acle. Such proceedings knew nothing of wills, but they acknowledged the right of trustees; and thus John Paston, as one of Sir John's trustees, was put into possession of these properties which he afterwards could claim as his own, after fulfilling the dispositions made by old Sir John in his will.
We have used the word possession, and we know that possession is now held to be nine points of the law; and so it was in those days too, only that possession then often meant the right of the strongest to seize and keep any manor that he might choose to occupy. Even before Sir John Fastolf's death the Duke of Norfolk had tried to induce the old knight to sell him the reversion of the castle and manor, but Sir John told him he meant to give it to Paston to found a college. This proposal on the part of that powerful nobleman at once irritated Fastolf and aroused his suspicions as to what the rest of his trustees would do after his death. He knew, as we have seen, that he could trust John Paston, and he therefore made him his chief executor in order that ‘no great lord nor great * estate should inhabit in time to come within the great mansion,' and disturb his monks and almsmen at their devotions. This Paston was to provide, and then he and his heirs might have the Norfolk and Suffolk estates for themselves. And in order that his intention might be the more plain, he declared that if John Paston was interfered with by anyone he was to pull * down the said mansion and every stone and stick thereof,' and to found three of the said priests at St. Benet's, one at Attleborough, and one at St. Olave's church in Southwark. John Paston therefore was put into possession of the Fastolf estates by the escheator, but this right little availed him or his heirs